Isaac and I trade off childcare responsibilities 50/50, each of us taking half a day most days so the other can work on the tiny house. This morning I was off and had a list of things to do on the site. I poured my tea in my travel mug, loaded my laptop and some snacks into a tote bag, and headed up the hill to work.
Plopping the container on site has been a game changer for us. I set up my old work-from-home desk inside and assembled an old storage rack for tools. Isaac wired the wifi up to the site so we can sit down and study the plans or order materials right next to the building project itself. Bets of all, we finally have a place to go for peace and quiet away from the kids, and I didn't realize I needed it so badly.
Getting all our our belongings two weeks ago lit a major fire under us to get the house done. Lockdowns and a shortage of materials had slowed us way down last year, but now that we have a stack of timber in the driveway and all our joinery (windows and doors) and flooring in the garage, we want to get this thing DONE. A neighbor came by for two days recently to help us move along, and last week I hired a babysitter to take the kids a few days a week to free us up to work together.
Despite feeling like we are moving slowly on this, a lot has happened. In fact, just six months ago this spot where I’m sitting was a dense forest of manuka and ferns. We’ve come pretty far. As someone who loves technical stories about how building projects come together, here’s how ours has come along.
We cleared all the trees – Isaac did the chopping and I dragged them away. Then we hired a digger to come open up the driveway and landscape the area so we had some flat areas for building. Next, we put gravel on the driveway, and drilled the holes for the foundation posts. We filled in a small man-made pond that was on the site, and cleared the space where our container now sits.
Isaac and his dad put the water tank into place after levelling the spot using sand and timber. I put in stairs down to the garden area, then did a very amateur job of building a frame for garden beds there. The rain and sun warped the boards I used – I didn’t anchor them down well – and so now it looks a bit crappy. But I learned a lot! I also planted grass over the whole area, which is now dead from over a month without rain in the scorching summer heat.
While waiting for timber, I dug holes for the foundation of our solar panel frame. Isaac and I then built the frame as well as a weatherproof box for the battery. I got comfortable with the nail gun for this work, and man do I love that thing! Despite being a dangerous power tool, I have actually hurt myself a lot more using a plain old hammer so far. My left middle finger is nursing a deep bruise from getting hammered by my right hand the other day. Ouch.
Once the foundation post holes were drilled, we got some help to pour concrete and level the posts. I loved doing this work – the combination of precision and math with physical effort absorbed me. Once the posts were in, we levelled and cut them. Our neighbor helped lay the bearers and joists, making sure they were square so we have a nice foundation to work up from. Then I spent a whole day putting the nogs in (the pieces that run perpendicular to the joists to add bracing to the floor). Right now we’re waiting on insulation, which we’ll lay between the joists and then top with plywood. In the meantime, we’re working on the deck.
There is a lot of talk these days about “flow state”, that elusive state of being completely tuned in to your work. It’s when time evaporates, and your mind and body are completely involved in the task at hand. Writing has always been the place I found this most easily in my life– until now. I’ve discovered building is another gateway to "flow" for me.
As I moved from joist to joist, hammering in braces and small supports for our insulation one after another, I found myself absorbed. My arm ached, but my desire to complete the job, and my joy in doing so, pushed me through it. That night I was so tired I couldn’t lift the kids up; I went to sleep with an aching shoulder and palm. But the next day my arm was stronger, and I headed up to use the electric plane to level off some posts for a few hours.
As a child I wanted to build houses, and would spend hours dreaming about them, drawing them, and mapping out the rooms. Then I ended up working on a compute all day. And that career I built for a decade in tech was lucrative, but it didn't make my heart sing the way this does. So I don’t know what I’ll do next for work, when the time comes financially to go back to it. I'll feel it out, just as we'll feel our way into deciding where we'll live after these few years on this island. But I do know that right now, this is the best job I’ve ever had. I’m thankful there is still quite a lot of it to do.