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Humble Homes, Simple Shacks...

I felt so compelled to merge with "Deek" Diedricksen's uber building gene, after reading his self-published book, that I got out my highlighter pens and helped him out by adding some color to the cover. Printed at a local Ma and Pa printshop, then assembled by hand with a garage sale velo binder, this is a true Do It Yourself venture in bookmaking, financed, he points out, by dumpster diving the trash of others to sell stuff people were too lazy to fix. The marketing he leaves to us micro housing enthusiasts for there is a growing population of would-be tiny home dwellers who can't get enough of this under the wire lifestyle.

Thus Deek's book is important not so much because it is another entertaining zine produced by an overly creative young person, but because he is both fed by a movement and contributing a large chunk to it with his mind bending, Houdini like acts of radically small, home-built shelters.

The casual observer might have suspected that there was a backlash to the decades of MacMansioning, embodied by the books of Sarah Sussanka and her Not So Big House concept, but on closer inspection I was personally aghast that most of these books were about living well in less than 2,500 sq. ft. I beat a hasty path back to books published 20 and 30 years ago for it was there, in the wake of the counter culture movement, that I was first informed of the idea that what held people enslaved to corporate jobs were their mortgages. Thus the path to freedom lay in finding a way to live without one.

The live-lightly-on-the-earth simplicity movement revived this concept, most popularly exemplified by Jay Shafer's Tumbleweed, a tiny house on wheels making the rounds of eco minded publications and fairs. And while Jay argues that $150 per square foot is justified in light of the quality of materials used in his beautiful handmade house, the $10,000 to $30,000 cost of materials, plus copious amounts of time aspiring to such perfection, imposes restrictions on the mind that, practically speaking, have more in common with a mortgage.

Freedom being as much about where the mind can go as how one actually manages to escape the shackles of one's obligations, it shouldn't be surprising that so many are fascinated by the possibility of truly accessible housing even while living comfortably in a suburban ranch. Enter the DIY backyard tinkerer and consummate recycler constructing tiny free houses from discarded pallets and sidewalk trash much like those who convert gas cars to electric while awaiting a more affordable Tesla roadster. Carpentry, however, is the domain of conventional thinking. We all know what a house is supposed to look like. Scores of books fill the need for constructing sheds, playhouses and tree houses that look just like big grown up houses.

Derek's book is a far cry from anything so conventional. He aims to inspire with his ideas, ideas that may well earn his book a place in tiny house history. What he ends up doing is reconstructing the mind into accepting what constitutes shelter. Could I sleep in that I asked myself of several drawings that borrowed quite a bit from Japanese capsule hotels. On the other hand I could certainly build it with the space, time and materials I had available.

Having, himself, been inspired by a copy of "Tiny Tiny Houses" by Lester Walker, which he received for his tenth birthday, he understands the importance of such books at a young age and includes a number of whimsical structures and indoor forts that would appeal to a child builder.

On his website, the drawing that convinced me to order the book (which he will mail wrapped in recycled cardboard or whatever lying around) was one showing a tree house platform with a ladder enclosed in a shaft so as to have a locked door for security. Such attention to detail, I realized with delight, promised practical follow through that would further my search for a hut I would be able to and want to build.

In the end it is his more loosely worked out ideas that compel my mind to take up pencil and paper to figure out how I could work it up into something I could use. My mind needed the exercise, but my soul needed the freedom of such thinking to expel the limitations of a system that does not aim to set us free. For such an experience at $15.95 (for a limited time only) this book was a bargain.


Also from Amanda

Build Your Own House

Published in 1973, the book "Shelter", which I found at the library during my teens, was my first exposure to the idea that you could buy a broken down house for cheap, fix it up to live in and sell it later for a profit. Cheap meaning under $30,000 and no such price was to be had in the Bay Area. I was still enamored of the idea as well as all the other DIY housing plans the book offered. I was also entranced by the vernacular housing of indigenous cultures shown in the book and determined that a yurt was the way to go if you didn't have permanent land. Shelter was later reprinted, thus I could get my own copy. To continue the movement, the creator published "Home Work" in 2004 which describes even more determined attempts at DIY housing in full color.

Also at the library and later at a used bookstore, I ran across the other classic, "Tiny, Tiny Houses" by Lester Walker published in 1987 and was enamored of the little writing shack owned by George Bernard Shaw that could be turned to face the sun. Plus all the other shacks and micro-homes that could be lived in on the beach, on a frozen pond or in your backyard. I spent countless hours examining the floorplans and collecting information on how to build sheds. To make it even easier Mr. Walker wrote a book to show children how to build houses.

Mother Earth News introduced me to the California Mello Act which allows people over 60 to live in a micro house (under 640 sq ft) without a permit providing you have a friend with a backyard willing to allow you to live there.

I became politicized about housing when I read "Democratic Housing" by Donald MacDonald (1996) which introduced the idea of permitting modular housing. Small structures that people could build themselves and add onto as their finances allowed. Also included were plans for tiny student designed shacks that could be used by the homeless. And though these structures were readily put into use, the cities enlisted were not willling to allow them for fear they would be sued should someone, occupying them, have a mishap with one.

As time goes by more people have realized that the system creates more problems than it solves and, in fact, isn't really interested in solving them. That these books came into my life at all I owe to subversive librarians at the Menlo Park library (probably just one long haired Marxist who later tried to date me). And now we have the internet where these ideas are being shared. There are a number of sites devoted to people building tiny dwellings that sneak under code either by putting them on trailers or keeping them under 100 sq. ft. The most famous is the Tumbleweed but those plans and the wood for it a bit pricey so others have embarked on building a free house of scavenged wood and pallets with sites offering free plans. The most useful tiny house site I've found is tinyhouseblog.com/ .

To date I have yet to build a single hut for myself, but the opportunity of land and materials seems closer to presenting itself. Since putting up buildings takes a great deal of effort and I seem to be the only one interested in such endeavors, I spend most of my time entertaining various ideas in search of one that will best suit my resources.

Editorial Notes: Amanda Kovattana is a regular contributor to Energy Bulletin. -BA

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