When I was but a young lad, my heart swelled with pride as I peered upward in my imaginary hard hat at the modest construction of my Lego skyscraper, or my K’nex bridge, or my secret lair pillow fort. In my innocent naivety, I mistook sheer magnitude for the most impressive aspect of my creations, because adults always seemed to admire size over utility. At that time, I endeavored to use as many Lego pieces from the box as I could in one build without regard for how many pieces were left over for my next project. The next vision was just that – a hazy mirage of tomorrow – and worries over my dwindling resources were best left shirked in the shadow of that mirage. Unbeknownst to me, little more than a decade later, I would gamble with my life’s savings on a massively laborious and personally-transformative undertaking that would not only bring me the same puerile exultation I felt upon completion of a K’nex roller-coaster, but would radically change my way of living.
Much the same, man is trapped in the folly of his youth as he applauds himself for the swollen girth of his priapic urban sprawl. In an act of evolutionary chest-thumping with perhaps a Freudian twist, man lustfully dominates Mother Earth with technical modernity, drilling deeper and deeper for black gold and exploiting finite resources so he may marvel at his latest and greatest feat of engineering. Man is ever expanding his capitalist conquest with insatiable fervor, salivating at the equally false and ironic prospect of exponential growth as he dies quicker and quicker spiritually.
A Labor of Love
I was late in my 22nd year when I saw it fit to commence erecting my home – perhaps unconsciously as a rite of passage, and consciously as a strategic move to swerve around the oncoming obligatory mortgage. This was the culmination of obsessive years hunched asymmetrically in an exhausted slouch computer-side, in between YouTube fixes, my body and mind silhouetted in the godly luminescence of the internet, research permeating my high voltage synapses and blood shot eyes throughout those late nights I remember so fondly. In the tradition of my forefathers several generations removed, and in nature’s miraculous display of animalistic instincts, my intuition compelled me to construct a dwelling; a shelter from the elemental forces that seem so forbidding to humans that we instead accept mortgages and quantities of debt as fair trades. This tradition of homemaking was not inherited, nor apprenticed, nor learned by way of “higher education” as it were. To me, it was a visionary vessel afloat a sea of ideas with wind currents of creativity nudging it along to shorelines untold whence only a handful of intrepid pioneers had set foot. Indeed, it was a labor of love.
With an unfinished exterior, the micro-house is 13'x5.75' with a total square-footage of 74.75 feet.
Only, love contains difficulties unknown by construction, which apart from the trees’ final act of defiance demonstrated by the relentless pricking of aggressive splinters, was relatively painless. The process itself only bartered with me for 6 months of my life. Six months of intensive labor was all that was required to give birth to my very own one-of-a-kind, off-grid, self-sustaining micro house.
What my hands have built at my better judgement’s bidding is a self-sustaining, environmentally friendly, off-grid, mobile dwelling. The house is capable of harvesting its own water from rainfall, using gravity to activate the plumbing, generating electricity and heating water passively by sunlight, composting human waste using a decomposition toilet, and using gray water to grow plants that treat the water before returning it to the Earth. Approximately 35% of the materials used in construction were reclaimed waste or donated scrap. It was constructed partially using solar power. The house is built on a trailer thus enabling swift mobility.
Edison once listed the ingredients for genius as inspiration and perspiration; and it was Wonka who gave the recipe for invention calling for perspiration, electricity, evaporation, and butterscotch ripple. I am by no stretch of the truth a genius, but what I lack in butterscotch ripple I make up for with abounding inspiration and devotional perspiration. With an average intelligence and no previous carpentry experience to speak of, I certainly represent a veritable random sampling of able-and-willing candidates for this sort of project. Hailing from the middle of the bell curve in all ways one could list, I am nothing extraordinary notwithstanding my superlative penchants for self-improvement and sustainability. What Edison and Wonka both failed to realize is that progress has everything to do with pragmatism. Man mustn’t bulldoze fifty acres of rainforest just because he is inspired to build a mansion. My feet may fit in a pair of size thirteen shoes, but practicality would have me walking about in nines.
We live in an infinite growth economy. The trouble with this is infinite growth is an abstraction in the mind of man. Nothing grows ad infinitum in nature. One can look superficially and say, “But trees are always growing or the cells of our bodies are continuously replenished.” But trees and cells are mortal and have a limited lifespan. In nature there are anabolic and catabolic phases, and death and decomposition are as vital as life and growth. In an infinite growth economy, we are largely unaware of the systemic force pushing us as a society to act unnaturally and unbalanced. We are overtly manipulated to consume more and waste more, but this paradigm is what we were born into so it is all we have ever known. Ergo, we are blinded to the obvious.
Metaphysically, an idea is repelled if an individual presents it before the collective matches its frequency. In quantum mechanics, there exists an observational bias. Regardless of the scientist’s futile attempts to remove himself from experimentation to achieve objective results, the very outcome of the trial is dependent upon his energetic focus. Macrocosmically, an outcome is dependent on the collective consciousness giving it focus. Should we fertilize with skepticism, close-mindedness, or fear, a solution will never germinate.
Additionally, in the same vein as Occam’s Razor, the truest solution will indeed work in all aspects, in a multi-pronged, fool-proof manner absent of side-effects. For instance, a truly sustainable diet should not impinge on the environment, contribute to animal cruelty, require vast tracts of land and resources, be transported thousands of miles, use harmful pesticides and fertilizers, etc., and most of all, it should be salubrious for our bodies. If there is a diet which meets only half of these, then it is not a true solution. Period.
I believe the micro-house movement is a true solution because it addresses many pertinent issues simultaneously. It is financially cheap to build and uses waste materials that would otherwise inevitably find rest in a landfill. It does not rely upon the precariously overtaxed grid, which means in the event of a power outage, the occupant will be able to continue life as usual. There is no electricity wasted on pumping water out of the ground and through pipes. There is no need for an inefficient and environmentally hazardous septic tank. There are no property taxes or utility bills. The owner can easily relocate to a new address or ambulate indefinitely. The compact size of the house does not contribute to congestion or overcrowding of cities. Because of its relatively free cost to live in, the owner is able to work less and live more. Because of its small size, the house urges the owner to repudiate materialism, to keep only necessities, to spend more time outside, and to focus on what truly matters most.
The average home in America generates 3-7 tons of waste. The waste generated by my house was only enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket. Most people would spend extra money and throw away some 2x4s that are stuck together rather than spending 10 minutes pulling out nails. I look at scraps as a valuable resource. It is from this disposition that I expound we need a societal shift in values.
I shall never make my mind up one way or the next of which sequence actually occurred. In the spaghetti western stand-off between logic and faith, was my inclination for sustainability the chicken that laid the micro-house egg? Or was the idea of a micro-house the egg that hatched my desire to build sustainably? Moreover, can I technically call it my desire or my idea if all that I accessed was the collective unconscious? All that can be admitted with certainty is that the necessity is here and now, on this planet, to live sustainably, like every other species, and that we have the ideas to achieve this. Dream big. Live small.