Jewel D. Pearson was looking for more freedom and a way to downsize her lifestyle when she came across the concept of tiny home living in 2013 and decided to make it a reality for herself. Today, Pearson shares her tiny home experience with thousands of followers on social media every day, and says that her tiny home “allowed [her] to focus on what I consider the priorities; enjoying life, traveling and spending time with friends and family,” while also practicing sustainability and reducing her impact on the environment. “Over the years, the lifestyle has helped me become more aware of my footprint within the world and I’ve tried to become a better steward of the earth and its resources in the process,” she says.
Tiny home living has grown increasingly popular, and influencers like Pearson have found financial freedom and Instagram followers by posting snippets of their lifestyle to social media. It’s not surprising that the trend has caught on in recent years — tiny home living supports values of sustainability and affordability, and makes the dream of home ownership more accessible to a diverse array of people than ever before.
That’s why we teamed up with IKEA to reimagine a sustainable tiny home, as part of our Tiny Home Project. After spending months creating the home, we wanted to get the perspective of real people who live a tiny home lifestyle every single day, to see why they believe their tiny home helps them live a more affordable, inclusive, sustainable, and values-led life.
Dallas-based couple Marek and Kothney-Issa Bush came to the tiny home lifestyle after re-prioritizing their financial goals in 2017. They made a commitment to pay off all of their debt, and while looking at their finances to start a budgeting plan, Marek realized that they were wasting money paying rent on a “luxurious” apartment even though they both wanted to be geographically flexible homeowners. “This new outlook on money started revealing how much money we were wasting on a luxurious downtown loft space,” Marek says. “We were renting so that we’d have career flexibility, but that didn’t mean we needed granite countertops.” The solution? Move into a tiny home.
The construction process for Marek and Ko’s tiny home took four months, and during that time the pair began downsizing from their 1,100 square foot loft. They listed items they wanted to get rid of on online marketplaces, and also set up their loft “like a retail store” — adding price tags to all of their items and inviting visitors to shop around. (“The process of downsizing from our loft was quite the experience,” Marek says. “It’s one thing to sell a couple of items online. It’s another thing to sell practically everything you own!”)
Since moving into their tiny home, the pair has been able to pay off all of their debt while living a more sustainable and intentional lifestyle. “What I love most about tiny living is definitely the sustainability factor of it all,” Ko says. “We are able to live a lifestyle that allows us to reduce our cost of living by so much more than our prior living situations. It is also really nice to be able to move to any place that we would like in the country and live in a property that we own. The possibilities seem endless in a tiny home!”
The couple says their biggest challenge has been keeping their space organized, and recommends that would-be tiny home owners take into account their daily must-haves before they begin building their dream home. “Think about what items, routines, and activities are most important to you in your daily life,” Marek says. “Be sure to implement those into your home first, and build everything else around it!”
Their other biggest piece of advice? Do your research on tiny home living beforehand! But even if you ultimately decide that living tiny isn’t for you, Marek says the values in the tiny home lifestyle can be applied to anyone, regardless of the size of your living space: “I think everyone should ask themselves three foundational questions: Where are you now? Where do you want to be in the future? And what intentional steps are you taking today to make that happen?”
Bionca Smith has been living in a 1989 Ford camper van with her 11-year-old son and her dog since 2017 — before she had even heard of the tiny home movement that was gaining steam around the same time. During that year, she explains, she sold all of her things to travel the world with her son, but soon became tired of repacking suitcases, renting cars, booking flights, and living out of hotels. “I grew exhausted from the work of planning it all, and I wanted to travel in a more simple fashion,” she says. Enter the camper van.
To find the perfect vehicle, Smith says she “spent a week staying up late” searching for options for sale, bought their “dream” camper van with cash, and then hit the road. Unlike many tiny home owners, Smith didn’t do any research ahead of time. “I didn’t know anything about tiny home living,” she explains. “I just got rid of most of my stuff and moved into our van which was already converted and had all the basic resources similar to a house, like a couch, mattress, sink, fridge, toilet, shower, and even a thermostat.” She donated most of her things in only 30 days, and stored a few more sentimental items in a friend’s garage.
After two years of living in the camper van, Smith says, she and her son “realized that we didn’t want to go back to a traditional home any time soon.” She adds that “the simplicity did wonders in so many areas in our lives” and she was able to pay off debt, run her businesses, homeschool her son, and travel — all while keeping expenses low.
Since moving into the smaller space, Smith also says that the simplicity of her lifestyle means she’s been more able to focus on sustainability. “Tiny home living has encouraged us to be resourceful and mindful of our consumption of resources,” she explains. “We are very aware of how much clothing we don’t need and how much water, power, propane or gasoline we use weekly.”
Smith and her son are now working on renovating a new travel trailer, which will be ready later this fall. The most important thing she’s learned from her time living in the camper van? “Less is more,” Smith says. “If you want to be happier in life, one way of doing so is by having less to worry about in your living environment. Find resources that are multifunctional and will allow you to save space. You don’t need much to be happy.”
Pearson knew that she wanted to downsize, pursue her love of traveling, and live a lighter, more free lifestyle. In 2013, she stumbled across a story of a woman who had built her own tiny home, and Pearson decided that she would do the same. Seven years later, she’s a prominent tiny home influencer and cites it as one of the most rewarding decisions of her life: “My tiny house is the realization of a dream that started for me almost 30 years ago.”
Pearson started the downsizing process when her daughter went off to college. Over the course of 10 years, she went from a four-bedroom house to a small condo, eventually ending up in a one-bedroom apartment right before moving into the tiny home. (Pearson jokes that she “over-researched” the tiny home process before moving “in order to have as much information as possible about all aspects of tiny houses.”) She didn’t get rid of all her decor pieces, though, instead saving some to make her tiny home feel “just like a smaller version of home.”
Now that she’s living in her tiny home, Pearson says the biggest challenge has been finding a location to park it, as many cities don’t allow tiny homes on wheels. “That becomes an even bigger challenge for me, as a Black woman in the movement,” Pearson says, “because the areas that are most accepting of tiny houses are RV parks and rural areas, and those aren’t the safest spaces for people of color.” Pearson has used her experience to work as an advocate for other Black women and people of color in the tiny home movement, helping bring awareness to the specific issues that they face and contacting government and city officials about the need for legalization of tiny houses in urban areas. “It is my ultimate hope and dream to actually build a tiny house community in the very near future and I’m looking for an opportunity to do so,” she says.
Pearson recommends that anyone interested in tiny home living do their research and get advice from longtime tiny home owners before getting started. “Tiny house living on wheels isn’t necessarily for everyone or for the faint of heart, while we work through legalization, but it’s worth it,” she says.
Though they all came to the tiny home lifestyle in different ways and for different reasons, the Bushes, Smith, and Pearson have all found that their tiny homes helped them streamline and simplify their lives in order to focus more on what matters most — spending time with the people they love, and protecting the planet for future generations. Want to follow in these influencers’ footsteps and make your tiny home dreams a reality? Find more resources (including sustainability tips and our favorite IKEA products for small-space living) on the IKEA Tiny Home project hub.