The Whimsy (and Practicality) of Living in a Yurt

From the moment Mark and I started talking about our future homestead, dreams and what was realistically possible were all thrown into one giant imagination pot. Fantasies I’ve had since I was a kid – an outdoor fort with moss carpet, a house with a fireman’s pole inside, a treehouse with a swing bridge– are not immediately removed from the table just because they’re whimsical. In fact, their whimsy may be in their favor because whimsy implies creativity, passion, and doing something for no other reason than it’s fun. And we want all those things in our life.

However, as we dream up, and now build up, our homestead we don’t throw all practicality to the wind. In addition to whimsy, we want to live in radical union with the natural world. So, a giant waterpark filled with plastic tubing and water that will make your eyes sting is automatically out. Not all my childhood fantasies are on the table. And even if a waterpark inspired by a maple sugaring operation was in line with our values (seriously, think how cool that would be?), we have other limits to bear in mind– money, space, zoning, Vermont winters. Sometimes those limits actually fuel the whimsy, if approached the right way.

Why a yurt? The short answer is a mix between practicality and whimsy. First, the long answer of the first part: practicality. This summer we had a limited amount of time to make a warm winter home. The majority of our income comes from guiding and we had a busy year, which left us about six weeks of summer building time available. We also have limited financial resources (see our primary source of income, listed above!). We are doing are darnedest to stay out of debt, which drastically reduces what we can afford.

We could have perceived these limits as an insurmountable problem, causing us to take refuge in a rented apartment until the spring sun melted the snow we know is coming. If the only voices in our lives were the capitalist voices prescribing the good life in square feet minimums and modern conveniences, we would have been forced in that direction. During the aches and pains of getting to where we are, it was a tempting direction.

We discovered that the limits in our life could become a joy, if we approached them with creativity, passion, and whimsy. Our yurt, deck and woodshed took five days and less than $15,000 to build. We are still working on the internal systems – a bed frame with clothing storage underneath, counters and sink for a kitchen, shower, etc – but we are warm, dry, and oh-so-happy.

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Living in a yurt brings with it a whole new set of limitations. We have a lot less space than we’re used to – 314 square feet. We don’t have electricity or internet. And we have to walk 150 yards uphill to get to the yurt from our parking area. But so far, each new set of limitations only brings more opportunity for whimsy. Or, if not whimsy, an opportunity to surrender our attachments and see reality more clearly. Sometimes, it’s both.

Limited space: I was nervous about this one. I’ve done my share of ooh-ing and aah-ing through the online galleries of tiny homes, delight for the efficiency and beauty of every square inch coursing through my nervous system. Yet, I knew that both Mark and I were given an extra dose of big ideas in place of organizational aptitude. A small space has little room for clutter, or for error.

I have always procrastinated organizing, but I’ve always had enough physical space to squeak through life without organizing. There was a crisis from this lack of organization at least once a year – misplacing important documents, paying a bill late, buying something I already had because I couldn’t find the one already owned, so on and so forth. Living in such a small space is forcing my hand. I bought a desk and a filing system, and I’m actually using them. I have to! There’s no space for this stuff to accumulate. I have to deal with it. It has actually become a challenge I enjoy! Who knew organization could be fun? (I know… lots of people who are very unlike me!)

The other joy of small living is cleaning. Cleaning was also one of those things that would routinely fall off the bottom of my to-do list. Now? It takes me 15-20 minutes to clean our entire house. So, I actually do it – every morning! I clean up the clutter, I sweep, I beat out the rugs when the weather’s nice. It’s so manageable that I’m not even slightly overwhelmed at the prospect. Plus, if I don’t clean, there’s no other space to retreat to.

No electricity: So far this is my favorite thing about yurt living! The absence of electric lighting is the most dramatic and also the best thing about being unplugged. As the days grow shorter, I don’t rise and set exactly with the sun (my waking hours exceed the sun’s), but it’s pretty close. But while I may stay awake three to four hours after sunset, there’s a noticeable shift in my energy, orientation, and activity choice. As the sun sets and we light the two or three candles – all that’s necessary to illuminate a small, corner-less, white walled space – my soul unbidden falls in step. Productivity transitions into reflection. Work flows into rest. Outward turns inward. Without all the light and screen stimulation that has become the modern norm, I can hear my body when it’s telling me it’s time to sleep. Then I do.

Whenever I laud the benefits of life without electricity, I always add the caveat that we haven’t made it through the winter solstice yet, and so I add that here too. The joy I find now in experiencing deeply the fading light may turn into despair and impatience as the night subsumes more and more of the day. Yet, there’s a part of me that looks forward to that feeling of despair – the part of me that desires to know reality in all its beauty and its harshness.  I look forward to keeping Advent as I feel the ever-encroaching darkness– hoping beyond hope that more light is coming despite the clear pattern of increasing darkness.

I also take my daily dose of Vitamin D.

The walk uphill: Whimsy was definitely part of the equation when we chose where to build our yurt. Our home isn’t at the highest point of the land, but it’s close. The front arched door is aligned with the sunrise as it crests over Center Hill painting a new and different masterpiece every morning. For this, we traded the convenience of driving right to our doorstep. It’s an inconvenience that is most magnified after a substantial grocery run or when our truck’s four-wheel drive is out and we have furniture to move in. But more often than not, the walk itself is as much a gift as the view. The 150-yard walk to and from the yurt is a daily invitation to notice, and to check in with the land. How are the clouds moving across the sky? How have the leaves changed since yesterday or last week? What critters have shared our pathway last night and left their mark? This walk reminds me that my home is not limited to the curved walls of my dwelling.

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The choice of our home – in all its whimsy – was a conscious decision to align our lives with the natural world that sustains us. As we become more in tune with these natural rhythms, we begin to know deep within ourselves that we are creatures and we are dependent on this home beyond our doorstep. Dwelling in nature is leading us to an ever-deepening reverence, which leads us to care, which leads us to wholeness. That is not just whimsical – that’s a serious business!

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