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Our Life in a One-room Cabin

In the mid-1980s, these aspiring homesteaders lived in a one-room cabin while they built their main house.

| June/July 2006

  • one room cabin - The Shed
    The Maxwells take a short break after finishing "The Shed," a 200-square-foot one room cabin they lived in while building their current home.
    Photo by Steve Maxwell
  • one room cabin - stone house
    The two story stone house the Maxwells built over the course of three years while they lived in their cabin.
    Roger Yip

  • one room cabin - The Shed
  • one room cabin - stone house

In 1985, my wife, Mary, and I purchased 91 1/2 acres on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, and a year later, we built a 200-square-foot one-room cabin. We were homesteading beginners, and the job took us four 60-hour workweeks and $550 to build what we now affectionately call “The Shed.” Neither Mary nor I had ever built a structure before The Shed, so it’s smaller and not as stout as the structure described in Build This Cozy Cabin.

For the floor frame and roof rafters, I hewed logs from our forest; for most of the rest of the project, I bought the least expensive locally sawed lumber I could find. I built The Shed with just a few tools: a broad axe, chain saw, claw hammer and a carpenter’s handsaw, square and level.

For four years, every spring through fall, we lived in The Shed as we built our 2,500-square-foot, three-story Victorian-style stone home. By living in that little cabin, we saved thousands of dollars and boosted our productivity by eliminating daily travel to the work site. We shared that space with mice, newborn livestock, our golden retriever, King, and even a sick calf that had been abandoned by its mother.

Each winter until our hand-built home was ready, Mary and I grudgingly left The Shed and traveled back to the city to overwinter and earn money. But doing so enabled us to live in that tiny rustic cabin for the rest of the year, which was a crucial steppingstone to the rural life we now enjoy.

“Starting out simply and debt-free in The Shed was very important for us,” Mary recalls, “but let’s just say that Steve liked it more than I did.”

Whenever I tell people our story, they usually shake their heads and wonder how we succeeded. But the truth is the cabin life was the lap of luxury for me at the time, because deep down inside, I’ve always been a country person who had the misfortune of growing up in a big city.

3/11/2020 8:06:59 PM

Thank you for sharing! Our Humble beginnings make us really appreciate our blessings.

6/30/2016 1:21:39 PM

I loved reading this story. Building my own masonry home from scratch on a large amount of land a dream for me. I'd love to see pictures of your completed home. Or perhaps you could write another article on it's construction? I was really impressed to hear that you were able to build your home with materials from your own land.

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