Alternative Living (The Ultimate Guide + Image Quotes)

Recent reports indicate that homeownership among Millennials is declining, though no one knows why. Some believe that Millennials are simply uninterested in owning a traditional home. Whether it's due to cost, environmental concerns, or a general dislike of tradition, here are 22 ways for Millennials to embrace alternative living.

1. Yurts are a type of tent

Some people associate yurts with glamping (glamorous camping), but not necessarily with “living.” Nonetheless, yurts are becoming popular as actual living spaces, though they aren't as “glamorous” as some internet posts would have you believe. But that didn't stop Grace Brogan and John Kamman from living in one! Despite living in one of the coldest states in the country (Minnesota), having to stoke a fire at 3 a.m. on a regular basis, and dealing with ice on the outhouse toilet seat, this couple paid $5,000 for their used yurt and hasn't looked back. Yurts, of course, can be quite expensive–between $22,000 and $28,000 depending on specific features–and it is preferable to hire a professional to build one for you rather than attempting to build one yourself.

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2. Abod Refugees

Abod shelters are small houses made of corrugated steel and fiberglass that are intended to provide a low-cost, affordable way to house those with few resources. The layouts are easily customizable, and the units can be easily connected if residents want to form a larger house. According to their website,, “Abod homes are high concept design and often less expensive than standard construction… Four to five people can complete an entire single unit structure in one day… Preservative measures are built into the structure, such as using non-combustible materials to help prevent fire.” Abod shelters are designed to be affordable, with prices starting at less than $5,000.

3. The Tree House

Tree houses are becoming increasingly popular, so if you've ever wanted to live like an Ewok, there's never been a better time to build a home in the trees. Tree houses range in size from large to small and can be as glamorous as you want them to be, from a three-story mansion to a stick bird's nest. You'll need more than scrap wood and a hammer if you consider yourself an outdoor enthusiast, but you can absolutely build your dream house in the trees.

4. cob house

A lovely home made of cob and stone. Wikimedia Commons
Look no further than cob if you want to build your house out of environmentally friendly materials! Cob house construction is an ancient building technique in which earthen concrete is made by mixing lumps of earth with sand, straw, and water. The method is so simple that one farmer built a cob house by hand for $250. While the idea of building a house out of wet earthy mixtures may sound unappealing, some of these cob homes are quite lovely. As with any of the projects on this site, make sure you research what you'll need before attempting to do it yourself.

5. Earthbag Construction

Earthbag structures are made of polypropylene rice or feed bags filled with soil or insulation and stacked and tamped flat like bricks. Barbed wire can also be used to prevent bags from slipping and to increase tensile strength. Over the course of six weeks, Atulya K. Bingham built her earthbag roundhouse for around $5,000. “I didn't even know what a joist was when I started this project, so if I can do it, anyone can,” she says. There is no need for prior knowledge. You can learn the necessary skills. But you will need determination, as well as some good friends.
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6. Ecocapsule

Ecocapsule is a Bratislava, Slovakia-based startup with four full-time employees and a product that aims to take owners off the grid in a green, sustainable manner. The 1.1-ton insulated steel and aluminum pod measures 15′ x 7′ x 8′ and is powered by a solar panel and a miniature wind turbine. Sona Pohlova and Tomas Zacek, co-founders, are looking into different, greener building materials, such as hemp, to replace aluminum and fiberglass and make the unit more appealing to the open market. While living in one of these little pods would be fun, it will set you back nearly $90,000 to own one.

7. Earthships

Earthships are intended to be the ultimate demonstration of sustainable living, and if you want to build one, all you need is a little bit of land, a lot of know-how, and just as much trash. Earthships are constructed entirely of recycled materials and, in some parts, resemble Earthbag structures. These massive structures rely heavily on rainwater harvesting, and in the case of Malaysia's first Earthship, built by Michael Reynolds, have a tank that can sustain about 50 people for three weeks if there is no rain at all. The Earthship is designed to be self-sustaining for its inhabitants for years to come, with its own bacteria filter to clean the water and its own sewage treatment.

8. Hemp Concrete is number eight on the list

For those who are unfamiliar with hempcrete, it is a bio-composite composed of the inner woody core of the hemp plant and a lime-based binder. Unfortunately, hemp is not legal to cultivate in the United States due to laws governing its psychoactive cousin, cannabis. Nonetheless, hemp can be imported from the United Kingdom and will soon be available in North America via Canada. Hempcrete buildings as tall as ten stories have been constructed in Europe, and some have even suggested that hempcrete is the world's strongest building material and that it could change the way we build everything! Of course, the laws would have to change first–but for those looking to build sustainably, this method is very similar to the cob house.

9. Geodesic Dome

Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, and inventor, patented and popularized many inventions and architectural designs, but none were as well-known as the geodesic dome. These structures are less expensive to build than traditional homes and use less energy. In fact, owners can save up to 30% on their heating and cooling bills while using 30% less lumber to build the structure. Furthermore, many of these lovely homes are resistant to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Estimates for these homes range from $60 per square foot for the shell to $130 per square foot for a fully finished dome home, but the real return comes over time, making these homes ideal for long-term savers. Just make sure that if you're going green while also trying to save money, you get rid of the paper receipt and have it emailed to you instead!

10. Earth Berm (Earth Sheltered Homes)

If you adored the houses that dot the landscape of The Shire, the fictional homeland of the Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings series, and want to live off-grid in a virtually indestructible home, an earth berm could be just what the doctor ordered. Earth berms are structures built into the earth, typically on the side of a hill, that use the soil for walls and roofs to keep out the elements. In the summer, these structures are well insulated and keep cool air in, but they can cost up to 20% more to build than a typical home. For some, the cost of getting closer to nature is worth it.
Homes that have been converted

11. “Fixer Upper”

A fixer-upper may be the way to go for those who want their dream home without having to pay the “dream home” price. These modest little houses require some TLC, but many of the repairs, such as cracked or broken tiles, squeaky hinges, and cracked window panes, are surprisingly simple. But wait a minute, the amount of remodeling that can come with purchasing a fixer-upper may be enough to put your marriage on the rocks. Before investing too much time and money into one of these homes, make sure you've done your research, considered your skill level, and made sure the remodel is cost effective.

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12. Shipping Containers

Shipping containers have become one of the craziest new conversion items for not only living, but also farming. Because the average shipping container costs between $1800 and $5000, many people believe that shipping container living is inexpensive–but there can be hidden costs and a variety of other factors to consider before building a home out of one. First and foremost, ensure that you check the building codes in your area; because shipping containers are new, they are not legal in every municipality. Consider that you will most likely have to pay for renovations, insulation, and a variety of other expenses. However, if you can look past the minor details and are still determined to recycle some old metal, take a look at a shipping container house!

13. A Silo Residence

Silo homes have been dubbed the “next big thing in real estate” by CountryLiving, and who knows? They could be correct. On the outside, these converted silos appear to be plain metal cylinders, but on the inside, you'd be fooled into thinking you're in a house. The energy-efficient silo home, on the other hand, is not a new concept–in fact, it has been around since at least 1982. This isn't to say you can't get your own silo and turn it into a “grain bin” house. Because these silos are typically located on farm land, why not take advantage of that fertile land by constructing a green garden alongside your green home? To contrast with that metal, you'll need something colorful on the outside!

14 Billboard Residences

Have you ever seen a billboard advertisement and thought to yourself, “Man… I wish I could be there.” You can, however, do so now! Sort of… Matej Nedorolik came up with the brilliant idea of converting billboard advertisements into tiny homes for the homeless. The interiors are stunning, but unfortunately, Nedorolik's prototypes have yet to be mass-produced, nor have they been accepted by governments as a solution to the homeless problem. Still, there is a chance that you, too, will be able to step inside some of the world's most beautiful travel advertisements… and into a nice little house.

15. A-Kamp47 is the letter in the alphabet

Stéphane Malka, an architect and artist from Marseille, has designed “A-Kamp47,” a vertically built, stealthy housing structure for the homeless. The camp, also known as “barnacle shelters,” is built on the side of a wall rather than on the ground, so it is considered public space–and because it is built in a high traffic area, it seeks to draw attention to the plight of the homeless in Marseille. According to new reports, the shelters are mostly used by young travelers (not Malka's target market), but who knows? Perhaps the project will serve as an inspiration to others. Perhaps a barnacle shelter city will spring up near you…
Living on the Go

16. Van Life

Have you ever wanted to jump in the VW van and go for a couple of weeks on the road? Have you ever been enticed to join a herd of nomadic van-dwellers by “lo-fi” filtered pictures on social media? Vanlife might be just what you're looking for! But wait a minute; there are a few things you should know before you go. Living in a van may not be as glamorous as all of the #vanlife Instagram pictures portray, but that doesn't mean it's not for you. Julie Ellison, herself a van dweller, writes about the true cost of van life, including the biggest expense, the van itself, and how building up the rig can take both time and money. Start small and go out on the road for shorter periods of time at first to see if the van life is for you.

17. Bus Station

Maybe you've decided that the van is too small for you–in that case, why not look into a bus? You'll probably have to put in a lot of work to convert your bus into a liveable home, but don't let that deter you: there are plenty of ways to turn one of those big yellow, metal tubes into a humble abode. Just don't get too attached to too many things–living in a bus (or a van) will turn even the most materialistic people into ultra-minimalists. But, on the bright side, you won't have family members fighting over your will!

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18. RV/motorhome

If you have a limited budget and want all the comforts of home without living in a converted bus or van, do what grandparents all over the United States do and purchase a motorhome! In all seriousness, there are numerous reasons why living in an RV is preferable to living in a house, including the ability to have a washer and dryer as well as a shower, and even the ability to join RV clubs–but don't think that motorhome life is cheap. According to blogger Jason Wynn, a year on the road can cost more than $38,000 in total. Remember to look into Walmart parking lots, which are usually free and RV friendly!

19. Trailer/Mobile Home

Perhaps the compact, mobile lifestyle is too small for you, and you'd like a little more space. Trailer homes could be the ideal solution for you! Even though they sometimes get a bad rap, keep in mind that Matthew McConaughey, Pamela Anderson, and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh either used to or still live in trailers–in fact, according to Census data, an estimated 20 million Americans live in mobile homes. The best thing about mobile homes is that you can move whenever you want, even if you're parked most of the time. Simply research the area, hitch up the house, and go! Sure, there is a stigma associated with living in a trailer or a mobile home, but if you take care of your abode while remembering that it doesn't matter what others think, you could be on your way to cheap, alternative living.

20. Houseboat

This one is for the out-of-the-box thinker! If life on the road isn't for you, life on the waterway might be. Some people prefer something that is more like a house than a boat, while others are more interested in the boating aspect. Sam Train and Francesca Spidalieri live on a houseboat with two bedrooms, one kitchen, about 300 square feet of space, and the ability to move wherever they need to go. Their biggest outlay? Once a month, they pay the marina fees where they dock.

Other Living Situations

21. Acting as a “Property Guardian”

Have you ever wished to live in something opulent, spacious, and tastefully decorated–but without having to pay a fortune for it? Or perhaps you want something a little more secluded, but with plenty of space for activities on the grounds, such as slacklining? That is exactly what Jonny Douglas, 33, does in the United Kingdom, where he lives in a three-story mansion in Sheffield for £250 per month (approximately $330 U.S.). Douglas is a property guardian for a private home built in 1777 that has served as an asylum, a school, and a community center over the years. Douglas' main responsibility is to help keep the property secure and report any problems that may arise, such as leaky pipes, with an acre of grounds for him to practice his slacklining hobby and about 1,100 square feet of space. The only drawback is that his contract is limited, and residents may be given two weeks' notice to leave–which is fine for some people, such as Jonny Douglas.

22. Community Land Trust

The community land trust (CLT), a model of community land ownership that has been gaining traction as an affordable housing measure in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom for the past 40 years, has been a new way of going about home ownership recently. The CLT model works by a non-profit purchasing land on behalf of a community and holding it in trust in perpetuity. The non-profit can sell to tenants with repurchase options and split equity with the buyer using a previously agreed-upon formula. In this manner, a large portion of the equity remains with the CLT, and the cost of that is retained within a trust. Check out the National Community Land Trust Network if you want to start your own CLT. You can now explore your own forms of alternative living with these ideas in mind! Be daring, but do your homework. Life off the beaten path can be more difficult than you expect–but it is usually where all the good fruit is.

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