Looking Back and Living Forward

“Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free.”Joseph Brackett

Living Small Today. My name is Gregory Johnson. I’ve spent time in castles and lived in homes of 4000 square feet or larger. Yet, today I’m living in a 10′ x 7′ home I named the Mobile Hermitage (photo by MakurJain.com). I assisted Jay Shafer with constructing the home for me back in the summer of 2003. By August that year I moved in. I can’t say I’ve written the book on small living, but I can say I’ve written a book on small living. The title is Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned Living in 140 Squre Feet.

My simple and small journey was prompted by a desire for a more efficient, economical, care-free, and enjoyable life. Along the way, I’ve learned that there is freedom with simplicity, as the old Shaker song suggests. Below are a few impressions that had an influence in the downsizing of my life along the way.

Urbanism and Social Activism. As a college student, in the mid-1980s, with an interest in social activism, I began a study of Urban and Regional Planning with the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA) that included travel to several South American countries including Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. I was later able to travel to India, Israel, Spain, Mexico, and Canada, which allowed me greater exposure to learn about housing and urban issues around the world. It seemed to me that urban planning largely influences all other areas of life and wellbeing. So, that became an early interest.

Technology Shrinking Our Lives. There was a global shift in the late 1970s, and as computers became more mainstream, our information possessions increasingly became digital. Music, photos, correspondence, and other documents slowly made their way into computers leaving bare shelves and empty filing cabinets. As one of the early adopters of computers, I became a somewhat of a minimalist at an early age. By the early 1980s, I was already carrying one of the first notebook computers on the market.

Early Impressions. My dreams of small and simple living began at an early age, and were perhaps influenced by the Quaker education I was exposed to for a few years. Later, in the 1970s, as a teenager, I spent many years living in an 18th century log cabin nestled on 17 acres in the rolling hills of Maryland. The home had a hidden room in it that was used for the underground railroad. For vacations, my father would take my brother and I to stay at a cabin in the mountains of the Virginia / West Virginia border. This gave us an opportunity to see the great outdoors and escape from the hustle and bustle of the countryside. At the cabin in Virginia there was no running water and no electricity. The water we fetched on foot by walking down the hill to the spring and filling water buckets. There was a holding tank above the kitchen sink for the water. We didn’t really need electricity in those days (the 1970s) because there were no iPods or notebook computers at that time. I had an ink pen and something called a journal for writing in. Information was stored in books in those days. So, as a teenager, I didn’t miss electricity. The summers spent at the cabin, walking the hills and foraging for beeries were some of the best times during my youth. An alternative to spending time in West Virginia was a trip that we would make to Iowa to ride bicycles across the state on an event called RAGBRAI. While in Iowa, we would always visit our Amish friends in Kalona. I was fascenated by the Amish. From seeing their way of life, and romanticising about the cabin in Virginia, I dreamed that one day I might live a simple, small, off the grid life. With that in mind, I began drawing house plans as an early teenager.