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.

Breaking free

Drawing-Thoreau-Cabin-at-Waldon

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.