Living Small part 1 – three wood-houses in a tin shed

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And so here is another nostalgic visit to where we have come from – this time looking at the ‘small living’ we tried out prior to our travel, in 2013/14 – enjoy part 1 of this refelction on experimental living…

As some explanation of the title, for those of you unfamiliar with us so far, our family name is ‘Woodhouse’ and we currently live in a tin shed – yep, don’t you just love the irony!

Despite the seemingly natural gravitation of such named people to log-cabin style accomodation, we are loving life in a tin shed. But why do you live in a shed, I hear you ask. It’s a good question – and one we get asked often (usually in the form of a puzzled look when it’s mentioned). Well, it was kind of a serendipitous answer to the question of our life at the time. The question being – “Something isn’t right here – what do we actually want to do in this life and how do we move towards it?”.

We reached that point after many small steps along an unplanned path, which started out with what you might describe as a fairly average kind of existence in our modern western society – wife+husband+child+house+stuff+mortgage+jobs.

Despite being inundated with messages that this is the formula for success, a seemingly increasing number of people are finding this equation = unhappy. Us included.

Its no wonder really – when I step back and take a look now, it reads something like this:

  1. Go to school and work hard so you can go to University;
  2. Go to University and work hard so you can get a good job
  3. Get a good job and work hard so you can earn ever increasing money to pay for the incredibly unaffordable  house you should strive to buy and the stuff you must wear/eat/give/watch/use, (aka consume). And don’t forget to pay off that University debt.

It’s pretty easy to get jaded when trapped in that hamster wheel society labels ‘life’. But the wonderful thing about realising what we were stuck in, was the freedom that ensued. It’s like waking up. Suddenly you realise you don’t have to live the way most people do, you can listen to those small nagging voices of concern, (that turn out to be your real values), and take your true desires seriously – after all, they usually boil down to being a good person and making a positive difference in the world, right?. (if they don’t, maaaaybe you should exit here).

At this point I would like to add a disclaimer – despite the above comments, I am not opposed to working hard – just working hard for the wrong reasons, or towards a misaligned goal. Nor am I advocating we all quit work and live some kind of free floating unfocussed existence forever. There is middle ground somewhere- i’m sure of it. I imagine it to look something like a healthy community where people work together to take care and responsibility for themselves, others and their home – and with support from leaders, as opposed to self-interested power and red tape. Of course, sorting out the detail of what that looks like exactly, (who does what, how do we make it work etc) is a complicated matter- and a lesson I think we are all in the process of learning. Thus, I shall leave the disclaimer at that – back to the story at hand.

So, after working on that question of what we wanted to do in life, a lot of the answers came back to living more simply. You know that kind of peace some people get after going camping for a week? Life is pretty simple – focus on feeding ourselves, staying warm (or cool), spend time talking to our loved ones, having fun, maybe enlightening the brain with some reading and slowing down to the pace of nature. Running away to camp is not a viable option for long term living but the point i’m trying to make is this – when we focus the majority of our energy (physical, mental and emotional) on the simple and important stuff, as in camping, there is a nourishing fulfilment that comes with it.

It was that fulfilment we hoped to gain by simplifying. Living a ‘simpler life’ means different things to different people. We decided our long term goal was to live more responsibly within our environment – find some land, grow food and a community, share the experience and knowledge with anyone interested. Entangled amongst it all was a long-standing desire to see other places, cultures and maybe even make some positive difference there (no doubt taking more than that contribution back to our home in our hearts) – while in addition, giving our daughter the kind of awareness that only comes from seeing these things first-hand. Starting to sound kind of complicated now huh!

“We cant afford to buy land, or go overseas. We both have jobs. We couldn’t get time off. We might have to quit – what would we do when we got back? We have a mortgage to pay. And a child in school”. Plenty of excuses not to sort out a solution, don’t you think? Yup, it’s too-hard-basket material for sure.

Or at least it was, before we changed our thinking.

Once we had thought seriously about things and discovered, in our opinion, what would be a worthwhile purpose and source of joy in this life, it was pretty hard to ignore. It was all a bit ‘blue pill, red pill’ (Matrix reference for any fans – apologies to the confused others who haven’t seen the movie) – I’m referring to the fact that once you know, you can’t go back. So that’s all it took – a change in the mind that said “hmm, maybe….”.

We went from believing excuses to looking for solutions.

I kept saying to myself ‘there must be a way, there must be a way”. Some ideas hatched. What if we…… sell our house, use some of that money to go overseas, come back and put the remainder of our money towards some land. Hmm. No way we’ll be buying a house and land – better buy a caravan to plonk on it instead. Can all three of us live in a caravan? Umm…. maybe?

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soooo…… we bought a caravan – figure we’ll just have to make it work now!

Lo and behold, while mulling it over, we were gifted the discovery of two thought-changing documentaries.

The first was ‘We the tiny house people‘ by Kirsten Dirksen. This is a full length insight into the ever-growing ‘tiny house’ movement. For the uninitiated, there is a myriad of people now voluntarily choosing to live in small spaces. Lots of these, particularly in the states (of the united and American kind) are now building their own tiny house. They come in as many variants as there are colours, but the common theme is a little wooden house on a caravan trailer. It’s a fascinating proposition. And what I love even more about this film is that it doesn’t just cover the beautiful little houses, it shows all sorts of weird and wonderful places from teeny tiny NYC apartments to caves! In doing so, it paints a really good picture of why people are turning to this. For some it is financial, for others it is more about simplicity, self-sufficiency  or independence. I was so grateful to see these people not just making-do with this kind of option but really and truly loving it. With regards to our caravan concept, I went from apprehensive to excited – what a gift! (they do say it’s all in the mind…).

The other doco that landed on our doorstep was ‘Green Gold‘ by John D. Liu – we discovered permaculture and were blown away! We thought “if anything can save this planet, it’s permaculture!”. For those unfamiliar with permaculture, it is a way of growing abundance with the resources we already have – simply through more consideration and design. To give some perspective, this doco shows how whole deserts are rehabilitated just by changing the way they are managed (remove overgrazing cattle, terrace and add trees – give it 3 to 5 years and it goes from brown to green – seriously, the pictures are amazing). If that doesn’t excite you, how about this – they are growing a vegie garden in the middle of the Jordanian desert – within three years it will be self-sufficient, won’t even need irrigation – IN THE DESERT! Phew, talk about a solution contender for feeding the world -we were certainly impressed. Truly – check it out (link above).

So with permaculture and the tiny-house culture fresh in our minds, we felt empowered in our decision – might not be such a crazy solution after all (you can hold the sniggers, thank you!). I think that’s when we started telling people about it.

You can just imagine some of the reactions – no really, go ahead and imagine – you’re probably not far off. There were some ‘interesting’ and expected responses. So it was refreshing to receive encouragement from some quarters – particularly our new friends Toff & Cara who just ‘got it’ from the start. Maybe it was the reciprocated encouragement for their crazy idea to start a bakery without any experience in business or baking! (another disclaimer – i’m allowed to call their idea crazy because we were enthusiastic for them and backed it – so much so that Michael left his job to go work for them! And because it happens to be the hugely popular ‘Home Grain Bakery” at Aldinga & new sibling at McLaren Flat – go you good thing!).

Once you open up to an idea, the possibilities and opportunities just seem to flow in – seriously its weird! But great.  So after chatting about our idea with Toff and Cara, they offered up their shed to live in if we wanted. Finding another place to live wasn’t something we had really given a whole lot of thought to but it turned out to be a golden opportunity, not only because we got to sell our house and stop paying a mortgage asap, but more importantly because it gave us our first experience in sharing, community and living with others. Something we are incredibly grateful for.

So that, my friends, is how we came to be in a shed. I do wish to recount some of the adventures and practicalities of living small so far. However, as the size of this segment appears to have mutated somewhere along the way, I will do so in a follow-up part 2. So stay tuned!

wishing you fun, friends 🙂

Mel x

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