This I Believe, Inc., was founded in 2004 as a not-for-profit organization that engages youth and adults from all walks of life in writing, sharing, and discussing brief essays about the core values that guide their daily lives.
This is my essay, accepted a year ago, “Building My Own Home”
I believe there comes a time to build your own home. For me, that time began three years ago.
As children, the first place we build for ourselves takes the form a backyard snow fort, or a playhouse made from a card table and sheet, or a tree house deep in a secret woods. When I was a young boy, I would often play on a small rug in the basement, pretending to live on a raft like Robinson Caruso or Huck Finn. I loved the idea of living in a small, defined space and floating with the current.
As adults, we strike out to find a starter home. For me, after I floated through a dozen apartments and two houses, I knew it was time for me to build a place of my own.
Building my own home gave me the chance to make my own decisions and make my own mistakes. I chose to fix them or live with them. The inspiration for my own very small, self-built home is based on a photo I saw in a book. I later learned the cabin in the photos is an award winning design by a well-respected architect.
The home I built is a dogtrot; two cabins sharing a single roof that spans an open deck between the cabins. The interior measures less than 700 square feet, plus some sleeping lofts. I know every detail as if it were an extension of my own body. I can find everything in the light or in the dark. I know corners that are not quite square and boards that have warped as they have mellowed. I know the 44-foot deck that bisects the cabins has 2600 screws, each drilled, one by one, on a warm autumn afternoon. That deck, I now see, resembles a raft, floating on the Iowa prairie I call home.
And while there is a cost associated with the building materials, the home is beyond measurable price. I cannot put a monetary value on the exhilaration I felt when I raised the first framed wall. I cannot put a value on the view from the small cabin loft. I cannot put a value on the quiet clear nights as the stars and moon light the two quiet ponds.
As I began my home building project, I was clear about this: my goal was to build a cabin, not to have a cabin. I could have hired a builder to erect it in a matter of weeks. Instead, my work took nearly 3 years and continues as I write this.
I know, beyond self satisfaction, the home I built myself comes with something no other home offers: a lifetime warranty that says, if anything ever goes wrong, the builder will fix it.