Here, Charlotte, 27 tells the story in her own words.
￼With our whole lives packed into boxes, I felt like a complete failure. One moment I’d had everything I’d dreamed of. My husband and I had bought a beautiful home – big enough for our two little boys to grow into.But before we even moved in, our marriage broke down and we were forced to sell.
Now I was sleeping on my parents’ couch while Eli, five, and Theo, two, shared the spare room. A stay-at-home, single mum, I had no idea how I would make ends meet, let alone afford rent.‘What am I going to do?’ I sobbed to my family. In their yard my parents had an old site office full of junk they’d accumulated. ‘If you clean it out, you can sell it and use the money,’ Mum offered. ‘Or, we could turn it into a tiny house and you can live in it!’ my grandpa, Rob, piped up.
An experienced renovator, he’d flipped 26 properties over the years.‘I’ll buy all the materials and you can pay me back,’ he said. There was one condition.‘You have to get on the tools and learn how to do the work yourself,’ he grinned.
‘There’s no way I could do that,’ I said. I’d never even picked up a drill. Plus, I’d failed Year 9 woodwork!
But Grandpa had faith in me. And I was desperate.I have to do this for my boys, I thought. So overnight I became a lady tradie.
We cleaned out the office and I sold anything we didn’t use anymore, including our old furniture, clothes and some of the boys’ toys. Looking at the empty three-metre by six-metre box was daunting. But I moved the boys’ beds in and made it an adventure. ‘We’re going to have sleepovers in here,’ I said.
Huddled in sleeping bags, eating popcorn, they were so excited. Running into Mum and Dad’s house to use the toilet in the middle of the night wasn’t ideal – especially with a toddler! So top priority was a bathroom with laundry.
Grandpa taught me how to do the plumbing, mix grout and put up tiles. ‘I’m having far too much fun with this!’ I laughed, firing the nail gun into the walls.The boys were so proud when they could brush their teeth in the new sink.
Next we added an open-plan kitchen, dining and living area, where I would also sleep.Between school runs, I made my double bed from pine, high enough for storage underneath.
When the boys came home they would race in excitedly. ‘It’s different!’ they’d beam. There were days when I thought I couldn’t do it, like when I was so sleep deprived I left my mattress outside in the rain.
Another time I sawed a piece of wood 1cm too short. ‘Measure twice, cut once,’ Grandpa taught me. I couldn’t afford mistakes like that. Every part of every material we bought had to be used. And anything else I sold on Gumtree or Facebook to help fund the transformation. ‘Just throw it on the tip,’ Grandpa would say.‘No, someone will buy it,’ I insisted. ‘If we stood still, you would sell us!’ my grandma, Ann, joked.
As I started to achieve things I never thought possible, my fear turned into pride, excitement and joy.‘How shall we decorate your room?’ I asked the boys, before getting to work on the third room.‘Dinosaurs!’ they cheered.
Working around the clock, I soon built the frame for their space. And by the time they came home from their dad’s one weekend it had walls.Blindfolding them, we led them inside. ‘Whoa, we have a window,’ Theo smiled. ‘You’ve done so well, Mum,’ Eli said, melting my heart. Showing them that anything was possible was what it was all about. They helped me paint the walls and I made their bunk beds from scratch. Eli couldn’t wipe the grin off his face when he saw them and Theo fell straight asleep on his new dinosaur bedding!
For my birthday, Mum and Dad treated me to vinyl flooring, which finished off the living area perfectly.
I documented the whole build on my Instagram account, Charlotte’s Little Explorers. Six months on, we’ve gone from being homeless to homeowners! And it cost less than $13,000.
When I lie in bed and look across my house I can’t believe what I’ve achieved. I created something tiny but it means something huge – a space for my children that’s warm, safe and inviting beyond my wildest dreams. Now I want to show other women who are in a similar situation to what I was that they can do it, too. My new motto is dream big, live small!
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