Beyond squatting: methods and strategies for freedom and (financial) independance

Part I. Cheap ways of housing yourself that are more long-term and secure

Okay to some, the title above sounds a bit silly and serious. None the less in this section I will try to explain about some cheap forms of housing yourself and ways of providing your basic needs. 

I’ve been squatting for some years now and so I have experienced the many benefits as well as the comparatively few disadvantages of squatting as a way of housing yourself and as a lifestyle.

In most peoples minds one of the biggest disadvantages of squatting is the fact that more often than not it offers less security than buying or renting. For many this is the main reason to not start squatting in the first place. Unfortunately a lot of people that are critical of squatting for this reason do not actually have a good idea of what the factual disadvantages of squatting are. Instead these people have seen some biased items about squatting in the media and have adopted a prejudiced, negative attitude towards squatting based on these items. It is unfortunate and ironic that some of these people also think nothing bad of  “anti-squatting” or signing a so called ‘temporary housing” contract. These arrangements typically offer less security and a lot less freedom than quite some squat situations. And then there's another issue, namely that the morality of "anti-squatting" is very questionable.

But the fact remains that in the majority of new squats one does not know exactly how long one can remain living there. And, generally speaking squats that last for years and years are not the norm in most Dutch cities. This knowledge affects a lot of decisions, both consciously and subconsciously. Two typical concerns of people are:

1. Shall I spend a lot of time and money improving my home or shall I not? 

2. Should I move in all my (expensive) stuff or leave it some where elsewhere? 

These types of decisions usually are an issue before you squat and even after you have squatted. This is definitely a disadvantage of squatting. But much can be done to overcome these concerns. In this piece however i won’t go in to that –that is for another time- but instead discuss the reasons for finding alternative forms of housing and what those alternatives are.

I have very often thought that it would it be great to have a house that you could stay in for as long as you wanted. A home that you could carefully design, improve and decorate in your own tempo and style using stuff you get of the street, stuff you make and stuff you buy. The result would be a house that was truly a reflection of your personality and where everything was according to your needs and tastes. Contrast this with quite some squats where the occupants usually just throw together whatever they can find to make it livable rather than beautifull or truly comfortable. Sometimes this last approach is a conciuous estethic choice and preferred option but quite often it is not.

When a reporter once asked me how long I was planning to keep squatting I replied “as long as I live in the Netherlands…”. I have changed my mind about that idea since then. Although I still think it is one of the cheapest and best ways to live in the Netherlands I am currently not sure if I intend to do it for another few years, much less forever. And I think there are very few (non-legalized longer term) squatters that never complain about the insecurity aspect of squatting.

Ever since I got in to active squatting I have also looked extensivly into alternative and sustainable housing in it’s many forms. This was a way to be busy with the negative aspects of squatting in a positive way that might create new alternatives for the future.

Some truly amazing work has been done in the field of sustainable and owner-built housing. This work that is not generally known to the public, but it is research that could give that very same public the means to live very well, mortgage and rentfree without great effort.

What are the options? Some of the most promising and inspiring concepts I have found and looked in to are:

Sustainable and owner built homes

Check out Earthships as developed by the architect Michael Reynolds. Reynolds houses are truly amazing. They are described by him as:

A passive solar home made of natural and recycled materials, it’s thermal mass construction gives temperature stabilization and renewable energy & integrated water systems make the Earthship an off-grid home with little to no utility bills.

Eartships and their construction process are described in great detail in his three books Earthships I, II and III and on his website

Underground Housing as developed by Mike Oehler

This is the cheapest and simplest of all methods I have found so far. It is also a very worked out concept in terms of design and testing since the developer has been living in, and building houses these “hobbit houses” for more than thirty years. Check out his website:, and his excellent book “The $50 and up underground house book”.

If you can only get a couple of books on this subject i would really recommend the books by Michael and Mike.

I also highly recommend reading this website (and the builders book) on roundhouses:

You can also do some search patterns on the internet with the words: Cob, Cob Cottage, Strawbale building, Ken Kern, Sustainable building, Green Building, Yerts, Gers and other sustainable terms you come across. There is a treasure trove of information out there.

If you are ever gripped by these sustainable building ideas as I am I would take heed of the following advice that i learned from various sources: 

1.      First know what you truly need and want. For example: Do you want to live in the city or in the country? Are you going to live by yourself or do you expect to have more people join you in your dwelling or on your land?

2.      It is always a good idea to inquire into the local and traditional building methods of the area where you intend to live. Until a hundred and fifty years or so ago around 90% of the dwellings of people the world over were built simply using free or very cheap local materials and local techniques refined over sometimes thousands of years. There is a wealth of knowledge that is no longer applied in western countries but that can be still uncovered and used.

3.      Build and pay as you go. In the beginning build a little space that is big enough for you. Later on expand and invest as needed.

4.      Before any building and before buying land make sure you know if the building codes, permits, regulations and laws will allow you to build what you want. If not you will have to find a way around them or otherwise you will may be forced to leave and tear down you home!

Caravans, vacation houses, temporary office units

Holiday houses such as chalets, bungalows and large semi-mobile caravans are very cheap when compared to normal Dutch houses but have some specific regulations and laws that apply to them. In most of the Netherlands you are not legally allowed to live permanently in these structures. You are only allowed to live in them for “180 consecutive out of every 360 days”. Of course this is very hard to prove for authorities and even if they do catch you it is also quite hard to enforce the law, lots of people just go ahead and do it. I would guess that up present taking up this lifestyle gives you a lot more security than most squatting will, providing you make sure you are registered in a different house (officially living in you mom’s house for example). 

I guess you could even buy two of these houses (one for you and one for your best friend next door) and then switch every 6 months…?

About a year and a half ago i talked to a squatter that lived in his squat for ten years, but then he wanted a more quiet, green and stable environment for him and his daugther. So he bought a bungalow and to my knoewledge he is still living in it full-time. In the media there have also been some references that this form of housing will be made legal in certain cities.

In both Belgium and the Netherlands the authorities do occasionally try to crack down on this “illegal” living. In practice that have not yet been able to do very much. But if you consider this option do look carefully into the current situation before you buy or build such a place.

If you are interested in buying a mobile home or unit check out second hand sites, they are often giving these things away for free as long as you have a way to transport them!