There are, I’m sure, many for whom the biggest obstacle is actually believing they can build/buy a tiny house, who sit and say ‘oh if only I could do what your doing’, or ‘I’d love to be able to do that but I’m not clever/rich/strong/free enough’, or even ‘I just have far too much stuff to downsize that far’. I spent years planning an off-grid home, always hoping that one day I’d have enough money to buy a piece of land and build the house of my dreams. It was never going to be some mansion in the mountains but even so it was a huge undertaking and I thought that if I worked solidly for enough years I’d eventually get to the place where I’d be able to take a year or two off work and build it.

Life, however, had other plans. I found myself unemployed, getting divorced and having a nervous breakdown. I’d moved from a 3 bedroom house to a room in a shared house. I was steadily going through my savings living in one of the most expensive cities in the world and starting to wonder how long it would be before I was out on the streets. It was during this time that I gradually became aware of the tiny house movement and, in particular, Jay’s Tumbleweed houses. I sat looking around my room and realised that a tiny house would, in fact, be bigger than the room I spent most of my time in. Add a small kitchen/bathrom to it and you’d pretty much be there. I once spent 3 months living in a VW camper I used to own doing fieldwork in the Hebrides, the space became more reasonable as I started figuring out how I might arrange storage.

So, once I decided I could live in the space, it came down to money. With savings dwindling, could I afford to build a tiny house? I’ve always been a bit of a womble and I figured I could recycle a fair amount of stuff picked from skips (dumpsters), freecycle, eBay etc. Reading about Dee William’s tiny house cemented the idea.

Even so, actually doing something about it was harder. I finally decided that I had about enough money left from my savings to pay the rent on my room for a year, just in case I couldn’t get more work in the current slack job market. I could easily see myself getting to the end of that year and then having nothing left. I made a bit decision, one that was very tough, with the agreement of my mum I would move in to their spare room in Ireland and build a tiny house in the back yard. It would mean leaving everything behind but I would have space to live and mum would feed me. I was 42 and moving home. Strangely it didn’t feel like defeat, I was going to follow my dream for the first time in ages.

Then a friend who was starting a new business offered me some part-time work and my girlfriend, who I’d only been with for a few months, offered to let me move in with her so I could stay in London and build it here. I had no idea whether I could, but making the decision was undoubtedly the hardest thing in the entire process. After that, it became much, much easier. Once you’re actually embarked on the journey sheer inertia tends to keep you going.

There have, of course, been many ups and downs. The trailer I bought turned out not to be a good buy, I should have spent more which would have meant I’d have been much further along with the building than I am now, as I’m still fixing the problems with it, although I should be moving upwards soon. Weeks of rain can become demoralizing as you just can’t really build in a downpour. However, you take that time to research, monitor eBay, scour the small ads and freecycle lists. Even though I was again made redundant when my friend’s business couldn’t attract additional funding, this just gave me more time over the summer to concentrate on building and I had a little bit of extra money from the work.

I have always been reasonable at basic diy, but I’d never framed anything, never wired or plumbed a house from scratch, never built a roof or welded anything. I love to learn new things though, and I love a challenge. It costs nothing to spend time on the internet, you can even go to the library or a coffee shop and use their bandwidth if you don’t have your own. I’ve spent many days lost online, learning about all the new skills I’ll need. No-one’s born with the innate understanding of electrical code, or the metallurgy of copper pipe, it can all be learned if you’re prepared to put in the work. I was time rich, and I’ve been using it to learn so many new skills. I’ve also gained many new friends online through the tiny house communities/forums and blogs. I’ve built a network of contacts through whom I can learn, exchange ideas and gain support.

At each stage there’s always been a reason not to do something, but equally there’s a reason to start. The old Confucian saying ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’. For me that single step was the hardest point in the entire process. I was having lunch with a very good friend of mine a while ago, just after I’d made the decision to build, not knowing how I’d find the materials to do all this on the budget I had. He looked at me, smiled and said the oft-repeated line from the film Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, they will come’. So far he’s been right, things have turned up unexpectedly just when I’ve needed them. Maybe it’s all about belief.


3 Responses to “Obstacles”

  1. KateNo Gravatar says:

    Justin – I found this article very inspiring, mainly because I too would like to downsize my life and already have mental plans about what I want to do, but like you, adversity got in the way and I have a lot of things to sort out first – a lot of obstacles to overcome. Sometimes I feel I don’t know what to do to get my life back in a manageable order so I can begin actually LIVING it, but reading something like this gives me motivation to carry on dreaming and planning and fixing what needs to be fixed – that other people do it all the time and manage to triumph. Good luck with your little house and a simpler, freer life! In the meantime I am going to do a ton of my own research, so I’m all clued up when the time comes. Thanks!

  2. MollyNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Justin,

    Much of your post rings true. Am just finishing the framing of the walls. The only other thing I have ever built was a wooden box for my wife. Am constantly amazed at what we are capable of.


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