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This is the fourth post in a series about the building of my tiny house. To read from the start, go here.
While the frame of my house went up quickly, the bricklaying was much slower. It took me 7 weeks of full time work, and I found that when I woke in the mornings, I couldn't move my fingers. The bricks were heavy, and as the walls got higher I had to lift them to shoulder height and beyond to lay them. I was very relieved when they were done.
It took me just a couple of days to lay the floor in the tiny loft that holds our beds and bath, and then I set to work on the mud floor. I can tell you now that the mud floor was a mistake. I didn't have the right kind of soil in my backyard (the clay was too mixed up with top soil), and so the floor never set. It released dust for a whole year after I moved in, even when I covered it with a bamboo mat. And then one morning I came downstairs to discover that not only had it rained heavily overnight, but I had accidentally left a tap running, and my house was completely flooded. I took that as a sign to dig up the mud floor and replace it with a wooden one, which has been perfect. But back when I was building my house, I didn't know this was going to happen, and I just about broke my back to make that mud floor. I dug out all the mud by hand, mixed it with water and cement in the cement mixer, repaired the cement mixer daily, and then carted it all to the floor, where I poured it in and discovered that the entire batch (which had taken hours), had filled only a few centimetres more of my floor.
Around this time I was joined by Kylie, who quickly became a good friend. She was on holidays from school and wanted to fill her days with something interesting. While I had help from many friends, the pattern was that they'd turn up, help me for several hours, then head off. Sometimes it was just a once off, some people would come once a fortnight for a month or so, some would come every day for a week then not again. It was very random. But Kylie came day after day, and she didn't just help with the manual labour, she started to help with the planning and organising.
I was pretty surprised what a big load the organising was. For every four days on my building site I'd have to have at least another full day offsite, just ordering things that I needed, working out the proper sequence that things needed to happen, buying screws and nails, and contacting people who I was hiring to do some job or other. Getting my head around all this stuff was really challenging, and my schedule had to be shifted every week as things moved around. It was complicated, really complicated. So far I had managed this entirely alone, but with Kylie I suddenly had someone to bounce off ideas with. Should we varnish the floors now (meaning we can't walk on them for a few days which means we'll have to work on outside jobs for those days.. and which jobs should they be?) or wait until we've whitewashed the walls, but run the risk of damaging the floors with all the walking and whitewash? At this point I really felt I was building the house with someone, and it was a great feeling not to be carrying the whole load alone. Kylie stuck with the project right up until I moved in.
Before I could move in, an inspector from the council needed to come and approve my house. The first time he came, I was very frustrated, because that day I had a (male) friend visiting me. Even though this friend had only spent a few hours on my building site, the inspector insisted on speaking to him, not me. My friend insisted, over and over again, that I was the one to talk to, but the inspector ignored that, and relayed to him the list of amendments that would need to be made before he would approve the place. I was pissed off by his attitude.
This sort of thing had happened quite a few times already. When I went to buy hardware, usually I was in my building clothes: ripped jeans, filthy flannelette shirt, and a cap, all poached from my brother. I got treated like a tradie and that was fine. But on the day I went to buy my kitchen cabinets, I was dressed in my street clothes - a pretty girly dress - and I probably looked like I was about 16. The guy at the shop wouldn't take me seriously, and insisted that I had to get my dad to sign the quote. Even when I said my dad had nothing to do with the project, that I was the one with the money, he wouldn't let me order anything without some man's guarantee. I didn't buy any cabinets from there, I tell you.
Anyway, once I was up to the final inspection, I made sure I was wearing my building clothes, and I sent all my visitors next door so that I was alone on the site at the appointed time. The inspector had no choice but to relate to me. This time, thankfully, it passed, and once he'd left I brought all my friends back (a lot of them that day, weirdly), and we practically had a party onsite.
There was still a bit of work to do before I moved in, and for a bunch of complicated emotional reasons, I was very fixated on the idea of being in by 16 February. It was looking almost impossible, but Kylie and I worked longer and longer days, juggled harder and harder, to try and meet my deadline. We decided I'd move in even though there was no real kitchen, nor running water, and I only had time to wire in one light. I thought it might be a mistake to move in with it so unfinished, but the 16th Feb was important to me.
Actually, the night before I moved in, I had a major panic. Was this all a huge, stupid mistake? Why was a throwing away a perfectly good flat to live in a shell that had no actual facilities? How did I know I'd be happy there? How did I know the design would work for me? By Kylie urged me onwards, and stayed to help me set up my bed.
The first night was weird. The light was this odd blue (it hadn't occurred to me to actually test it), and the whole place felt a bit creepy. But when I woke in the morning, the sun was shining through the stained glass windows, and the place looked and felt glorious. There was an incredible, magical energy there. As I started unpacking my boxes, I realised that my house was the perfect shape and size for me. I had indeed designed the ideal house for what I wanted. I set my plates on some shelves in my makeshift kitchen, and the whole place turned into a home.
This photo is of me, on that very first day, unpacking and making home. The grief I'd carried with me for a year started to lift, and I suddenly I was filled with joy, instead.
Read the next post about my house.