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Tiny Houses

Back in 1999, my wife and I began to be more serious about wanting to settle down. We hadn’t done much traveling or moving at that point, but we’d only been in Seattle a year when we moved out of there. I didn’t like Denver, so we left pretty quickly again for Tampa.

My wife has always been a “conventionally-minded” person. Her family is very conservative and very few fall too far from the norm accepted by their family patriarch without a lot of fuss. He’s a great guy, don’t get me wrong, but the rest of the family will guilt trip you into staying “normal”, even if what you’re doing is normal, just not normal for them.

Along comes me. I’m as abnormal as you could get for that family. My wife isn’t the wild, reckless girl, but I’m just abnormal enough to cause everyone to keep glancing my way to make sure I’m not doing anything “funny”. When we lived outside of their immediate surroundings our “normal” was less intrusive to them. In Colorado, we’re right in their backyard, so to speak. We’re invited to the birthdays, Christmases, and other parties that are happening. Our “normal” wasn’t fitting in w their “normal”. Away in Florida, we were acceptably “normal” again.

I had a great career going in 1999. The DotComs were booming, and my income was growing faster than my expenses. My hourly rate as a contract Internet programmer was phenomenal to my 24-yr-old eyes. Still, being married w 3 kids, I was also looking to the future and how I was going to rear my brood properly.

Wife wanted to buy a house on land and have a farm with all kinds of fun farm animals. I grew up in such a situation and loved it. I’m not talking about a commercial enterprise where we try to make every dime off of pigs, chickens, cows, and corn. I’m talking about a “hobby farm” where we could have 20 hens for our own daily egg supply, one dairy cow for our own daily milk supply w extra milk for yogurt and cheeses, an annual slaughter pig, a few sheep for wool and mutton, a garden, a field for crops, etc. We’re talking about a rural, agricultural education for the kids and some related “fun” for the adults. (This inclination wasn’t “normal” to my wife’s family who were decidedly urban.)

Right away, we ran into three (3) problems:
#1 Problem: Money) It’s not designed to fund itself so you have to have the outside job to pay for your regular mortgage, food, etc. PLUS the extra funds for animal purchases and maintenance. While the daily supply of eggs and milk would offset a little, it’s still an extra $500 / month that needs to be covered. My job was paying enough, but it wasn’t consistent like I’d prefer it to be. My parents’ hobby farm was funded by my dad’s 30+ year career with Allison Transmission. I have no idea how much he made or how it was spread out to cover everything, but it was a “guaranteed income”. He wanted me to get the same thing, but I haven’t been able to find such a position in this post-Enron world any more.

#2 Problem: Time) The time necessary to commit to farm animals such as a dairy cow or chickens must be made on a daily basis. You can’t just jump into it on a whim, lose interest, and neglect the cow like most people do their live Easter bunnies. My dad had a regular 9-5 job and was home nightly at nearly the same time. My hours were much more sporadic, even to the point of necessitating sleeping at the office for a few hours instead of coming home at night. Programming can be fun and profitable, but it wasn’t conducive to family life or farm life.

#3 Problem: Stability) Animals don’t take to moving well. You need to be stable and secure in the land you’re on. A minimum amount of space is necessary for each animal added to the “farm”. For a single dairy cow, you’d need 1 solid acre of good grassland plus supplemental feeding. Chickens and rabbits can be suburban with just a little space, but some animals like pigs and sheep just aren’t “close neighbor” friendly. We could find the rural land and just commute to the office downtown like my dad did, but I’ve moved over 3,000 miles between 3 jobs in less than 9 months. Dad moved 5 times while he was married within a 50 mile radius. He kept the same job in the same building. His job was his anchor point to the west side of Indianapolis. I didn’t have an anchor point anywhere.

We did buy a double-wide mobile home on 2.3 acres southeast of Tampa and had a small flock of chickens, but we weren’t in it a full year when the DotCom bubble burst, and I found myself unemployed for an extended period. I was without a job completely for nearly a year and was unable to afford our own roof until 2006.

Still, the idea of having our own land and such kept coming back into my mind. How do we afford such a proposition? All it took was money. I did a lot of research back in those days and even made a website about our imagined “hobby farm” called 3Pastures.com. It didn’t do very well. MOF, the entire 2 years it was up, I was the only visitor. No one, not even my wife, read it. (The URL now re-directs to 3Pastures.ca, a real estate sale in Canada, but there’s no reference as to where in Canada.)

One idea that kept coming up was to buy inexpensive land somewhere and build our own house on it like a modern day Davy Crockett. Way back when, the Homestead Act enabled the broke but able-bodied to do just that. I was broke and able-bodied, but the Homestead Act isn’t the law anymore. The leftover land that hadn’t gotten ‘homesteaded’ was given to the federal government to hold in trust for later homesteaders who wanted it, but it was then converted into the National Park Service and is taken out of private use altogether.

Still, the idea has merit. I found “Tumbleweed Tiny Houses” back then, but the current economic situation and green movement seems tailor-made for such a business. CNet.com ran an article just this week on the company which brought all of this back to mind. They also mention Tortise Shell Homes and Little House on the Trailer . These are all generally made for single people or childless couples, but with a family my size, the idea was planted that is about to see the light of day. … WATCH THIS SPACE!

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