There’s a big thing going around the world. They call it Tiny-Homes, and it has been around since the beginning of existence. In recent years, it has become more and more popular, as humans simplify and escape from the soul subduing ‘life’ in cities. More or and more folks are down-scaling, downshifting, slowing down, doing less and getting more for it. This brought the simple living notion into the spotlight. Simple-Earth will look at some available Spaces, Shelters, Homes, Sheds and storage options, whilst mentioning the honest pitfalls we have experienced when setting up in the Karoo, and here on Litengard.
Perhaps a good place to start is right in the beginning, the moment you make that decision to move somewhere. People have varied opportunities and preferences available to them when they go for simpler lives. I am tempted to say; we have a tendency of overlooking reality when considering all things involved. Not always, but often. Our home situation is probably the best example here.
Before Litengard, we had the Karoo deal going for us. Isolated, and in the middle of nowhere existed a house with 2 bedrooms, an enormous bathroom and a very nice kitchen. It was off-grid, peaceful and perfect in most ways, but it was far larger than we needed. We spent most of our time outside, hiking the Karoo veld, patrolling kilometers of our water-pipeline or building a garden. By all means, my wish is for most people to be out and living freely. The purchase of the Litengard property was an opposite of the Karoo. Its 1-acre was small in comparison, the rain was real and the community close by. We maintained keeping things modest and living better. We intended indoors to be only for sleeping, showering and hiding from the heat when the UV levels hit nine or more. This is still true, and this is what we do now, but some minor issues went overlooked.
Everyone got stuff going on, we all do things that make us… well, us. Passions, hobbies, making money from home and just lazing about. If you forget this, you will face certain doom. In my area of work, the guys that go off-grid and disappear into the mountains do well because they know they will always love technology and toys. They will always need space to play with the electronics, Arduinos, and have desks for software development. The same goes for the musical artists, the photographers and mechanics. It does not matter how much your life changes or what level of simplicity you approach. You will always have a drawer with the camera in it, a place to keep the drum kit or a shed to do your welding in. Never forget this, it is part of you and your happiness; It may even be your income generation coming with you. Let’s look at some buildings and setups now.
Sleep, Shower, Shave, and Snack
Unless you’re a 24/7 Bear Grylls or cave-dwelling off-gridder (deep respect if you are) you will need a building you can call home. Home is really any structure that you feel safe, comfortable, and confident in. There are some caveats to everything, and it is up to you to contemplate the details of each. Legalities surrounding building paperwork and plans, safety issues and space considerations for your number of occupants to be safe and healthy. Do not forget about those things as you let your mind venture down the road of choice.
Here in South-Africa, brick and mortar is an extremely common and overused way of building houses, but fortunately there are a myriad of alternatives available commercially or creatively. There are many skilled bricklayers and builders who can build almost any shape or size of a building. Brick buildings can be cool in summer and warm in winter if properly insulated, and is definitely one of the stronger options available. Naturally, bricks are clay based but ‘hollow blocks’ are commonly used as a cheaper alternative to their clay counterparts. Brick and mortar buildings definitely require legal approval from your local council, and the approval pertains to the soil-types it is built on and the foundations. This option of building provides an amazing solid experience in times of strong winds and storms, provided that you have a solid roof and waterproofing.
Shipping Container homes are great options as more and more folks are picking them up. We have neighbours who not only live in converted containers but also have secondary ones as music studios or site offices for their businesses. One can do containers properly or poorly, so let me explain. They are metal boxes, and so you need to consider quite a few things. They can rust if not properly treated and prepared. They can be cold or intolerably hot if insulation is non-existent or poor. They can be prohibitively expensive to get converted, prepared and delivered, but they don’t need to if you have the time and human resources to do this yourself. Consider reefers when insulation and waterproofing is very important. They are more costly, however. Containers still need placement on suitable foundations, whether cast cement or metal structures.
Wendy huts and wooden cabins are amazing, and probably one of the most natural and medieval styles of structures we can have. Wood is warm, fits into the environment perfectly, and when treated right it can last for ages. It’s often a very pricey option, but this really depends on the wood and location. Skilled wood and timber craftsmen will fell trees on their own properties and construct wooden buildings at very little cost other than labour and time. In my country, we go the Wendy route, as they are more affordable than log cabins most of the time. We usually use Wendy cabins for storage and worker offices, but with the right care and attention they can become superb homes. You will need to consider getting your Wendy from a reputable builder using proper methods and preparations to ensure a long life in the world of harsh sun, rains and insects. The interior must be insulated and clad, as with most buildings, and secured in your appropriate methods. Standard Wendy roofing is usually not good enough, so proper roof sheeting is a must. As a twist, they build some of these into trees as tree-houses.
At my peril, I remind you of the humble caravan or trailer (as they call it in the States). I claim no knowledge or experience with them, but I see so many simple homestead setups made ‘permanent’ with them. When times are tough, or just when you don’t want the hassles of paperwork and logistics, the caravan is hard to beat. It comes with wheels, is portable, and is made to live in. The due work needed to make it a permanent place to call home can be as little or as much as you will give. My opinion here is that they are as hideous in your yard as they are behind a Cortina on the road, but one can remedy it. In situations where it makes sense, it should be placed on a solid base, because nature will consume it otherwise. Cladding, pathways, quaint and functional fencing make it all the better. If cosmetics are no issue to you or your neighbour, then put that thing right there in your forest or in the open, arid Karoo veld and build your homestead around it. Considerations for these bad-boys are cooling in hot weather, securing them against thugs and adding verandas or amendments to them to increase the sense of space. Pick up a used old caravan for cheap, or a newer one for a lot more.
While on the vehicle topic, it’s hard to overlook the bus or boat house. While still studying in the early 2000s, I met a loner who lived on his boat. While this is invariably simpler living, it was something new to me. I lost track of this guy, but he mentioned that his goal was to live on his boat while moving around. The boat was suitable for living a ‘homestead’ kind of life, except that he had no land. A costly option I am sure, but throwing it into the mix here to inspire thought.
On the flip side, the bus house is a very viable option. As with the caravan, the wheels make them moveable and lessen building plan issues. Running or not, they are obtainable for not a lot of money. Strip the interior clear of its former self, removing seats and trim to replace them with drywalls and insulated walls. Windows are best dressed with curtain rails or blinds while the roof area will work as is – give or take a bit of insulation for climate control. As always, consider securing it as needed and how you will attach your electrical and water source to it safely.
A word on primitive structures
It would be unprincipled to skirt the relevance of primitivism here. Cob housing is a natural building method tracking back to ancient Africa, England, Ireland, and many other civilisations. A mix of subsoils, fibrous materials, and water creates a material with high thermal mass and strength. Building cob walls are easy. Pack the cob, as if one was building a mud-house, after appropriate mixing. Today, many projects on homesteads in the prepper and off-grid practise use it with outstanding success. It is easy to repair, controls temperature well and looks natural. Materials are virtually free to create, so to speak, not unlike the second method of earth-bag walls or stone buildings. Modern technology, plumbing, and other amenities are easily installed in the above. By my understanding, the difference between adobe and cob is whether we shape it into bricks (adobe) or pack it directly (cob).
For the survivors and hard-core lurkers, there are primitive and temporary shelter methods for aeons to come. Straw-bale structures are warm, fairly waterproof, and only last for a short while. The materials are compostable or used as mulch, and the structure quickly rebuilt with fresh bales. This idea is one I would like to use at Litengard to house an outside composting-toilet. A house made of straw will be flammable and not keep the big bad wolf out, but this should be obvious.
I read about a land-owner somewhere in the Karoo who lives as a nomad on his immense property. There are no houses on the farm, and he follows his herds around by living a full life in his portable, but well equipped, permanent camping set up. A tent, a good fixed-blade knife, medicine and apt knowledge about the surrounding plants used for food and medicine. If he ever reads this, I hope he will comment here on Spaces, Shelters, Homes, Sheds and tents one day.
There’s a myriad of ways to build and live, as we haven’t even touched on wattle & daub, hobbit style underground houses or caves. Only societal narrowmindedness can stop you from investigating and taking action to construct yours. Whatever you do, however, remember to keep it simple, secure and leave close-to-zero-impact on the surrounding environment. Always consider all angles. Where will your waste go, your water come from, what will happen in heavy rains? You know what you need to do. Go rebuild life. Spaces, Shelters, Homes, Sheds – which way are you going?