I found your blog long about 2012 after I added up what I’d spent in rent over the past 20 years (somewhere in the neighbourhood of $194,000.) Determined to live a life I love, I’d left my soulless corporate job, and started painting again. But the high cost of living in LA was crushing. Even supplementing with part-time jobs and working 7 days a week was not enough, and I moved back to Pennsylvania to live with my mom. I felt broken, ashamed and humiliated. I’d been on my own since I was 18, and now in my forties, I felt like a complete and utter failure.
I remember reading one of Hari Berzins’ blog posts where she said that part of her healing was reminding herself that, “…I am not my credit score.” That made me bawl like a newborn. And I started learning to let go of the shame and anguish I felt at essentially starting my life over. I began to redefine what success and failure meant to me. I was beginning to think in a new way, and shed long-entrenched beliefs about what constituted a “good life.” I started to question whether the American Dream hadn’t maybe turned into an American Nightmare for many who could not really afford what the average American home now costs. My eyes were opening to viewing life from what really was very much a newborn perspective.
I began pricing sheds at Home Depot, and then I found the Tiny House Blog and the tiny house world. The thought that it might be possible to do a job that was inspiring and fulfilling AND own my own home, was inspiring! I had been thrown a lifeline–hope. And I clung to that hope fiercely. But I had a huge obstacle–I was broke. What I didn’t know then was, not having money was the single biggest catalyst in the chain of events that led to a life and a life’s work that I never dreamt I could love so much. And I would have missed it entirely if I’d had the money to build the tiny house I thought I wanted then.
I figured if I couldn’t afford to build a tiny house, I could at least learn how to build one, and that started with the design. I read everything I could get my hands on about tiny house construction and design, as well as simpler living. I stalked your blog. I found Lloyd Khan’s “Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter” at Barnes & Noble, but didn’t have an extra $17 in the budget to buy it. So I’d visit it at the store, and drool. When I was finally able to buy it, I read it from cover to cover and drooled and dreamed some more.
I bought a pad of graph paper and some erasable, coloured pencils from Walmart, and had no idea where to begin. I thought, who am I to think I can design a whole house, even a tiny one? But I have always had an eye for design and I knew what I liked, so I borrowed a tape measure, and started measuring everything in my environment. How many inches does it take to comfortably sit around a dining table? How wide does a doorway really need to be? How much space do you need on a kitchen counter to cook a meal from scratch? I wanted to design and build a tiny house that you could move comfortably in, but still be a tiny space.
I lived with that tape measure, my pad of graph paper and “Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter” in my hands or on my nightstand almost 24/7. I read, researched, sketched and scribbled. I erased and sketched and scribbled some more. I filled that pad with my inexperienced little tiny house designs and started another one. I borrowed power tools from a friend and started teaching myself how to use them. I built a little fence. And a headboard. I repurposed a cast-off bench. Anything I could do to practice my woodworking skills while not cutting any of my appendages off.
Somewhere in my internet wanderings, I discovered salvaged material, and the toxic additions to many new building products. I had a whole new area to learn! I started joining in tear-downs and learning how to safely de-construct buildings that were past their structural life. The first time I climbed up onto a roof to salvage the rafters, I was scared to death! But I knew this was a way I could start inexpensively gathering materials for my tiny house, so I made myself do it! I found a builder I could intern with, which turned into a full-time job. I thought I was on my way, but the Universe had a couple more detours for me.
I discovered fraudulent activity on the books at my job. I felt sick. Part of my compensation was I had use of a company car and was living in one of the model homes. Confronting my boss jeopardized the life I was desperately trying to put back together. But I knew I could not turn a blind eye to the facts, so there really was no question as to what I had to do. I confronted my boss and I lost my position. I had no job, no car and no home. Again.
It’s really, really tough in moments like that to not question yourself and wonder if maybe something is wrong with you when things seem to STILL not be working out. You question your value, and that is a dark and difficult place to be.
But when I see the radiance of a sunset or the intricacies of an iris or hear a creek burbling over stones, I cannot believe we are here to live lives that are stuck, stifled, stymied, stagnant or stale. I was determined to figure out how to live a life I loved, and still be able to pay the bills, own a home and make a contribution.
I bought a tent, a camp stove and a propane heater. I had met a woman who was willing to take a chance on me and my fledgeling designs, and I bought tools and a generator with the down payment for her build. I couldn’t afford to rent an apartment and a place to start my business, so I rented a piece of raw land and with a badass builder/subcontractor I’d met in the tiny house industry, we started to build our first tiny house together. I pitched my tent on the deck and collected rainwater in a bucket. I gathered twigs to build a campfire to cook over and to heat enough water to shower in. When it got cold, I moved the heater into the tent and left a flap partially open so I hopefully didn’t die of carbon-monoxide poisoning.
Having almost nothing and going to live off-grid in a tent in the woods is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Sometimes scary, frustrating and difficult, but I learned that I can survive anywhere. And that no matter what happens, I’m going to be just fine. Knowing that in the core of my soul is more empowering, and peace-giving than any amount of money could ever be. THAT is true security!
I still couldn’t afford to build my own tiny house or buy my own land, but I continued to send out to the Universe the qualities I wanted in my life, irrespective of the means to acquire it.
Fast forward 15 months, and lots of serendipitous moments and wondrous happenstances later. I was able to purchase property, for the very first time in my life. And I bought a little, old truck. Not anything like the big, new Acura I used to drive, but she little Truckus was paid for and got me where I needed to go.
I now get to spend every day designing and building the magical tiny houses that used to exist only in my head. That badass builder? I made him my business partner. And he’s the kind of partner and friend one only hopes to be lucky enough to find. It’s still a lot of work, and penny-pinching, but I’m no longer living in a tent! And I LOVE MY LIFE!!!!
Our first house, Maggie, went to live out near Houston, and unfortunately, went through Hurricane Harvey and got flooded. We are in the process of rehabbing her at the moment. We decided that instead of selling the few houses we’d be able to build in a year’s time, we’d open a bed and breakfast where lots of people could come and enjoy the tiny cottages built of salvaged materials that we love to create!
Our property is covered with live-oaks and cedars, in the Texas Hill Country town of Dripping Springs. The old English word for woods is wald, so I named it Havenwald, meaning “haven in the woods.” The pictures are of Robin Hood’s Hideout, our first house for rent on Airbnb at Havenwald.
It has been a long journey. And I realize now, every step was necessary. There are no failures. You can’t get it wrong. I had to learn what I had to learn, meet who I needed to meet, and sometimes learn what not to do by watching people who I didn’t want to emulate. Every step brought me to here. And here is a place I love.
Thank you for the part you unwittingly played in my journey. I was a speaker at the Tiny House Jamboree this year in Arlington, and while I didn’t get to meet you, I met a few other people who also gave me hope on my journey, like Dee Williams.
The website is Havenwald.com, and the link to the Airbnb listing is https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/19068529?s=51 There are more pictures on both, as well as build pics and videos on the Havenwald Facebook page.
Best regards and many thanks,