Less mortgage, more dough

Imagine if you did not have a mortgage (or rent)…

Imagine how it might change your life, your possibilities, if you were not tied to that payment each month…

THIS, this is really what sent us into the woods to live in a hut.  I’ve realized lately that we’ve become sort of advocates for rustic, simple, backwards living.  But that was most definitely not the original intention for this adventure.

Originally, we’d intended to downsize our home a bit (from 2,500 sq ft to 1,600 sq ft) as a trade-off to have solar energy, natural timber framed home, geothermal…  The idea being that we could have the same mortgage and feel really good about the space we called home.

It wasn’t until we read “A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity” by Bill Coperthwaite that the idea of actually NOT having a mortgage even came into our thinking.  He created these wooden tapered yurt designs that people could build themselves or in workshops like old-fashioned barn raisings, with the whole intent being to take true ownership of your home.


My goal was to design this structure so that it could be built in stages to allow a family to start out with a very limited outlay of money, time, and energy, then expand the building as their resources grew.  I aimed at an initial budget of $3,000.  This figure would permit many people to bypass a mortgage, avoiding the usurious rates of money lenders as well as their veto power over the design and time frame, with accompanying coercion to build a more expensive building than needed…

There are many pressures on us to have our houses completed by the time we move in.  The economic costs of this, as well as the resulting stresses in personal and family life, are tremendous.  Why not take several years–or a lifetime–to create your home?  Many of our most beautiful old houses were constructed over decades of building, and in the case of most farmsteads, over generations.  Maybe we can learn an important lesson in this regard from the wisdom of our ancestors:  an Asian proverb observes that a man is dead the day his house is finished.

We read this at a time when we were paying a mortgage on a house in New Hampshire that we were not even living in, waiting for it to sell while we were trying to settle into Maine the best we could.  For the first time it became so very clear that we didn’t OWN that house.  We only owned the obligation to keep paying that mortgage every month or very quickly see how little of it we actually owned.

It still took us awhile to come around to the idea of trying to live mortgage-free.  A mortgage is such a staple of American life.  When we bought our first house, it wasn’t WHETHER we’d have a mortgage, it was HOW MUCH mortgage could we possibly afford to maximize the house we could get?

There was also some grappling with the idea of “stepping back” from the level of house we’d already achieved.   It is so ingrained in our culture to always be moving toward bigger and better, to keep climbing the ladder of affluence as high as one can go.  Climb back down?

But ultimately, climb back down was exactly what we very purposefully decided to do.  We decided it was worth “sacrificing” for a couple of years to try to attain the kind of freedom that might come from not being leashed to a large mortgage.

We bought the land, deciding to take a small mortgage on this in order to have money to purchase a fabric yurt, to purchase the wood mill, and to purchase the rest of the materials we would need once house construction started.

Our mortgage and taxes is now $385/month, compared to $2,100/month when we lived in New Hampshire.  That kind of change in the monthly budget opens up a whole world of possibilities for us, including making the Waldorf school we all love a feasible decision.  It is also a ten-year loan versus a thirty-year loan.  The hope, the possibility being that we will have REAL ownership of this land and the home we build on it in the not too distant future.

Again, we understood that to get there would mean SACRIFICE.

– We would squeeze into a tiny 450 sq ft fabric yurt for a year or two because it would be less expensive than renting and we could be onsite to do work.

– We would not put in plumbing because this was not a permanent home and plumbing it would be costly.

– We would only heat with wood because we could put it up ourselves with no cost but our own time and labor.

– We would keep making regular treks to Machiasport to meet with Bill Coperthwaite, planning our wooden yurt design, learning from him as we go.

– We would keep making time for Josh to mill the wood, to get the boards drying so we could actually have our yurt building workshops in the not too distant future.

The biggest surprise in the whole thing is that overall this has not actually felt like sacrifice.  This tiny fabric yurt space (that could fit inside our previous finished basement) is plenty the majority of the time.  Hauling water from the hand pump is still fun and invigorating.  Stacking the wood (and re-stacking when windstorms blow it over…) feels like good purposeful work, is fun for all of us, including Caden who likes to race us back from the wood stack, not to mention a great replacement for a gym membership.  And those trips to Machiasport… long and tiring and inspiring and magical.  The wood milling can be slow and frustrating (like when the mill becomes unlevel with frost heaving) but also so exciting as we see the stacks growing.

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Granted, there are times when I could use some space in our current home, when we DO feel all on top of each other in this hut.  But there is always water to be brought in, water to be brought out, wood to be brought in, compost to be brought out.  Getting outside creates that needed space, and the physical nature of all of these “chores” is very mindset resetting.

There are also moments when I miss certain things.  Like a shower.  Yesterday I paid $5 for a spontaneous shower at the YMCA.  And would have paid $20.  Sometimes it’s nice to not have to bathe in a galvanized tub.  Especially for someone who at one point would take two showers a day, and wrote that “long showers” were my biggest indulgence…

It is still okay.  More than okay.  I so enjoyed that shower, but this galvanized tub has some really bizarrely great moments at the same time.  There is unexpected zen from the yoga-like poses required to wash one’s very long hair this way and to contort your body into the tub.  I might also wish to have more privacy than I do, but can’t help but find it beyond sweet when my 2-year-old brings over a cup to help momma wash her hair.  Or climbs right in with me… and we all laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

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This kind of bathing also forces life to really slow down.  Like our Sundays are completely planned around everyone having a bath, which makes us all tuck in for the day.  Leisurely baths all day, allowing for relaxed spontaneous moments like walks outside.

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And making bread.  Sourdough bread that I have always wanted to know how to make, that I finally learned how to make at a workshop with a quirky character of a man at last year’s Common Ground Fair, who talked about keeping his sourdough sponge under his blankets in his bed to keep it warm enough, and used a pillowcase in a pinch to wrap the rising bread in.  He REALLY cared about his sourdough.  I now have  my own sourdough starter on a shelf in the kitchen.

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This sourdough starter that I have fed every couple of days and kept going since September before we moved onto our land (almost losing it when I forgot about it right after we moved into the yurt in October).  Thankfully I have a helper who loves to add the warm water and flour that keep the starter fed:

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Still, only rarely have I had the time to actually make the bread because it is a 7am to 5pm commitment on bread making day.  When we have found the time to make it, the time is well-rewarded with:

This is the BEST bread ever!

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Bath day turns out to be the perfect counterpart to enable bread making because the drawn out bread-making steps fit nicely around the drawn out bath-drawing steps.

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What a wonderful thing when “sacrificing” to attain mortgage freedom brings unexpectedly stronger bodies, simplicity, closeness, humor, spontaneity, deliciousness…

It also unexpectedly brings this weekend’s blizzard predicted to be the biggest since I was one year old…  It is most definitely never boring!

14 thoughts on “Less mortgage, more dough

  1. Our family had fun reading this post out loud tonight! This is real food for thought for us. We are wondering how you did in the blizzard. We really got hammered! I know that traditionally yurts are designed for some rough winter weather. We are wishing your family lots of luck, joy and FUN in the Maines woods! -The Eggers Family 🙂

  2. Love love love! We are currently in the process of downsizing into a 30′ yurt from a 2600sqft house and I think you guys are great. We are working on having our own little farm with our 2 kids. The more I think about it the more excited I get. Congratulations on choosing the path less traveled!

    • How very exciting! It is such an wonderful experience, even more so for children it seems. Congratulations on being on the threshold of yours and best of luck with the transition!

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