We astonished our friends and family 7 years ago Labor Day weekend when we purchased 44 acres of Driftless Area ridge side that we had first walked only a week before. We wanted to settle on its south-facing slope and care for this bit of land
Then we learned, as we talked to local conservation organizations that city folk buying little pieces of “Nature” and plopping a house in the middle of it is disastrous to that nature.
Talk about a buzz kill!
What could we do? If we sold the land to someone else and stayed in Madison, the new buyer would plop a house in the middle of the land. Our piece of paradise had been shaved off a farm as an estate was settled, and it seemed destined to take a hit on the green-o-meter.
New goal: build the most non-intrusive structures we can and return some of the land to small-scale, sustainable agriculture in which it had spent much of the last century. If we build very greenly and contribute to the local foodshed, and restore some prairie/savanna/woodland — that’s probably the best this 44 acres could hope for.
Now we have a building date for our house on the timeline – summer of 2012. And to that end we are learning everything we can about straw bale and whole tree structures, earthen clay finishes and the other techniques and materials that sound good.
Because all of this is new to us, next summer we will try our hand at the new skills and materials with a tiny, practice structure up the hill.
This little structure should guarantee we build a better, smaller house in several ways.
1. We will understand the materials and use them wisely.
2. It will provide guest accommodations that can be eliminated from the main house where it must always be heated and dealt with.
3. It will teach us the ABCs of living small
Our master plan required putting our Madison house on the market next spring and then renting a small place near our land while we prepare and build.
Now we are thinking that if we can rough it in our test building for a year, we can save a chunk of change, and also get a real sense of how small we can go.
This is The Goldilocks Model.
Right now we live in a house that is too big. If we live for a time in a house that is too small, then our ultimate house will be just right.
It’s intriguing to consider life in a tiny unplumbed cottage heated with wood, and maybe a solar panel for off-the-grid power. We have circled this idea warily for a while. But can we make it work while I do freelance writing and Doug teaches college classes? Such rustic conditions are a little more of a challenge when interfacing with the “modern” world.
Once before, we pushed ourselves beyond what we had thought possible when we fixed up and sold our house to move to the Netherlands. That leap changed our lives in ways we could not imagine as we grasped each others hands and jumped out into the unknown.
That was 25 years ago.
Can we do it again but more so?
- Finish all the repairs and renovations needed to put our current place in town on the market next spring?
- Trim down the possessions that fill this place to only the most valued – and put most of those in a storage unit?
- Design and build as much as possible with our own hands a tiny dwelling by the time we need to occupy it?
- Live through at least one cycle of seasons in a few hundred square feet with minimal power and no plumbing?
I’m counting on it.