As I look for properties upon which to place my future dwelling, I have to keep this in mind: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. There are many feasible places to live in a tiny home on wheels, from RV parks to my friends’ backyards. But I want my own land. That is something I am not willing to sacrifice, because living off the land as much as possible is a key part of sustainability.
Why do I want to own property? To live as sustainably as possible. It’s hard to find landlords who would let you build or do what you like on their property, and on a permanent basis – hence I must find my own land. I want to compost. I want to grow things. I want to place solar panels in just the right spot. And I want to grow old there.
Finding land is proving to be quite the challenge so far – not financially, but in terms of CC&Rs (land-use restrictions). The most appealing lots are in established residential neighborhoods that have minimum square footage requirements, and certainly don’t allow “temporary” dwellings. Any land within the City limits would likely not allow for a composting toilet, which is the ideal situation for truly “giving back to the earth.” I do want City water; well-digging can be risky and water-hauling is inconvenient – but they are not deal-breakers. Like I said, I can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I’m choosing to make my life in the high desert, so water (usage, and how to obtain it) is something I need to be somewhat flexible on.
Most established neighborhoods in town were built many decades ago; they are largely energy-inefficient, have land-use restrictions, and would force me to maintain (and heat, and cool) more floorspace than I would ever know what to do with.
Here’s a look at my current living situation: I live in downtown Flagstaff in a nearly 100 year-old rock dwelling that has been converted from a carriage house, to a garage, to a preschool, and now to a 2-bedroom, 1-bath home. It’s roughly 800 square feet, has a fenced in front patio, and a storage shed that is shared with our next-door neighbor.
My husband and I have shared one vehicle for the last seven years and have never found a need to purchase another. Currently, because my husband has taken a job during the week in another town on a temporary basis, I do not have access to a car – but I haven’t had to modify my life much because I’m used to walking everywhere. I walk to my office, I walk my son to his preschool, I walk to the park, I walk to events downtown, I walk to the grocery store, and I walk just for the sheer joy of it because I live in a beautiful place. Frankly, I’m happier without a car, and am more intentional about how I spend my time on errands and at home because of its absence. The transition to simple, intentional living has already begun!
However – if I did not live right downtown, close to every place that I need to be, what would I do? This is where I struggle, and of course recognize the need for other means of transportation besides my two feet. A bicycle is a great option if I were living 1-2 miles away from work or food. We own a bike trailer with seating for children, and already use paniers for grocery shopping. I also recognize that I am young and healthy, and have the energy and ability to use a bike for now. But what if I develop health problems? What happens when I get older?
What if I end up living further from town? Public transportation becomes vital at that point. If I can find a property close to a bus stop, life without a car is still very feasible; it will simply require more intentional scheduling of trips to and from the house. But if I’m way out in “the country”… what then? (Click here to see how I’m answering this question for now; no, it’s not perfect. And here is something (in my town!) that I doubt I’ll ever be able to afford, but it’s still a step in the right direction.) The further I live from the places I need to be, the less sustainable the transportation options are.
So my next thought is – where do I really need to be? And is that different from where I want to be? I’m living where I want to live, and my favorite thing to do here is walk in the woods. I’m not picky. It’s a spiritual experience for me, and I have yet to find any other experiences in life that compare. (The author of this post gets it.) So that’s where I want to be, more than anywhere else.
BUT – I need to work outside of my home, for now. I need food and other supplies to maintain health and comfort, and have to travel to obtain them. I need time with other people, and to share life together. So, sustainable and reliable transportation is vital. I’ll explore this more in another post.
I volunteered nearly 500 hours of my time over two years to help my church get 132 solar panels on its roof. The PV system covers over 90% of the electricity used in the church building; between church functions and community groups, the facilities are used over 12 hours per day, everyday! I discovered that taking out a loan would cost roughly the same amount as the electric bill, so the church already had it in the budget after getting the congregation to fund the down payment. The project has been recognized nationally, and the hope was to inspire other individuals and faith communities to go solar, too. You can read more about the project here.
So, of course, I will be utilizing a PV system to power my home. This means that, as much as I love trees, I need a space on my lot that does not get much shade during the day. I do not want to be grid-tied, at least not in Arizona, because the utility company pays the customer back at a much lower rate than what they are charged for drawing from the grid at night. Therefore, I will utilize batteries, and of course minimize my electric usage to begin with so I won’t need a large system. More on this in another post.
Today I requested more information about a property on Wintergreen Road, out on the east side of town. It’s within walking distance of forest land and a bus stop, and biking distance of food and supplies. There is a mobile home in poor condition sitting on it currently, but I could salvage a ton of materials from it and then dismantle it and have the leftovers hauled away. It has City water. And some big, pretty pine trees. I like it.
We’ll see if the real estate agent will let me take a look at it; so far she’s discouraging me, but I understand – because most people want a move-in ready home, or land that is all ready to be developed. I believe that sometimes good things take time, and a bit of elbow grease.
Here’s a sneak peak:
And here’s the bus stop and bus route that could take me to work:
We’ll see what pans out. I think I need to sit down and talk with my agent about what, specifically, I am looking for in a property, and the unusual home I want to build. Can’t wait to see her reaction. 🙂