One of the most amazing things about financial independence and early retirement is the ability to conquer your life by doing whatever the hell you want. And if I’m honest, I am still giddy over that thought even after being retired early for the past three years.
If I want to take a walk at 10am, I’ll do it. Or run to the store for a mid-afternoon sugar hit (my sweet-tooth is world-renowned), then again, I’ll do it. Or heck, maybe I just want to take a day off from the computer.
Admittedly, that last one doesn’t come around too often, but it has happened.
Over the past several days, Courtney and I spent time helping out a winemaker friend of ours build an
We get to park the Airstream on their land for free. In exchange, we offered to help in any way that we could. Otherwise, we’d feel like free-loaders.
Wait, what’s an Earthship?
If you aren’t familiar with Earthships, they are eco-friendly homes that use the basic features of mother-nature to create a slick low-cost and high-efficiency home at a fraction of the cost – and much, much less waste, of traditional houses.
Most are completely powered by solar (though some also utilize propane), possess rain catchment systems for water and, if you’re hard-core enough, avoid sewage through the use of a composting toilet. Otherwise, septic systems are generally used outside of established areas.
A lot of Earthships are built using recycled materials like used tires, cans and bottles.
How do Earthships work?
Water from sinks and showers is re-used in a greenhouse positioned along the sun-side of the home. Plants in the greenhouse use the water to grow and give off oxygen, fruits
From Wikipedia, Earthships consist of six basic principles:
- Thermo-solar heating and cooling
- solar and wind electricity
- self-contained sewage treatment
- building with natural and recycled materials
- water harvesting and long term storage
- some internal food production capability
Most Earthship structures have a natural ventilation system that relies in large part on convection. They use almost no resources to heat and cool. Instead, Earthships rely on the sun to warm the home through the greenhouse and a berm, located around the back, to provide insulation.
Even in the extreme heat of Arizona, the interior of Earthships stay comfortable during the summer without the need for a power-hogging air conditioner. And when temperatures drop in the winter (and they DO drop, trust me!), Earthship temperatures are warm enough for long-sleeve shirts without the need for a heater.
Life is easier with pictures, so here are a few pictures from an Earthship tour we took outside of Taos, New Mexico (note: These are all very high-end homes; most Earthships don’t look quite this ritzy!):
The large leaning windows on the side is where the greenhouse is located and how the sun warms the home. The other side of the home contains the berm, which helps insulate the home year-around.
How do Earthships re-use bottles and cans? The walls (both inside and outside). For example, here’s a picture of a wall built with recycled material that surrounds a patio area behind an Earthship.
Notice the tires at the bottom of the wall, too.
We used our truck to haul tires
Since we have a three-quarter ton truck (a GMC Sierra 2500HD) to haul our 10,000-pound Airstream, we helped our friend haul the beginnings of what will be his massive collection of recycled tires that he’ll use to build the walls of the Earthship.
This is just the start of a growing mass of old tires. Some of those things were in REAL bad shape, too. And full of water, too. Dirty water.
It was a dirty job. Maybe not quite “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe” dirty, but still pretty damn dirty.
We unloaded them next to the spot of his future Earthship. It’s rough. All dirt, and loose dirt at that. Leveling the terrain has proved too challenging, so he’s decided to outsource that effort to someone who can get it done in a couple of hours.
Like most, his Earthship will be equipped with solar, a septic system (soon to be installed) and a rainwater catchment system. He currently lives in an RV off-site.
The plan is once the solar system is installed and working, he will live permanently on his new land, hook into his solar, and live right next to the Earthship during the build process.
Makes sense to me.
As we drove back one day from dropping off a load of tires, something remarkable occurred to us that we hadn’t given much thought to before.
It’s damn cool that we can spend a couple days, smack-dab in the middle of a week, to help out a friend.
We don’t have to take vacation days or call in sick, or wonder what the boss is going to think about my absence. Instead, we embraced the opportunity by plopping ourselves down right in the middle of it.
At the moment, we are closer to his build site than he is!
We’re on his land, living 100% off-grid. And, we aren’t paying a dime for the privilege. Not a single red cent.
But, we’re able to give back through our time, something that was never available to me before I decided to jump ship into early retirement.
It is THIS that makes this lifestyle so rewarding.
It’s not just about the “not working” part. I mean, yes, that’s a super cool element in all this. We love not working a full-time job.
Financial independence and early retirement is much more about the things that you now have the freedom to pursue. Any time that you want.
And for the last several days, that meant helping a winemaker friend of ours with heavy loads using a truck we already owned, capable of hauling nearly 9 tons of tires in a single load.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.