Barbara and her $97 DIY cabin

A DIY cabin to inspire you and your imagination (from

A DIY cabin to inspire you and your imagination (from

I’ve always been fascinated by those who DIY (Do It Yourself). Here in Maine I’ve found an abundance of folks who really know how to make useful things from the scraps of life. Last month, I met Barbara Cleveland, age 71, in Belfast. She told me her story of moving to Maine, making a life here during the back-to-the-land movement, and building a cabin for only $97.

In 1971, Barbara had recently moved to New York City. She was selling bags of raisins and nuts, what we now call “trail mix,” out of a shopping cart to movie-goers, and having trouble finding housing.

I was sort of at loose ends about what to do. My friend Ruth was headed up north to Maine, and I had another friend living in Chicago. So one night, I left my nuts and raisins at the commune that I was staying at and went to Port Authority. I said to myself, “I’m either going to Chicago or to Maine on the next bus.” There was a bus at 2:15 am to Bangor, Maine. I got on the bus and I arrived the next morning with my backpack and I hitchhiked down to my friend Ruth’s house. That was the beginning of my adventure.

By 1973, I was still here in Maine and I decided it was time that I build a cabin. A fishermen friend helped me to gather recycled lumber. I scrounged the dumps. He scrounged around some hunting cabins that were falling down. We straighten nails. If I found a board that was even a foot long, I would use it. I only needed to buy insulation. I spent $97 dollars on the whole cabin. It took about a year to build it.

It was almost like an A-frame roof, with a loft upstairs. It was 18x20. I had an old wood stove. It was freezing in the winter. I would chop wood and it was still cold. I’m too old now to do that. I was young then.

I was down in the woods, and little nervous being down there alone because some of the neighbor boys told me that they’re gonna pound on the door and scare me at night. So, I borrowed my friend’s gun with buckshot, and their dog. I was gonna shoot birdshot into the air, but they never came. I got rid of the gun.

I sold that cabin for $8,000 dollars, (laughing) which I thought was a lot at the time. I wish I had that cabin back now. I could afford to live here. That was the only house I had. I miss it.

I’ll be reading stories like Barbara’s – DIY lives: a history of farming, fishing, and forestry in Maine – at the Common Ground Fair on Saturday, September 26 at 2 pm in the new Russell Poetry Grove. No better place to hear accounts of DIY Mainers than Common Ground. Come have a listen if you like that kind of stuff. 

Barbara shared this story with me during a Mini-Memoir event in Belfast. Interested in recording your mini-memoir for free? There are two more Mini-Memoir events happening soon: This Saturday, September 12 at the Midcoast Mini-Maker Faire in Camden, and next Wednesday, September 16 at the Skidompha Library in Damariscotta. 

Do you have a DIY story? Write about it in the comment section.