What Kind of Shelter Does One Need to Live Well and Be Free?

Housing (whether purchasing, building, or renting) is typically life’s greatest single expense, so simple livers must think especially carefully about where they live and why, and how much of their lives they are prepared to spend seeking a ‘nicer’ place to live.

Exactly what kind of shelter does one need to live well and be free? Obviously, we must answer this question for ourselves – at least, within the constraints of our own socio-economic context – but again the words of Henry Thoreau might give us a moment’s pause: ‘Most people appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbours have.’[1]

The ‘McMansions’ which are so prevalent in the suburbs of North America and increasingly elsewhere are extremely resource-intensive and very expensive.[2] In opposition to that trend, participants in the Simplicity Movement are exploring alternative ways to accommodate themselves and their families, by embracing smaller, much more modest and energy-efficient homes. In particular, some are exploring co-housing arrangements, ‘green design,’ and other forms of low-impact development, including eco-villages and ‘transition initiatives.’[3] More radical participants are building their own straw-bail houses, making shacks out of abandoned or second-hand materials, or converting shipping containers into homes.[4]

Nevertheless, the fact is that ‘simple housing’ presents one of the greatest challenges to living a simple life and, therefore, it will have to be a subject of much more sustained discussion in future posts.

For an introduction to Henry Thoreau’s views on housing / shelter, click here.

[1] Henry David Thoreau, ‘Walden‘ in Carl Bode (ed), The Portable Thoreau (1982) 290.

[2] See, e.g., Alex Wilson and Jessica Boehland, ‘Small is Beautiful: U.S. House Size, Resource Use, and the Environment’ (2005) 9(1/2) Journal of Industrial Ecology 277 (reporting that average living area per person in new houses in the U.S. increased by a factor of three since 1950s).

[3] Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience (2008).

[4] Ibid.

3 Responses to “What Kind of Shelter Does One Need to Live Well and Be Free?”

  1. Beckford says:

    I would rather be free to live in a home-built shack made from recycled junk and brave the elements, or in a mud-hut formed of the earth on which I stand and take my chances with earthquakes and flood, than in the kind of building-code stamped and approved resource-wasteful box of toxic materials and toxic aesthetics we are expected to learn to call home.

  2. Samuel Alexander says:

    Thanks Beckford. Yes, the question of simple, sustainable housing is a very interesting one. As you imply, it’s a great challenge indeed to house oneself simply and sustainably in consumer societies today. This is especially problematic given how expensive housing has become. An area that certainly needs more attention by individuals and policy makers alike.

  3. Beckford says:

    Have been sharing your Deconstructing the Shed article with friends. Thanks for that. I have lived for most of my life in buses and housetrucks and sheds…illegally technically. Fortunately the authorities here in Otago don’t bother such people as myself unless snobbish neighbours complain. The secret is to be a very good neighbour and keep as unobtrusive as possible. Presently have just moved into a bare 1976 Leyland bus which I shall try to make homely throughout the winter. It is too close to a street though and in full view on a hillside with no cover from trees so I wonder how long it will take for the council to be informed…so far have done six months in a housetruck (but had to sell it) so should be good. But I want to build a shed of totally toxin-free macrocarpa direct from the mill. Am putting the plans together…

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge