For years, Jewel Pearson had a dream. When she retired, she would buy an RV and live freely on the road. In 2015, she realized her dream of living freely when she bucked conventional norms and built herself a 480-square-foot tiny house on a 28-foot trailer (originally 360 square feet before her latest renovation) and settled in North Carolina with her dog, Nina Simone. Today, she’s helping other people to realize their dreams of living tiny and free too. We caught up with Pearson to hear her story and her advocacy within the movement.
Meet the Expert
Jewel Pearson has lived in her tiny house since 2015. By day she’s a product manager for a financial institution, but her passion is being a tiny house designer, consultant, and advocate.
The Origin: Creating a Sense of Home and Mobility
Pearson discovered tiny houses in 2013, when they weren’t as popular as they are today. But they captured her attention.
“I felt they offered more of a sense of home, plus mobility,” she says.
In 2015, she set out to build a custom tiny home for herself. It took her six months to find a suitable builder. Many of the older builders she approached weren’t familiar with tiny homes and didn’t believe that a house could be built on a 28-foot trailer.
“Not many people were able to think outside of the box at that time and really conceptualize what I was trying to do,” she explains.
However, Pearson was committed, and she hired a tiny home builder to complete the project and has lived in it ever since.
A Modern, Urban Tiny Home
Pearson dreamed her home into existence, and it’s one of her favorite things about her build. “My next favorite would be that my house was specifically built for me and the things I want and need from a space.”
Her motto is “You don’t have to give up luxury to go tiny,” and her space reflects that.
The interior is bathed in light from the many windows placed throughout the space. She chose a modern, urban aesthetic that compliments her red, black, and white color palette.
The floor plan is an open concept and includes two lofts. In 2013, the loft that serves as her primary bedroom had a Juliette balcony that she purposed for seating. She removed the balcony in 2018.
Her home also includes an enviable amount of space from the full-size bathroom—complete with a full shower—and a walk-in closet. The bathroom also has a flushable toilet and a washer-dryer combo for laundry.
"As I was designing my house, comfort was always at the top of my list,” she says about the couch in her spacious living room.
When it came to downsizing, Pearson had been gradually whittling down her possessions for years. She initially moved out of a large traditional home and into a one-bedroom apartment before she went tiny. “By that time, I had really pared down to all of my favorite things,” she shares.
Creating Space for Black Nomads
Tiny living has its pros and cons. On one hand, going tiny has helped Pearson to design a life that she loves. On the other, she’s unable to park her home in the urban areas, where she'd prefer to live, she said on her YouTube channel.
Tiny homes have yet to be fully recognized as official dwellings in most states in the U.S., causing owners to seek parking spaces in rural areas or designated tiny house communities.
Unfortunately, Pearson experienced safety issues due to racism in an RV park and on a rural farm, she said. These encounters inspired her to begin developing a co-op between Black nomads and Black farmers, where nomads can safely stay on farmland while supporting Black farmers.
“In addition to the personal growth and joy, my home has allowed me to connect as a positive impact within the movement, as a representation within my community and to people I likely would not have otherwise.”
An Advocate for Tiny House Living
By day Pearson is a product manager for a financial institution. But her passion is being a tiny house designer, consultant, and advocate.
She offers virtual tiny house tours and consultations to help people figure out the process of building and moving into their home. She also offers workshops on building tiny homes and finding parking spots.
Through Pearson’s advocacy and consulting, she’s often asked by others how they can start living tiny, too. Her advice is to start with research.
“Then, determine the things they want and need from a home; to consult with someone experienced in the movement, like myself; to try a stay in a tiny house for a week or more and then go for it if they decide they’re still interested,” she explains.
Pearson’s home was featured on HGTV, and when the episode aired, a woman reached out to congratulate her and told Pearson that she was the “Harriet Tubman of tiny homes.”
“Obviously she and I know I haven’t done anything as amazing as Ms. Tubman, but I understood her point in that I was opening something up to Black people that we previously may not have been considering,” she explains.
Pearson wants more Black people to see tiny house living as a viable option for them outside of conventional homeownership.
"Year after year, Black people remain last in the stats for achievement of homeownership which is due to things like income inequality/disparity and unfair lending practices.Tiny houses offer an opportunity to get to homeownership quicker as they don’t involve 15- and 30-year mortgages and they present opportunities for wealth building, which our community desperately needs."
"In addition to that, the lifestyle offers an opportunity to escape the pursuit of the elusive American dream and instead focus on the priorities of family and time spent really enjoying life. My advice is to drown out the noise of anyone who doesn’t see the vision and to move forward in their pursuit of the dream. It’s worth it," says Pearson.
Tiny House Living and Money
Pearson's tiny house cost $85,000 to build. Without a mortgage, she only pays to park the tiny house and a storage unit to keep some of her belongings.
Financially, tiny living has reduced Pearson’s expenses, which allows for more savings. However, in 2021, she added a screened-in porch that folds up for travel. The build took place during a time when material and labor costs were really high.
“I’m currently in a 'recoup' period,” she says. “I know this to be normal from my first build, as build costs are out-of-pocket expenses since tiny house lending isn’t as available.”
What’s Next: A Non-Traditional Retirement Plan
Pearson has no plans to stop living tiny anytime soon. She’s continuing to be an advocate for tiny homes while living her best life on the road.
Pearson doesn't travel with her home, but the lifestyle affords her more opportunities to travel. "My next project will be a refurb of a travel trailer I purchased for that purpose."
“I’ve said that my tiny house is my non-traditional retirement plan, and as of right now, I intend to live here forever,” she notes.