If you’ve read our latest articles you’re already familiar with Pam Willis, a contributor here at Mobile Home Living.  I am very excited to have her join us and share her story of debt-free living.

Whether by necessity or  desire, the idea of debt-free living appeals to many.  Watching our friends and family lose homes and jobs these last few years has proven a dim reality – the American economy we knew just a decade or two ago is not the American economy we know today.

The Recipe for the American Dream Turned Sour

These last few years have been rough all across the country.  There use to be a formula for the average American adult to create personal wealth:

  • Graduate college
  • Find a good job with benefits
  • Buy a home and have a family
  • Stay with the company and build a good pension
  • Pay the home off
  • Send the children to college 
  • Sell the home and retire in a smaller home

It was a recipe that depended on building equity in a home or other real estate holdings and it had worked for millions of people since WWII.

Unfortunately, in 2007  that recipe stopped working.

The housing bubble and economic recession that followed changed the ingredients on us. You can’t make a cake with rotten eggs and you can’t live the American dream when you owe more on your home than it’s worth.

You can’t buy fancy clothes, fast cars, or cool electronics if you have to use most of your income to make a house payment and you can’t make a house payment if you’ve lost your job.

Pam’s Path to Debt-free Living

In early 2009, Pam’s husband became seriously ill and permanently disabled at the age of 58.

Thanks to the economic collapse and housing market crash Pam lost her job less than a year later.

Like so many Americans, the Willis’ had to unload their 2000 square foot home near Chicago. The property’s mortgage and skyrocketing real estate taxes simply wasn’t possible with their reduced income.

It was a time of tremendous stress, a stress that millions of Americans have faced in the last decade.

Fortunately, in October 2013 they were able to buy a 1975 Marshfield single wide on 2 acres in a lovely wooded area of Central Wisconsin.

They paid cash for their new home.

Since they chose to buy an older mobile home they had some cash to work with in terms of remodeling. By staying on budget and picking projects with the most impact and highest return on investment the talented couple transformed their new property into a lovely home.

Debt-free Living and Smart Mobile Home Improvements

Once the 1975 Marshfield mobile home was theirs, Pam and her husband devised a plan to make the home stylish and functional all the while sticking to a budget.

The Willis’ first goal was to improve energy efficiency and reduce heating bills. Next, they made their house a home by updating the space with affordable improvement projects that created a stylish personal space.

Install an Affordable Wood Stove and Central Air

First, they installed a wood stove. It was a mobile home approved unit and professionally installed, a requirement of their homeowner’s insurance. The wood stove helped reduce their heating costs significantly. The mobile home’s furnace uses propane and during their first year in the mobile home, propane jumped up to $5.00 per gallon. Finding a more affordable heating source was a smart move.

Related: Learn how to install a wood stove in a mobile home here. (Mobilehomeliving.org)

Energy Efficient Windows

Second, they had all the windows replaced with modern low E, Argon filled, vinyl clad triple pane models, a huge update from the single pane, aluminum clad windows that were original to the home.

Related: Learn about windows (energystar.gov)

Update the Electrical Panel and Wiring

To meet code requirements for the new central air unit, Pam called a licensed electrician. During the visit, she learned more than she bargained for – the breaker box in the home was unsafe. Read the article she wrote for Mobile Home Living about the Federal Pacific Electric panel here. 

Stylish Home Improvement Projects

Living in a home with less than 900 square feet of living space is difficult, especially if you are used to 2000 square feet. Living in a small mobile home with style and class is challenging but Pam has managed just fine!

The Willis’ improved their mobile home with affordable and smart home improvement projects that added style to the space.

debt-free living - mobile home kitchen makeover

Focus on the major surfaces of the home, flooring, walls, cabinetry, and ceilings were all updated:

They updated the walls with an aged plaster faux painting technique and added wainscoting in the living room and kitchen to make the home brighter and appear larger.

Read all about Pam’s aged plaster wall technique here.

Wood laminate flooring was installed and the kitchen ceiling fan was given a budget makeover.

The kitchen was given a complete update with new flooring, sink, and faucet. The cabinetry, ceiling, and walls were painted.

debt-free living - close up mobile home kitchen makeover cabinet refinish

Pam also painted the plastic tile sheet-goods backsplash to look like real tile. Had she replaced the backsplash they would have had to pull down all the cabinets. You can read about the cheap backsplash tileboard project here.

debt-free living -Cheap Backsplash Ideas How to Paint Tile Board Paneling

Future Plans

The Willis’ next projects include a bathroom remodel (with her husband’s disability they need to get rid of the tub and put in a low threshold shower). They also want to replace the siding with vinyl and add foam insulation on the walls.

Be sure to follow Pam on Pinterest to keep track of her mobile home remodeling projects. She’ll continue giving us updates throughout the process.


Downsizing is a difficult thing to do. Those that do it are showing the world that we can live with less and do it with style.

Thank you, Pam, for sharing your story with us as well as your beautiful home and great home improvement projects!

And thank you for reading Mobile Home Living! 

Do you have a downsizing story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it!

Pam wrote about her sister’s experience with the housing collapse and her second chance at home ownership here.