Building with Physical Limitations

Reader Contribution by Anna Twitto
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Even in our modernized age when almost everything is done at the click of a keyboard, being able-bodied is still an essential part of building your own house, starting a homestead, and keeping it going. But what do you do if certain health problems interfere with your homesteading goals? Should you accept that some things just aren’t meant to be – like building with your own hands, for example?

It is my belief that there is an alternative way to do pretty much anything, and even to profit from the seemingly untoward circumstances that might seem as a death certificate to your dream.

When my husband and I began working on building our cabin, there were certain setbacks which threatened the whole project. My husband has spinal disc herniation, and is unable lift anything heavy. I was pregnant at the time, which obviously meant I needed to be extra careful about what I attempted to do.

The interior of our cabin – work in progress

Living with back injury is a constant struggle for everyone, especially someone aiming to homestead. Even a simple thing such as getting a sack of chicken feed out of the car can be a problem, and we often ask a neighbor for help with that. We have a gas heater rather than a wood stove because chopping wood just isn’t something my husband is up to. So building?

Still, we plunged in and made it, and our cabin is now nearly completed. Here is how we did it – and how you can, too.

Build small

Our cabin is about 700 square feet – a compact, efficiently utilized space which is going to serve as a cozy home to five people. Building small means you need little to no special equipment or heavy machinery.

Almost all the work can be done manually, with simple tools that can be easily operated by anyone, even with no prior building experience.

Build Slow

I realize sometimes things need to be done fast – for example, a structure raised before winter – but for us, building slow and tackling one thing at a time meant being able to do more ourselves, rather than hiring workers for everything from start to finish.

After the main structure and the roof were completed, we could take our time for anything that needed to be done on the inside.

Appreciate your Community

We had plenty of opportunities to do that, as our friends and neighbors stepped up to the task with the generous gift of their time, skill and sweat. Many work days were completed with now one friend, then another, lending a hand. It was a hot summer, and several times a day I cruised between our rented home to the building site across, bringing bottles of cold drinks and platters of chilled watermelon.

It wasn’t just work – it was a time of getting together and strengthening community ties. We were all in it together, and had lots of fun along the way, too.

Hire More Hands

In our case, there was no getting around the need of hiring workers. Most of them are people who live nearby and whom we know and appreciate, so this means our money went towards supporting local economy. Some workers, especially during the summer, were high school kids looking for a few days’ or weeks of work. For the most part, they were thrilled to be actually doing something meaningful – building a real house for a real family. Much better than working for a fast food chain!

Of course, we took every possibly safety precaution and paid everyone fairly. The teenage boys had lunch with us every day (and let me tell you, it gave me some practice at cooking large batches), which created a personal connection and plenty of interesting conversation around the table.

Our house is no less our own because we didn’t actually do everything ourselves. We still poured our efforts into planning, supervising, selecting and ordering the materials (or looking for recycled ones) and whatever work we were physically able to do.

An important thing to remember is, even if you begin your homesteading journey as young, physically capable people, it’s a long haul and a lot of things can happen along the way. A neighbor of ours, a young man in his twenties, severely injured his arm during a work accident. People from the neighborhood stepped up with any help that was needed, from chopping firewood to bringing meals for the family.

Back injuries are a common plight with people who do hard physical work; and, of course, people age and have to re-evaluate their abilities as the years go by. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on living the life you love – just that you do things a little differently than you might have done otherwise.

With realistic evaluation of your possibilities, some thinking outside the box, and a network of caring, supportive friends, homesteading and building a sustainable, economical home are still possible, even if you can’t actually do everything with your own hands.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook, find her as SmallFlocksMom on Earthineer, and read more about her current projects on her blog. 

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