We Have a Housing Dream

The beginning of October Damien and I went to Gaspésie to find a home to rent when we leave my parents in just a few weeks. In an amazing turn of God-events (coincidences so serendipitous that we don't call them coincidences) we found a chalet to rent for the winter.

Chalet. Doesn't that sounds like a ski shack in the mountains or something? Oh wait... it almost is (eeek!). What an amazing adventure we are on.

Chalet is what the Québécois (people from Quebec) call a cabin. And in truth that is what we have rented - a cabin used mostly for summer vacation rentals, fully winterized, complete with woodburning stove and sauna. But before I share about our chalet I want to talk about our housing dreams.

We Started to Dream

Three summers ago, about three years into our 30 year bondage to the mortgage company, we started to dream about what we could do with our time and resources if we didn't have a mortgageAt the time, our housing costs (including utilities and repairs) were low by North American standards, hovering just around 25% of our income. We managed this by living on a small urban lot and renting out the basement of our house.

We had a good living situation - a secure job, a home in a family-friendly neighborhood walking distance to Damien's work. Kind of the American Dream (minus the suburbs, big ass cars, and trips to Disney).

But then we started to talk about new dreams - Damien working at home and being a more active participant in homeschooling and guiding our children as they grow into young adults. How we might structure our lives to travel for months at a time, or thru hike a long trail for half the year. And if it was possible for us to live in nature everyday, not just one day a week

Old dreams were replaced with new ones (dormant ones?). I think a lot of us quench adventurous dreams when we have children and think we have to choose a certain path - soccer, PTA, bigger house, mini-van - when in fact we have a choice in the life we create for our families. We don't have to go with the flow.

At that point in our dreaming we realized our current housing and employment arrangement wouldn't work for creating the life we wanted as a family. 

When we realized also that our immigration status in the United States was going to stop us, indefinitely, from moving forward in our goals we made the difficult decision to move. But you know that part of the story already.

What you don't know is where we hope to go from here (and I don't just mean the Gaspé Peninsula). And what we hope to work towards when we leave Nova Scotia in a few weeks.

Why the Gaspé Peninsula

Before I get too far ahead of myself I want to back up and explain why we're moving to the Gaspé Peninsula - a somewhat isolated finger of land (stretching out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence) in the francophone province of Québec. See this post for a visual

We initially choose the Gaspé Peninsula as a potential home for our family because the outdoor adventure possibilities are fantastic and the peninsula is only a day's drive from my parents. Two years ago this fall, when we finally faced the immigration reality, we used a google topographical map - looking for mountains in Canada's east coast - and found the Gaspé Peninsula. Before that I had never heard of the place.

We made a winter trip to see if we could see ourselves living there. We could. The area has a rich culture, its location is remote but not without services or coffee shops (it's a big tourist destination), and the peninsula has farms and local agriculture.

The fact that the kids and I would have to learn French (Damien is a bit rusty but knows French from living in France for one year) was a plus, not a negative for this family of life long learners. 

It was on our second reconnaissance trip last summer when we started to really dream about what life could look like for our family in Gaspésie - mortgage free.

Owning a home and living mortgage free is within the realm of possibility for us in Gaspésie. As long as we are willing to live small.

Two years ago I wrote a housing dream list. 

  • live more in nature, closer to trees
  • energy efficient & warm in winter
  • well built & comfortable
  • lower our monthly housing costs
  • be totally debt-free (we have been consumer debt-free for years)

Some of those seem like oxymorons but small scale housing in a low population area (ie: cheap land prices) makes this dream possible.

Our five year plan for living in Gaspésie is to own a small piece of land and build a yurt. If you were to draw our dream home (as of course Laurent has) it would look something like this.

Yurts are a relatively inexpensive way to construct a decent home. A small home mind you, but one that is efficient, warm in winter (important where we live), comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.

Our Housing Dream

We don't want a mortgage. We want the freedom to spend our money, time and resources in other ways. Living in a small space, such as a yurt, is one way to achieve this. Modern yurts have come a long ways from their Mongolian steppe ancestors. Just so you know, I don't want to live in a glorified tent of yak fur.

No mortgage. A yurt in the woods. Close to community, farms and near the mountains. Our Dream.

Dreams morph and change shape in living them out. I am certain this journey will take us on a different path that what we anticipate. That's all part of the adventure.

The only way you make progress at all is to dream up some cool stuff to get you moving. Sometimes quite literally - moving.

It feels very vulnerable to share this dream publicly because it's just a little odd and scary. It's not the homesteader dream, to buy land and grow your own food, though I want to have a garden again someday. It's not the RV dream, to sell it all and roam the country, though we do have mountain wanderlust. Our dream maybe falls somewhere in between those two.

It's a dream to have a debt-free home surrounded by nature with the freedom to adventure with our family. It's not about a house, or a style of house. It's about what our life goals are and how our housing choices either helps us achieve those or works against them. 

In my next post I'm going to talk a bit about the chalet we've rented for the winter. How it's the next step, bringing us closer to our housing dream. 

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  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on Oct. 25, 2011, 5:59 p.m.

    We are in the dreaming stage right now, and there are a few different variations to our dreams. It will be interesting to see which one becomes our reality. We did buy a house last year, but knew it was temporary.

    I love watching your family's story unfold. It's so inspiring and encouraging to see another family moving forward with a somewhat non-traditional dream.


  • Misti

    Misti on Oct. 25, 2011, 6:18 p.m.

    That is awesome! on the AT we met a couple who lived in a yurt-like tent on some property in NY. They had a wood stove and a well...probably more rustic than I would like, but a good idea at least.

    Love the Katahdin photo! Brings back memories...


  • Elaine

    Elaine on Oct. 25, 2011, 7:56 p.m.

    I'm loving your dream!!! How very exciting and Gaspesie sounds perfect! We have tossed around the idea of a Yurt, on a big plot of land. Still tossing it around though:)


  • Kelly

    Kelly on Oct. 25, 2011, 8:35 p.m.

    I think it would be so cool to live in a yurt! Seeing as I'm married to a guy that's very into woodworking and fixing up old houses, we'll probably end up buying and old fixer-upper. I mean, I think a fixer-upper would be fun too, but there's just something very awesome about yurts! I hope you guys are able to get one and that it's just as cool as it seems.


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 25, 2011, 9:22 p.m.

      It will be awhile before we can make this dream a reality, probably a couple years. After living in a semi-fixer upper (we did a lot of cosmetic work) we realized we weren't that sort. But some people love that. 


  • Rose

    Rose on Oct. 25, 2011, 9:48 p.m.

    How absolutely brilliant Renee! Good for you for going for your dream. I'm an Anne of Green Gables fan (of 48 years), I'm looking at that map and visualising a swim across the Gulf. :)


  • Brittany

    Brittany on Oct. 25, 2011, 11:12 p.m.

    Hi Renee! I'm a big fan of your blog and find so much inspiration from your family's story. One big question comes to mind though... will you have bedrooms or something of the sort for privacy's sake in the yurt?? Best wishes to you all.


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 25, 2011, 11:20 p.m.

      Yes. Yurts do not have to be one big open space. Check out the interior image gallery at White Mountain Yurts for photo evidence (smile). The kids would share an open loft type arrangement, we'd have a small private bedroom. There is also the option of multiple yurts, or attaching small structures as we need more space.  


  • Jennifer @ kidoing!

    Jennifer @ kidoing! on Oct. 26, 2011, 12:10 a.m.

    Oh, my, WOW! Without Marc having seen this, I'm going to say that he will want to join you - in a separate yurt of course. I never expected this, but I love it. :-)


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 26, 2011, 10:49 a.m.

      You know Jennifer it's funny to hear you say you didn't expect this. Because it's been on our radar for 2 years I've talked about it off and on in FIMBY comments and on other blogs. Not like you have to read everything I've ever written (smile). Anyway... we'd like to have a guest yurt someday so people can come visit for retreats and outdoor adventures. Come on up!


      • Jennifer @ kidoing!

        Jennifer @ kidoing! on Oct. 26, 2011, 12:33 p.m.

        I knew about the move, just not the yurt part! :) Thank you for the invitation; we'd love to visit when the time is right. Marc's parents visited the Gaspe Peninsula a month or so ago and said it was breathtaking. Thank you for sharing your plans; it's got me thinking about a lot of things.


  • Pamela

    Pamela on Oct. 26, 2011, 1:28 a.m.

    Hurray!!! I was so excited when I saw the title of this post! It's really a lot of fun to watch your adventure unfold.


  • Mom Tougas

    Mom Tougas on Oct. 26, 2011, 2:11 a.m.

    You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy! I am amazed at how similar your dreams are to ours (Damien's dad and I)!We wanted to live mortgage free, raise our family in the country surrounded by trees and wildlife, near the mountains! We bought a quarter section of farmland, (half muskeg) on a dead end road near Rocky Mountain House and Damien's dad built us a beautiful log home ( after he took a 2 week course on how to build a log home) and that is where we raised our family with 2 collie dogs, many puppies, 2 simamese cats, many kittens, 7 horses, 2 pigs, 50 chickens,and 2 large gardens. To me, the yurt is an interesting variation of living in a log home. The dream is so similar, I can't believe it! I can't wait to see how it plays out. I'm coming to visit (I'll bring my own tent!), so it will have to be in the summer. Love MOM


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 26, 2011, 10:46 a.m.

      Isn't that true Mom. Our other dream is to have smaller guest yurts for outdoor retreats, guests and family to stay. That's years away, if ever. But we dream.. 


  • Natalia

    Natalia on Oct. 26, 2011, 7:19 a.m.

    A beautiful inspiring post. Thanks so much Renee for letting your readers in to your life! Our situation is such that my husband has a career he loves (and supports us) but the downside is we are not going to get our 'forever house' for at least another 15 years. But as you said, "The only way you make progress at all is to dream up some cool stuff to get you moving" and we have a bit longer to dream. Your post has inspired me to start thinking a little more concrete - what exactly do we want for our dream home, and where, and how do we get it?


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 26, 2011, 10:45 a.m.

      You know I don't see our yurt dream as our forever house. We don't have that kind of vision for our lives. We honestly have no idea where we might "settle down". Once our kids are grown and gone, which is happening faster than we like, we intend to be very mobile. But that's another dream..


  • heather

    heather on Oct. 26, 2011, 11:42 a.m.

    this is so exciting renee ~ the chalet looks like a perfect spot to settle in for the winter. our dream has always been to live on some land - homesteading style - that is located not far from the long trail (southern portion, where it is also still the appalachian trail) and operate a hiker hostel. and possibly yoga/lifestyle retreats. i don't see it happening for another 6-10 years, but it feels doable... with a lot of hard work! ;)


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 26, 2011, 12:19 p.m.

      Hiker hostel - wouldn't you know, that's another dream of ours! surprise, surprise. When you're up and running we can count on a visit from us. I would pay good money to eat your food.


  • Emily

    Emily on Oct. 26, 2011, 5:42 p.m.

    That cabin looks so cozy. And yurts have always been intriguing to me. I'm looking forward to seeing how this journey/dream will unfold for you.

    Blessings to you as you make the transition into your new home.


  • Marian

    Marian on Oct. 26, 2011, 7:16 p.m.

    I wish there was internet 25 years ago when I started my family. Partly I did go with the flow, I was very insecure and I felt lonely in my ideas of how I wanted to give form to my life. Now my kids are grown up and young adults and they value their life and our family but sometimes I wish I could turn back time and re- start. Internet would be inspiring for me and give me the idea that I was not alone in my expectations of live. I love your blog and your stories about your family and I am very fond of your posts about homeschooling. I am a teacher but in my imagened restarted life I would make an other choice, although it is forbidden by law in the Netherlands to homeschool. I don't travel a lot, mostly because I am homesick most of the time but I can imagine myself in your guest- yurt. Greetings and thank you for giving me a insight in life. Marian


  • Jennifer

    Jennifer on Oct. 29, 2011, 7:02 a.m.

    It's so fascinating following along with what you are doing. The yurt part surprised me, too! But I know if anyone can make it work, it would be your family. I truly appreciate your intentionality with your life and your vulnerability sharing it all with the world. Thanks for letting us follow along on your adventures!


  • Erin

    Erin on Dec. 6, 2011, 7:16 p.m.

    I know this is an old post, but I couldn't help but respond. From someone who lives in a yurt (with a guest yurt on the property), in spitting distance from ocean and mountains and wilderness, I can't recommend it enough. Go for it! It's awesome.


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 6, 2011, 7:21 p.m.

      Hi Erin! Your family is one of our family's role models and inspires us in this dream. We often say "if Hig and Erin can do it..." mind you, our babes are no longer babes and we need to consider certain needs for privacy of growing chidlren and such but we think these can be accommodated with a large yurt. Thanks for inspiring us!


      • Erin

        Erin on Dec. 9, 2011, 7:16 p.m.

        I think our life is much more chaotic and less put together than yours, but I'm glad we can be some kind of inspiration anyway. :) You guys are definitely inspirations for me to see what's possible when the kids get a little older! I know the Nomad Shelter folks (who built our yurt) had their kids in theirs through until teenage years, and I know of others who've done it as well, so I think all those issues are soluble. Particularly with a larger yurt. We're happy that our yurt is up on a raised platform - the space underneath for the freezer, bikes, garden tools, etc... is really nice.


  • Marjorie Kramer

    Marjorie Kramer on July 17, 2017, 7:13 p.m.

    Hi, I'm a writer/editor. I'm writing my first children's book, and Laurent's picture of the house next to the woods might work, with a little tweaking, for my cover. Is the pic under copyright?

    Thanks, Marjorie Kramer


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