Monthly Archives: December 2012


I am beginning to wonder about the wisdom of choosing land so close to my parents’ house. I’d really hoped that Dad and I could work together on it, one project we really did together. “Together” doesn’t work when the plans are diametrically opposed though. Dad dreams of huge houses. My dreams are for small homes. What he sees as success I deem to be excess, and what he sees as saving I’ve learned to view as hoarding.

Success. I’m not even sure how I’d define it. I’ve had a career, but that wasn’t success to me. Success for me is to be happy, to look back and be pleased with what I’ve done, to be at peace with who I am, not to make a certain amount of money, accumulate a specified amount of wealth, or achieve certain statuses. But how can I explain that to someone who’s spent his entire life pursuing the second rather than the first?

I’ve read of people who had difficulty with planning and zoning departments and friends with building what they wanted. I’ve known all along that only one person would stand against me in building my small house. Dad. He wants me to be safe. He wants me to be able to sell at any time, at a profit, and to have everything he ever wanted. He thinks I’m making a huge mistake with the land and the size of the house. He sees it all as a waste of money, but he really has no idea.

Dad won’t ever read this, but here’s my dream. A couple acres. Fruit Trees. A small house. Maybe some chickens. Partly off grid. Near enough to family that I can visit, far enough away that they won’t drop in every day. A garden. Herbs. Wildflowers. Natural landscaping. And eventually maybe working from home or owning my own small business, but that part can wait if it has to. A couple acres and a small house would do nicely for now. To me, that’s success.


The Portable Cabin

So… maybe there is another way to anchor the cabin. If it is on two runners or even four, maybe two or four additional runners could be soundly anchored to the foundation and the cabin slid onto them using the original runners. Then the floor could be bolted to them from above as well as with metal L brackets underneath. The bolted runners would have to be on the outer edges to keep from getting lumps in the floor later if any wiggled lose, but the L brackets could attach the cabin to any central runners. With those in addition to tie downs, I would think it would be better anchored than most full sized houses.

Apparently in mobile homes, the foundation has to include cement runners or a slab foundation in Missouri partly becasue that way the tie downs are in concrete rather than dirt. That wouldn’t really be an issue if it were anchored to the foundation as solidly as a house, though. Even so, I’d use tie downs, I think, in addition to bolting to the foundation, just to be safe. Missouri has some pretty strong winds, after all.

More Donations

I downsized once. Now I’m downsizing again. Not much, not as radically, but still reducing more. Some things are slated for my family-actually most things at this point. Pressure cookers, for instance, that they will use for canning. (Since I don’t have a stove, we will share that adventure, with me doing more of the preparation work and them doing the final canning process, although I do have an electric pressure cooker for minor canning needs.)

I suppose I’ve been downsizing all summer and into the winter, really. I haven’t bought more than a can or two of food for months because I’m eating down what I had hoarded away-which has also had a lovely affect on my food bills. My grocery average is less than $50/month.

Today it was clothes yet again. I’ve stuck to my pattern of getting rid of something if I buy something, but since I’d cleaned house in the summer and wasn’t sure what I’d be wearing through the winter yet, I kept more than I should have. At this point in the winter I know what I will and won’t be wearing, and so more things had to go. There are still more clothes in this house than any one person should own, but since some are business clothes, some are chore clothes, and some are weekend clothes, some are winter and some are summer, I’d say the six drawers and a 3′ closet isn’t a bad number… especially considering that less than a year ago I had over 16′ of closet space full plus 10 drawers (at least).

The downsize has been incredible. I love having less stuff, and look forward to moving into something smaller and reducing even more. Out of all of it, I’ve still only missed maybe four things. Very fleetingly.

Ideas and more setbacks

In talking to Dad again the other night, I realized again that it might be better to camp in the cabin and build a regular house. Not a big house, just an itty bitty one that’s anchored to something. There is one more way to maybe anchor the portable building better than a trailer, but it’s looking more and more like I’ll be doing a new foundation anyway, and if I am, it makes more sense just to do what I want-1/3-1/2 in ground, framed and roofed, facing the south for solar on the roof…

All of this planning is getting annoying. But I’ll be happier in the long run. Missouri is known for it’s strong winds-both straight winds and tornadoes. There’s a creek within walking distance of my land, which is good, but it will also attract tornado type winds on occasion, which is bad, especially in a small portable cabin.

And so I plan and replan. The portable MIGHT be acceptable if I can trim the runners down and set them inside a crawl foundation, then block it up underneath, anchor it with mobile home anchors, and screw it into the foundation somehow. But once a house is built, I’m not sure how to do that last part. I even thought about sitting it on a cement pad before it was quite dry in hopes that would sort of glue it down by molding around the runners and holding fast. (No, not a good idea, and the cement would probably quickly crack even if it did act as glue.)

The problem is that portable cabin is HUGE as a second space, unless it is the garage, which also isn’t a good idea because with a wood floor… oil and gas would absorb into a flammable surface and create a serious hazard. Even with an overlay of a non-flammable surface. And because it’s on runners, the floor would eventually weaken under the load and break through.

I suspect I’ll live in the portable cabin while I build, then sell the portable with some interior work done and use the money to build a garage. I’m beginning to envision a very long process here. But it’s a process I will completely own and can pour my creativity into. I’m not remodeling or making due anymore. I’m making something my own. If it takes ten years, that will still be worth it.

Hurdles, Hoops, and Setbacks

Before I bought the land, I got estimates for tearing down the fire damaged house that’s on it. I failed to check references, though, or written quotes. That’s going to hurt, because now the estimates are MORE THAN DOUBLE what the original estimate was, at least from the reputable companies. The less reputable ones are now indicating cash upfront or don’t want to put anything in writing. Lesson learned.

At this point I’m considering either going home for a week and tearing off siding and removing windows myself, then either getting a new (hopefully lower) quote or tearing off shingles and pulling insulation and sheetrock out as well and then calling the fire department and torching it where it stands, then hauling off the ashes. Another fire and a new foundation would cost less than the demolition charges I’m being quoted. A new foundation would probably be a good thing, anyway, since I’m planning to be there for several decades.

The insurance company wants pictures of the buildings currently on the property, too. Within a week. That could be a little… difficult.

Still, the appliances should be gone now. Any that are left next week will go to the neighbor for scrap. Appliances scrap there for $185/ton. I’m hoping the guy who wanted them took them all. For me it wouldn’t have even been worth the gas-he might have made $80 after cleaning out and loading a deep freeze, fridge, two stoves, a microwave, and a dishwasher.

After living in this old rental house the last few days in the sudden cold, I’ve decided radiant floor heat needs to be a strong consideration in whatever I do. And with the fiscal cliff looming, off grid heating if possible.

Clearing Land

I spent quite a bit of Christmas out at the new land since it’s near family and I’m generally much further away. People probably got very tired of hearing me talk about it, but it’s been an experience. The people who lived in the house that burned down had a very different lifestyle than mine. And so I spent a few hours familiarizing myself with what would need to be done, what could be salvaged, what should be recycled.

Anyone reading this should know first of all that I currently live six hours from this property. I may be the only one in America right now who is a little excited about the possibility of being laid off, but it does appear that I may be told that funding has decreased and my position is no longer supported soon. This land has kept me from a lot of frustration, because if I do get laid off, I have something to look forward to and time to do it. I do worry some about what will happen if I lose the job, but the hopes for the land and house keep things in perspective, and gives me an outlet.

This weekend was one of the only weekends I will be able to be at the property for the next few months. The massive amount of salvage and recycling that should be done would keep me busy for a week or more. As I said earlier, the family who lived there had a much different lifestyle than me. When the house burned, they left… games and clothes on hangars in the closets, dishes (all plastics) in the dishwasher, food in the refridgerator and freezers, towels in the cabinets, bath soaps and shampoos in the bathroom, books in good condition on book shelves, unmarred videos in their cases… furniture that was salvageable, appliances… glass bottles and beverage cans are strewn outside, along with dirty diapers, mattresses, now rusty tools, more videos, and clothes… The intentional waste shocked me. It also troubled me. What could I do in a matter of hours to right some of that wrong?

After considering the situation overnight, the next morning I was ready to get to work. I started with the books, knowing they didn’t even smell of smoke and had no water damage. There were probably 30-40 pounds of books, at least. I loaded them into pillowcases that I’d stripped off the pillows still on the bed. They were donated to a local thrift store that isn’t likely to throw them away and donates their profits to a local charity. So was the complete crib set that was crated and sitting in the shed, nowhere near the fire. As I loaded them, a man drove by and stopped. He asked if he could have the appliances for scrap. I gladly said yes. He also offered to take a load of paint buckets and paints and any other scrap he could find, and offered to run up an estimate on tearing the house down, salvaging any boards and cedar siding he can-more for himself, but again a hearty YES.

And so on day one of my work on the property, I donated more weight than in my entire personal downsizing effort. As an added benefit, some of that came with new friends (friends with skill, tractors, brushhogs, and backhoes) and free labor. It was a very profitable day, and the new friends seemed to think so as well.

The second work day (the only other day I had to work on the property this weekend), Dad came with me. Dad isn’t fond of this two acres or of a small house. I’d hoped he and I would be able to work together on it, building memories along with a home, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be the case. Still, while I loaded everything that looked salvageable out to the shed (except a metal bunk bed that the man will probably scrap and a dresser that was too heavy to lift over the damaged floor safely), Dad took down the wooden bifold shutters. He saved six to eight pairs, plenty to add character to a very small house. I also cleaned up some things in the yard and salvaged a good number of DVDs that had been left in the muddy yard in stacks. They were overgrown with grass, but the DVDs themselves still play. As we finished, a neighbor came over and asked if he could have some old logs for firewood. I was grateful to have them gone as well-one of those logs would have heated my house way too hot for way too long. They were large pieces I wouldn’t have wanted to dealt with, pieces that would need to be split into fireplace wood. He also offered to take any appliances the other man didn’t.

There’s still probably a few hundred pounds of stuff that could be recycled. I cringe at that, and have debated which would be less harmful to the environment, taking a 12 hour round trip road trip to drive it to the recycling center or allowing it to go to the dump. I suspect the dump would, in this case, have less environmental impact than that trip. (My parents are much closer, but can’t understand my enthusiasm for recycling and would see it as a wasted and costly trip.) I’ll at least wait to go back or send them up until I find out exactly how much my new acquaintance is willing to scrap. Maybe he’ll want the appliances and TVs, computer and microwave. I certainly hope so. In the meantime I’m excited about the amount of work that was done this weekend in such a short amount of time, and the amount that I could save of what was inside.

Healthy Cooking

As I said, a side benefit of this downsizing and talking to people in the small house movement is a healthier diet. Some will also know that I don’t own a stove. Instead I use electric skillets, crockpots, and pots. But electric pots aren’t easy to find and Teflon is bad for our health. So… I need to order a stainless steel electric pot. They aren’t easy to find though, and they are expensive. So tonight for $1.50 I got a new/old electric skillet at a thrift store-one with a ceramic insert. I haven’t figured out how to use it yet. I’m hoping it will work, at least until I can order the stainless pot I want. Or perhaps I’ll find one in my Christmas travels.

KwH energy

I just read that the average household uses 958 KwH of electricity a month. In November I used 50. And yes, I double checked, that was for the month. I’m not really sure how I’d use 500, much less nearly 1000. No wonder when I converted to the new curly bulbs it didn’t affect my bill.

That usage hasn’t changed terribly much from when I was living in a larger space. It’s kind of hard to know exactly why, but I have a few guesses:
I don’t generally use the oven.
I live alone (so I control what lights are on or off).
I don’t watch much TV or many videos (though I do spend a lot of time on the computer).
I can only find six outlets in my house, and that doesn’t really bother me.
I don’t run the air conditioner unless the temperature is over 85-90, and then normally just to cool the house off. I don’t run it all night hardly ever.
I don’t own a dryer… although I would like to some of these days. But when I do, since I only wash 2-3 loads a week, there isn’t that much drying time. And when I move, I want a clothesline more than a dryer.

I’m not as old as I’ll sound with what I’m about confess, but my parents never owned a microwave until I’d graduated college. We never had cable or a VCR. And the thing is, because I never had them, I never really missed them. I didn’t own a TV until I was almost 40. There just didn’t seem to be a need. Even now, the set I have is used only to play old VHS tapes. I watch DVDs on my computer. And lights… other people’s houses seem way too bright at night. When I wind down it’s with candlelight or 40-60 watts.

Want to know a secret? I don’t miss a single KwH I’m not using.


So what do I want a small house to look like? I’m having difficulty fitting everything like I want it. There is an 18×20 I think would work well. But with a 12′ width, things get a bit… crowded.

I want a washer, even if I don’t have a dryer. I want a wall of the living room to be bifold doors, with enough space behind for storage. But I’m not sure I want full sized doors, then, or half sized. If they were cut in half and hung in two sections, it would be easier to access the things behind the top cabinets. On the other hand, with built in furniture, I’m not sure the cabinets would be wise at all, though they would be cost effective and energy efficient (air pocket between the room and the great outdoors). But they would also cut down on windows, which are a must for me.

If I make the portable building home for any amount of time, I want to replace the roof. It’s low. I would like to raise it’s peak and put in a small loft or high shelves for additional storage. The roof could continue off the side of the building into a large covered deck. This space would be wonderful in milder weather but wouldn’t need to be heated in winter. It would also make a perfect place for a Panamanian hammock, which is a much more comfortable and cooler sleeping arrangement in summer than air conditioning. As long as there aren’t mosquitoes around, at least.

The 12′ side is currently the front of the portable building, but if it were my permanent home, I’d prefer it to be the side. With the deck on the front and the roof overhang, a screened porch with french doors into the main house would be ideal… except that french doors take a lot of room in a small house. I’m sure there’s an answer; I just haven’t figured it out yet.  

Everything else would fit in the house except the washer. I’m almost beginning to think a wringer washer on the back deck might be in order. Just kidding, but I have thought about whether I could put the washer in the garage or a shed of it’s own. Keeping the pipes from freezing there in the winter would be nearly impossible, though, and the extra pipes and drains wouldn’t be cost efficient either. Yet a 2.0 cubic foot washer won’t work… that’s just a pair or two of jeans.

I suspect that at least for awhile I’ll be utilizing the local laundromat. Not ideal, but a relatively small price to pay. Maybe in time I’ll find a better solution.


I have a 12×30 “portable building” I can put on the land I bought. But what it’s function will be remains to be seen. There’s a shed on the back of the property that might make a really nice chicken coop, a foundation and possibly some scrap lumber. And a whole lot of clean up since the original house burned down.

Dad called a foundation person and was told that a trailer cannot legally go on the cement block foundation that’s currently there. My suspicion is that’s partly because a trailer requires support under the trailer rather than around the outside edges, but I don’t know for sure. That’s just a guess, considering he told Dad runners had to be poured and they needed to be about 8′ apart.

And so there are options. I could bring in A LOT of fresh top soil, fill the original foundation in, and make a raised garden. I’m concerned about toxins that may have leached into the concrete block that would then leach into the soil, though. And the pipes are already there, so it would make sense to put something else there instead.

I don’t know how to anchor the portable building. Not the slightest clue. I need to talk to the building mover about that and how to prep it for plumbing soon.

There is an approximately 8×24 concrete pad that was once a garage and later part of the house. It would be interesting to reuse it, either to install a new garage or as something else if it’s still in good condition. But the main fire was over that portion, so the heat may have compromised the concrete. There is a fireplace there though, and that might be salvageable if it’s an insert. On the other hand, it would be extremely heavy and solidly set in a bunch of mortar. It might not be worth the effort, especially since it wouldn’t have been designed for a small house.   

Burning the old building to the ground would be the cheapest option for removal, but might not be the wisest. I’m still in debate on that.

A square cut log cabin is still a temptation, at $15,000. Also, I can still envision a building with walls partially poured in concrete and logs or framing above that. I wish in a way I could get by with a straw bale construction, but this should be a permanent house that I can live in for the next 50 years, at least. The less work I have to do on it when I’m 90, the better. Straw bale takes some extra maintenance, if my understanding is right, since the mud cracks and has to be re-smoothed and patched at least every couple years. (Again, this is my understanding, it might not be accurate. But I don’t want to risk turning 90 and be making and applying new layers of mud to a house!) 

Soon… soon I’ll be standing on my own acreage, deciding some of these things. It’s difficult right now because I’m so far from the land I want to be working. But the job is here and the land is there, and within a few months I’ll probably be laid off anyway. If a small house is waiting on me when/if I am, I will be very happy with that possibility. At that point I can take the time to finish the interior and unpack.

For now, whether I opt for 480’sq or 312, I have an enormous amount more downsizing to do.