Joyride to the cabin site

Got a new camera and played with the time lapse of the beautiful drive along the BlueRidge Parkway from Charlotte to the camp site last weekend. Sorry about the dirty windshield 🙂

And I know – I promised some cool excavator footage, but instead i just have a picture of the finished product. It doesn’t look like much but actually a lot has happened since the last post. There is quite a bit of ground work that has to be done before the actual structure goes up.

A new survey was done because some of the boundaries were questionable. The septic system is now completely installed and passed inspection last week. You can see the white pipe come out of the ground to which the plumbing lines will be attached.

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There are still a bunch of trees that need to be cleared, but the next step is to finalize the design and begin pouring the foundation. I should have the next update in 2 weeks. Maybe with some nice drone footage of the area too.

Clearing Cabin Site

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The trees are still mostly bare which is a great time to get started on the clearing. The higher I decide to put the cabin the better the view will be, but the harder the construction. Plumbing lines have to be laid and somehow I have to pump water uphill and get the electricity hooked up. Also, some of the trees are massive and as I will demonstrate below I am massively clueless on the chainsaw.


Some of the other trees are really tall, I’ll stay away from them for now and probably leave some of the leaning ones to the pros. I think they might be poplar trees, but not really sure. However, there is plenty of other work to be done. Smaller trees and brushes.

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In a few weeks an excavator is coming out and the septic system will be put in. Decided to hire a contractor for that and it’s actually the only thing that requires a permit in Tennessee. It costs $500.00 and the TN Water Resource Department will inspect it, once installed to make sure it meets code.

In praise of the Generalists

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

I want to start out by saying that experts and masters in their field certainly deserve the praise society gives them. The Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Muhammad Ali’s of their fields have sacrificed a lot and intensely focused on their craft. When one dives so deeply into one field one can also learn lessons that can apply elsewhere in life, as universal truths reveal themselves that transcend a particular field.

Indeed, specialization of labor has surely made us more and more efficient as people. We have really developed a deep understanding in our particular fields and when working together with other experts are able to produce remarkable results. However, there are also dangers associated with a person over developing in a narrow field without being exposed to a variety of other areas. This is what I want to write about.

In modern society it seems that one can only get ahead if one really specializes in a narrow field and tries to become the best in the world. Renaissance men, like Leonardo DaVinci or Benjamin Franklin, who excelled and expressed themselves in a variety of fields seem to no longer exist and attempting to be one impossible.

We are no longer just doctors, engineers and lawyers. We are so specialized in a particular subset of those professions and thereby often lose sight of the big picture. We can miss opportunities by combining ideas from different fields. This can not only be harmful to success in our careers but also to our health.

Personally, I’ve spent too much time in my head, sitting down, and studying. Neglecting the body by not exercising and moving enough. Sitting too much does a lot of damage. The interesting thing is that as we spend time developing the body our mind benefits as well.

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert makes a great case for the generalist by describing the concept of skills stacking. Instead of becoming the worlds best in one narrow field he suggest that we focus on developing complementary skills that when combined can be world class. Scott ascribes his success with Dilbert not to being the best cartoonist or the funniest person. Instead he is pretty good at writing, pretty funny and a decent artist. Putting those three skills together however is where he really sticks out. There are not that many cartoonist who are pretty good at all three of these categories.

For the past year I’ve lived in Washington D.C. – One of the first questions you encounter here when meeting new people is: “So what do you do?” Of course useful biographical information but too often it leads to judgments of who that person is. We identify with our jobs too much. That is we really believe that what we do to earn money creates an identity for us. It is no longer something we do but something we are. This I believe is really dangerous and unhealthy.

So what I’m saying is that its ok to be a Generalist. You do not have to find your one true passion in life. If one arises, by all means dive into it, but do not force it. You can combine many of them and funny enough if they compliment each other thereby become a specialist in this newly combined specialty.

Pockets of freedom – How to find land for your tiny home/cabin

If you want to build a cabin mostly yourself or with friends and don’t want to hire expensive contractors or be restricted in materials by complicated code compliance, you’ll probably want to looks for land in what is known as “pockets of freedom.”

Pockets of freedom is the name for counties in U.S. States where you can still come in, buy some land, and get started on your cabin build without needing a building permit from the government. I remember calling the county building department and telling them about my plans. At the end of the call I asked what forms I needed to fill out, and the reply was simply: “It’s your land, do with it what you want!”

The big advantages of building yourself are keeping the costs down, the freedom to choose materials, the challenge and adventure of building a house with your own hands.

So whithout getting into a discussion of the usefulness of building permits overall and the safety benefits vs. drawbacks of limiting creativity, it simply makes the process of building your first cabin a lot simpler, faster, and less expensive. Those are all good thing when you are just starting out.

So where are these pockets of freedom?

Generally here:

This map was put together a few years ago by the people advocating sustainable building practices at http://earthshipglobal.com

Some counties might have changed, however it gave me a good starting point. Generally the western U.S. is less restrictive and of course away from metropolitan areas. Once you decide on a general area, you can call the the county office directly or try to get more information from their website about the different building permit requirements.

Some building codes have exemptions for buildings under 400sq ft or those that can be classified as sheds. Great, because then you could be Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson. (Just a silly Monty Python reference).

Besides finding a pocket of freedom, there are many other things to consider when selecting your land. Do you want to go off grid or have access to city water and power? What kind of climate/ nature do you want near by? Civilization? Road access? And the list goes on.

For me I found a great spot close to the Appalachian trail on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. It has a lake, a winery, hiking, atv trails, local airport, 40 mins from a decent size city, and easy hookup to water/power. I’ll post pictures and update on the construction process in the next post.

Also for those interested in building a tiny home on wheels. There is a whole different sort of legal issues surrounding those type of builds. I’ll give my opinion on those and how to rent land or otherwise find places to park them in another post.

Appreciation

Daily gratitude journaling! It’s a great habit to get into. Our minds have been naturally trained to spot the threat to ensure survival. This leads to the observed negativity bias. Studies have shown that when presented with frowning face, we will find and process the frowning face much faster than if the experiment is reversed. Again, this is wonderful for survival…not so good for happiness! And since we no longer have saber tooth tigers chasing us down the prairie, maybe it would be a good idea to train the mind to focus on the smiling faces a bit more often. (See Facial Expressions of Emotion: Are Angry Faces Detected More Efficiently? and Finding the face in the crowd: An anger superiority effect.)

Since we have this tendency of focusing on the negative and constantly try to resolve some kind of problem in our lives, we often overlook all the great things we have already, right now! We quickly grow so accustomed that we hardly notice it anymore. It is only when we are deprived of our blessings that we recognize how grateful we should have been. So it might be a good idea to intentionally deprive ourselves of luxuries every now and then, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Instead of hitting the Facebook feed or even worse, the news, first thing in the morning, I am starting the practice of writing out 3 simple things that I am grateful for in my life. And I mean actually writing them out, with pen and paper. Otherwise the temptation is too great to just brush over this with a yeah, yeah! – that’s all fine, but what about my problems! Taking the time to appreciate things will not only put us in a better mood, but also make us less fearful.

Dan Baker, Ph.D. describes in What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better how it is physiologically impossible for a human being to be in the state of gratitude and fear at the same time. From my own experience I know that I make better decisions and that life in general is just a bit better when there is more gratitude and less fear involved. I believe that this can be trained like anything else. It is not the default mode, but takes actual effort to change mental habits over time.

However, it is a really worthwhile practice, because without appreciation, any achievement is really empty and simply leads to the quest for the next mountain to climb.

Today I am thankful for being able to write and share some ideas that hopefully help somebody, just like others were able to help me with their writing.

Breaking free

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Breaking free for me means to make more time and space for the things that really matter: to do meaningful work helping others, spend time with people we love, care for our bodies and souls, play outside, gently push ourselves into discomfort to constantly grow and learn.

For some, this is possible within the confines of a 9-5 job. Others simply feel that their work is a means to an end, which buys them the freedom to take vacations and enjoy the finer things in life. However, many others, including me, feel trapped in what seems like an inescapable cycle. We spend such a large amount of time at work that does not inspire us, produces a lot of stress and ultimately leaves us unfulfilled. We seek moments of release on the weekends, often by drinking, binge watching TV, or going on some exotic vacation in order to escape the dread of the week ahead and the week behind us.

Some people call this working hard and playing hard, while patting themselves on the back for being able to endure all of these self-created struggles. For a long time I thought this too…I’m being too soft! I just need to suck it up and make the best out of it! Focus on the positive! Every job has its good and bad sides! Besides, I have expenses, and what else am I going to do?

And there is a lot of truth in that. The attitude and things we focus on can make a big difference in how we perceive our day and nobody likes a complainer, including ourselves. Also, we cannot simply run away from our responsibilities. However, to quote Elon Musk: “life has to be about more than just solving one miserable problem after another!” Life should have a sense of adventure about it! And while we can never totally eliminate drudge-work, if we believe our work has meaning, we are more willing to stick it out with a smile. But to simply work a job in order to pay for the things that allow us to continue working that job makes no sense. That is the rat race. That is fight club’s storyline of working a job we hate, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like!

So I stumbled upon people who had different ideas. I heard and read about minimalist lifestyles, geo-arbitrage, digital nomads, the tiny house movement and people taking risks to take the road less travelled. I read Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour-Workweek and heard of many other inspiring stories. I would talk to people about these ideas for a long time…in a way trying to convince myself that it was the right thing to. However, as much as I wanted to escape this cycle, I was also very comfortable with this situation. Life was easy and the problems familiar. Especially from the outside it looked like I shouldn’t have anything to complain about.

However, without ever actually taking any of these steps I remember my wise 5-year old nephew calling me out when he was outraged that I told him to jump into the cold pool while I was lounging on a comfortable chair in the sun: “Uncle, that’s not fair! You can’t ask other people to do something that you won’t do yourself!”

So finally I decided to actually walk the walk and start this journey.

I cleared out my apartment, sold my car, and got rid of many of my possessions.

To further make a big dent in the monthly expenses that keep us stuck in the cycle, I decided to leave the big city and build my own cabin in Tennessee/North Carolina. This will allow me to live rent-free and drastically reduce expenses. There is a lot of fear and uncertainty associated with this. Won’t I be bored and lonely away from the big city? Am I getting in over my head with the construction? Will wild boars attack me? As scary as those things are, I know not trying it would only lead to regret and that is even scarier.

As I take these steps to simplify my life and refocus on what matters, I want to share what I learn through this blog, because I feel so grateful for those who did the same and gave me encouragement.