Philip Gulley: A Quaker Dream Home

Illustration by Ryan Snook

Every Tuesday, my wife and I deliver groceries to people at risk of homelessness, on the theory that one fewer expense can avert fiscal ruin. Experts say 40 percent of Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless, which seemed high to me until the people who work with the homeless told me it’s true. One of them said if my wife and I lost our jobs and couldn’t pay our mortgage, we’d be homeless, too. I didn’t mention that we own three houses. We worry about many things, but homelessness isn’t one of them.

Lest you think we’re rich, I should mention that we bought all three of our houses cheap and fixed them up. We buy houses the way we purchase cars—used and flawed, but ripe for renovation. With our sons grown and gone, our primary house is bigger than we need, so I’d like to sell it and build a smaller house befitting simple Quakers.

I’ve been checking out architecture books from the library and hiding them under my mattress so my wife doesn’t see them. She likes our house and wants to live here until we die, but I am not deterred. I’m going to build a new house if it kills me, which it probably will since all my projects involving sharp tools invariably end with substantial blood loss.

Our new house is going to be one room measuring 20-by-30 feet. It will have a fieldstone exterior and wood interior walls, floors, and ceilings. Covered porches will run the length of all four sides. We will have just enough electricity for lights, refrigeration, cooking, and a well pump. Our electricity will come from solar panels and a bicycle my wife can ride to recharge the batteries on cloudy days. There will be four windows on each long side. In between the windows will be shelves for our books. A woodstove will be centered on one of the short sides of our house. Flanking the woodstove will be two alcoves for sleeping. When we get cold, we’ll move closer to the fire. When we get hot, we’ll go outside and sit on the porch.

We’ll be going to bed as soon as it gets dark, so there’ll be no need for lamps, and therefore no reason for additional electrical outlets, which lead always to foolishness—televisions, radios, computers, and all manner of annoyances. To that end, we’ll be ditching our cell phones and returning to the wall phone we abandoned years ago. It will have a rotary dial that raises blisters on your index finger and a short, tangled cord that won’t reach the nearest chair. Nothing about talking on the phone will be easy.

There’ll be no need for closets, since we’ll only own two outfits each, just like Ma and Pa on Little House on the Prairie: an everyday outfit and a Sunday outfit. We’ll wash those in a tub next to the woodstove. I’ll have my wife plant a big garden so we can grow our own food. In the summer, I’ll sit on the porch and watch her hoe the weeds. In the fall, I’ll watch her cut and stack firewood for the winter ahead. I get excited just thinking about it.

This new house of ours won’t be in a subdivision with pesky HOAs that don’t allow gardens or solar panels. They also tend to frown on untidy lawns, which I plan to have in my retirement. Wildflowers, trees, and weeds will grow in abundance since I won’t have a garage to store a mower. Once someone builds a garage, they fill it with all sorts of tools that encourage all kinds of work. If something can’t be fixed with a screwdriver, an adjustable wrench, or a hammer, it won’t be in our house.

I haven’t mentioned it to our son just yet, but we’ll probably be building our house in his back field underneath his maple trees. His farmhouse sits on nine acres, and he’ll never even know we’re there. Plus, he has a big barn with lots of room for my motorcycles. If you’re a simple Quaker, it pays to know someone with a barn where you can put your stuff.

For reasons I don’t understand, my wife is opposed to my plans. Not just opposed, but irritated, and now I’m afraid she’ll give me the heave-ho and I’ll be homeless, delivering food to myself every Tuesday.