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Finding Fulfillment in a 12×12 House

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Finding Fulfillment in a 12×12 House

By William Powers, author of “Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off The Grid & Beyond The American Dream”

Three years ago, I returned to America after a decade of aid and conservation work in Africa and Latin America. Abroad, I’d seen, starkly, the grave impact the global economic system was having on our environment—Amazon rainforests clear-cut for fast-food cattle, African rivers poisoned by multinational mining—and began asking myself a daunting question: How could humanity transition to gentler, more responsible ways of living by replacing attachment to things with deeper relationships with people, nature, and self?

Fortunately, I stumbled upon someone with some clues: Dr. Jackie Benton (a pseudonym, per her request). When I met this slight, sixty-year-old physician, she was stroking a honey bee’s wings in front of her twelve-foot by twelve-foot, off-the-grid home in North Carolina.

While she was traveling, she invited me to housesit. Unexpectedly, I changed plans and moved into the 12×12 for a season. Perhaps, there’s a “cure” in the practice of curiosity. With no electricity, piped water, or any of the conveniences we are so accustomed to, I was forced to see everything anew. The first puzzle: How to bathe?

Jackie didn’t leave an instruction manual, an “Idiot’s Guide” to living in a 12 x 12. There was no shower, of course, and the creek was still too darn cold. But so was the rainwater Jackie harvested from the two gutters running off the 12 x 12’s roof. I took one bucket shower, cursing as I cupped freezing rainwater over my head, before I discovered a five-gallon rubber diaphragm on her back porch labeled “Sun Shower.” Midday or evening, I strung it up in a tree beside the 12 x 12 and felt the positively hot water stream over my body, which became a sensuous daily pleasure. And its energy came directly from that day’s sun, producing no dangerous greenhouse gasses.

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74 comments

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10:57AM PST on Feb 21, 2011

Very nice article

9:27PM PST on Dec 2, 2010

Thank you.

9:32PM PST on Nov 28, 2010

I truly admire anyone who can live like this. Eventually, if the need arose, I guess we could all do it, but to set out to forsake all that we take for granted takes gumption. Once we were without power for 12 days. For the first 3 or 4, I felt grumpy and restless, but then we got into the rhythm of it. The wood stove was very comforting. When the power came back on, it was almost too shocking. I was at some times, sorry to have all of the light and noise around us once again.

2:46PM PST on Nov 27, 2010

Thank you.

9:52AM PST on Nov 19, 2010

I'll bet South America is Americas best kept secret.. and the American Indian should be getting to know them... maybe there should be a separate Indigenous People's UN...

1:17PM PST on Nov 17, 2010

True, true...

1:42PM PST on Nov 15, 2010

Serious adjustment, but great idea! It would be well worth trying!

12:19PM PST on Nov 14, 2010

It would definitely take some serious adjustment but I might give it a try for a short time. I definitely like the idea of it.

12:26PM PST on Nov 13, 2010

Sounds heavenly! I could do this!!

10:42AM PST on Nov 13, 2010

This is great- Thanks for it!

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