Building a house without money is possible – of course it is, it’s happening all over the planet every day. But there is a correlation between time and money, and skill also has a place in the equation.
Lets say you have the time, but not the skill to build a house, well then you can invest your time to learn how to do it. If you can afford it, another option is to hire someone else. But one of the advantages of building your own house is that over the time it takes to gain the skill little by little, you also can make small investments in tools and material by and by, instead of paying for it all at once. It’s a bit like buying something on credit, although time is the currency so you don’t end up in debt.
In my case, there were a couple of moments when I choose to invest money instead of time. One example is The Ditch.

Now, since the property I could afford happened to be a swamp – they are very affordable – there is a parallel story here, about How to Turn A Swamp into a Decent Garden. There was great need for a ditch. Digging a ditch is hard labour in the best of conditions, but this case was extreme. Imagine a piece of land where there is not even one square metre of pure soil, but only a thin layer of it. Where ever you dig your spade into the ground, you unravel a massive web of tree roots, tangling around rocks of all sizes. A spade will not be sufficient, you quickly realize. The roots need to be sawed off, and one by one all your saws go blunt because you can’t avoid touching the stones. Trust me, you can easily spend a days work digging up one single rock. And afterwards it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference to the length of the ditch.

This was my project for the summer some years ago. I spent two weeks slaving away like this, and thus proudly producing a two metre long ditch. Which was roughly a fifth of the necessary length.
Then, miraculously a backhoe appears. One of my neighbours on the island is digging a new well – or to be more precise, has hired someone to do it. This means there is a backhoe on the island, a very rare occasion indeed.
I don’t remember how much I ended up paying to get the rest of ditch done, but I assure you it was worth it. It took the guy less then five minutes, and when he was done there was no trace of the pathetic ditch I had been struggling with for weeks.
And the truth is, although I was pleased, I found myself a victim of mixed emotions. There was a feeling of emptiness and frustration, because I had not myself completed what I had set out to do.

At the end of the day, digging a ditch has taught me two important lessons. The least important thing is that sometimes it is wise to seek help, even if you have to pay for it, because it saves lots of energy and time. But the more important lesson I learned before that. The back braking labour of digging a ditch in my swamp gave me a sense of respect for the generations before me, all the thousands of people who never dreamed of such a thing as a backhoe. They created civilisation, with the muscles of their arms and sweat from their skin. And still, every day on this planet, people dig ditches like that. Because they have to, in order to grow crop and feed themselves and their children. To survive. Not just to have a summer house which ads joy to their already perfect lives.


Hi, my name is Lena Edlund, and I’m here to tell you how you can build a house without money.

When I was a little girl my dream was to build a house on an island. Now I own a summer house in the Stockholm archipelago which I built without money, electricity or power tools. It took a while to accomplish, and I’d like to share with you the things I learned along the way.

If your dream is to build a house, but you have no money, I suggest you get the material for free by using second hand building material which would otherwise go to waste. Because if you lend money from the bank to buy expensive half made products and hire people to build a house for you, that’s great for the bank and for the companies who sell those products and services. But it’s not going to be good for your economy, and it’s not going to be good for the planet in the long run, either. So by lending yourself your own spare time, learning how to do the work yourself, and using recycled material, you will end up with a better personal economy, and the environment also benefits.

So, the first thing you need to do is to find a house which is about to be knocked down. There are plenty of those, and many of them there’s absolutely nothing wrong with, they just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In other words, they are to be replaced with new houses. Offer the owners to knock it down for them, and have the waste transported off their property in time for them to start building. That way you will get all the material you need for free.

Knocking down a house can be plenty of fun, and very quick, if you use a sledge hammer and go savage on the place. But if you are going to re-use the boards, you need to be pretty careful. And you have to pull out every single nail in the entire building. That takes time. All your friends will also come in handy, so make sure you have a lot of friends. Calculate three weekends and some 20 people for a small wooden cottage of 40 square meters. Most of the time will be spent pulling out the nails from the boards. People might say it isn’t worth it to recycle boards because of all the rusty old nails, but I hate it when perfectly fine boards go to waste. If you have enough time, you can even re-use the nails – old nails are such good quality.

I was pretty cocky when I was three years old, and I drove my older sister nuts by telling her I was strong enough to lift up a hole house. She would go “Well, why don’t you lift this house up!” And I’d say, I didn’t feel like it at the moment – but I could if I felt like it.

Now I have lifted a whole house up. Not all at once, but every single brick, tile, board and nail in my house, I have carried. So, it turned out, I could lift an entire house – when I felt like it. And I bet that you could do all sorts of remarkable things – if you feel like it.