Living Deliberately Isn’t About House Size or Remoteness

This is a slightly edited comment I wrote over at Life in 120 Square Feet in response to a post entitled, “Live Deliberately: Follow Your Dreams“.

People ask me “Why do you want to build such a small house?” My answer is usually “Why would I want to build any bigger?” Deliberate living has nothing to do with the size of one’s house. Other factors will determine the size of my house and they are my budget (I am building a house that I can afford) and my needs or wants (I need a bed, a bathroom, a kitchen, a comfortable place to read, and a workspace). When I say I need or want certain things they are determined by my budget. If I couldn’t afford, say, a dedicated workspace (with a view, I might add) I will change my plans. The fact that I do want a work area has meant that my tiny house is a deal bigger than many others. I’m okay with that as this isn’t a race to be the smallest. For me, at least, it is about my budget and my needs and wants.

People also question me about my want to buy so far away. This largely comes down to budget. The further from the big cities you are, the cheaper the land. “But why not save for a bit longer and buy something closer in?” (I actually had this question from a colleague today.) Because I don’t want to. I want to start living more deliberately as soon as I can. “Then why not rent a place rather than go to all the trouble and expense of buying land and building a house?” Because if I rented a house I’d be whittling away all my savings, the money that I have worked hard and endured suffering for, only to have nothing in the end. My current day job, where I earn good money, I hope, will be my last stint of that. Wage-slavery, I perhaps unfairly call it. I am going to make the money work hard for me as I no longer want to work hard for the money (there’s a bit of Donna Summer for you!). And it’s important, for my ‘new’ life to be sustainable, to acquire assets that don’t cost much to maintain after the initial expenditure. To rent, requires being out of pocket many thousands of dollars every year ad infinitum. Many more than I would pay in council rates and so on.


4 thoughts on “Living Deliberately Isn’t About House Size or Remoteness

  1. Hi Pavel, I arrived here via a comment you left on another blog, and have enjoyed reading through your older posts. I mostly just wanted to say hi, and good luck with your search for the right piece of land, with the right terms for purchase.

    My partner and I built a small strawbale house (about 3.5m x 7.5m) on a cheap three-quarter acre block on the edge of a small town (pop.~1300) a few years ago, and we still love everything about it. We’re located in mid-western NSW – relatively close to Milkwood permaculture (we’re about 50km from them).

    Among other things, we’ve been using a simple composting toilet system for all that time (we have a very local sawmill that delivers sawdust as our carbon source), and we couldn’t be happier with it. I’d always like to have more rain for the garden, so my mind boggles at all the people who flush dozens of litres of drinking water straight down the toilet every day (we aren’t connected to town water, so every drop is precious). Anyway, the resultant compost has been growing very happy fruit and vegies for years now, with absolutely no undesirable side-effects.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Samantha. And thanks for the comment.

      Your little place sounds wonderful. I have considered strawbale. I love the finish, the insulation properties, and the quaint thickness of the walls. And, if I am completely honest and aesthetically-minded, I love the window sills they provide – a whole 30+cm to air your pumpkin pie!

      I am really looking forward to producing humanure. I sound wacko, don’t I? But I just hate ‘how it is’ here in the city. That it is taboo to even talk about such things. Hence this blog, and hence how I love to engage with folk – that get it! – like yourself.

  2. Yes, strawbale has a lot to recommend it! And by the way, our little house is load-bearing straw bale, so there is no frame. It couldn’t have been simpler to build. And our straw bales and timber rafters were sourced locally too. But in the interests of speed and simplicity, we decided to use double-glazed doors instead of windows: 4 doors facing north, one facing west, and no additional windows. The doors provide ample light and cross-ventilation, and we’ve never regretted that choice.

    Quite a few locals told us beforehand that there was no way the council would approve our “hippy” house plans, but they did, without any dramas (including a reed bed for treating all grey water). But on the subject of council approval, I have heard Dmitry Orlov make an astute observation: that often, local planning laws are outrageously onerous, even in the most unlikely and remote places. Yet long-term locals can, and frequently do, get away with all kinds of informal modifications and additions to their homes, that would never obtain formal approval.

    Along those lines, I would bet that there’s not a council in Australia that could (or would attempt to) prevent anyone from buying a 20 litre bucket, placing a toilet seat on top, some sawdust inside, and doing their business in there. Instant composting toilet – and if you have a backyard, you can just compost the output in your regular compost heap (it generally surprises newbies that, as long as you keep the carbon content up, there is no odour from a composting toilet). Alternatively, it’s dead easy to … uh …. piss in a bucket. If you don’t have ready access to bulky carbon sources, you can use sugar. Or simply dilute the wee, and use it immediately as plant food.

    This is a thought-provoking and informative page about handling urine separately:

    I agree that the subject of composting human waste is basically taboo. The most common objection I hear is about potential pathogens, but having read Del Porto and Steinfeld’s “The Composting Toilet System Book”, I am satisfied that the health risks are small, and very easily managed by anyone with an average IQ who’s done (and understood) their research.

    Other people might think you’re nuts, but I’ve never met a plant that wasn’t incredibly grateful to receive well-composted humanure (even plenty of Aussie native plants that I thought might have regarded nutrient-rich humanure as a death sentence).

    • Your house sounds amazing. I love its simplicity.

      I was surprised when I proposed my plans to one council in Victoria when they said that they loved the sound of my plans and that somebody had done something similar a few months before. Having been indoctrinated by the US tiny house movement, I expected all sorts of arbitrary regulations to be thrown at me. But that’s one council.

      I have heard stories of people building to code, keeping certain bells and whistles in a good state, and then returning them back to the store once they have the Certificate of Occupancy. Sounds onerous but committed. I think you’re right about the basic composting toilet design. That said, it seems many councils still have high expectations of what needs to be included in order to get that all-important Certificate of Occupancy – one’s golden ticket to such things as the First Home Owner Grant (a fairly easy $10k in Victoria). Because of the FHOG I wouldn’t be too fussed paying for a fancy Rota-Loo or ‘approved’ grey water system. But it’s the principle that bugs me more – I don’t want these ugly contraptions when (some) home-made solutions will do. Plus the money could certainly be better spent.

      Regarding grey water systems. The impression I get is that most councils require an ‘approved’ system. In Victoria, there appears to be one approved reed bed system. How’s that for monopolistic. Even if one found a comparable system that was cheaper, it wouldn’t necessarily be approved for use.

      Thanks so much for sharing that link, by the way. Very helpful!

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