On December 29th 2015, our family downsized from a 2000 square foot home in Athens Georgia to a 950 square foot cabin in the middle of the woods. We sold or gave away half of everything we owned, got rid of three computers, downgraded from an iPhone to no phone, and tipped our hats to our former life. This is a series of reflections exploring our transition as we make our home in the North Georgia Mountains and our thoughts detailing what we are learning along the way. Check out Log One and Log Two for more of the story.
A huge part of moving to North Georgia was our family’s way of reorganizing and prioritizing the things that were becoming more important to us. We had some fancy math scribbled down on napkins that basically worked out to a rather simple formula.
Less things = Less bills = Less time in a cubicle = More time with family
You may be nodding your head to that in agreement because it’s your dream too. Or rolling your eyes because you understand how over simplified and idealistic it was/is. But so far, so good. The rough math is holding.
However, the whole equation for us was centered around getting rid of our big house and moving into a small cabin under a thousand square feet. We could not be doing any of what we have been doing had we not downsized our home considerably.
Despite our cabin being a “downgrade” though, it’s cute. It’s romantic. It’s quaint. And it’s our own little slice of awesome.
We are on 2 acres hidden under the trees with less than a dozen folks that live within 5 miles of us. We have chickens. We compost. We have a garden. We grow shiitake mushrooms. We pick blueberries and wild blackberries. We dry our clothes on a line. We catch trout. We swim in amazing, secret swimming holes. And we love it.
It’s quite lovely and the best decision we have ever made for our family.
BUT . . . and it’s a huge BUT . . . this gorgeous little red cabin in the woods . . . has no central heat or air conditioner. We have now been here for 6 months and have made it through sub-freezing nights with nothing but an old wood burning stove that had us cracking windows when it was 25 degrees outside because we were so hot. But this summer is something else.
It’s hot. Real hot. All the time.
Despite my body acclimating to the heat somewhat, I still sweat all the time. When I wake up and when I go to bed. Before I get in the shower and when I get out of the shower. As I sit here in front of my computer writing this, my legs are literally sticking to my chair. Gross right?
On our worst days, we go into a heat rage and bicker and fight with each other because we are all on edge. On our best days, we are just miserable.
These warm temperatures had us asking how people used to do it in the “olden days”. Before there were all the modern conveniences like “bought air”, how did people survive? I mean at least we have fans!
But the more we thought about it, the more we began to find things that might help us live with the seasons. Particularly in reading the fictional stories from Port William by Wendell Berry, we began to see how generations before us found rhythms to guide them through their days and their seasons.
In the summer, we try to only cook on the stove in the mornings and eat leftovers for lunch and dinner or cook outside on the grill so that we don’t add extra heat into the house. In the afternoons we leave the house and find a swimming hole or waterfall to explore so that we stay wet and cool. We close our windows during the hottest part of the day and try to create drafts that pull air through in the evening with the windows open. We sit on our porch at night before bed where it’s coolest and we take cold showers before we go to bed to really cool us down. We walk around in our underwear and sleep naked and we hope and wait for afternoon showers to knock the heat down 5 or 10 degrees.
In the winter, we cook often on the stove and leave the oven door wide open when we’re done to take advantage of the extra heat. We close off what few parts of the house we’re not using so that heat stays packed in. On really cold nights, we hang sheets to make our living room smaller and we wear sweaters, socks, and deploy our full arsenal of blankets while we cuddle on the couch and watch movies.
In the spring and fall, we make up for the tough season before and the tough one to come by living like kings and queens ’cause it’s literally heaven on Earth.
All of that to say . . . it’s not easy but it’s not as hard as it sounds. It’s just different. Drastically different in many ways. But we survive the heat and the cold and everything else the weather throws at us just like the infinitely tougher generations before us . . . by adapting. By dealing with it. And by focusing on the positives and the things that are important to us.
At it’s simplest, moving to this air conditioned deprived cabin, was a choice that we made because it was the right choice for our family and – no pun intended – for this season of our life. However, living in the mountains and sweating your ass off 4 months out of the year while freezing it off another 4 months is not for everyone. Even if your cabin is a balmy 68 degrees year round, it’s not for everyone.
But what I am beginning to see, clearer now than ever, is that whether we lived 100 years ago or 100 years in the future, in a Buckhead loft or a shack in the woods, is that we all have choices to make about the shape and substance of what we want our lives to look like. And by spending all of our time indoors, we are missing out on so much.
Crickets and frogs creating a cacophony of sound that sweep through your open windows when you lay your head down on your pillow at night. Fireflies thick as fog and deer walking through your yard as you sit on the porch drinking a cold beer. The joys of finding a little spot to swim that no one else knows about. Little micro 5 degree swings in temperature that you can literally feel degree by degree as they settle down on you in the evening and feel better than a million bucks.
While we have physical walls with beautiful mural wallpaper in our home, the blurring of lines between the outdoors and indoors is something that we experience intimately every day. It forces us to keep moving with the cycles of the days and seasons. It keeps us rooted in what’s going on around us and acutely aware of the nature that is present among us. There is no divide, no detachment, no nature that we don’t experience – for better or worse. And for us, that gain is well worth any temporary discomfort that we experience from the heat or cold.
But just to cover our bases and because we don’t like the backs of legs being sweaty anymore than you do, we’re going to have someone come out and give us a quote for central heating and air tomorrow. What? Did you think we were going to stay romantic and idealistic forever? It’s hot as hell and we are only human after all.