Could You Walk Away From Your House?

What is a house? Is it a roof over one’s head or something more than that? A trove of memories and belongings that needs to be viciously guarded by emotion and more capitalistic instruments like insurance? For most of us, if our house burnt down – rented or owned – we’d be devastated. Even if it wasn’t full of our worldlies the very fact that the house, the structure, it’s rooms and its floors is gone, in itself would be a bad thing. We spend vast resources protecting our homes from harm. We do our best to keep people out with locks and doors – not only from stealing the things that are within but from vandalism and squatting and invasion of its sacred space. We protect our houses from the elements with shutters and steel frames that termites cannot eat through and firebreaks and special cladding to protect from the flames and embers. Our houses, or more aptly homes, in and of themselves mean something to us. It would be hard to just walk away.

To pay $300 per week rent for five years and then to move away is simple enough to do. We wouldn’t think too much of it. It’s common. I have done it time and time again. But that’s a $78,000 home effectively burnt to a crisp – nothing more to show. Gone, in and of itself. The memories are still there, but that’s the case either way.

I have read in various places of people that have built disposable homes. No, they are not made of cheap plastic or paper. They are homes that, if the situation fell upon them, they could walk away with no regrets. C’est la vie. This is an unthinkable proposition to most. But the memories, the meaning, the… the… house. But why not that rental? That building – the wood and bricks – that you walked away from after 5 years of good times? That belongs to, and always has, someone else?

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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.

Asylum Seekers, Intentional Communities and Tiny Houses

Originally published by me on the PRI Forum.

On the lead up to the recent election, the asylum seeker debate turned into a race to the bottom. Julian Burnside referred to it in his piece in The Guardian today as a “spectacle … to outdo each other in their promises to be cruel to boat people”.

Burnside, a long-time asylum seeker advocate who opens his own home to refugees, proposes the Tasmania and Rural Solutions. Take a place that is in economic strife, so Tasmania and many rural towns across the country, and place asylum seekers in these communities whilst their refugee status is assessed. The money will be spent in these communities, revitalizing the local economy, and the Federal Government will save a substantial sum, even if each asylum seeker receives a Centrelink entitlement for the full assessment period.

I think Burnside’s proposal is a great one. The Rural Solution is something I have been pondering about for years. It seems to obviously win-win. But I propose we go a step further.

Intentional communities and asylum seekers aren’t spoken about in the same sentence very often. But I propose housing asylum seekers in intentional communities built in regions in decline as a more comprehensive solution to Burnside’s. The Federal Government would fund the purchase of appropriately zoned (or zonable) land within targeted regions. Permaculture and other specialists would be brought in to help design and develop the land, along with the asylum seekers themselves who would provide input and help build the communities. The contributions of the asylum seekers would be remunerated by way of Centrelink payment and / or equity in the development – which would be structured as a cooperative or similar. Housing would be well-designed tiny houses with self-contained and / or communal facilities. Once developed the communities would encourage entrepreneurism especially in the agriculture sector, with potential for further permaculture teaching opportunities and all manners of knowledge based vocation.

Once an asylum seeker has their refugee status approved they have the option to sell their share in the cooperative and settle elsewhere as they please or to stay in the community indefinitely.

Buying Land : Take Two

I have officially given up on the Wimmera block that I looked at a few weeks ago. The bank isn’t interested. I haven’t been in business long enough, they say. I have been in business three months short of their two year requirement but that isn’t good enough. I expected this to be the outcome.

Not to worry, I am heading back over the border to view another block in the Wimmera region next weekend. This one is much different. It’s around 10 acres, no forest or woodlands to worry about – there is the odd eucalyptus dotted here and there only, and it satisfies all my other criteria. In fact, it’s within walking (and cycling) distance of a large town which has good transport links. Best of all, finance shall not be a problem.

Buying Land: Emotion, Rationality, and The One.

In my previous post, “The Desirable World: The Beginning“, I wrote that I was going to view my first block of land this weekend. Well, I did.

As I walked over the sandy loam and sniffed in the damp air I struggled to find words to describe my impression. My partner asked, “So what do you think?” My answer was confused and mechanical. I wanted to describe my feelings accurately but without putting too much emotion in. I wanted to answer rationally. This is what was confusing and made me feel mechanical – the need to answer in this way. I was looking at a piece of earth that I may soon own, that may be a part of my journey to making a life for myself, that may become a part of me, and here I am questioning the language I ought to use to express myself. Ought to, why?

Ancient Fence Posts Australia

A little sneak peek of the property, looking onto the reserve.

This feeling, this internal fight, has been with me for a few weeks now. As I increasingly tell people my intentions I am made to feel that I need to be rigorously rational about this process. But why aren’t other people made to feel that way? Home ownership is core to the “Australian Dream”. One ought to aspire to home ownership, we are lead to believe. Well so say the banks. Those that rent for too long are looked at as people with poor character or poor credit. To be treated equitably, it would seem, one has to toe the line: to live the normal life. To buy a suburban block. To live with the burden of a mortgage until just before retirement. If my choice was to live that life, it would be cause for celebration. Finally I am growing up, people would hail. Welcome aboard the property latter they would say. Too emotional a decision, buying a house in the ‘burbs? Not at all. It’s a sensible move. After all, rent money is dead money John Newcombe told us – in a television commercial for new homes.

The risk I am taking is known to me. However – and a lot of people say this – I tend not to regret things if they go ‘bad’. I see failure as an opportunity. And I mean that. I have taken many risks in my life that haven’t worked out, from giving relationships a go that perhaps I shouldn’t have, to taking on huge physical adventures that fell in a heap. From each of these “failures” an opportunity was born. Failure is a positive.

But you know what, I am going to talk about it in emotional terms now. As I was emoted by the experience. I’m a human, I am susceptible to it. It was stunning. Not just the land but everything around it which would be mine too. The land only measures 3 acres but backs on to a crown-owned reserve that is huge and impenetrable. Behind the block lays an ancient creek bed which was full and alive with the sound of frogs. A couple of hundred metres to the west, a massive wetland, thick with insects and drowned timber. Nature at its best. Beautiful.

As I walked back to the car – my partner drove me on this trip – the lady that lived in the closest house came out to see what we were doing. I explained to her that I was interested in buying the block. She gave me a short history of the area, in a thick cockney accent. She told me that the rainfall this year has been very good, though late, but then shared her concerns about global warming and that that the Australian Greens party have lost their focus on their founding cause, the environment. I found myself talking to a greenie, where I thought there wouldn’t be a greenie in miles. She told me that when she and her husband first emigrated to Australia they settled in the same city where I live. But she wanted room for her horses so moved to this town. She loves it. The people are pleasant, she said. Maybe not greenies – true, considering it is a Nationals Party safe seat – but that isn’t talked about. Politics isn’t part of the conversation. There are other things to talk about like the town, the sports scene, the weather, life.

Having spoken to this dear old lady, who unfortunately lost her husband a few years ago, I feel already a part of me is connected to this place. Let’s imagine for a sec that this block of land fell through. Well that’s okay. It can happen. But I reckon this region could be the one. It is stunning. It is beautiful. I felt something. Or perhaps I am being a bit too emotional.

Passive Solar: Keep Cool in Summer and Warm in Winter

I didn’t realise the benefits of passive solar design until I moved into my current house which has heavily shaded windows on both the east and west sides. It’s wintertime  and the house hardly has any solar access. Hopefully this means it will be a cool house in summer, but this winter has been freezing.

Passive solar design really works. The point, simply, is to let solar in during winter and shade it out in summer. This can be achieved through the intelligent placement of shade – so that it’s there when you want it and gone when you don’t. The plan for my tiny house is to position the house with most glass facing north, with timber framing over which vines (grape and passionfruit) will grow during the warmer months. The plants will lose their leaves over winter letting the sun in – not to mention the angle of the sun in the winter time.

Andrew Odom of Tiny House Revolution explains it all much better than me in his recent post, Passive Solar Tiny House, which was the inspiration for this post. In fact, I think his diagram sums it all up perfect.