Paying it Forward Tiny House Project

Today, we have a guest post from Mark Brumbill, a teacher in Georgia, who, as of July 3, will be officially homeless as his mortgage company forecloses on his home. Mark has a great idea, though, to not only help his own family, but to create a community of people who can help each other attain their dream of building a tiny debt-free home by paying it forward. Please consider just giving a dollar if you can.


One of the plans Mark and Sheri are considering

We’re an average middle class blended family with four kids to care for, a mortgage, and way too many bills.  Like many others, we were barely making it when disaster struck.

Last year, my wife, Sheri, became ill and unable to go on any longer as a hair stylist.  After that, what was left of our lives began to unravel.

For a long time, we had vague dreams of building one of those cute little houses on wheels, living off the grid, and having an eco-friendly, sustainable life, but it always seemed like something for later, a “someday” thing.  Unfortunately, it took bankruptcy and being driven to the edge of homelessness to make us think of it as a viable option.  Security seems to take one of two forms.  Making enough money to live large, or living small enough to make it on the money we have.

There are lots of other reasons why small is better, but the need to live within our reduced means was what got us moving.

So how does a bankrupt family in foreclosure come up with the money and manpower to build a tiny house?  Selling one of our cars and most of our personal possessions barely touched the balance of what we needed.  We very reluctantly turned to family and friends for help, eventually reaching out to the global community by means of a fund raising website. We found that most families were in situations not much better than our own.

That’s when it occurred to us that we could do more than build a home for our family, we could help others, like a good old fashioned barn raising. We would take all of the kindness we received and “pay it forward” to other families, helping them to do the same.

So here is how it works. Our goal is to aid individuals and families in raising the funds, manpower, and resources to build their own tiny home, asking the global community to lend a hand with anything they have to offer: cash, labor, knowledge, networking, etc.  “Many hands make light work.”

If no one can give thousands, maybe thousands can give just one. The people benefiting from that giving then pay that kindness forward & the snowball rolls.  Think of how many tiny houses could be built that way!

Look for tiny house projects to contribute to on Facebook at and our own website at (under construction).  We’ll have a featured project each week.

We are currently accepting donations for our own tiny house project at We’re building a tiny house on a 26 ft. RV frame, using a combination of the plans for the “Coastal Cottage” by Michael Janzen & “Tiny Living” by Dan Louche.  It’s tentatively called our “tumbleweed” because we were originally inspired by Jay Shafer’s excellent designs, but we’ll probably end up calling it something different eventually.

Please consider helping us with our project.  We will make sure that your gift keeps on giving as we pay it forward.  You can follow our progress as we build at

Thank you,

Mark & Sheri Brumbill

Marietta, GA

What do you think of Mark and Sheri’s idea, do you think it can work?

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56 Responses

  1. Karen says:

    Greetings all! What an interesting and lively discussion! I find myself agreeing more with Julie and Olivia. Those of us who went into debt to buy more house than we actually needed, and who found ourselves “upsidedown” in a mortgage, took a drubbing, no question. Some of us were forced to surrender those over-priced, ecologically disasterous, poorly built, over-sized monstrosities. We got taught several lessons–at least those of us who were paying attention. Number one: No More Mortgage! I don’t care if I have to live in a log and drink muddy water, it will be MY LOG and MY Water!

    Now, I have no quarrel with Mark’s basic premise, except that I think an EXCHANGE is more appropriate than a begging bowl. Start with YOURSELF. Say what, EXACTLY you will give, contribute, do, and EXACTLY what it is that you want in return. Not thinking about these details is what got some of us into trouble in the first place. We got all goosepimply over that new house, and didn’t really read the fine print.

    For example, here’s an older couple (right in this comments section) with 24 acres in Georgia, who’s about to lose their home. Why not get a group together to buy as co-owners, thus reducing everyone’s contribution, and allowing her and her husband to remain co-owners–as they have equity in already and do not want to be on the street? As a co-op, build each others’ tiny houses, with the members providing their own building materials. Do it on a lottery basis. But, whatever the basis, put everything in writing clearly spelled out!
    All this touchie feelie namby pamby wishy washy vague stuff gives me the creeps. Like Olivia, I’ve seen many a poorly conceived commune and/or utopian notion crash and burn, Kerri. Enthusiam and idealism are lovely energies, but without some structure and direction it is mostly hot air! IMHO

    • Kerri says:

      Personally, I will take touchy feely namby pamby over not doing anything at all. Here’s what’s happened since Mark made this post. They did, in fact, lose their home and they went west to spend the summer with some relatives and to sort out their action plan. In the meantime, he’s maintained the pay it forward page on FB and has helped some other people in their needs. He was going to put his project on hold, but it all seemed to come together with the donations and help from not only friends and family, but strangers as well. Last I heard, his project was full steam ahead, and good thing, as they will have to return to Georgia soon with the start of the school year.

  2. Yes, they can do it! These little buggers are a breeze to build. We built ours as an 8′ x 20′ and have been living in it for coming up on two years. Our county code does actually permit this for more than four months so we’re in the process of building a small house (576 sq. ft. footprint). But we’ve enjoyed our tiny house a lot. As gardeners and cooks, we’d definitely recommend allowing ample space for food preparation. Most prefab tiny houses and plans don’t have much in the way of kitchen space. Anything can be modified though. We build ours with enough space for a 3/4″ tall fridge, an oven, full sink, washing machine and counter space for a flour mill, Vitamix, single cooktop, mixer and cutting board! It’s amazing what can be done in a small space! Good luck! Shawn & Jamie

  3. Kerri–

    I hope you’ll keep updating about Mark’s project. So many families, ours included, were hard hit by the housing downturn. I think many people are looking for a new type of community/housing situations–from small homes, to sharing homes, etc. I read earlier this week about a trend around the country of sharing outdoor spaces between families.

    • Kerri says:

      I’ve also read of the growing trend of entire families sharing homes in order to continue to live in good school districts.

  4. Heather L. says:

    I could not get the link to Mark’s site to work. Don’t know how he’s going to get donations if the site isn’t live.

  5. Sheryl says:

    Instead of criticism, I think Mark deserves accolades for the courage to speak up and help others while doing so.

    • Kerri says:

      I do too, Sheryl. It’s never easy to ask for help and I think this is a great way for all of us to try to help one another. Our friends and family can only do so much in times of need. I think it is rather an ingenious idea and one that been floated in the tiny house community before. I’m glad to see Mark acting on it.

  6. Jane Boursaw says:

    What a wonderful post and project. I’ll spread the word.

  7. Alexandra says:

    This is the way life should be, neighbors helping neighbors, and the state helping those who cannot help themselves. Say that here and Republicans cry, “Socialism!” In France, no one went hungry because Coluche organized Restaus du Coeur, getting restaurant owners to donate unused food his nationwide organization. That was in the 1970s. He died in a motorcycle accident, unfortunately. Last year I was shocked to learn that 40% of the year-round population of my town, Wellfleet, MA, was going hungry during the winter months. No one should go hungry. That’s why I am donating 75% of the proceeds from my new eBook, available this weekend, to the Wellfleet Food Pantry. Everyone goes through hard times. It’s normal for the more fortunate to help out, don’t you think?

    • Kerri says:

      Those are shocking statistics, Alexandra. I watched, maybe on the news, a couple of months back about a corporate restaurant chain here (the one that owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden) donating its extra food in communities across the country. What a fantastic idea, but I guess certainly not an original one. It not only fed children, but also gave them a different perspective of food and culture, one they would not get to experience otherwise (while Olive Garden isn’t “real” Italian, I think it can still broaden their cultural experience). Thanks for your comments and yes, I believe it is “normal” to want to help, at least it feels that way to me.

  8. First of all, Mark … I’m so sorry to read of your family’s challenges. I think your personal plan and the bigger Be-the-Change community you’ve created are a great idea. I will definitely watch for projects in my local area and see how I can help. And, I will definitely add some money to your own house fund. I’m truly saddened to see the criticisms posted. I recently reached out to my dog-blog community for financial help. I felt uncomfortable doing so, but people really did want to help and my friends encouraged me to ask. We ended up getting donations from all over the world — lots of small amounts added up. It was both humbling and inspiring. I hope in the end that you feel the same.

  9. Hello everyone,

    This is Mark, the guy that started the Pay It Forward Tiny House Project. Reading the comments above, I’m gratified by the excitement, but think that a little clarification of purpose is needed.

    Yes, my family is in trouble, but the Pay It Forward site is not primarily for the benefit of others in similar situations. It is ENTIRELY for the benefit of others. I only mentioned my own troubles in this guest post because Kerri asked me to. I’m not a saint, but I can honestly say that my intention around this is NOT self-serving. Please notice that there is no mention of it on the P.I.F. Facebook page. That being said, we’d be grateful for any help people want to offer.

    While people might make connections to help each other our with labor, tools, resources, etc., that’s really incidental to the my main purpose. The reality is that most of we tiny house enthusiasts are too spread out to be of much help to one another in the physical world & the banks are not yet up to speed to fund them. It’s unrealistic to imagine that people will drive considerable distances to help build one another’s tiny houses. That kind of community almost doesn’t exist anymore in America. But KINDNESS & enlightened self-interest will never be obsolete.

    I can’t fund anyone’s tiny house project on my own any more than someone else can fund mine, but I can do my part by giving what I can. If many others do the same, we can make things happen. My own commitment is to give $5.00 to every project that is featured on the PIF website. That’s only $20 a month. If my efforts make it possible for hundreds of others to do the same, we can fund one person’s house each week. What a difference at such a low cost. If I can do it in my own personal situation, any of us can.

    I started this because I found myself having to turn to family & friends for help. Many times, they would express concern for us, but that wouldn’t translate into actual help. People in trouble don’t need sympathy so much as help. I realized that if all of the people I know helped just a little… just a LITTLE… my own situation would resolve itself very quickly.

    Then my wife & I turned it around and asked how we could give what we wished to receive, & the Pay It Forward project was born. One of my favorite sayings is “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. If I wish the world was more kind, trusting, & generous, then I must show those qualities to the world & invite others to join me. That all that this is about.

    • Kerri says:

      Thank you, Mark, for that explanation. As I also explained below, what people like Mike Janzen, Jay Shaefer, Kent Griswold over at Tiny House Blog and myself have tried to do is to create that sense of community. I think in many ways we have succeeded and I think you’re taking it to the next level. Kudos to you, while in the midst of your own crisis, to think to help others. I think most of us piss away at least $20 a month. If a majority of us could give just $5 to each project, that would be a lot of houses.

  10. Olivia says:

    Sounds like a sort of “Tiny Habitat for Humanity” idea. I wonder if they have looked into that programme? They offer quite a few different options.

    • Kerri says:

      Habitat is a great program, but the way I understand it works is that you always have a mortgage in the end, albeit through Habitat.

      • Olivia says:

        Does this fellow not have some sort of job? Mortgages are geared to income and I personally know several people in far worse circumstances who have benefitted from this programme.

        His idea seems to me to be rather utopian and, as a former back- to-the-land hippie who lived in idealistic communes that inevitably fell apart when human nature got in the way, I can’t help but feel that, without some real accountability, this will also happen here. It just takes one person to take advantage of the situation to have the entire venture fail. I am still an idealist who subscribes to notions like these but I am also of an age where practicality and reality, sadly, trump idealism.

        Maybe I am failing to grasp the concept but I am very skeptical of his idea. I just cannot see asking anyone to help fund building me a house. I don’t know . . . maybe it’s just me.

        • Kerri says:

          He’s a teacher in Georgia, Olivia. The idea is that he is trying to get away from debt. I think you’ve also missed the point. While yes, he is asking for donations of whatever he can afford, he is also helping others on his Facebook page through this project. If we cannot have hope that communities of humans can help each other in a time of crisis, I think we’re all doomed.

          • Kerri says:

            I’m not quite sure what the issue is, either. If he were asking for help from Habitat or if he asks for help directly from people who would probably give to Habitat anyway. It is simply cutting out the middle man and in the process, he is hoping to get into a tiny house (which Habitat likely would NOT build as they have to adhere to local buidling codes) without a mortgage. (?) He is still “putting in his time” assisting others. Am I the one missing something here? I simply do not see the issue with someon in need asking for help from others.

          • Olivia says:

            I think maybe it’s a generational thing, Kerri.

            I don’t do Facebook, for one thing . . . . and, while I enjoy commenting on blogs, I cannot imagine turning to the “Internet Community” for help. I am of the generation that has to have a personal, physical connection.

            Just a different generation.

            Is there a “right” or “wrong” here? Or just different perspectives?

          • Kerri says:

            Very possible that it is generational, Olivia. While I can remember (well) the days before the Internet, I was thinking the other day that we’ve had a home computer since 1992, not quite half of our lives, but close. In those early days of Prodigy forums, etc., there was, I think, a much stronger Internet community even then. Because not everyone in the world was on it and it was used – at least in our household – as a means to connect to people with similar interests, and that’s all it was used for. I’m still friends on new social media (Facebook) with a half dozen people who connected on a dog forum those 20 years ago and email daily with one of them. We’ve lived together through Internet communication her children growing up, the deaths of 3 of our parents, the birth of her grandchild and now his growing up and every other daily event in between, just as friends in the real world do. So maybe I do feel more hopeful that “community” can also mean cyberspace. I think what people in the Small House Movement have tried to do, myself included, is help to create that community of like minded individuals and bring those people together as best we can. I’ve hoped to create more than a blog, but a community. And no, there’s no wrong or right, I was just failing to see the difference if someone asks for help in his neighborhood or in his online “neighborhood.”

  11. Elaine says:

    What a wonderful idea! One of my favorite books has a scene where the community comes together and builds a church/school building. When all is done, one of the men says, “it kind of makes you feel tall”. I think we have lost that trait that made our communities strong and tight. We are currently looking for a much smaller home. Hubby does NOT want a tiny home, but I sure do:) I will be following to see what happens.

    Blessings to you all!

  12. This is a wonderful idea. I think blame is misplaced. People are in dire straits, not because they mismanaged their money but because the economic system of university education, employment and retirement savings — has totally failed. Laying blame in the lap of those suffering doesn’t help. Its like blaming the poor for their poverty.

    Unfortunately money alone won’t fix the problem. An old fashioned barn raising involved strong community relationships — neighbours helping neighbours. That’s something that’s being damaged with the foreclosures and homelessness. Building community resilience and local economy, while building a Tiny house will help immensely.

    The regional suggestion is a good one. And getting more people involved. Can a family of 6 really live in a tiny house? How strong is the family sense of co-operation? One needs to build a family as well as a house.

    Good luck with your project, Mark. I’ve ‘liked’ your FB page and tried to see your blog, but it wouldn’t open for me. I’ll share what you’re doing on my blog, too.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks for your comments, Chris. I think it is so easy to blame others for their choices. While I agree that our choices are the foundation for what sometimes goes awry in our lives, it is typically not the main culprit. Our culture was raised to believe in this false “Amiercan Dream” where we could mortgage ourselves into happiness. I do not blame anyone for buying into it. We did for a long time. I think reaching out and accepting help, as well as giving it to others is how we will *all* survive. That’s what community is all about.

  13. Fran Burt says:

    Wow, what a wonderful idea. I myself am going through very tough times. I have to move as my rent eats up most of my social security. And at my age its hard to find a job. Tiny house living, in a community of giving people would be a blessing. In fact I am sitting in my beautiful back yard thinking that is something I could be dong. Helping to build a tiny house for someone and maybe even me is just the thing. Please let me know if something comes to southern Californa and I will get my hammer. I’m going to say prayers for you and your project. God bless you.

    • Kerri says:

      Fran, Make sure to like Mark’s FB page and stay on top of what’s happening. It sounds like you have a lot to give and maybe can even receive too.

  14. Stefanie says:

    I live in South Georgia and have not been able to get any help trying to build a small house. While I am not about to be homeless, but I have been semi-employed for 3+ years. I only have been able to find part-time temporary jobs. I have since had to choose between keeping my car or my house. My husband is now our only source of income. But because of the economy now have no hope of retirement. We are trying to sell our home w/24 acres and would love to create a tiny house community out it. I would love to know more about this. Thanks.

    • Kerri says:

      Good luck to you, Stefanie. What one cannot do alone, maybe many can do as a team.

    • Joe3 says:

      I’d be interested in knowing more of your plans to create a timy home community.

    • Julie says:

      That sounds like a great idea! Where we live we have been having trouble finding “cheap” land. We are interested in the tiny house movement so that we can achieve financial freedom. So, for us, it is somewhat pointless to buy an expensive lot. If people like you, who own land, and are interested in the tiny house movement could start selling peaces of there land to create a tiny house community, that would be a nice option for those wanting financial freedom!

  15. Julie says:

    We are a family of 6 (mom, dad, 4 kids) that also live off one income. We financially struggle immensely but do not ask for hand outs. Please know that there are many Americans in your shoes, as well as ours. We too have been researching the “small house movement” and are all for it! But I have to admit it kinda “irks” me that you all are asking for other peoples money…..Many people are being foreclosed on because they chose to buy a house that they could not afford. It is not a financially sound decision to buy a house that requires 2 incomes. Good luck with your goals and attaining financial freedom. I will not be contributing as I have my own family to feed.

    • Kerri says:

      That certainly is your perogative, Julie, but I think you’ve truly missed the point. Mark and his wife are not the exception in that they had a home that required two incomes, they are the norm. And while Mark is asking for some help to continue to house his family, he is also saying that whatever he receives will be paid forward to help other families such as yours. THAT is the difference. We are in dire economic times where I do not believe that we will all be able to self contain and remain in tact. I think Mark’s idea brings the meaning back to community in that one hand will help another. Peace and the best to you and yours.

      • Nobody is forcing anybody to contribute to this, so why the negative, critical judgment on somebody who is merely trying to figure out a way to deal with their financial crisis, while helping others out at the same time? What’s wrong with that? People used to refer to helping each other as “being a community,” or “being neighborly” or just plain being a decent human being.

        What a shame that there are those who condemn someone for coming up with a way to not only deal with their own difficult situation, but help others in the process. I think it’s a symptom of our times, where anybody in need who turns to others for help is accused of wanting a “hand out.” We have become a society callous to the suffering and struggles of people in need, while worshiping the wealthiest and most powerful, who exploit others at will and let the rest of us pay their taxes for them, then accuse those they prey upon, of wanting hand outs.

        Being a country that helps its own, that joins in with others to raise up those who are struggling, only makes us a stronger, greater and more compassionate nation.

        • Kerri says:

          I agree, Kathleen. We can all second guess our choices when things don’t go as we planned our life. We could always second guess our decisions when catastrophe strikes, it’s all hindsight. That’s what neighbors, community and charitable organizations are for. People get upset when those in need go on public assistance, but when the attitude is “I’ll help mine and no one else because we’re struggling too,” then what do they expect of people who are in need? Should we allow Mark and his family, or any family who is losing their home live on the streets because we might *think* we made smarter choices in life? I went to Mark’s Pay it Forward page today and he is highlighting many stories, one each week, not just his own. He is helping others, including an American veteran. Mark himself is a teacher and probably has given more to other people’s children than some people give their own. I say if there were more attitudes such as Mark’s, we probably wouldn’t need government assistance, with every private citizen caring for the human community as its own. The dangerous thing about casting judgement is that sometimes those come back to haunt you. No one, and I mean no one, is immune to a crisis. We learned that between 2008-2010. I’ve always tried to live by the creed that no matter how bad we have it, someone else always has it worse and stepping in when we can is never wrong.

          • You’re absolutely right, Kerri. None of us is assured of anything these days. We all do the best we can to prepare for bad luck, but life has a way of altering even the best laid plans. So judging the decisions other people made and blaming them because things didn’t work out, is not only unfair but the person doing the judging might someday be in a position of needing a “handout” themselves. And I’ll bet if it happens, they’ll be grateful for the people who DO extend a hand to help.

            I looked at Mark’s page too, and you’re right, it’s as much if not more about helping others, as it is his own situation. I don’t believe my donation is a handout, but rather an investment that will pay off in providing stability and security to fellow Americans. The more stable, productive and secure American citizens are, the stronger we are as a nation.

          • Julie says:

            Wow, I ignited quite a conversation. I enjoy reading all view points and appreciate the feedback provided. But how about this, in the “old days” family and friends helped each other out (not strangers on the internet) and most did not live beyond there means……

          • Kerri says:

            But communities did help each other, always have. That’s where the saying comes from that it “takes a village,” and what I think is that the definition of “community” is changing, Julie. What’s so wrong with people helping each other, stranger or no? If you identify yourself as a person of faith, ALL religions basic tenants teach to assist others in a time of need and if you’re not a person of faith, then the basic humanist side of our being says it’s the right thing to do. I just think it’s pretty presumptuous of anyone to judge anyone else’s life. This family was *not* living beyond its means before one of them became ill and could not work. Just as yours is not now, but that could change in literally a heartbeat if something were to happen to whoever brings home the money in your household (I will not assume it’s your husband, you know what they say about ASSumptions), of if, heaven forbid, one of you came down with a life altering, catastrophic illness that led to huge medical bills. No one is immune, Julie, unless your independently wealthy, which it doesn’t sound as if you are, since you said you struggle.

          • Kerri says:

            And I will bring up another point, not because there’s a *right* or *wrong* here, no one is forcing anyone to give, buy-in or even agree with this Pay it Forward concept. But because I’m really just having a really hard time wrapping my thoughts around this line of thinking. I just a wrote a check my county’s senior center for a fund raiser they’re doing for Meals on Wheels. I know absolutely no one on this program, not one person. Yet, I know the need is there, I know that some seniors have no one, as my mother did, to make sure they are eating everyday, and without this program some people simply could not. Does that mean because I’m not biologically related to, or do not *know* these people, that I shouldn’t give if I can? I just cannot grasp that line of reasoning. We’re all the human condition, interrelated and as Kathleen pointed out, I believe when part of our society struggles, we all struggle and by helping others, it makes us all stronger as a nation and a world.

          • Julie says:

            Yes, I am the one that works for “income” in my family. I am also in a profession that is able to witness people “abusing the system”. SO, I am cautious when it comes down to helping out others. There definitely are very deserving people out there. But unfortunately there are also a lot of people that do not believe that they should have to work for anything and the “milk” the system as much as possible. I still believe that buying a home that requires 2 incomes is living beyond one’s means. Because it does not plan/account for the other partner getting laid off, sick, etc….Good health and a secure job do not exist. People need to be financially responsible/smart and think/plan for these things ahead of time…….

  16. Mariah McCord says:

    I,too,think this is a fabulous idea. Maybe we can organize this into regions…I am no where near Ga. but am in the Dallas/Ft Worth area in Tx. How awesome it would be to see tiny house communities going up all over the country. Removing our dependence on large banks and mortgage companies. American ingenuity…we only need each other. I would love to be a part of something like this. Like Deanna said in her post…getting back to what is important…This would so change the downward spiral of our “lost” American Dream. Mom’s could stay home…families would bond. through elucidating, I feel giddy with the possibilities.

  17. Joe3 says:

    I also think this is a great idea, and I’m close enough to them to offer physical help with their build. I’m currently stripping a 26 foot travel trailer and thinking about a fall build, I’d love to see their plans. The idea of a tiny house community build is awesome…

  18. What a wonderful idea! I love giving to a project that is so targeted and real. Sometimes giving to gigantic charitable organizations makes you feel as though you’re doing nothing but justifying the salaries of well-paid administrators. I’m going to check out the website and donate. Giving money to people who are struggling against economic forces they have no control over, is one way to fight back against banking abuses and the continuing attack on consumers. Great post!

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks, Kathleen. I agree, while large charities have a place, I love to donate and know where my money is going.

  19. DeAnna P says:

    I think this is a fabulous idea. Projects like this is tapping into our old American ingenuity and compassion. Raising 5 kids with a mortgage and bills has had us thinking of building our own tiny home and simplifying and getting back to what is important. Way to go!

  20. Linda Smithhart says:

    Think it might-I wish I could have one of these little houses. Have looked at them but finances are the problem. Good luck with your project.

    • Kerri says:

      Linda, you might hook up with Mark on his page, he is not just looking for help with his, but is also looking to help others such as yourself!