On nearly 80 acres of land near Lake Mille Lacs, Bill and Brenda Campbell are building a village. A village of tiny houses, to be exact.
The couple founded The Sanctuary as a place for the environmentally conscious, minimalists, and those who enjoy solitude.
The couple grew up in the suburbs and raised their family in Andover. Wanting a weekend getaway from the cities, they first bought a cabin in the woods 16 years ago, a 12-by-24 shack powered by a car battery. No running water, no amenities, just the trails Bill made to watch deer and walk through the woods.
With their daughters in school, the Campbells knew it was easier to stay in the cities. But when it came time for the girls to graduate, they started to talk about which property they wanted to keep, the house in the ‘burbs or the cabin in the woods.
Whether due to the traffic, their love of nature, or the cost of living, they decided to make the move up north permanently. Bill never saw Brenda as one to rough it, so he added simple things like indoor plumbing and electricity.
The idea for a village came from a friend who wanted a writer's retreat, a quiet place to be inspired. They set her up with a yurt on their property, but the shelter meant that it was all too easy for bears to destroy. Soon, they decided to build a more permanent set-up.
It was then that the Campbells started looking into the tiny house movement, led by Jay Shafer.
Shafer is the founder Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and Four Lights Tiny House Company.
“The original goal for tiny houses is to live simply, less expensively, without big mortgages,” Bill says. “We want to focus on necessities rather than keeping up with with neighbors.”
Inspired by Shafer, Bill put his limited handy-man skills to the test and built the first tiny house for their writer friend, Deanna.
Bill describes what happened next as a “Field of Dreams moment.” They never intended to create a village, but he started building, and the people began to arrive.
For now, there is only one house in what will be considered the village proper, occupied by a woman who likes to keep to herself. However, Deanna’s house is still there, waiting for her schedule as a new mother to permit, and one house was recently vacated by a traveling nurse whose job took her to the West Coast.
Bree, who prefers to keep her last name private, moved her house to the property about a month ago. Another couple, Scott and Tish, who also declined to give last names, are designing their dream home.
The couple have hosted tiny house and writing workshops as well as yoga retreats, and plan to expand their calendar as the village grows.
The ultimate vision for their village is a place where open-minded people who care about the environment can be one with nature.
Various hiking trails, a small pond, and observation stands allow residents to relax and “join in their solitude.”
The Campbells are interested in installing solar and exploring various other energy saving ventures that allow them to live without disturbing the land.
One idea is to reduce rent for contributions to the community. By helping garden, fill wildlife feeders, and cleaning, the couple will knock money off the $300 a month rent.
The definition of a tiny house is one that measures in at under 500 square feet, but that doesn’t mean you have to rough it.
Dishwashers, washers and dryers, and refrigerators can fit neatly. The movement has even sparked a whole new line of products.
Most cities don’t allow tiny houses as permanent residences, classifying them as RVs, and a lot of places have rules against anything not set on a foundation. However, Bill says the township of Ogilvie has no such restrictions.
“I attend all the township meetings, just to make sure nothing’s changed, but at this point we’ve been here so long I think we’d be grandfathered in somehow,” Bill said.
Bree, a newer resident, found out about zoning laws the hard way when she first began building her tiny house in Appleton, Wisconsin.
She started building in her mom’s backyard, but complaints by the neighbors meant she had to find a new place to settle before getting fined. She then considered setting up on an older woman’s farmland, but ran into the same zoning issues.
The Campbells' site worked because she’s able to be independent while also having a safety net if her propane tank runs out or if a power cord is accidentally cut, and the residents already consider themselves close neighbors.
When Bill’s car broke down and he wasn’t able to get to a doctor’s appointment, Bree drove him.
The Campbells are in no hurry to fill up the village, though.
“I think we will end up filling this year,” Brenda said. “But it’s more about finding the right people rather than a lot of people,”
There’s a real need for affordable housing options, and the Campbells think they’ve found the solution, while also being able to handpick their neighbors. Brenda says she knows that tiny house living isn’t for everyone, but neither is a mansion.
After 20+ years of paying off a mortgage, she doesn’t want to do that anymore, and instead is looking to live in a community where you know and care about your neighbors, rather than working herself to death just to live.
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