Tiny Living (and Shotgun Shacks)

Every now and then there’s a huge spike in traffic to my blog. In one case it was because @cblatts linked to a post of mine. But most of the time it’s not because people are actually looking for me. It’s something even better. They are searching for the term “shotgun shack.”

What’s a shotgun shack? Wikipedia gives this history and definition:

‘The shotgun house is a narrow rectangular domestic residence, usually no more than 12 feet (3.5 m) wide, with doors at each end. It was the most popular style of house in the Southern United States from the end of the American Civil War (1861–65), through the 1920s. Alternate names include shotgun shackshotgun hut, and shotgun cottage.’

Wikipedia says that the style can be traced from Africa to Haitian influences on home design in New Orleans, but that shotgun shacks are found all over the US. The homes became a symbol of poverty in the mid 1900s.

‘Shotgun houses consist of three to five rooms in a row with no hallways. The term “shotgun house”, which was in use by 1903 but became more common after about 1940, is often said to come from the saying that one could fire a shotgun through the front door and the pellets would fly cleanly through the house and out the back door (since all the doors are on the same side of the house).[citation needed] Another reputed source of the name is that many were built out of crates, e.g. old shotgun-shell crates, and those made for other purposes. However, the name’s origin may actually reflect an African architectural heritage, perhaps being a corruption of a term such as to-gun, which means “place of assembly” in the Southern Dohomey Fon area.[2]

Midwestern rocker John Mellencamp’s song Pink Houses alludes to shotgun shacks. It’s a bit on the sarcastic side and makes commentary on rural hardships in the US: “Ain’t that America for you and me, ain’t that America somethin’ to see baby, ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah. Little pink houses for you and me….” And the killer line near the end:  “Cause it’s the simple man baby, pays the bills, the thrills, the pills that kill”

The Talking Heads song ‘Once in a Lifetime‘ directly references shotgun shacks and it’s where I took the name for my blog. The song captures a feeling I get often when moving around in the world of aid and development. I’ve found myself waking up in a shotgun shack one morning and then heading to the US to visit my parents in their middle class houses that feel absolutely palatial and luxurious in comparison. Or spending a couple of weeks eating rice and ‘leaves’ and an occasional egg in a rural community but being wined and dined at some donor meeting the following week.

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself-well…how did I get here?

But people searching for shotgun shack these days are not looking for me or for those songs for the most part.

Nope. They are looking for information on how to build their own shotgun shack either because they are unable to pay for their current home given the economic downturn in the US or they are making a clear decision to downsize, prioritize and live more simply. (Or a smart combination of both).

For example this story‘…Debra and her family lived in a nearly 2000 square foot home on an acre and a half of land. Then her husband lost his job and they began to work 4 jobs between them to pay the mortgage, until one day they remembered they had a choice.

Before having their son, Debra and her husband Gary had spent 9 years living in very tiny homes in South America. Living small hadn’t felt like a sacrifice, but a way to stay focused on what is important. They decided they wanted to get back to that.

They stopped working so hard, sold or gave away all of their extra stuff and began looking for the perfect tiny home.’

I discovered this weekend that ‘tiny homes’ is actually a whole movement, thanks to a tweet by @blakehounshell pointing to the Tiny Life: Tiny Houses, Tiny Living blog.

According to the site, Tiny Living encompasses:

  • Tiny Houses
  • Life Simplification
  • Environmental Consciousness
  • Self Sufficiency
  • Sound Fiscal Plans
  • Social Consciousness
A pretty cool movement. So if you’ve arrived here looking for me, great – read on! But if you arrived by accident looking for info on shotgun shacks or tiny houses, head over to Tiny Life and get your tiny living on.


About Shotgun Shack

INGO worker hailing from the crossroads of America, and so far from home in so many ways. I blog about life and the depths and ironies of INGO work. View all posts by Shotgun Shack

17 responses to “Tiny Living (and Shotgun Shacks)

  • Joe Turner

    Yeah, I saw the tiny house thing a while ago. Pretty scary really.

    • Shotgun Shack

      why scary? i think downsizing is a fantastic idea. especially given the housing, economic, fuel cost crisis in the US and fact that the US uses so many of the world’s resources.

      • Joe Turner

        I find it hard to believe downsizing to a shack is a good thing. I’ve only rarely met families living in the kinds of shacks you mention above, but they were overcrowded, lacking in basic amenities, temporary, insecure etc. Not so much different to living in a garden shed – with all 8 of your children (and apparently literal garden shed-living is also increasing).

        Whilst many aspect of small living are clearly good, the idea that vast numbers of people will end up living in depression-style shacks is scary. Don’t you think?

      • Shotgun Shack

        The idea of tiny living doesn’t really mean moving into an old shack. It’s more the idea of living in a small, ecological home. Check the last video I put in the post and the bullet point values of the tiny living movement. I think ‘tiny living’ is looking at how to reduce the ecological footprint we leave as well as reduce financial burden. I initially also thought people were interested in moving into an old shack and it made me sad, but looking at it this way, it makes me happy.

  • Ian ThorpeIan

    It’s funny how you become accustomed to believe bigger is better. Growing up in the north of the UK where population density is quite high I was accustomed to (and mostly happy with) much smaller houses than I now see, in the US yet it seems that we are never satisfied and want still more.
    I heard some related wisdom this weekend about “Keeping up with the Joneses”. If you try to keep up with the Joneses you will constantly be comparing your success and happiness by other people’s standards and will struggle to manage and never be satisfied. Maybe its better to think “We are the Joneses” – and judge yourself by your own values and pursue your own happiness on your own terms. Then you will be happier (with less) and people will be envious of you.

  • C. F. Harrell

    I’m Mrs. Harrell and i’d like to say that I too, was one of the thousands of folks who saw the video of Debra & her family living in the 320 sq ft home. We saw the video in June 2011. Liking what we saw, we contacted Scott Stewart of Slabtown Customs (her builder), and contracted for a tiny home built for us too,- in fact, exactly like Debra’s.
    Unfortunately, our experience was & is, a still- ongoing nightmare! After being told by Scott our home would be built & delivered in 3-4 months, no home ever materialized,- even come January 2012, still no home. All this time, phone calls weren’t being answered or returned. When they were, it was the most amazing array of excuses we’ve ever heard,….too hot, too cold, too wet, he’s sick, his help is sick, he had to fire his help, house didn’t pass inspection, .(twice),.. he’s still sick,..ect ect..
    Obviously, we became very worried we’d been scammed. After all, with so many creative excuses, he sounded like an expert scammer who has been at this awhile. Keep in mind that we had to pay him half down to begin our house! After posting on a tiny house blog, who’s author is evidently protecting Scott, because my story appeared on his blog for about an hour, but then disappeared,- but the brief time it was on there, got Scotts attention, because within a day or two, he contacted us to let us know he was having major problems with our home,- structural to be exact,. , & delivering it would not be possible. He offered our money back at that time. this was in January 2012. Since then, we have gotton a total of two payments from him, and like the tiny house, the excuses keep coming, and evading phone calls he’s got down to a science. Needless to say, here it is almost April 2012, and we still do not have all of our money back.
    I guess my point is, I will never trust anything I read on the internet again.

  • C.F. Harrell

    Hi, This is Mrs. Harrell,- I posted our experience here March 24th~~(post above this one). In response to your reply, no, we have not yet recovered all our money from Scott Stewart of Slabtown Customs in Arkansas, and yes, there are others out there, many of which we’ve personally been in contact with. Best advice I can give is to stay far away from this guy. Search the internet,- our story is one of many….

  • Casey Friday

    C.F. Harrell isn’t the only one who had a terrible experience with Scott Stewart of Slabtown Customs. My wife and I commissioned him to build a tiny house, and it never materialized. Once he started to talk about the progress he had made, I asked for photos. Rather than supply photos, he started giving out many excuses of why he couldn’t – i.e. his mother was sick/in the hospital, his father was ill/terminal (and then later recovered from his terminal illness!).

    We got our money back after filing a complaint with the BBB and the Arkansas State Attorney General, and I provided a HIGHLY detailed document, showing every instance of Scott Stewart contradicting himself. When he was sent that 17-page document, he finally got wise.

    He then said he would refund our money – three times. On the fourth promise, he finally mailed our deposit back. The whole time, he claimed that he couldn’t mail it back because of the setback of materials cost – but he never supplied any proof that he actually purchased materials, and he was requested to MULTIPLE times.

    I don’t know what his personal situation is, but I would advise that if you are considering having a tiny house built by Scott Stewart, find another builder. For reasons unknown to me, he gives endless excuses, and no results.

  • C.F. Harrell

    Hi, this is Mrs. Harrell again.
    I wanted to update our ordeal with Scott Stewart of Slab town in Arkansas.
    It is November of 2012 now.
    Nothing has changed since I last updated in June. We have not recovered any more of our money..
    What I do want to add though, is to reiterate just what kind of a person we’re dealing with here.
    As Mr. Casey Friday mentioned in his post above, I also tried getting help from the BBB and the Arkansas Attorney General, but unfortunately, I didn’t get the results that Mr. Friday did. The Attorney General office has informed me with each phone call I’ve made to them, that they have not been able to obtain a response from Scott Stewart, and (surprise), he doesn’t return their phone calls.
    But get a load of just what a lying scumbag this guy is!! I received an email from the BBB informing me that Scott Stewart had phoned them, and said this case was resolved & he wanted my complaint cleared from his record!!! What a load of _ _ _ _!!
    Apparently this loser didn’t realize the BBB would contact me first to see if that’s correct!…. Unbelievable!

    The way it looks, I don’t expect to recover the rest of our money, we are a senior couple on a limited income and just don’t have the money for an attorney to fight him, but if my story helps other people avoid doing business with Scott Stewart, I’ll chalk it up to ‘it was meant to be’..


  • Cynthia McEuen McMahand

    Scott is my cousin. I’ve read several things all over the net, and I really have no idea what is going on since we only see each other at major holidays. Scott’s father died September 7th after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. Prior to that, his mother had a series of strokes. Scott has had his share of heartache and personal issues for almost the past 18 – 24 months. I know that these are just what you would consider to be excuses, but I felt that these facts needed to be mentioned. Good luck on your search for a tiny home- builder.

    • Teresa

      We are currently in the same situation with Scott Stewart. Can you please contact me? This is Mike, Teresa’s husband. We contracted Scott in the summer of 2013 to build our tiny house by the beginning of February, and here we are in April with no proof that construction has begun.

      He states that his mother is ill, but has said that for the last 6 weeks.

      My 4 year old daughter has chronic medical problems, and we contracted scott to build the house to be able to save up money for her bills, now all we get from scott are delays, and no proof of construction. We are nearly 2 months past deadline. He goes nearly 2 weeks between giving us a text. Please, contact him to call/text me. We really do not know what to do.

      Mike and Teresa Thompson

  • Shotgun Shack

    These stories are terrible. Is there any legal action that you all can take jointly?

    • Sandra K.

      Some of these posts about Scott Stewart just breaks my heart. I Love the designs that I’ve seen from Slabtown Customs and haven’t seen any that I like as well anywhere else at that price. I was getting ready to contact him for more info. As it is now July of 2014 are there any updated reviews on him? Hoping he really WAS just going through a bad time.

  • Bob Linn

    Scott Stewart just delievered my Tiny cabin after months of being lied to. I had a real carpenter check it out and the bottom line is this shack was not built very well.He seems like a nice guy but don’t trust him. He used all the same stories on us His help is sick blah blah blah.I could not believe Tiny Nations tv show was filming his story…

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