When our family of eight moved to our off-grid homestead in central Florida in 2011 we sold lots of our things, scaling down and living more simply in a tiny house. Although we were attached to some of those things, it was mostly a relief to have less stuff. We enjoyed focusing energy on other things that allowed Silver Oak to be home more so we could work together as a family.
Last summer we sold our homestead and most of what was left, and moved to South America. Somehow it still took weeks to pack our “few” remaining possessions into a small 20’ container. Our suitcases carried things we needed for six months or so, as it often takes that long for a container to go through customs.
Since settling here in October of last year, our home has been the second floor of a former boarding school owned by SIFAT (Servants in Faith and Technology) in a small town in the Amazon jungle. We are helping care for and improve the grounds here while waiting for God to open a property for a demonstration sustainable homestead. We enjoy learning to know the people, the language (Spanish), local small-scale agriculture, and the culture as we serve wherever God opens doors for our family.
Our “house” has two large rooms, one of which serves as a big bedroom with a makeshift “curtain” across one end for our master bedroom, with a nice bathroom. The other room is a living and dining area and kitchen all in one. Two more small rooms on the same floor store SIFAT’s things and our luggage, and include a second bathroom for us, and space for our washing machine.
The large front room is ample for hosting hymn sings and enjoying guests for meals. We made a type of couch with a large slab of wood on bricks, with a worn mattress leaning against the wall. A few hammocks purchased in the city make a comfortable living room. Our coffee table is a trunk from the storage room. There was rough handmade furniture in the building, including bookcases and shelves, desks, and small tables and stands. We cleaned up what we needed and put them to use. There is also a nice dining room table with six chairs, and a large picnic type table with benches. Our electric piano came with us in a big case on the plane. We purchased a few more wooden chairs and plastic stools so everyone has a place to sit.
Our friends who lived here before us left a kitchen sink and set of shelves with a wooden countertop. We bought and added a gas stove and a tiny fridge, which has never worked, so we rotate frozen water bottles to keep it cool. We covered the counter tops with vinyl, and added curtains for cupboard “doors.” With the big picnic table serving as an island, and some wooden shelves forming a corner pantry, we have a nice sized and very functional homestead kitchen. We have enough basic eating utensils and dishes to serve our family and several guests if someone stops by, which is a common occurrence. If more are needed we borrow from friends who live in the other house on this property.
There are plenty of bunk beds available, formerly used for the boarding school. Some of the mattresses are old and lumpy, or hard. We are slowly purchasing new ones as they become available. The “curtain” which separates the “master bedroom” is made of blankets and sheets we found here, hung on paracord with large safety pins and clothespins. Since we are here temporarily, we are minimizing permanent or costly changes which may not apply to those coming after us.
The bathrooms are Latino style; a square room with a sink, toilet, showerhead, and drain in the floor. It took time to adjust to no shower lip or curtain. We added simple shower curtains hung from paracord lines, which minimize water splatters. A squeegee clears water off the floor. One bathroom drain is also used for our washing machine. Tank hot water heaters don’t exist in this place, so there are only single faucets…for cold water. But, there are inexpensive shower heads that heat water as it passes through. My friend calls them suicide showers; it seems electrocution is inevitable. :) So far it hasn’t happened, although in this mild climate we seldom turn them on.
One adjustment has been living without glass windows. Few people here can afford them, so most windows are large openings with screen. Some don’t even have screen, but use mosquito netting over their beds at night to ward off bugs. Our big living room has three walls of screen windows running continuously from one end to another. The overhang and outer walkways around the outside stop rain, unless it blows really hard. Since the temperature never drops below 40 degrees F, and rarely exceeds the 90’s F, weather is seldom a problem, except some cold mornings when we wish for a wood stove. Dust is an issue if it doesn’t rain for a while; we keep things in bins or under cover to control it.
Living at the edge of town means we have electricity and public water…most of the time. Sometimes the power is off unexpectedly for hours, or water pressure drops so we can’t get water up in our part of the building. Then we moan and wish for our off grid homestead in Florida. We are working on setting up a few batteries and a water tank so we have reserve power and water for those times. There is cell phone service…most of the time. And sloooow internet. When tempted to fuss, we remember that we communicate with family and friends much more than we could have 20 years ago.
In case you think we are roughing it…I want to introduce you to a couple of our friends. Magalita is a fellow Believer who was born and raised here, and is married with four beautiful children. They recently moved back from church planting in another Latino country. They have outgrown their original tiny house, which is about the size of the storage shed we had in Florida. This simple structure has a small front room with a single bed, small table and chairs, and shelves for books and clothing. A few steps lead up to a loft with wall to wall mattresses where most of the family sleeps. Under the loft a few steps down lead to the kitchen. That is it! Laundry is done by hand in the separate shower room outside with water piped from a mountain stream. A small solar panel allows for a few lights at night. They live just fine with no refrigerator, no washing machine, no computers, and no warm showers.
We participated in a house raising with others from church to build a bigger house in front of the tiny one. Magalita’s husband cut down two huge trees on their property and with a chainsaw cut all the lumber for the new house. It had to cure for several months before using so he had to plan ahead. He built his own six foot ladder, and put the big beams in the ground before the house raising. It was a grand social event, and the house quickly took shape. It is very similar to the tiny one, with a loft for the children to sleep in, but a separate master bedroom downstairs. By comparison it is much bigger, but by US standards it is still a tiny house! Now the roof is on, the floor poured, and walls framed, so they have much more protected space than before. But wall boards will be added after Magalita’s husband finishes cutting more lumber. Magalita is excited about her new house, and I’ve never heard a word of discontentment from her.
Another friend, David, is bedridden and paralyzed because of a terrible accident 18 months ago when a tree fell on him. He has a one-room teensy tiny house, furnished with an old hospital bed and some shelves. His young wife and four children have another room with her in-laws several yards away. There is one sink on the whole place, next to the small outdoor shower. That is where laundry is washed, and hands, dishes, and fruits and vegetables. We visit often and never sense a hint of discontentment.
When we go home, we see how much we have. We know there is even more coming soon in our container. We have way more than we need to be content. And we enjoy the life God has called us to.
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P.S. Before I got this posted our container arrived! It holds our greenhouse, solar panels, windmill, and other homestead equipment and material possessions. We’ve been looking forward to our grain mill, sewing machine, ice cream maker, glass jars and fermenting crocks, meat grinder, pianos, a fridge that works, and personal items. Everything looks almost the same as when it left Florida six months ago! Amazing! We thank the Lord for His protection and provision.
Note: My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post.