Alexis Monkhouse shares a 325-square-foot house with her 2-year-old daughter Nalini in a tiny-home neighborhood in Tampa, Florida.
Monkhouse, 25, chronicles her life as a Black, single mother living in a tiny home on her Instagram page, @thistinyjourney, where she has 1,700 followers.
She told Insider she is one of the few Black tiny-home owners in her neighborhood, and that the majority of people she encounters in the tiny-living movement are white.
“I’ve gone through #tinyhouse and #tinyhousefamily, and you can scroll for pages and you won’t see any people of color,” she said.
Monkhouse told Insider that being a person of color in the tiny-home world can feel isolating at times but that she tries not to dwell on it. “It is awful because I’m sure that there’s more of us out there but we just get drowned out by all the white people living tiny,” she said.
Despite this, Monkhouse said that in her experience the community has been welcoming since she moved in.
After her mother died, Monkhouse used her mom’s life-insurance money to design her tiny home for around $75,000 in January 2018 and moved into the space in June 2019. Tiny living had been on Monkhouse’s mind for some time before that; as a graduate student, Monkhouse said she felt stuck in a rent and loan-payment cycle and came across tiny homes on her search for financial freedom.
Now, Monkhouse hopes to encourage more people of color to consider the lifestyle by sharing the unpolished realities that social media often doesn’t show about tiny living, from the challenges of her dating life or how a 2-year-old can destroy a clean living room.
Alexis Monkhouse says she wants to lead by example to encourage more people of color to consider tiny living
While living in small spaces isn’t new, the tiny-house movement gained popularity in the aftermath of the 2008 housing crash, according to The New York Times. With the rising interest, a design aesthetic followed that enticed influencers – a group that’s overwhelmingly white, as Insider’s Samantha Grindell previously reported.
Monkhouse told Insider that she worries a lack of representation might discourage other people of color from joining the lifestyle. “If you don’t see someone doing something, then you’re going to think it’s not for me,” she said.
The tiny-home owner says she is setting out to be that example for others by sharing videos, images, and captions that showcase real life. For example, one of Monkhouse’s posts addresses experiencing nature for the first time and breaking stereotypes associated with the outdoors; “honestly growing up we were told that that was ‘white people stuff,'” she wrote in the caption. Other posts highlight how she’s embracing being a single mom.
“I’m glad that I’m at least showing some people that this is doable and that people who look like us are out here doing it,” she said.
Monkhouse said her experience has been positive because she had her sister for support; when Monkhouse bought her tiny house, her sister purchased a matching home. Today, they’re neighbors. Having her sister next door has given her a sense of security, comfort, and a person to share experiences with, she said.
Monkhouse said she is also setting an example for her daughter by giving her a different experience from one that she had as a child. Growing up, Monkhouse said success in her family was often tied to having a large house. She said she’s hoping to change that narrative for Nalini.
“I think it will open her eyes more, there’s not just one specific way to live,” she said about Nalini growing up in a tiny house. “I don’t want her being scared of alternative lifestyles because it’s mostly white people.”
Monkhouse isn’t the first to notice the lack of representation in the online tiny-home community
In recent years, groups like the Tiny House Trailblazers and Diversify Vanlife have formed to advocate for more diversity within the space and bring awareness to the challenges of being a minority tiny-home owner.
Jewel Pearson, founder of Tiny House Trailblazers, wrote in a 2016 blog post about some of the issues Black tiny-home owners are more likely to face than their white counterparts, such as the racial wealth gap, housing discrimination, and gentrification, as well as the fact that many parking areas for mobile homes happen to be in rural areas, where, Pearson wrote, “historically black people aren’t always welcome or safe because of prejudice and racism.”
She also acknowledged how the lifestyle may not appeal to some who “aren’t too far removed from having lived in one of the original ‘tiny houses’ and/or they may have family members still living in the original ‘tiny houses’, and not so much by choice.”
However, Pearson went on to say that she often hears from people of color who say she has inspired them to try the lifestyle, and says on the website’s about page that “for many, seeing me was the first time they’d seen a Black person as part of the tiny house movement.”
Similarly, Diversify Vanlife, which launched in 2019, urges members to pledge to “actively work to create inclusive, safe space, both outdoor and virtual, for equal-access adventure, exploration, conversation, and community,” according to the group’s Instagram account, which has 24,000 followers.
The groups serve to amplify underrepresented voices in the movement as spaces where people can express the challenges they face, like racism in person and online, or join community events and gain access to resources, such as how to affordably build a home or strategies for staying safe on the road.
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