In November of last year, I was in need of change. I was thirsty for it. I wanted to buy land and build a house, but my savings account was only filling by a slow trickle. I knew I did not have ten years to wait. Desire threatened to snap ribs and explode from my chest. I had to choose a date to leave Philadelphia, and the need to build a house became urgent.
I had been learning to use Sketchup to create 3-D models, and my first project was a 6′x8′ structure I called the “Study Shack.” There would be just enough space for a chair or loveseat. There would be no bathroom or kitchen, and the structure would provide shelter, respite, and little else. Having spent long periods of time living in a van, I knew that this arrangement would be a healthy choice for me. I would be returning to a simplicity I had already known and loved. The need was strong, and plans began right away.
I would build the structure on my parents’ property, and live in it until I could find parking elsewhere. I would look for a grassy pasture after completion. A 6′x8′ house would fit on a small trailer, and the house could be supported on deck blocks with no need for a permanent foundation. This would be the perfect size to learn building skills without spending an enormous amount on materials. The portable size would make moving and finding a location relatively straightforward and easy. I had a project. I was in heaven.
Kristin saw no wisdom in this plan. The plan seemed reckless and without merit. When I invited her to join me on my adventure, she was a step beyond incredulous. I have lived in small spaces. As a temporary solution allowing for a change of location, a cessation of paying rent, and an opportunity to save for bigger ideas – the Study Shack seemed perfect. To Kristin it sounded like a crowded tent. No dishwasher is one thing, but no dishes is going too far.
There was a stalemate. I only have one life to live, and I made a commitment long ago that whimsy is a critical component of my decision-making process. I have to listen to my instincts. I have a great fear of letting regret gain a foothold in the present to taunt me in the future. The time of rent and roommates was coming to an end. I would be building a house… now.
A safety net of promises was not enough to assuage Kristin’s apprehensions. I promised that if the experiment failed, then we would get an apartment. Nothing would be lost – we’d be right back where we started. I would scratch my great itch to build a structure, and we’d save at least a few months of rent. What seemed logical to me sounded burdensome and unconvincing to the person who I love.
Spending most of the daylight in coffee shops and public places, and being home only to read, sleep, or cook a simple one-pot meal – that is the life of a vandweller. Being socially adept and unencumbered by many of the challenges of a material society – this is the life I have known. This is the missing simplicity I was yearning to embrace. If I can just get her to try it, I thought, she will be able to understand that happiness is possible – maybe even easier to attain – when the distractions and frustrations of a cluttered life are abandoned.
You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink. Well, Kristin isn’t a horse, and she was having none of this shit. No means no. I was forced to concede to the fair merit of her intractable opinions, which then forced me to re-evaluate my priorities. We held hands as we walked to the neighborhood coffee shop.
I sat across a small table from Kristin and asked her a question that I was afraid to hear the answer to.
“What is the smallest house you can picture yourself being comfortable in?”
Posed as a mere hypothetical, the urgency I felt was not given away in my tone. Kristin’s answer would be honest and complete. This was not a forum for debate, and a difference of opinions or perceived needs would have to be accepted as a valid and possibly deeply disappointing reality.
“I think maybe 8′x12′,” she said. “How big is the Epu, again?”
“I’ll build it!” I told her, leaving no time for her to reconsider. “The Epu is 8′x12′.”
The decision was made, and the coffee tasted better. We talked about living in a tiny house together, and discussed when we might be able to leave the city. I knew that a bigger house would tighten the budget too far. My savings might not cover it, but the thought of waiting caused a dull ache. But! My girlfriend was on board with a measure of lunacy, and I could hear the chimes of whimsy inviting me to rejoice.
In that coffee shop meeting, I agreed to bite off more than I can chew. I knew I would be stretching the limits of not only my bank account, but the patience of my family whose land I would be using as a place to build. Moving the house would become triple-difficult, requiring permits and probably a flatbed truck. Roaming code enforcers would be twice as likely to alert to the scent of permit-free construction. Bearing the weight of these worries is a compromise that I have not regretted for a moment. I could sense the relief and excitement when I promised to build a bigger home.
“A house is still a home if it don’t have a kitchen, but a house with no Kristin has somethin’ missin’.”