Yesterday marked the ceremonial end of an era, in a sense. Though in actuality it was an era that ended several months ago, when we moved from the tiny cabin where we had been living for about a year to the full-size house that we currently call home.
But yesterday afternoon, we prepared the cabin (which is really a pre-fab shed that we fixed up) to be moved from the property where we used to live to our new abode. The property, which had been owned by Evan for the past few years, sold, but luckily, we get to keep the little tiny living area that we worked so hard to build. As we removed the few remaining items from our life there, including the wood stove that was so crucial to our survival through one of the harder winters we’ve had in a while, I began to reminisce about our time living in the 120-square-foot space.
Though I’ve mentioned “the cabin” a lot in this blog, I’ve never told the full story behind it. I could probably write a book about our year there (maybe I should!), so I’ll break it up into multiple posts—starting with the beginning of our life there, working on the cabin and getting settled in.
When I first began dating Evan, he was living in an apartment in town, but already owned the property on which the cabin would sit, and would often spend nights there in the camper that preceded it. The first time I was ever there was a chilly March evening with our friends Jake and Erica. We had a bonfire, burned old furniture, and slept curled up in the metal shell that would later become my temporary home. But I had no notion of this on that evening in March 2013.
Fast forward a couple months—I finished school, the lease on my apartment was up, and I’d be leaving to spend the summer in Japan in about six weeks or so. Evan gave up his apartment to live in the camper full-time—and I joined him. I packed a duffel bag full of clothes and gear I’d need for the summer, sold/gave away a bunch of stuff, and put the rest of my belongings in storage at my parents house. Though perhaps it was early in our relationship to be moving in together, especially into such a small space, it was the most reasonable option, considering my imminent departure from the country for a couple months. And, turns out, it worked out really well.
We had fun. We cooked on the fire every night. We created an outdoor shower from a 50-gallon drum strung up in a tree. It was summer, so we were warm. The days were long, so it wasn’t a big deal that we didn’t have electricity. I hung out, rode bikes, and went to work renting canoes and kayaks at the lake. I enjoyed the simplicity. Come the end of June, I was jumping on a plane to the other side of the world, to help my friend Amanda with her PhD research in the mountains of Japan.
While I was gone, the cabin arrived, in the form of a 10×12 wooden shed with 3 windows, a front door, a loft, and a metal roof. Evan sent me this picture, one of the first of our new home. He also ran electric to the property, and began to gather supplies to insulate the structure and make it livable. We were really getting fancy.
When I returned to Pennsylvania, we set out to make the shed into a house—a very small house. The first order of business was insulation and completing the walls. We got a bunch of reclaimed lumber from a friend, which we used to build the inside cabin wall. The boards were random width, random length, random color, and sometimes random shape. This made for a very frustrating but also very rewarding experience. It was a pain to get it all to fit, but in the end, I think it looked pretty cool. It had character. During this time I also discovered that I am pretty terrible with a hammer and nails. There was a lot of cursing and occasionally throwing the hammer across the room while I completed a section of wall that we later dubbed “Helena’s Corner of Hell.” But ultimately, it was all worth it. While we had the wood tools out, we also built lots of shelves and other nifty little places to put things. When you live in such a small space, you really have to become efficient when it comes to storage. We created a kitchen area—a small counter above the mini-fridge, food shelves, and hooks for things like pots and pans and cooking utensils. There was a shoe shelf when you came in the door, hooks to hang backpacks, and other random shelves for tools, books, and the like.
Though the floor plan of the shed/cabin was only 10×12, we also had that amount of space “upstairs” in the loft area, which was divided into two halves with an open space in the middle. One side was our bedroom (I still have no idea how we got a mattress up there), and the other was a “closet” and storage space. We made little steps in the wall to get up to the loft, though they were nothing like traditional steps. Rather, some monkey-like moves were required to get to the “second floor”—which made getting up in the middle of the night to relieve oneself rather interesting. Soon enough though, the little steps and acrobatics required to navigate them became routine, ingrained in our muscle memory, and we literally could do it half asleep in the dark.
The only thing we had that you could call furniture was an old cushioned church pew that Evan found, as well as outdoor Adirondack chairs and homemade benches around the fire pit. But the 5-gallon buckets that held trash, recycling, and dog food also made nice seats when we had company.
And speaking of company, it was amazing how many people we could fit in there. Though most of our gathering and living took place outside during the warmer months, on some of the frigid winter nights, up to 10 of us would cram around the woodstove after a night ride to cook sausage, drink beer, and get warm.
The first woodstove we acquired was a little potbelly, which we soon discovered didn’t quite have the capacity to burn wood for a period longer than a couple of hours. It wasn’t long before we switched it out for a bigger one. Our friend John (whom you’ve seen plenty of in my postings on here) owns Laney’s Feed Mill, so he got us a good deal on supplies and helped us install the pipe and chimney for the stove. John knows what he’s doing, which was good reassurance that our wooden house wasn’t going to burn down. We also had an electric space heater that we used to warm up quickly or for nights when it wasn’t quite cold enough to warrant use of the stove.
The outdoor shower that we had constructed during the camper days remained, though once it got chilly out, we rarely used it. Luckily, we had a convenient shower option in town, in the apartment behind the shop, so hygiene wasn’t at all an issue. We had a small portable toilet that we stationed outside and enclosed with pallets for some amount of privacy. For water, we bought 5-gallon jugs. Dishes were done in a bucket of water outside. We cooked all our meals either on the outdoor fire or on the woodstove.
A lot of people have said that they wouldn’t be able to live in a space that small with their significant other for a year, like we did. While it definitely put a strain on our relationship at times, it also strengthened it. Everything was more intimate. When we were annoyed with one another, there was nowhere to hide, which forced us to work through things. It was an experience we shared together—sometimes it was rough, especially through the winter, but most of the time, it was a lot of fun, and I’m really glad we did it.
Stay tuned for stories about our winter in the cabin, lessons learned about living simply, & more.