Home Sweet Home When There's No House
Housing is one of the biggest challenges facing a homesteader starting from scratch. What do you do if there’s no housing? How do you begin when there’s no place to live? Here are some options to get you going.
There’s something so romantic about the old-fashioned notion of carving out a place from the wilds, working with your own hands to build a homestead you and your family could thrive on for generations to come. It was the American dream for the first two centuries of this nation’s settlement, but somewhere along the way it became more about the house than the land.
Generations past saw land ownership as the key to their freedom & success. America was the land of opportunity, not the cities or neighborhoods of opportunity. No longer did the common man have to work the land owned by another, instead he could work land that belonged to him—-building his own estate rather than his Lord’s. The land was the key, not the house. It wasn’t uncommon for homes to be built small and expanded over time. Many homesteaders built progressively larger and more elaborate housing as the land produced the funds to do so.
Today, we see the house as the symbol of our success, the lot the home sits on isn’t even a consideration. The location, neighborhood amenities, proximity to work & school, features of the house—heck, even design aesthetic gets more consideration than the land the dwelling sits upon in our modern age.
Homesteading flips this on its head and says, Land First.
The land is the backbone of every homestead, not the house.
If you haven’t chosen your homestead yet, keep this in mind. The best house in the world won’t feed you or provide for your needs if it’s sitting in an HOA stranglehold with a postage stamp yard you aren’t allowed to do anything with. We’ll talk about getting land in another post, for now let’s go with the idea that you’ve got your spot picked out.
Living On the Land
You’ve got your land, now what? Where are you going to live while you get this homestead party started?
Let’s deal with the subject no one wants to talk about. Money. You’re going to need some to get any kind of housing on your land unless you’re Matt Graham. The amount you’ve got to work with will make a lot of your decisions for you. Here are three realistic options if you don’t have much, (but you’re still going to need some.)
Stay Where You Are
The first option is to continue living in town while you prepare the land & build (or buy) something to live in. We did this for 2 years on our second homestead, living in a rental in town while building a house on our 2nd property. Giant waste of money, but it was the right decision for our family at that time. We had kids in high school, jobs in town and we’d already failed at our first homesteading attempt a few years prior.
It’s far from ideal, but sometimes it’s the most logical starting point, especially if you have kids to safely shelter. You can look at making an intermediary move by renting in the nearest small town to your property with available housing. No one wants to hear this advice, but we feel obligated to share it.
This option is sometimes the only one if you’re trying to juggle full time jobs during your transition. We both worked full time and worked on the house on our days off. It cost us a fortune in gas, wasted material due to the length of time it took us to build, lots of frustration and we still wound up moving into the shell before it was even close to finished. Live and learn.
Shed or Dry Cabin
It doesn’t take very many videos to realize this is a popular option for the brand new homestead. It was the option we chose on our first run too. The awesome thing about sheds is that you can get one delivered & set up with very little up front cash. The awful thing about sheds is that you will be making an interest-bearing monthly payment on something you could build for much less in cash. If you have the skills, we highly recommend building it rather than financing one. If you don’t have the skills to build it, look for a repossessed unit at a dealer, an auction or online marketplace (Facebook, Craigslist, etc). Go as large as you can find for a reasonable price.
The fact that these are popular with homesteaders means they get repo’ed quite often, because the hard truth is that most homesteaders fail miserably and move back to town….great deals are out there if you’re willing to look for them.
Once your shed is set up and the delivery guys drive away, what’s next? Setting up your living, cooking, hygiene & sleeping spaces are the first orders of business. Will you have bathroom facilities inside your shed? Or outside? How will you cook? Make sure you have a solid plan before you get out there.
We saved the best of the three reasonably priced options for last. It’s the best because it’s self-contained and there are a lot of ways to pick them up with or without financing. Cash is always best, and it will get you a screaming deal, we paid less than 50 cents on the dollar for a very well cared for fifth wheel by being patient & that was in spring of 2022 when prices were still very high.
There are a lot of people who bought RVs during the pandemic years who don’t use them anymore or need to offload them. Bank repos on RVs are soaring, so check your local credit unions and regional banks as they often sell straight from their websites. Larger finance houses will sell them at auction so make sure to get signed up for notifications at your local auctioneers.
Why We Chose an RV this Time
Our first homestead was a shed & a small camp trailer with broken plumbing. We made it 18 months and called it quits. We ran out of money and with both of us working there just wasn’t any time to actually have a homestead at all, particularly one in such a demanding climate (northern Idaho/NE Washington border). The second time we built a barndominium. This was a success, but we were still in the frozen north so food production was still a miserable failure. Note to self….growing season matters a lot.
We purchased an RV to travel full time after selling the second homestead. Nowhere we looked felt right, so we hit the road with no plans of buying anything for a while, until we fell in love that is. We fell for this area of Arkansas hard. It has everything we wanted in a place to settle down again, so we pulled the trigger on another piece of land without a home.
We purposely looked for land that already had water. Our RV has a composting toilet & solar that Raz built as our first mods when we purchased it last year so we weren’t worried about septic or power, though we did get lucky and find land that had all three. With methodical deliberation we set ourselves up this time with everything we learned the last two go rounds. We knew that we could live comfortably and immediately as homesteaders right out of the gate with an RV set up on the land.
There are lots of other options out there — container homes, yurts, canvas tents, tiny homes, older single or double wide mobile homes and even rammed earth cabins — but how realistic are any of those options for the average person, couple or family setting out to homestead for the first time? Our best advice in a nutshell, if you need somewhere to live while you build or buy a permanent home, a self-contained, used RV is the way to go. If you found this helpful, would you consider sharing it wherever you post? It will help us grow.
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