(If you’re just joining this series, it will all make more sense if you start with the first one and work your way forward.)
Our house is far from perfect, but there’s something better than perfection in knowing we did it ourselves. That’s what brings us joy every single day. And things certainly haven’t always gone as planned. But then, do they ever? As I’ve previously mentioned, before we ever “finished” our building project, it was time for some serious renovation and rehab work. We’re still in that mode. This time around, we’re thankful we can work at a slower pace, taking on projects when they fit the rest of our plans.
I’ve been thinking a bit lately about what advice I’d give my younger self—or anyone else thinking about doing something similar. What have I learned from our experience? What would I do differently if I had it to do over? What did we get just right the first time? I tried to narrow my thoughts to ten worthy points, but I just couldn’t do it. Guess I learned more than I realized. So, here, from my 38 year perch of experience, are twelve bits of wisdom for diy homebuilding newbies.
1. Do your homework. Learn about the area as well as local building codes. If possible, you might even want to rent a place nearby for awhile to give yourself time to search out the perfect location and to become familiar with your new community—to make sure it’s a good fit.
2. Seek out like-minded folks. It can get lonely out there. The idea of homesteading used to be all about going it alone. These days, folks have learned that community makes a lot more sense. Never underestimate the benefit of a support system or the value of experience.
3. Make friends with your neighbors. You’ll likely be living with them for a long, long time. The folks down the road may have an overabundance of apples, and you may have extra downed trees they could use for firewood. Maybe someone would mentor you in exchange for some of the honey your bees produce. Besides, these people are your “first responders.” They’ll be there in time of need.
4. This is no time for the it’s-better-to-beg-forgiveness-than-to-ask-permission philosophy. If your community has a building code, the people who manage it take it seriously, and you’re not likely to get forgiveness after the fact. Be clear and open about your plans, and be 100% certain that you hear what’s actually said, not just what you want to hear. It’d be a real shame to have to walk away from something you’ve put your heart, soul, and financial investment into because of a misunderstanding over the rules, but it happens. Don’t let it happen to you.
5. Be flexible. If there’s one thing you can count on it’s that things won’t go as planned. When they don’t, smile and find a workaround.
6. Have someone knowledgeable check your plans for common sense. Did you forget to include a closet? Would it make more sense, from a plumbing point of view, to relocate your bathroom?
7. Be willing to compromise. And don’t beat yourself up over it. I once heard an experienced modern homesteader respond to a question about homesteading purity this way: “Everybody makes compromises. The few who don’t—or can’t—die alone and lonely.” As I recalled times we found it necessary to choose expediency over perfection, I realized he made a good point.
8. Don’t underestimate how much it’s going to cost or how long it’s going to take. (Actually, just assume you’ll do both and be ready to adjust.)
9. If you can possibly manage it, stay out of debt. If it’s too late, get out as soon as you can. See how much that mortgage is really costing by the time you’ve paid it off with interest. Credit card debt is even worse. Do the math. You may decide it’s worth the sacrifice of going without while you whittle down your debt.
10. Look to the future. When you’re thirty, climbing stairs several times a day may not be a big deal, but you’re embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime experience; you may want to stay here forever. What happens when your knees give out? Or when an elderly parent needs to move in? Easier to put a bedroom and bath on the first floor now. (Ask me how I know.)
11. Just do it! Dive into your big adventure with all the gusto you’ve got. If you hesitate, you might miss something phenomenal.
12. Be patient—with yourself, with your family, with your grand project. And remember to laugh—a lot!
More than once I’ve looked at these old pictures in wonder, trying to conjure up the young whippersnappers who thought they could move to a strange place, camp in the wild, and—with no experience—build their home themselves. Sometimes I even think I can see them, if ever so faintly. This series has been a fun trip down memory lane. Hope you’ve enjoyed it, too. I’m happy to say that after thirty-eight years of living on the diagonal, we’re still here and not planning to go anywhere anytime soon.
Here are some last looks.
And then there’s this heart-stoppingly gorgeous view of the nearby valley shrouded in clouds. It would be worth living here if only for sights like this.