Penny Forward Transcript: Update Her Own Tiny Little Space

In this episode we reconnect with Gina, who was one of our first guest on the podcast, and get an update from her about her tiny house and what’s up next for her.


Select here to listen to the audio podcast and see the show notes…



Pre-episode Intro


Gina: It’s one of the things that delights me the most, other than waking up every day in this wonderful place I call “home,” is that, you know, not just for myself, but for anybody out there, I’m a living statement that says, “This is possible!” And if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for others.


Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. I’m Chris Peterson, …


MOe: I’m MOe Carpenter, …


Chris: And Liz is not able to be with us at the beginning of the show, but if she joins in later, that’s great. Today, we have one of the first guests we ever interviewed on the Penny Forward podcast back with us to talk about what’s new in her life. Her name is Gina Marie Applebee, and you may remember her story, because at the time we interviewed her, she was almost finished with a multi-year project, to build herself a tiny home, all based on donations that she was able to gather from around her community. Gina, thanks for being here.


Gina: Thanks for having me back, Chris.


Chris: I am super excited because I’ve followed your story ever since we talked the first time, and uh, I want to hear what’s new with the tiny home project, and also what’s new with you. But before we do that, can you give us the tiny home story from the beginning, for those who haven’t heard it before?


Gina: Okay. Well, it was quite the journey, and it began, gosh. Many years ago now, um, almost five years ago, when I was struggling to afford even the crappiest apartments with roommates, downtown Charleston where I live and work, and it was my dad’s idea. And he’s like “Why don’t you build one of these tiny homes?” And I was like “Of course.” I’ll just raise some money, and build a house. So simple.” Um, but, what I didn’t realize was building a home is actually an incredibly complex process. And with city codes, and contractors, there was a huge learning curve, and as I raised money little by little, I first bought the trailer, and then had the framing done, and slowly slowly, phase by phase, I completed the home, and moved it on to the lot where I’m living now, built a foundation, strapped the tiny home to the foundation, and have settled in, and completed my tiny home. Which is a glorious, cozy place. Long story short.


(MOe and Gina laugh.)


Gina: Four contractors later.


MOe: And with that foundation story, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?


Gina: Sure. So I am thirty-seven. I, I am totally blind due to a degenerative retinal condition, and had lost all of my retinal vision by the time I was about twenty-two. Um, I’m currently finishing a PH.D in integral and transpersonal psychology focused on non-optic sight.


Chris: And, because I don’t think you covered this in the overview that you gave us, thank you for that by the way, but we talked about it at, in the original podcast interview we did with you. About how long did it take from start to finish to, to build the tiny home?


Gina: It took about three years. And the first year and a half or so, I was still renting, chipping away at the project, but as the tiny home neared completion, I moved in, um, without power, water, sewer, for about a year and a half as I completed the project. And so, I was camping in here for quite some time before it became the wonderful, civilized place that it is now.


MOe: So, moving on to today, where are we at with the tiny house?


Gina: The tiny home is complete. The vision has been realized. And it’s been quite some time ago now, almost two years, since I had power, water, sewer, internal carpentry, and really nested and settled. I built a fence around the lot, and, my, my most recent little project was I had a, a nice fire pit, patio, built out back. And it has just been the most wonderful, cozy, peaceful little haven that I, I always imagined it would be. Got my record player working, I have internet, I have a wonderful little kitchen, and always, you know, of course, constantly envisioning the next little thing I’m going to do, but, it’s, it’s pretty perfect. I have to say.


Chris: Can you kind of do your best to give us a, an audio tour of what the house and the yard are like now?


Gina: Oh sure. So it’s a small lot, that was just an empty, vacant, little lot when I initially moved here, um, and it’s now fenced in all the way around with a nice green fence, and a bright blue gate, and then my porch, I have some lovely little steps that go up to a small, 4 by 8  little front porch where I spend lots of time. I joke that it’s the most important room in the house. (Laugh.) Um, and inside, I have a cozy couch, and then a long, double record shelf with about four hundred vinal records in there, and a nice record player. And the rest of the main space is a small kitchen with just the basics. An induction burner, a convection oven, a fridge, popcorn popper, of course, that’s very important, and, the, the bathroom, I actually have a full shower tub in the tiny home, and a nice closet, and vanity, and flushing toilet, and then over that is a queen sized bed loft, uh, and there’s another little loft over the porch as well. And in the back, I have new fire pit patio, (Laugh.) Hamock, and a picnic table, and it’s just a wonderful space. I have a lot of windows. Uh, when I first designed the home, I kind of modified the plans, and I made the porch larger, and I added windows. So it’s a very bright space. And with the weather in Charleston being as gorgeous as it is, I often have all the windows open.


MOe: Thanks for that great tour. Can you kind of describe the process as a blind person that it took to get the tiny home?


Gina: Oh yeah. I mean, in some ways, my ignorance going into this process helped me, because I didn’t know how difficult, (laugh.) It was gonna be. I didn’t realize all the obstacles that I was gonna run into. So I just plowed in, and once I got going, I kept going. Um, and I was very, very fortunate and grateful. I had a lot of help, uh, in terms of donations, and people helping me to organize and connect with others that could help with various pieces of the process. And, and some of the most difficult parts of that process were knowing what I wanted, very clearly, but not being able to see what people were doing, or see plans, or even see the results. So I really had to trust folks to do what I asked them to do, and then have sighted people double check, and make sure things were as they should be. And it, it took me quite some time to work through that and figure out how to coordinate a major construction process, and then make it through all these bureaucratic hoops, and city codes, um, to make sure that I am officially acceptable in the eyes of the city of Charleston. And as the first tiny home that’s recognized downtown, there were, there were not even any codes specific to tiny homes. So I was really kind of paving the way for others in terms of what should a tiny home be like? What requirements should it meet?


Chris: Can you talk a little bit about some of the challenges you had with the city throughout the project?


Gina: Oh sure. You know, the first time that I had a major inspection, from one of the city guys, he made a long, long list of all the things that I needed to add, and modify, hurricane straps here, and this and that there, and he looked at me, and he was like, “Maybe you should just scrap this, and sell it to someone as a shed, and start over.” I was like “No way I’m going to start over.” (Laugh.) “You have no idea. I am not gonna start over. I’m gonna make this right.” And so I made all those modifications and adjustments, and the foundation was another very big deal, and I’m very glad that I’ve done it. But once I had the foundation down, I said, “Oh, okay. Like, all that’s left is interior carpentry and power, water, sewer, and tada, I’ve done it.” But of course, there was no water sewer meter on the lot. And when I applied for one, you know, just kind of casually, this is what you do, you apply for a meter, and then I was informed that it was gonna be eight thousand dollars, (laugh.) to install a water sewer meter on the lot. I had no idea. Eight grand. For a meter. And, fortunately, uh, I had a lot of help, that I got that down to four grand, raised more money, and I made it happen. And, just like all of us, after a while, I get used to things, like hot showers, and electricity, and internet, but it was a long hall to get here.


MOe: Would you like to go over your final cost figures? Have you figured that out so far? I know you said it was eight thousand just to get your plumbing going, and …


Gina: Yeah.


MOe: Just kind of curious to hear how much it cost, you know, once you’ve wracked everything up.


Gina: In about, you know, eight grand just for the steel trailer itself, which was the original foundation that’s now strapped to, you know, cement and rebar buried in the ground. But all in all, you know, I think I have around … between thirty-five and forty grand in it. And a lot of that was fund raised and donated, some of it was my own money, and I’ve just chipped away at it later and little by little. But if you think about it, I mean for a house, that’s not so bad. (Chuckle.) I mean, um, especially, my location is amazing. Downtown Charleston, and I’m actually, this is very exciting, looking at buying the property that I’m on. So I’m just renting right now, but I’m planning to buy it within the next year.


Chris: What was the process of collecting donations like? When you told people that you wanted to raise money to build a tiny home, did people respond well to that, or did they kind of think, “Wow, that’s crazy.”


Gina: No. You know, people were very excited about it, interested in it, tiny homes are popular now, and this idea, this story of a blind woman who wanted to be independent and have her own tiny space was actually very exciting. And caught on locally with great enthusiasm. And I had so, so many people helping me make connections, and get the word out, and, if there was any negative talk about it, I never heard it. A lot of people were just happy and excited about it.


MOe: Have you found that there’s been any financial issues with being a blind person trying to finance and get this all running?


Gina: Oh my gosh. Um, part of it is my blindness, of course, that presents its own challenges, but even bigger than that, I come from a background where I’ve been actually very poor for most of my life. And so I had no idea about basics of adult financing, and managing major projects, and large amounts of money, and it was a huge learning curve. So on top of not being able to see, and sort of easily coordinate things, I, I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing with this money game. And since I’ve been through this whole process, and especially moving forward to, to looking at buying the lot, and owning the dirt under the home, I’ve learned, and started to build credit, and all these complicated things about owning a home, and owning property, and it’s amazing. There, there still is, I think a long way to go, before I’m maybe as up-to-speed, (laugh.) as I feel like I should be, but I, I have so many friends, and mentors, and folks willing to, to help out and give advice, and I think that in the next year or two, I’ll really, I’ll have a handle on it.


Chris: Well I’m glad you mentioned that this has kind of spurred you to learn how to manage your finances and build credit. We actually had the opportunity to meet in person in Minneapolis, oh, about a month ago or so, and you mentioned that to me then, so I was really excited to hear that, and, and kind of honored. But uh, looking forward towards the future, what else is on deck for Gina?


Gina: Oh my gosh. (Laugh.) The future. Well, the most immediate and most exciting thing in my future is that next month, I’m going to Leader Dog School for the Blind in Michigan, to get my second guide dog. Which I’m, I’m, so ready for. And I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, and it’s finally almost time. So, the newest, best thing on my horizon is welcoming a fuzzy companion back into my life, and having somebody to share my wonderful home with. And, of course, go for walks and adventures with. Meanwhile,  I’m working on my dissertation, and, having just cleared the proposal phase, and being officially a Ph. D candidate, I’m gonna start research very soon. So those are two really big exciting things going on for me.


MOe: Are you concerned at all about your limited space and bringing in another body into your limited space? Even if it is furry and fuzzy and wonderful?


(MOe and Gina laugh together.)


Gina: I’m not at all worried about it, actually. Um, I think that it’s cozy, um, and I’m a very active person. So, we’ll have a lot of time walking and running and playing, I’ve got a wonderful fenced in yard. Uh, where he can run around and play,  and, my, my hope is, that, as with myself, we can exhaust ourselves enough in our active adventures that when it’s time to come and sit on the couch and do work or listen to an audio book, then it will be just fine.


Chris: Have you built a ramp, or a dog climbable ladder to get the dog up into the queen sized loft?


(Gina laughs.)


Gina: I’ve had so many people ask me. Um, am I just gonna sleep on the couch with the dog and forget that I have a bed loft? No, I have a ladder that I pull out, and, and latch up there, but I’m planning on letting the  couch double as a big doggy bed, and because the house is really just one big space, you know, I’m never far. So I think it will be okay.


MOe: I still just think your whole story is just completely amazing, and I’m running out of questions ’cause I just want to hear you talk.


(MOe and Gina laugh.)


Gina: Well, if you want more of the full story, um, part of my story was published last year in Mike Mariani’s book “What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us, Who We Become After Tragedy and Trauma.” And that came out through Penguin Random House last fall. And there’s a, there’s a great audiobook of it, and it’s got my story alongside five others.


Chris: Do you have any advice that you’d like to offer to other blind people who may be looking to follow in your footsteps?


Gina: Hmm. So many things. You know, it seems like  a big dream to just build your own house, but it, it’s possible. I would say, you know, if you can’t own your own home, get out there, find a place that feels like home to you, and, and, make an independent life for yourself however you can. I think it’s something that’s possible for most of us, and if we strive for it, if we trust our communities, if we ask for help when we need it, we can really do so much more than the sort of secondary disability of the limited social expectations leads us and others to believe. I would say just believe in the dream, and strive for it. And don’t get discouraged. Don’t, don’t  let any little obstacles hold you back from something that is, is really, truly, the vision of your heart. Because, you know, that discouragement, that fear, that low expectation, that’s really, you know, that’s, that’s what holds us back from who we can be. And what we can do.


Chris: How about advice about not giving up? ’cause I, I’ve got to imagine that when you’re working for over three years on a project like this, and, and really, not knowing exactly what you’re doing, there’s got to be times where you at least consider, “Maybe I just got in too deep and I should back out now.” I know you didn’t do that when the inspector suggested it, but how did you keep going until you got to the end?


Gina: Right. Right. And part of that is just my very stubborn character. (Laugh.) But, you know, I think it’s important to acknowledge that mistakes and failure happen, and that that’s okay, and that’s an important part of living and learning. However, when I had those moments of, “Gosh, maybe I bit off more than I could chew” or “I’m in over my head,” I, I always remember that it’s easier to work hard and struggle for something I believe in than to fall back into something that maybe superficially seems easier, or less obstructed, that I don’t believe in. It’s just a question of motivation. And, of course, I’ve had so many wonderful friends who have been there, and supported me, and encouraged me, but in the end, you have to dig deep, inside yourself, and just find that drive. Find that desire. To make the dream real. And that’s, eventually, more powerful than any little obstacle that will pop up before you. And, you know, while acknowledging, that I, like everyone, have those days where you’re like, “Ah, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to deal with this other thing, it’s too many things,” acknowledge it, and then set it aside. And just keep going. There’ll be time to wine about it later, but in the thick of it, it’s just one foot in front of the other, one thing at a time, and don’t lose sight of, of what you want.


Chris: I think that’s really good advice. We’re running out of time, and I really want to thank you for coming back on again to give us an update. Um, it’s very, and I hate to use the word “inspiring,” but it is very inspiring.


(Gina laughs.)


Gina: In a non-cliché way. Yes.


Chris: Yes. Until there’s a cliché of, of uh, people building tiny homes for themselves, all by donations and their own cash, um, that’s not a cliché. So I think we’re safe in saying that’s an inspirational story.


Gina: It’s not, it’s not impossible.


Chris: No.


Gina: It’s one of the things that delights me the most, other than waking up every day in this wonderful place I call “home,” is that, you know, not just for myself, but for anybody out there, I’m a living statement that says, “This is possible!” And if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for others.


Chris: Yes. Absolutely. And that’s what I would like people to take away from this episode, is, “This is possible for you, but, the tiny home may not be your dream, but your dream, whatever it is, there’s a way to make it possible. And you’ve got to stick with it, and you’ve got to sometimes, like Gina said, put one foot in front of the other, and just do what you’ve got to do until you get there. And know that, you know, if you just keep taking a step forward and taking a step forward, it may take a long time, but you’re eventually gonna get there.


Gina: Yes. Yes. One day at a time, one choice at a time, even sometimes one breath at a time, um, just keep going. Don’t give up.


Chris: Well Gina, thanks again for being here.


Gina: Thanks so much for having me back, Chris. And nice to meet you, MOe.


MOe: Same to you, Gina.


Chris: All right, well that’s all we have for this week’s episode of the Penny Forward podcast. I want to let you all know that if you are interested in getting early access to every Penny Forward podcast episode, we’ve offered this to our paid members for quite some time. But we just announced on

a new guest membership that doesn’t cost anything. If you sign up as a guest member on

you’ll get access to our Budgeting and Banking Basics online course so you can get a sense for what our online courses are like, and, you’ll get early access to every Penny Forward podcast episode. To join, just go to our website,

and select the “join Penny Forward” link right near the top of the page. A guest membership doesn’t cost anything, but if you’d like to get access to all of our online courses, our weekly members only group chats, our weekly E-mail newsletter, and discounted access to one on one financial counseling, you can pay just 9.99 a month, or 99 dollars a year, for all of those membership benefits, and we’re always looking at adding more. The Penny Forward podcast is produced by Chris Peterson and Liz Bottner, with assistance from MOe Carpenter, audio editing and post production is provided by Brynn Lee at

and transcription is provided by Anne Verduin. The music is composed and performed by Andre Louis. The Penny Forward podcast is a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time, and it’s produced by Penny Forward, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help blind people navigate the complicated landscape of personal finance through education, mentoring, and mutual support. For all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson, …


MOe: I’m MOe Carpenter, …


Chris: And again, Liz couldn’t be here, but uh, we all want to say have a great week and thanks for listening.


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