Monday, October 18, 2010

Tiny Houses, Big Dreams, Customized Expectations

When I started this blog, I truly thought we were about a year out from being able to finalize the purchase of acreage for a homestead, and maybe two years from relocating to it in stages.

There has been a lot of backstory that has never made it here to the blog, mostly for the sake of privacy and also for the sake of's our preference to save a few things till their completion before piecing together the story so that we don't overstep negotiations that were in the workings, never know who reads a blog here and there :)

Now there is frankly more backstory than blog in a lot of areas. And yet while some negotiations are pending, whether permanently or temporarily (we don't know), it'll have to stay that way longer than I've preferred.

But it's not for lack of wanting to type it here...

Since this blog's first post back 3 1/2 years ago in February 2007, our picture of what we want, what we can afford, what's practical, and what we no longer need/want/are able to do has changed a lot.

Our economic "crash" came a lot sooner than the wider American one did, so we've been a bit in practice for some tightening of goals and the financial belt. What's ended up happening is that as God has closed some doors, and others remain open, we've grown 3 1/2 years into a clearer idea of what we want from our Homestead-To-Be, and we've made our temporary homestead wherever we are in the IS where you live it now. But we still see ourselves elsewhere, unless that possibility becomes a closed door in the future in ways we can't anticipate now.

Here are some things I have adjusted to fit my dreams differently, and Jack and I are on the same page with them:

1. Fewer animals. I think given our enthusiasm, we probably would have initially spent money on specialty breed purebred animals, namely heritage breed cattle, sheep, chickens, poultry, given the chance. We would have started with absolutely no background in animal husbandry, bought supplies we had little idea whether we truly needed (would have bought a lot of unnecessary ones we thought were necessary) and have been far afield of the practical goals of putting food on the table and saving money while being sustainable and wise. We needed time observing others's experience and hearing a lot of what NOT to do, and what has and hasn't worked for other folks. Presently, there are a lot of types of animals we MAY ease into keeping...perhaps...but mostly likely it will be one or two types at a time, discontinuing the ones that truly are not a good fit overall. Our perception of our needs is a lot simpler now than it was three years ago, and so is the amount of work I'm willing to do to maintain those. In short, we eat simply and would start out with one type animal, such as chickens...and learn small and grow into more.

2. Too much house. On paper a lot of things look fabulous. When that equates to square footage, my pen can run away from me when playing with graph paper and with visions of floor plans dancing in my head. But the truth is that there are only two of us, and in our lives now and most likely for the future, we need much less. And I think I prefer to maintain much less and have more freedom to do other our idea of our "dream house" is small...very small, actually. For years we've perused the Tiny House movement, and some flavor of that is likely what we'd do now...enough to own outright with no debt, even if it's a small small place that can be expanded in segments IF...big needed to be. Something actually not much bigger than a basic shed. If you'd seen the square footage of some of our past sketches, you might chuckle over the differences today.

3. Size of land. I'm willing to do with less as long as we can get the useage we need from the land...that's how any land will be judged by us now. What ACTUAL resources do we need? We're not going to be moving to Alaska and hand peeling logs we chopped ourselves, nor trapping marten or shooting moose for our winter stores. Our diets have changed to a higher percentage of vegetable, so we would have to allow for garden space. We want privacy. And I want no land restrictions that would choke us with regulations all over the place as to land use, building codes, and animals we can raise. Depending on the type of property, most of what we TRULY need could be found on a much much smaller acreage than what initially we had in mind. And it's a good thing because that's all our budget would allow today...if even that :)

4. Where do we want to be for the long term? We are aging. We are not "old" yet, but we're past the growing family stage. I don't want to relocate after this next move. We especially want to choose with care the climate, location, proximity to medical/jobs/colleges, etc that we would find optimum for the long term...the very long term.

5. Living on a fixed income eventually...perhaps we'll find ourselves in that situation. Being completely out of debt and without a mortgage would be optimum in having enough self sufficiency to survive below what's normally thought of as "average income" yet with a great relief of financial pressure. Debt reduction has been THE biggest goal and accomplishment of the last three years. If this time served no other purpose than to cement the discipline of realizing how narrow a margin that is...that debt, even a little, goes away a LOT harder than it is a lesson well learned and one we don't want to repeat. The appeal of a small setting with big freedoms (lack of debt)is one we see as our ideal "retirement"...not a big house or big set of monthly bills with the need for a big income to sustain them.

6. Physical health. Realizing our limitations may not be romantic...20 years ago we were in better physical shape and didn't have to baby our bodies (knees in particular, and lower backs...ring a bell?) in ways that now we have to bear in mind. Planning to minimize injuries and streamline certain tasks is a BIG factor in our planning our future homestead. This filters down to almost every area. Here are just a couple of small examples:  Jack's planning a 3/12 or 4/12 roof pitch for ease of maintenance if he has to be the one up making repairs on it...he doesnt need to risk a steeper pitch (nor do I want him to). My personal preference for always having a downstairs space that can serve as bedroom/bathroom figures into any sketch we make of floor plans for a future house...we've both had knee injuries before that made climbing stairs nearly impossible. Small preferences and large, related to maintenance...Jack prefers dry stack or other concrete construction for ease of maintenance and lack of termite problems, and I prefer to have the concrete pad or other surface extend out from the sides of the house a few feet to eliminate critters and bugs from burrowing close to the exterior walls and to aid in keeping the exterior maintained. Those are just a few simple things out of a list of many seemingly insignificant details, but they are things we've noted during these years as we've waited...and waited. And honestly, it's not so bad to have honed those down to the simplest and best of what would work for us.  The list grows.

7. Ease of use. This includes construction, maintenance, durability, things that save time or effort without adding cost, and are the most basic without relying on additional technology or expensive purchases. It involves what we truly NEED to plant to eat rather than trying to plan for the entire seed catalog, what buildings could be multipurpose rather than specialized for only one use, what tools would last and do the best job over time.  It means we'll plant things specific to our climate and microclimate instead of continually fighting to grow things not natural to this growing zone and area.  (Sounds easy, but it took a while to learn that lesson)  It has a lot to do with what size our garden will be, and how many animals we'll attempt to raise at one time, and how many types, what kinds of fencing will be the best. It means we probably won't opt for physically turning over an entire field spadeful by spadeful or fork by fork for the sake of our knees. It means we can barter certain products we raise to exchange for other products and services we could find locally...because we no longer want to do It All. We'll reply heavily on permaculture principles and wise siting.  Some things will be grown "wild" in a forest setting, others will be in raised beds or square foot gardens, and other ways customized to what the best fit is at the time. We'll tailor this to our best fit and not to simply be "green" or "sustainable." We may opt to use a washing machine but to line dry our clothing.

The point is we want to be together, ENJOY our homestead, and not paint ourselves into too many corners we can't rework if we decide they need tweaking.

So in preparation for we keep trying to finish the prep work required before we even GET our homestead property...

1. We are enjoying being together right now.
2. We are enjoying where we are right now and learning what does and doesn't work in our present situation.
3. And we're fine-tuning our expectations as we continue to collect ideas and the benefit of others' experiences. We can't underestimate the tremendous effect reading other homesteaders' blogs and sites has had on our development of a future plan, and what an encouragement. As frustrating as it's been waiting on some of the bigger things that seem to be continually on hold for us, it's been such a privilege experiencing through others' blog posts the How-Tos...and How-NOT-Tos...and joys and bumps and constant changes of so many other families of all descriptions...our community out here.

How has your homestead changed from what you initially thought it would be and what advice would you give as those of us who are wanting to embark to acreage at some point in the future try to set up a permanent homeplace?   All words of wisdom are welcome :)

That's all for now :)

I'm going off-blog for about a week, maybe more. It's a kind of seasonal block of hermit time I seem to need to take cyclically in which to back away, keep on going with the daily things but to put the brain on autopilot and take a vacation. Clarity usually shows up after some down time, and it's refreshing.

So I'll be back...just not sure the exact date.

Happy trails till then and I'm still praying daily for all my buds here in the particulars I'm aware of...please send updates if circumstances change!


Wendy said...

When we bought our suburban house, the goal was always to move to a larger acreage, but we've come to realize that this is not, likely, to happen, and the goal, now, is to develop this piece of land and remodel this house to be what we need/want.

Like you, we're not getting any younger, and where we are now, is an excellent location with regard to proximity to amenities. We have it all right here, and if we were to relocate to a larger piece of land, it would be with the understanding that a long commute would become a part of our lives. Right now, we can entertain the fantasy of being a one-car, and eventually no-car family, but if we lived on an acreage, we'd have to give up that idea.

I think my husband and I have very similar goals to what you and Jack have with the principal one being to eliminate our debt so that when we do "retire" we can do so with only a minimal need for income. Ultimately, I'd like to grow my own food, generate my own electricity, source my own water, and meet my other needs with what I can create using supplies from the surrounding landscape. I'd like my only "expense" to be the taxes I'll still have to pay, but in all other things to be self-sufficient. Whether or not it's realistic is one thing, but at the moment, that's the lifestyle we're working toward ;).

pilgrimscottage said...'re doing exactly what we are doing. Exactly. We, too, had more time than expected to think and work things out as to what we needed and don't need. So far, it's working pretty well, but, still in progress. We'll see where the Lord keeps heading us. Wishing you the best in your endevours.

Irma said...

Definitely not a homesteader but I am putting effort in to learning self sufficient skills.

Give me a tomato seed and a few months later I'll give you a tomato (and you'll never have to give me another seed, by the way.)

Give me whatever you shear off a sheep and not only will I turn it in to yarn, I will knit you a sweater.

Give me a warm windowsill and a chance breeze and I will give you sourdough bread.

Give me some produce (or I'll grow it) and some boiling water, and I will make you any jam, pickle, or preserve you can imagine.

Give me a few cheap ingredients and I will make you laundry soap.

Give me your old clothes and I will hook you a rug., no homestead in my life, and quite frankly, knowing my husband's wishes? No homestead in my future. But I live my life as if it were around the corner. I'm not hurting anybody, I'm learning, and my family is reaping fabulous benefits.

Mr. H. said...

I think that perhaps all of this time you have had to think and plan your future homestead will have benefited you greatly. My advice would be to start very small and slowly expand...whether that be with a garden or forays into animal husbandry. But I see you have already figured that out.

small farm girl said...

It seems like you are on the right road. If I could do it all over, I wouldn't have built our new house as big as it is. Small is nice. I'm glad to see you agree.

Paulette said...

I think it's great you have taken time and come to these realizations. Luckily we did build smaller, but we built on a sloped lot, and have steps everywhere to get in the house. Probably not wise.
We thought we wanted 10 acres. We bought 5.6. Now we see we only needed maybe 2.
We had a HUGE garden the first year. Completely ran away from us. Had a BIG garden this year. Pretty much ran away from us. Next year, we know exactly what we can handle and will eat, and it will be MUCH smaller.
You are really wise to be observing and it may be a blessing you had this time to do so.