When we set out on a project, we jointly come up with a crazy goal, and then I come up with a crazy design which my husband then builds. It works for us. Our current goal for our living space is an affordable, off-grid, low-ecological impact, creature comforts machine. Eventually, we’d like to build our house. We’re hoping to do that in 5-7 years, after we have saved the capital and learned as much as we can about off-grid, low-impact, homestead living. In the meantime, we rent. I’ve been chewing away at the best design for our space. The house we rent is a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom 1200 sqft 1960s house with an attached 468 sqft garage on a 6000 sqft lot. We are allowed to do some things like paint and garden, but anything we do should be possible to undo unless we check it with our landlord first (getting rid of the lawn is out, sadly).
I’ll put up the specific space designs as we work through the projects to make them happen, but in the meantime, I’ll give a summary of my process followed by a general map of the property.
Before figuring out how to place everything in the space to make the machine run smoothly, we measured and drew up a very basic floorplan of the lot. This is pre-furniture and even pre-kitchen work that our landlord did for us shortly after we moved in. I also took out an ancient and insufficient workbench in the garage. We’ll put something equivalent in to replace it by the time we leave.
The frontyard is south-facing, as are the two smaller bedrooms and garage. The big semi-circle in the frontyard is lawn. The backyard has several poorly cared for trees that provide shade and some privacy from our rear-neighbors and a good chunk of the back is overrun with ivy that we’ve been slowly clearing but can’t remove because it appears to be structural to the fence. When all is said and done, there’s probably between 2000 and 3000 sqft of yard space to work with and another 2000 sqft of interior space to work with.
The next thing we did was to make a list of all the various things we want to have and do in this space. This is fun for me because I get to dream without having to be grounded in reality. Our list went something like this:
- Vegetable gardens
- Hugelkulture beds
- Outdoor cooking
- Outdoor dining
- Solar oven
- Solar dehydrator
- Clothing repair
- Watch movies
- Social media
- Cooking from scratch
- Jewish ritual
- Home education (adult and child)
- 30+ people parties
That’s the short version. There are versions with categories and tables and color-coding. We’ve been working on this design for a while and so we keep going back and adding stuff and taking it off as our life situation and long-term goals change. If we didn’t have enough space for all these, some of our projects could happen at our local makerspace, in community social halls, or at community gardens.
Next, I go through and apply the list to the tasks that will be performed in each space. I want to make it easy and comfortable to do all these things and I want to make sure the kids are safe, entertained, and can help as soon as they are developmentally capable. Here’s the function of each room or outdoor space:
- Kitchen: Food preparation and preservation
- Entryway: Entering and leaving the house
- Main room: Dining, public movie nights, kids’ play, conversation, bills, and Jewish ritual
- Hallway: Passage to the bedrooms and bathrooms, cats’ closet, family photo display
- Playroom: Kid’s play, books, quiettime, guest room, family movies, kids’ art space, adult art space, reading, dress-up, games
- Nursery: Kids’ beds, crib, changing station, kids’ clothing, rocking chair
- Kids’/Guest bath: Toilet, potty-training, nighttime baths, tooth brushing, vitamins, basic sick care supplies
- Master bedroom: Sleeping, private, reading, clothing, grooming, personal storage, costumes, luggage
- Masterbath: Toilet, shower, shaving, brushing teeth, toiletries, travel toiletries, first aid
- Garage: Car parking, bike parking, large garden tools, playspace, wood working, metal work, electronics, laundry, candle making, soap making, clothes dyeing, house storage, decoration storage, baby stuff storage, and general storage
- Front yard: Playspace, seed starting, garden tool and potting storage, seating, vegetable beds, solar oven, solar dehydrator, low maintenance landscaping
- West side yard: Waste bins, 3 bin cold compost, 2 bin hot compost, lawn mower parking, tall hugelkulture vegetable bin, aquaponic vertical garden, wheelbarrow storage, orange tree
- Backyard: Chicken housing, patio seating, outdoor dining set, grill and kitchen, playhouse, slide, plant tunnel, hugelkulture vegetable hill, bee hives and flower planters, seasonal vegetable bed, yard tool storage, toy storage
- East side yard: Container orchard
Next, I placed furniture into my floorplan and I added outdoor spaces:
The finished plan has lots of playspaces, lots of inside and outside seating, workshop space for almost any conceivable project in the garage, chicken and bee accommodations, and space for us to grow and prepare our food in a low impact manner. We won’t be able to automate as much as we’d like and all the spaces will be a little bit cramped, but we should be able to do most homesteading activities in relative comfort while waiting for a more permanent housing opportunity.
Next up: Setting up our composting system.