Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Back in high school I’ll never forget the sound of my Chevrolet coming to life as I tested it for the first time after installing the engine that I re-built — it was smooth! I learned it was the goal of getting the car to life that generated the attitude that propelled me forward. No matter how many steps are needed to reach the goal, like long-distance runners who find the Zen of running, owner-builders who like to build find their Zen of building.
This is the fourth year of my one-year plan to build an off-grid small home and homestead. It’s been hard, ‘nose to the grindstone’ work during the summer building seasons, then each winter prepping for the next building season. My top goal on this project is to feel secure in a home that is sustainable and in sync with Mother Nature’s energy. What I enjoy about living in my home now is the celebration that “it works!” when I feel hot water from the faucet or turn on an LED light—making life easier after the long march of building tasks.
Plans are often unintentionally incomplete; meanwhile the goal is less complicated—simply your idea of how a building improves your lifestyle. The Zen of building helps you bridge the gaps in the house plan.
For example, I casually thought about building a greenhouse on my homestead without planning for it and then after building scaffolding (also not in the plan) which was needed to install the solar panels, I continued to tap into my Zen of building and converted the scaffolding into a greenhouse! That will make life easier at my homestead because it supports my goal to be sustainable.
What happens when building your dream home and something doesn’t work—like my why my solar hot water system was lame (at first)? What usually happens in situations when I’m stumped is my friend with the PhD in Physics will explain what I should do different. Then I ask myself why didn’t I follow the same plan I saw in ten different books already? That’s part I call ‘learning’ and then I get back on track with building. (By the way, one of those books that would be an excellent resource for off-grid builders to read is Hut-Topia; full-disclosure, I’m the author.)
When all you have is a goal and no idea how to get there, it’s time to combine the forces of building Zen and creativity. For example, I was previously conditioned to the facilities of a spacious and fully functional kitchen, and I wanted to somehow live with and build the equivalent kitchen into 1/10 the space available in my small home.
Like a person sculpting in clay with their eyes closed — only the light of imagination illuminates the sculpture. Build the initial version and test it with eyes open to learn one more way to make life easier. My small kitchen works well now after a few iterations of sleeping on the idea and throwing myself into building one step at a time.
Home improvement goals that make life easier are on every homeowners mind. Take a look at the “14 Basic Requirements for a Livable Home” in a previous MOTHER EARTH NEWS article.
Christopher James Marshall is the author of the do-it-yourself small house book Hut-Topia and is a modern-day off-grid mountain man. After weathering recessions and lay-offs every decade since the 70s through the “Great Recession,” he became semi-retired by making plans to live sustainably and then built his 500-square-foot off-grid home. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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