To quote the Grateful Dead, “What a long, strange trip it has been.”
It has been a long strange journey to get to here and now. Very long indeed. Strange? Perhaps, which depends on your perspective, but I’ve gone through so many iterations of alternate housing to get here, I’ll have to go way back in time to illustrate the paths not taken. So, sit back, relax…here comes “the history of alternate housing according to Brian.”
In the beginning…
I’ve had a long fascination and interest in architecture and how people live for the other 16 hours of the day when we don’t see each other. I have a fondness for wooden construction, log cabins being a favorite from early on.
I used to read Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. I would always go through the ads in the back (always wanted the army surplus jeep kit). So, aside from occasional articles describing new techniques and DIY projects, I’d be enjoying thinking about other alternatives: dome homes, log cabins, concrete house, etc. were all fun options to explore, to think about.
When I started into elementary, I discovered libraries. Or more importantly, I could find myself in a section of the library and be lost…for hours…just looking through all the options in architecture, building, construction and techniques. I discovered the Foxfire series of books. That was a large and dangerous source of ideas (you can find details here, if you are unfamiliar). This time of my life is when it all became firmly cemented in my life goals: to have a home of my own that I built.
It has been a lifelong pursuit. At one point I wanted to be an architect (which I revisited later in life), then eventually wanting to be a builder. Then, computers happened. Shelved that idea.
Rediscovering a love of alternate building styles
Once I was in college, I was focused in a different direction…computer programming, specifically 3D games. This was the mid-80s, so, not a lot of things in that space…I was a bit early. But, a love of 3D sprung open inside me. I then found a new medium for alternate housing, 3D. That too took quite a few years to get some skills in just the tools needed. Then, out of the wild blue, fatherhood was upon me. That put education and personal pursuits behind me for awhile, so I could focus on putting food on the table.
Even so, I began to think about providing a roof over our heads and continued exploring alternative ways of having a home for cheap if not free. Forget that I wasn’t thinking about the need for land, septic, water, electric, etc. I had ideas. So, I started digging into a few more deeply.
My first love log cabins became a bit of obsession. This is before the Internet, so researching was old school, books and magazines. I started to see people who owned log cabin building companies, but that was super expensive. Then I discovered log cabin kits. This seemed to solve the expensive portion of the equation, but left me with still not having enough money to even buy plans, let alone build one.
As time and frustration mounted, I returned to geodesic dome homes. They were always all over the magazines in many forms: kits, plans, seminars, classes. Designing to a rounded space versus to a rectangular space proved to be very challenging. Of course, outside forces were always saying: you don’t want that, you’ll never be able to sell it. I would always push back with arguments of heating/cooling efficiency, snow loads, high winds. All of these things about geodesic houses were awesome. Being poor of course, hampered any of it.
I kept going on and on through all the alternative styles I could find: a-frames, poured concrete, kits, barn renovations, DIY mobile homes, and RVs. You name it, I found it. The Internet was now available, I could research so much more and in shorter time than ever before. My brain kept going and going, Energizer Bunny style. Having a child though, always brought me back to traditional stick built homes as the practical solution to housing a family.
Finding the tiny house movement
During this time, I came across three alternate building styles that really seemed to be sticking. First, I discovered straw bale houses. This was interesting because it an alternative style, but still represented a more traditional house layout. If you can build it with sticks, you can build it with straw. I bought books, I researched, I designed. It was a fun time.
Secondly came Earthships. This is similar in philosophy to strawbale, except using tires filled with dirt to create very energy efficient homes utilizing solar gain and earth cooling, plus green house technology to create an off grid housing solution that was good in so many ways. The problem was, it was more expensive than stick building. Sigh. That one was out.
Then, without warning, came number three: tiny houses on trailers. I stumbled across a company called Tumbleweed Tiny Homes, started by Jay Shafer. This concept consumed me, so much so that I went back to school to learn architectural drafting and design, bought the books, and attended some workshops. I was thoroughly convinced that 1) I could have the perfect portable home and 2) I could have a new career. I was beyond excited into the world of obsessed. I was looking at designs from old school gypsy wagons to full blown gooseneck trailers. I was seeking to maximize living without maximizing size. It ebbed and flowed for many, many years afterward.
It is still a passion, but, realities of life and wife made the tiny houses I was so interested in something we couldn’t really reconcile to our real needs. It was too much of a shift in living style (I mean, I agree with her, who wants to climb down and back up a ladder in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom).
Massive frustration, sadness, and sudden inspiration
One evening, sitting with Julie and talking, I suddenly got VERY frustrated. See, I’d like to retire from technology, but feel that I cannot. I make a good living and my income would be needed for any house we wanted to buy. So, I felt trapped by my job, dissatisfied with renting forever, unable to see how to afford the house we wanted (to build if possible) in an area of the country where real estate never really hiccupped for long. It was an exasperating outburst that I finally was able to say how much of a conundrum I was in.
Then, Julie, out of nowhere, made one simple comment: “What about an RV?”
It stopped me dead in my tracks. I looked at her, dumbfoundedly, and asked, “What do you mean?”
She said “I’ve always wanted to have an RV and travel the country. Why wouldn’t that work?” (seriously paraphrased, but, you get the gist)
And like that, my mind spun rapidly, faster than I could articulate, as I played through it all in my head. Here was the grand solution. It solved every aspect of what I was striving for by living smaller, lighter, and more happily. I looked at Julie and said, “That completely solves my entire dilemma.”
A spark and a whirlwind of research
With that one little question, a lifetime’s pursuit was given laser focus. We researched everything we could find about full-time RV living. We found a lot of great resources via blogs, YouTube, forums, etc. that helped us to truly decide how we wanted to approach the idea. I was already working remotely, so, didn’t have a office to tie me down. It boiled down to figure out how to get connectivity to the Internet without a static place to live. I did figure it out, it is cellular and it is VERY expensive. But when compared to the other reductions in monthly outlays, it was attainable.
We went through exercises of researching RV manufacturers, RV types (class A, class C, fifth wheels), 2 vs. 3 vs. 4 season RVs, Internet, how things like laundry are done, types of refrigerators, entertainment, storage space, and hundreds of other minutiae that kept us very busy for almost 2 years. It was a lot of information we gathered in that time, overwhelming amounts of it. But, we filtered through it all and got our plan together.
And now, the plan’s fruition is meer weeks away
So, that brings us to now. We are so close to a complete and utterly new shift to a new way of life. We aren’t retired, we will still be working. But we’ll be on vacation every day in some way or other. We can go on “staycations” every month. We can take our pets with us. We can spend more time with family and friends as we travel, who doesn’t want 3 weeks instead of 3 days with family?
Ok, that’s a trick question, we’ll just walk away from that one.
Once we are settled and our fur zoo acclimated, we can travel anywhere in the country. We get to explore food, culture, music, and life in all of the places we go, see history, see everything! No more excuses of “we can’t afford to fly there,” or “we don’t have enough vacation,” or “we can’t leave our fur babies for that long.” We can do all of those things without nearly as much issue.
Time has a way of catching up to us all. We decided we’d do an end run on time and do this now rather than wait until we can retire (or not, jury is still out on retirement for our generation). We can afford it now and we can adapt more readily now rather than in our 70s.
So yes, it has been a long strange trip. It is about the journey…and ours is about to take a very interesting turn. In the immortal words of my favorite poem by Robert Frost:
I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.
Sage words. I now get to follow them to see all the difference.