In 2017 I built a small cabin in the woods of Nova Scotia. I did almost none of the building, but did do most of the design of the cabin and am now doing the follow-up work on it.
Building a cabin is shockingly cheap. It's one of those situations where you get about 80% of the benefits of a house for only 10% of the money. Sure there's no running water and the fit and finish is a bit rustic, but that's part of the charm. At the end of the day you can have a waterproof structure that's very comfortable and useful, and can pay less than $10,000 to build it.
First you have to find some land. My friends and I bought an island together several years ago, so that part was checked off for me. There is cheap land all over the place, made many times cheaper if you can get friends to split it. For a simple cabin you don't need electricity or water, so you can buy land that's not very useful to other people.
I also have at least one friend who built a cabin on his friend's land. No one who buys many acres actually needs so much space, and they might be happy to have you have a little cabin there as well.
I made my cabin 12'x16' with two stories. If you do things in multiples of 4', buying materials and making cuts will be a little bit easier. In retrospect, I'm not sure making such a tall cabin was a good idea. Friends of a friend who are excellent builders had no problem building it, but it's now obvious that I couldn't have done it myself. I think I could have done a single story building, though.
The other part of the height that I didn't think about is that it is much harder to build the top part than the bottom part. I'm in the process of putting shingles on now and I don't really have any idea how I'm going to do the ones all the way up on the top. The bottom ones are easy.
Speaking of shingles, I chose to do cedar shakes because they are beautiful and natural. I love how they look, but I understand why everyone else does vinyl. It would have been so much easier to install, and I would consider it next time. Building a cabin is somewhat about choosing your battles, and it would be nice for me to be able to work on the interior rather than nail shingles on one at a time.
Windows are expensive and hard to carry by boat, so I instead chose to make a whole wall of plexiglass. The end result is absolutely stunning, but I found out the hard way that it doesn't block UV like a window would. My gray bedsheets are now a weird purplish color. Plexiglass was also much more expensive than I expected it would be, so it's unclear if I saved any money.
It's very easy to set up a reasonable solar system. Buy a lithium-ion based battery pack system (I chose one by a company called River) and a 100w panel. This combo allows you to drain the battery to zero whenever you're at the cabin, and the small panel with keep it topped off when you're gone and add a little extra capacity every day. On Amazon you can buy any 12v light and power it from the battery pack using a DC car adapter. Don't use the inverter feature of these things, as it uses too much power.
I was originally going to put a wood stove in, but ended up just getting a catalytic heater that takes a standard propane gas tank, just like a barbecue grill. It's not as cozy, but it sure is a lot easier to deal with. I might swap it out eventually.
I also opted to build the cabin a few feet off the ground. This makes it much easier for me to upgrade the cabin in the future by running wires or pipes underneath, or storing batteries or water tanks. The downside is that it makes those high up shingles a lot trickier.
I'm still fighting some small waterproofing issues and haven't really figured out how to do a lot of the upcoming projects, but that's part of the fun. A cabin is both a fun place to spend time alone and with friends, and also a nice low-stress opportunity to learn new things and do some physical work.
Photo is pretty self explanatory. I've since made a huge roll-up curtain that covers the whole window, so UV bleaching is a thing of the past.
I had intended to come back to the island once more before building the cabin, but the timing didn't work out. I nervously climbed up the hill to check the spot that I had decided to build on. Was it as clear as I remembered it? I forgot to take pictures.
At first it looked fine, but when I brought the tape measure out, I realized that the area wasn't nearly big enough to build the cabin. The builders were coming the next day.
I went back to the yurt, the main structure on the island, to get the loppers to continue clearing. But before I left the yurt, rain started to pour down. A few minutes later I also realized that the yurt roof was leaking badly.
Then the lumber company called me, told me that some of my special order items were running late, and that due to a complicated situation involving the credit card preauthorization, they couldn't get me any materials at all for a couple days at least.
I remember when I first read the Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris and how logical and seemingly easy it seemed to me. Even though I knew that actually making it happen required a lot of work, guts, and maybe some luck; I could still understand how important the concepts were. Of course, many have gone on to criticize the concept of a four hour work week-- some calling it lazy, others impractical and some just straight up disbelieving its possibility But in my opinion, the book was not solely about starting some sleazy company and wandering off to some unknown island; rather it was about how to dissect, plan and make deliberate choices. Early in the book, Chapter 2 I believe, Ferris asks the reader to imagine what they would if they had 100 million dollars, what everyday concerns would become redundant and what would one really begin to care about?
Since then I think about this exercise at least once a week to see how I have come along. Personally I believe this is one of the stronger exercises one can do in order to get down to the core of the issue for most of us: if money weren't an issue what would you do? Ferris talks about dreamlining ( a way of organizing what you want, whether it be tangible or some sort of skill set, on paper ) and then outlining what action you would have to take to get there. Dreamlining is important because it helps you put your goals in perspective by helping you breakdown the amount of time and money learning a skill will take as well as determining what constitutes achieving that skill or that money.
In the majority of the book, Ferris talks about countless of productivity ideas (he talks about Parkinson's law and how it can be used to create pressure, one of my favorites), and how 80 percent of the results can come from 20 percent of the inputs : meaning that deciding what to focus on can be infinitely more productive than how much time you spend doing something. But in my opinion, these parts of the book pale in comparison to the immensity of value in the first and last parts of the book.
The later parts of the book focus on how one will continue to feel like they are contributing after they become completely financially independent Many people think that after they quit there careers, especially if it was a career they took particularly seriously, they can just relax, but the fact is, many of these professionals begin to feel empty. With nothing challenging them to succeed and step up to the plate, suddenly they feel empty and their drive to live feels diminished.
The first part of the book is the one that focuses on the mind-set and paradigms of the financially independent. Its also the part that asks the question of what would you do day to day if you had 100 million dollars.