Here’s what I meant to do tonight: After lifting some seriously heavy weights at the gym, then doing farm chores, then snuggling with my new Nuggets, then eating dinner and staunchly refusing to do my dishes, I meant to sit down at my computer and finish one of the three different posts I have sitting in my drafts folder, waiting to be cleaned up and published.
Instead, I opened my inbox, and it it was an email that contained the excerpts below:
I’m nineteen, and I live near St. Louis. My boyfriend and I are completely infatuated with farm life… Although jumping right into a hefty bank loan and taking on our farm plans head first seems remotely doable, we honestly have no clue what we’re doing. The idea of knowing how to build my own house myself excited me; I started Googling and found your website. After some hellacious and painstaking note taking and word definition, and feeling like a student again, I actually really got into your homebuilding instructions. I’ve discovered that I actually really really reeaaaallllly want to learn how to build homes, especially excavation, footing, foundation and framing.
Anyway, after taking down all your home notes, I wondered what else your site was about, and read the story about your homes and projects and your current farm with MINI DONKEYS and got really excited. All I could think was, hell yes, I wanna be this woman when I grow up. The point of all this is, I’m hoping for advice on where and how to begin. I’m wondering if you’d know what classes I should take to get started in carpentry.
First of all, HELL YES. If there’s one thing I could fill up the world with, it’s nineteen year old girls who think, “You know what? I want to build an effing house, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
It is so incredibly inspiring to me to know that there are younger people like this out there, so instead of writing a post about the now-finished downstairs bathroom, or the progress I’ve made on the Liberty House Master List in the last two years, I wrote this response. And after I hit send I thought that this right here is the exact thing I needed to write and share today. So for anyone who has been in this same spot, or may be here in the future, here’s my advice about getting started with building houses….
This is, by far, one of the best emails I’ve ever gotten. I’ve been writing on DIYdiva for the better part of a decade (since I was just a bit older than you, actually, and bought my first house) for exactly this reason… so that some day some girl might decide she wants to build a house, and will see that it’s totally possible. Not easy. Not without risk, pain, tears, hard work, frustration, and a whole lot of “what the fuck do I do now?” But, frankly, I think the best things in life come with all of those.
No one can tell you what the right path to take is… the important thing is being able to determine that for yourself. For example, I work best when I take on pretty big (some might say impossible) tasks all at once, but I’m also very risk-averse financially, so I only take these things on when I feel confident in my “back up plan.” People often ask my why I don’t just take on smaller, more manageable projects, and I know myself well enough to know that I need the challenge to motivate me, but I also know myself well enough to know what is “too much”. So, this is weird, but the first thing I would recommend is gauging your comfort with your decision-making abilities. Do you tend to dive in over your head and then get overwhelmed or stressed? Does it bother you when things don’t go as planned? Are you overly cautious in what you take on and then lose interest because you’re bored? Understanding these things will really help you decide what your own path to building your own house should be, but I’ll tell you a little bit of my story and how I came to be a girl on a farm with mini-donkeys (you definitely need them, they are awesome) who works a corporate job and also builds houses…
The event that made all of those pieces fall into place for me was buying my first house. (Actually, if I’m being honest, it was when I started dating a guy who had a little fixer-upper house that he wasn’t fixing up. And I thought to myself, if this dude can have his own house and not fix it up… I’m pretty sure I can have a house and do really amazing things to it. Unsurprisingly, that relationship didn’t last long.) Buying that first house, for me, was the embodiment of all the things I wanted to do. I had to work a full-time job to pay the mortgage, but I’d been building some skills in working with furniture that were transferable to the work I wanted to do on the house. I started with smaller projects, that turned into bigger projects, that eventually turned into selling my first house and building my second one. By the time that second house came around it didn’t even occur to me that I couldn’t build a house if I wanted to. (It did occur– frequently, and often loudly– to the boyfriend I decided to build that house with, but I basically ignored him. Unsurprisingly, that relationship also didn’t last too long.)
- Volunteer– If you have Habitat for Humanity in your area, this is a fantastic, free way to start learning the basic skills of house-building and how that all come together. I’ve been on Habitat builds with some old veterans that STILL teach me new tricks after a decade of doing this, and those old-timers LOVE to teach people what they know. My advice would be to volunteer for a few different builds and be curious. Tell them you want to learn about building houses, ask questions about how to use tools and why things are done a certain way. You’ll get to see things done (so much better than reading about them), and get hands-on experience.
- Invest in the basics – This is true both for tools and for classes. If you buy crappy tools you will HATE using tools. Because they suck. If you start off with good tools, you’ll realize how much easier your life will be… as far as I’m concerned, this makes all the difference in building things. Same with classes… if you have the opportunity through your community college, I’d take a basic woodworking class to learn to use the tools and the basics, and then if they offer any building science, drafting, or architecture classes, those would be great too. Learn how to read blueprints! When I was getting certified for my builders license, I took all of the classes through the continuing education department of the local community college, and they were awesome.
- Immerse yourself in the business of houses— This could play out so many different ways. Seeking out a job with a builder or at a home-improvement store, reading blogs, watching YouTube tutorials, going to home and garden shows, making friends with farmers or people who are fixing up houses. So much of this is learned through what I would call “casual contact”… knowing someone who did something this way once, or helping a friend with a project, or hearing the language used every day. It’s so much easier to pick these things up when it’s a part of your world.
- Try it – Sometimes you just have to dive right in. I always recommend “stretch projects”– things that will really-effing-impress you when you manage to do them (and you will) but are easy enough to give you a rep or two with the basics so that you can build confidence in your skills. Look at other peoples projects, think about how you might do them and think about how you might do them differently based on the tools/skills you have at your disposal. Then try something bigger. Next thing you know, the “something bigger” will be a whole house.
- Don’t give up — You’re going to fail at things. You’re going to fuck things up. You’re going to find yourself in spots where you don’t know what the hell you’re doing or what to do next. THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T. It means you’re learning. It means that maybe there’s something you don’t know right now, but you will next time. As much as it pains me to admit it myself, sometimes it means you need help. You learn from it, you do something different the next time… but if you want to build a house, the most important thing is to believe that you can. And not to give up when things get tough.
And for everyone else out there thinking of diving into the world of building things or building your own house one day? Same goes. You all are an inspiration to me every single day.