Wanting a more enjoyable lifestyle, Deanna and Russell Lawlis chose to donate all of the things they no longer needed and move into a 400-square-feet home.
Story by JOYANNA LOVE
Editor’s note: The Lawlis family lives in unincorporated Chilton County. A house such as the one they built may not be allowed in cities or towns. Always check the building regulations of your town or city and contact the local building department before beginning a project.
Stress and bills were piling up, as were material possessions when Russell and Deanna Lawlis made the firm decision to simplify their life.
For Russell, it was something he had been trying to do by degrees for years. He said he first realized he had too much stuff in 2000.
“Over the years its grown, the more I let go, the more I wanted to,” Russell said.
“It’s really a freeing experience,” Deanna said.
After chasing the American dream and trying to keep up with everyone else and buying the next nicest thing, Deanna reached a day when she stopped and thought “What are we doing? We are wearing ourselves out doing this. We are not happy. We are not living a happy life. We are
stressed all the time.”
Deanna said there were bills she was paying for things that she did not have time to enjoy. In looking to simplify life, Deanna considered moving into an RV.
Russell started realizing he could get by with less after he bought a camper for weekend trips.
“The more that I was in the camper, the more that I realized that the things that were in the house
I wasn’t needing,” Russell said.
This highlighted for him that he could enjoy life with just the essentials.
“So, I started minimalizing everything — it took off and became a lifestyle from there,” Russell said.
He began donating items that he did not use.
“There is a level of freedom that comes with being a minimalist that you can’t really describe,” Russell said.
Deanna and Russell were coming to the same conclusions about how they wanted to live their lives.
When they got married in April 2019, the desire to reduce stress and be able to have a greater enjoyment in life led to the couple moving to about 20 acres in Chilton County and planning to build a small home.
Living in a simple way surrounded by woods had a certain appeal to Russell as he thought back to his childhood and staying in small barebones hunting cabins on trips on the weekends.
“I always thought it was so cool getting to go and stay in these places,” Russell said. “What a simple set up that was, you have a kitchen and a couple of bunks and everything is all in one room.”
Not quite a tiny home, the Lawlis residence is 400 sq. ft. consisting of two main rooms, a closet and bathroom are off of the bedroom. The other room is the kitchen/ living room. A large sliding door separates the two mains rooms. Russell said a lot of thought was put into which ways doors would swing in order to maximize space.
Russell said the space has everything that a typical house would have, just on a smaller scale.
Building on a smaller scale also gave the couple more money for materials and appliances. Russell said he chose the thickest possible metal room, so that if repairs are needed he will be able to walk on the roof
without having to worry about damaging the roof.
“I was able to go with the better-quality plumbing … I was able to go with solid wood cabinets (as opposed to particle board),” Russell said.
The couple is also saving a lot on heating and cooling by living in a smaller home.
“I was able to go with a very high grade of a split (HVAC) unit that we actually had ducted out into individual rooms,” Russell said.
The couple special ordered vinyl windows to further reduce the energy costs for the home. However, it took a little while for the pieces to be delivered.
The Lawlis family moved in June 2019.
“It’s awesome … I wake up grateful every day,” Russell said.
“It has been amazing,” Deanna said.
Some tiny homes are mobile. However, since the Lawlises were not planning on going anywhere, building a concrete slab was less expensive than purchasing the trailer axle that
would have been necessary to make the structure mobile.
Having a concrete slab also provides better support for the structure to withstand storms.
The structure was built by Russell’s brother-in-law with some help from Russell. The project took about
nine months to complete just working on it when they had time. Russell said he was grateful to his brother-in- law for the help.
“One thing, I have learned through this is that each thing has its own order if it is done properly,” Russell
The house has all the modern conveniences, just on a smaller scale. Once construction was complete, the couple focused on making the space cozy and comfortable for themselves and their young granddaughter who lives with them.
“We are outdoorsy people, so … you don’t find us just sitting in here all the time — spring, fall summer we are out doing something,” Deanna said.
Hiking, camping and kayaking are some favorites.
“Kayak fishing is big for us,” Deanna said.
The decor of the home reflects the family’s interests and “brings the lake house to us,” Deanna said.
She said they have also enjoyed the community in Chilton County. Prior to moving to Chilton County, the family lived in a lake house on Lake Jordan. Deanna said finding things while getting ready to move that she had not used since she moved into the lake house further demonstrated for her that she could do without many of the items she owned.
“One of the best things about it I think is … we have so much more money to do with whatever we decide to do with it, we don’t have to worry about a lot of material things that we did before, so there is a lot of peace of mind in this house,” Russell said. “We don’t worry about a lot of expenses because we don’t have them.”
The change in lifestyle has also expanded to the couple’s jobs. Deanna had been an assistant bank
manager, and Russell was an assistant manager a music store. Both were commuting each day from Titus to Montgomery. Now, both are semi-retired and self-employed.
“We are getting to do the things that we enjoy,” Deanna said.
Their kayak fishing trips have increased. Deanna said she now has time for writing, which she has always enjoyed. Russell said he now has more time to hunt.
“We own our life now, and I think that is the greatest blessing that we have been able to do with this,” Deanna said.