Tag: tinyhouse



“I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side.”
― Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy

21st September, 2019

No. I’m not dead. Nor have I abandoned this blog. I have however, been very busy. Still in my pursuit of freedom. Now established in a kind of semi-settlement, I thought it was time to share the next chapter in the journey.

This blog started on 7th January, 2016 with me arriving back in New Zealand after several years away. I’d decided to act on my desire to free myself from dependence on the generally established order tying me to endless labour. To free myself from the cycle of working to live and living to work.

Way back when… still unwinding from years of living away and the trauma of working in an animal shelter too long. Recovering from caring too much out near East Cape.

“I got more and more interested in these people who were downsizing their lives in order to create a lifestyle of independence and abundance. By decreasing their possessions and taking responsibility for their own needs they were lessening their dependence on the very system that enslaves so many of us to our money and debt.”

Nearly four years on, I’ve travelled some of the last corners of New Zealand that had escaped my experience so far. I’ve explored in a way that few others have and got to know the place and its people in a whole new light. Caravan life was interesting in itself, but was also training for a far more extreme downsize to “executive hobo” life in a peculiar coffin on wheels. My dogs and I walked nearly 4,000km in a meandering tour of our cities and remote rural hideaways.

TLW feature
The Longest Walk NZ took me to places I never would have guessed and was a truly unique exprerience

There have been ups and downs, challenges and blessings. I met people who share my vision (link to TLW Hoki (or end?)) for a future and ended up being allowed to join in theirs.

It’s been a loosely guided safari through which I have learned to embrace uncertainty. Rigidity was holding me back. As were many limiting beliefs about my potential and ability. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with estranged family and made new friends with different perspectives. They have helped me analyse where I can trim away things I don’t need and how I can leverage those things I have to create a lifestyle of abundant independence.

Met Hone in Kohukohu (my Grandad’s home town). He’d abandoned living for work and decided to just float on the breeze with nothing but a backpack. He’d been at it for ages by the time I met him and lived a life less ordinary

In the process I saw my bank account dwindle to as close to zero as it has ever been. Not once, but twice. At times, I’ve lived a more Spartan existence than many could imagine and because of this have examined what is really necessary. Discovering that there really is very little required for a relatively comfortable and meaningful existence. For me, purpose, acceptance and intention are the key ingredients once my basic physical needs are met. In the process, I have crossed paths with some who have not been lucky enough to have those basics and others who consciously abandoned the urge for consistency.

Turns out I like acting and am pretty reasonable at musical theatre… Who knew?!

I met people along the way who helped me understand what I wanted in my life and how that life might look. It was tough to choose a destination to settle, but there was a certain something about only a few places that really drew me back. The pace of life, latent sense of peace, feeling of community and the people. Those were the deciders. I still have a shortlist to revisit, should I change my mind

Based now in the slow-paced coastal town of Hokitika, I’ve built a 10m2 shack to round out a living system also comprised of two generations of former dwellings. With the most basic solar system and a gravity-fed piped tank water to supplement a roof-and-bucket rainwater collection, I have all I need. Low costs allow me to spend my time doing work I love rather than work that pays well. With costs kept low, I might actually be able to save for my own land to inhabit and develop into my own sanctuary. My little shack can come with me to my little slice of freedom. With the bits of horticultural and financial education I continue to accrue, I may even one day truly thrive.

In the meantime, I have crafted a version of life in which I belong in and contribute to a cohesive community of wonderful humans. My work allows me to nurture the seed of fulfilment within young people. My networks here allow me to drive and encourage positive development in two very different but connected towns.

Hosting a free community screening of the movie “Celia” in my rolse as a White Ribbon Ambassador and co-ordinator for our local Community Champions.

I’m fortunate enough to have found people that embrace my unorthodoxy and have deepened connections with a few of those I met on my walk. My home allows me to retreat to a peaceful human-canine family surrounded by serene native forest. We’re visited daily by the heartbeat of an ocean lapping at the not so distant shore. I look out toward the horizon to our coastal vista.

My life is not fancy and it’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s developing by virtue of combining opportunity with design to move in the right direction for me. At least for now. I won’t deny that my feet often get the urge to wander once again. For once a person is comfortable in themselves, the freedom of wandering will never be equalled.

I’m still not there. I understand more every day that true freedom is surrender. It is acceptance of the conditions of now, no matter what they may be.

“There is no fear for one whose mind is not filled with desires”
-Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha)


February 11th, 2018

With The Longest Walk NZ coming to a close, I guess the journey to create my freedom returns to this forum. Last year was a unique and amazing year, through which I gained many insights about myself, my country and what is important. This year is shaping up to be just as formative.

The main goals for The Longest Walk NZ were about animal welfare. It was about promoting what was going on out there in New Zealand communities. There were also a number of personal goals tied up amongst it. The most relevant to this update was the search for a place where my soul felt at peace.

There were a couple of false starts along the way, including the idea of joining the current members of Riverside Community in Motueka and possibly becoming a resident worker at The Black Sheep animal sanctuary in Otaki Forks. In the end though, I settled on a place that stayed in my thoughts throughout the whole trip. I ended up choosing a “Cool little town” named Hokitika.

Moody ol’ Hoki with its sullen clouds one day and brilliant sunshiny beaches the next
Cyclone Fehi broke the West Coast, stranding tourists and locals alike for several days

I arrived here first in March last year as I emerged from the immensity of a walk through the Southern Alps. Before I even met civilisation, the Arahura Valley was winning me over. From there, the vibe just continued to feel warm. Nearly a year on, I returned to a striking peach sunset blooming in the clouds, then fading over the horizon. The sea pacified after a day of raging storms (Cyclone Fehi) that tore away whole sections of coastal roads and barred my original route the day before. I can only imagine it was the contrast between this peaceful scene and the turmoil of the evening before that even had the locals out, wielding cameras.

This first return was just a drop-and-run though. It took another couple of days to collect my two dogs from their boarding arrangements with my parents in Wellington. All told, this relocation, including acquiring car (in Invercargill), retrieving my hillbilly house (from Gore) and reuniting with my dogs (back in Wellington) had cost nearly two weeks and thousands of dollars. I was working on the theory that it would all be worth it once life found itself in some semblance of “normal”. It was a chance to consciously choose where and how I wanted to live after taking a good deal of time to really consider my choices.

Never been afraid of a little hands on work. Getting stuck in

I hit the ground running. Reaching out to the few people I had met on my way through managed to land a few days of maintenance work the very next day. After the first day of this, came the start of the hunt for longer-term employment. A year off earning money followed by a costly relocation doesn’t do the bank balance any favours. A couple of nibbles and one very promising application later, I am still short of a plan for long-term employment. It has only been a few days yet though and I feel positive about the prospects.

If you have been following previous posts, you would probably realise that my efforts will also be going into some sort of side hustle working towards a bit of financial freedom. For now though and for quite some time to come, I need to make sure I take care of my financial responsibilities first. In a couple of years, that side hustle may well ripen into a main income but it’ll all come one step at a time.

Right now, I have landed in a tranquil spot, sharing a developing permaculture plot with a couple of likeminded people. Our arrangement is mutually beneficial and the setting is ideal for both me and the dogs. Jake runs around blissfully in a state of relative calm that is rare for him. Piccolo seems much more at peace in the stability and familiarity of our 2016 home. I enjoy the fact I can safely walk my dogs in a number of picturesque spots off-lead. A bush walk at our front gate, another just down the street. The stony beach of a beautiful river and a wide, expansive sands of the West Coast both only a five minute drive away. As we walk down the road on the way out, the seascape beckons from the horizon and as we return, a formidable mountain range enfolds our home.

Hoki from the hills

The roar of the sea rolling in can be heard all day from our vantage point on the hill. Stars blanket the skies at night. Kiwi and weka begin to sing at dusk. It’s not at all uncommon for a weka to pop over and pay a visit either. This unusual dry spell has meant hot days tempered with a mild sea breeze when the area is usually known for its heavy rainfall. Although the rain is sure to come, along with the challenges accompanying it, for now we enjoy an Indian summer. Today being the first day of rain so far and it was a light one at that.

All is well. And while I don’t believe there is a “right” path or choice, it certainly seems this is a good one.

A Reasonable Absence…

It’s been a while since posting here with anything of substance. (The ketchup coffee post doesn’t count). But rest assured, you are not forgotten nor have I lapsed in the seeking of freedom. Quite the opposite.



It’s full steam ahead with The Longest Walk NZ. Give-a-little, a free PDF download, a video and website are all up and ready. The camper is complete and we’ve been out training throughout the week. The dogs are coping well with the scary, rumbling monster we are walking with now and I’m starting to get used to the idea of hauling up a hill.

In a month’s time, the boys and I will be on our way… walking around the country… for a looooongtime. Like, share, donate, contact me with any other ideas you may have… Your support would really help.

What in the World is THAT?!

The build has come a long way and I can now see the beginnings of my new home for the next year. I give you, ‘The Rig’ for The Longest Walk.

This is beginning to look a lot like the eccentric idea that it is…

Still quite a lot to do internally and in terms of the handle bars/brakes. But you can now see what it is I am making. I’d love to hear what you think. Here are a few photos of the construction effort since last time.

Building Shelter. Building Hope.

I’ve been building my camper/shelter for the last couple of weeks. Progress has been a little slow as I wait for a few materials to come in and having decided to rebuild part of the trailer base to create better joints. But through the process, something somewhat unexpected has happened.

I’d hoped for it, but never held to much faith in the idea. I’d hoped that I would start seeing the best in people. That is exactly what is happening. Everywhere I turn, it seems impossible to find resistance. Quite the opposite. People are bending over backward, donating their time, materials and expertise to helping create a journey of a lifetime. It’s been a humbling experience that is a privilege to be part of.

Unfortunately I can’t portray my shifting self in pictures. But I can show you a little of the progress towards The Longest Walk NZ. The website is a bit more developed now, so you could pop over there if you are interested. Below I have also included a few pictures of the build so far. I have a floor platform, wheels are set to be mounted when I get further south and the materials for the shell have arrived. So the task at the moment is trying to sculpt out a kitset to be assembled down in Gore.

Lots of pieces are coming together right now and I’m feeling very grateful for all the support which I really wasn’t feeling when I first started down this route. Sponsors are getting on-board and everything is seeming more and more achievable.

Hillbilly Home-Making 101

June 1th-13th 2016

These last couple of weeks, there have been many additions to the basic living setup. These include renovation of a few of the key infrastructure points as well as rethinking ‘where to next?’, which was mentioned in passing in a recent post.

First priority was to set up a dry space/caravan weather protection/my own water collection. This is currently a large tarpaulin, strung up with washing line wire. It’s pretty sturdy, although deliberately also very temporary, as it’s important to me to be able to pack up and leave if need be. Right now, that doesn’t seem like it will be soon, but you never know.

Stage one: get under cover

Next was to have something to funnel into. Planning backwards from the materials available, a design came together for a water catchment tank that feeds a solar camping shower. Happened upon a full shower cubicle shell at the local recycling centre, so that made the shower construction a lot simpler and provides a solid toilet cubicle space too. Framing for the shower to stand freely came from a building site skip (with the permission of the building crew). The loo is nothing fancy, consisting of a bucket topped with a plastic seat. Its partner being a bin of wood chips which I decided to make a cover for, to keep the chips (as well as the bin and toilet paper sitting on top) dry. Again, not a permanent setup. But it’s a practical option for the medium term. The shower curtain, is just a cheap, sheet of black plastic.

With the essentials arranged, plans turned to upgrading the electrics in the caravan. The last few days have been trial and error to put in everything on my wish list. The USB port I was kindly donated by fellow travellers (during my East Cape travels) went in a while back. That’s most of my charging needs covered. However, the fun started when I decided to hook in an old inverter. Lesson #1- check all components thoroughly before inserting them into existing electrics. I didn’t do this and basically blew the whole system. Still not entirely sure how, but I know I had to test each component and rebuild the whole wiring system. The silver lining is that it is much tidier now and everything but the inverter (which was stuffed from the outset apparently) works swimmingly.

Next was to work on the electricity generation. Managed to hunt out a decent solar panel controller at the recycling centre too. Wiring that in with a couple of permanent solar panels was meant to make things easier. Thus far, it has not been so. The panels are generating a voltage, but the controller doesn’t seem to be feeding it to the battery. The controller itself also draws enough current that it may be necessary to add that second cell I’ve been planning for ages.

The solar controller all hooked in

The other half is installing a permanent rig for the panels, which is still under construction (should be done tomorrow) and a little wind turbine to work in tandem with solar generation. This should offset the lack of sun on ‘bad’ weather days… at least some of the time. That’s based on a design I made quick mention of in An Ode to Rural NZ and is halfway there too. If anyone has any tips on any of this, I’d be keen to hear them.

There have been a few other side tasks, like installing the caravan’s spare wheel instead of having it sitting in the car boot. Also got a replacement jockey wheel tyre. But it’s pretty much set up how I’d like now. So thoughts are moving to the bush craft/wild living side of things. Really, all this is about becoming more attuned to nature. To be honest, if it was just me, I would probably have just gone bush from the beginning. But it’s not just me and the dogs (and dog laws) make things a little more tricky. The recycling centre came through again. This time, with a kayak. I’m hoping to train the dogs to work with me on this and go bush with some marine infiltration, but it may fail. Regardless, I’ve been wanting to get a kayak for a while to explore out on the water.

This seems a good time to put in a little shout out to the second-hand stores and recycling centres around the place. It’s a shame there still seems to be a bit of a stigma about these places and strange, since sites like TradeMe, Gumtree, eBay and local Buy, Sell, Swap pages on Facebook are so popular. It’s as if using others’ discarded items is dirty somehow, but it’s ok as long as it has had an electronic middle man (?). Granted, not everyone sees it that way. But there really are so many good things there to be sought out.

Often, the tools and other items are better than what you could buy from most mainstream retailers. I say this because many of them are from a time when things were built to last instead of built to be disposable/replaceable. Much of it is also NOT from times gone by, but instead just surplus to someone’s need and on sale for a bargain price. The recycling centre in Motueka is MASSIVE. Seriously, it’s huge. Several acres, including a building that houses indoor items as well as a large outdoor stockpile of everything from building materials to machinery and from toys to antiques. There is sporting equipment, electrical components, fully working appliances, mechanical parts, clothes, furniture… It’s out by the transfer station on Robinson Road. Check it out if you are in the area. Others, like the one in Turangi (to be fair, quite a small town) are much smaller scale. But they are worth a look if you have something in mind.

One thing people don’t seem to realise though, is the cost of dumping. When rubbish items are left with them, the landfill fees rack up quickly. Even if they can salvage a few parts from a thing, the dump fees often outweigh the (financial) benefit. They also have a big problem with theft. It’s still shoplifting even if the goods were originally donated. If it’s council-run… alright, I can see the appeal of letting the moral compass wander. After all, who really gets hurt in the process? But some (like the Motueka one) are privately run and op shops are usually run by charities (some of whom are more ‘charitable’ than others). The acquisition cost of the item is obviously low, but the running costs need to be covered by something. So, let’s support these places. That’s to say nothing of the obvious benefit of reducing landfill by reusing and recycling goods. Buy stuff there. Volunteer. Do what you can to help one person’s trash become another’s treasure.

Moving forward in time, but backwards in the blog: Remember the mention of the tarp roof? … well, if you ever plan on doing it, best to really rig it well. Last night, on a night when the battery was buggered (thus no lights) and I was already in for a late dinner (cooked in the dark), the flippin’ wind picked up to a howling gale right at dusk. So much so, it managed to rip an eyelet in the tarp right out and set the whole roof rig flapping about in a storm.

It was clear that this had to take priority, as the thing was whipping around all over the show, tearing further and a real danger of damaging something else. So, it was up the ladder with the freezing cold wind and rain buffeting both ladder and climber, holding a massive sheet of plastic akin to a sail. Needless to say, a little extra care was needed and it was no easy task pulling the rig taught against high wind gusts. Still, it needed to be done and I plan to strengthen the anchors and borders tomorrow with some more washing line. Fun night, last night.

Lessons learned: (in fairness, I knew these things prior, but thought I’d get away with what I’d rigged. >> WRONG)

1) the eyelets hold much better if the line is threaded through several points of contact as opposed to a one-point connection
2) if you find you do need to make a one-point contact, you’re best off not using the eyelet at all and instead looping your anchor line over a small rock twisted into the tarp
3) there needs to be extra strength (in some form) along the edges
4) if you want it to funnel water effectively, add some well thought-out rib lines to tighten and direct flex of the tarp more accurately, or it will just pool. Either way, it’s also going to have to be tight. Tighter than it will easily go. Work at it.
5) might like to consider a couple of ribs above the tarp to prevent it billowing upward too far in high winds. That sudden flex generates a lot of momentum that your anchors may not handle, so it is probably a good idea to limit the range.

This has been Hillbilly Home-Making 101 from the past couple of weeks. Really looking forward to the next chapter of dropping out of civilisation periodically. I miss that a lot.

An Ode to Rural NZ

DISCLAIMER: this was actually in Aussie, but you get the idea

‘Twas the first night of winter
and all through the south,
not one person had feeling
in ears, toes or mouth.

With shrivelled appendage
a shag was unlikely,
but the chill in the air
makes Aunt Gaye less unsightly.

Eleven toes all bundled
up in my onesie,
I pluck on my banjo
‘til sleep makes me clumsy.

Then with a yawn,
I settle for bed
with nought but sweet silence
to clutter my head.

Although not exclusively the domain of New Zealand, one of the great things about this place is the small towns. Even though it’s fun to mess with people who know no better, Aotearoa is not all grass skirts, inbreeding, sheep and gumboots. There are a few notable cities too, but “meh” is the first word that springs to mind when I think of them. On the world stage, they’re nothing to write home (or blog) about. This blog is all about small-town New Zealand.

The best thing is the diversity you get among those who choose to make these places home. Whether it be for seasonal work or for the whole of their lives, people tend live less to a formula at the margins. Here in Motueka for example, you have people living in shanty towns put together purely to house fruit pickers at harvest season living right down the road from the multi-millionaire owners of one of the country’s largest produce and seafood companies.

Furthermore, there are people choosing alternative option for housing just like I am. I ran into one guy living in a landlocked boat. His trimaran may have its floats detached, but it is perfectly seaworthy and set to be returned to its natural habitat once he’s done a few touch-ups. Until then, he enjoys the quiet of farm life in a simple and compact housing alternative.

There are also several house trucks, a couple of converted buses, and the odd permanent caravan or shipping container home. Many of whom are living in intentional communities like Riverside (mentioned in my previous blog), the Hari Krshna community or their own sustainable living alternatives.

My favourite house truck so far. She’s a work in progress, but she’s a thing of beauty

The openness to alternative living exists alongside alternative options for dying too. Living Legacies (Check out http://livinglegacies.co.nz/ for more info. You’re bound to die after all.) was New Zealand’s first eco-funeral service and is based right here in Motueka. I didn’t realise they existed. Yet, apparently they do. This is something I am especially rapt about, as it has long been my wish to have very specific burial arrangements, which I previously thought to be illegal. Picture this:

      Burial under an apple tree with several varieties of apples grafted to it, in order to provide fruit         year-round. My remains to be buried in a biodegradable container, allowing them to nourish           the growing tree. Finally, a sculpted zombie hand sticking out from beneath the ground holding       a sign saying “See, I told you I was sick”.

On further consultation with Living Legacies, these particular arrangements technically still ARE illegal, but only because one can currently only be buried under native trees in a natural burial park. And apparently zombie hands are not considered natural… yet… so that may also not be allowed. Still, it’s encouraging that we’re halfway there. Perhaps it’ll all be sorted by the time I croak.

Along with alternative and/or rural living comes an openness about technology. It could be called an experimental mind set, resourcefulness, creative solutions or the “number eight wire” mentality.

One such engineering genius, is to be found at the local farmer’s market every Sunday. His claim to fame is guitars made from hubcaps along with random, assorted knickknacks.

This guy plays a mean hubcap slide guitar, man!

He is only one of the many colourful characters who make up this wonderfully community-centred event. Others include all the fundraisers for the new local pool and the vibrant local amateur theatre scene. It would be easy to see the market as a mere place of sales, but it’s really a meeting place about the preservation of local trade and community spirit, which is so often lost in larger centres. It is also a place to find wonderful things like this book: Wizardology

Best book ever. ‘Nuff said

Perhaps the allure of such a beautifully unique oddity escapes those who are more ‘grown-up’ than I. But for me, this thing is awesome. With all its flaps and feathers; gemstones and slides; moving part and even miniature books, I can’t wait to show it to my nieces and nephews. It’s everything an outstanding kid’s book/wizard manual should be.

In closing “All hail small town goodness”. Now I’m off to catch my wife, stick her back legs in me gumboots, grab her by the wool and make sweet love. Night all.

Digging in for the Winter

May 31st 2016

dog digger
Click the pic for an almost completely unrelated video of dogs doing cute stuff in snow 😉 Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fY_c3qWKFS4 (youtube.com)

Setting up (semi)long-term. That was today’s mission. Upon returning from a short trip back to city life, I’ve been blessed with new appreciation for simplicity. So it was with a sense of lightness that I undertook today’s work. And it is with new hope that I review the last few weeks and sit down to write this blog for you.

So, while it has been a while since my last blog, it’s been far from idle time. It’s been more like a reorganisation or re-evaluation as life takes me in its currents. Rather than seeking white waters, it’s been a time to careen through the wider sections of the river: to consciously be and consider.

Coming up to the beginning of June, I’ve become acutely aware that this unusual journey into my wants and needs has been going on for about five months. The first month was mostly a time of reflection and destressing from a life that I knew to be wrong for me. With a vague idea of what onward looked like, I charged ahead trying to build the skills I’d need and edge myself closer. Next came cost of living reductions with the goal of maintaining a level of comfort. The renovation was the start of trying to re-invent what a lifestyle could be. I made plans (“When man plans, God laughs”) that didn’t really work out and after a short period of disappointment, moved on to explore more a hotbed of alternative living. The plan (again with the divine laughter…) was to pass through and just kind of have a nosey but two months on, it’s looking to be turning into something quite different.

Winter has reared its chilly head. In fact, the chill was such that one of my caravan windows cracked this morning as the morning light thawed the frost. The rain has also come after weeks and weeks of beautiful Tasman sun kisses. My newly tanned skin is no better insulated for the cold though. Luckily the recent experiments with bubble wrap and a rug plus an extra duvet are paying dividends.

A string of interesting WWOOFers has been a source of plentiful entertaining conversation. One of whom taught me HEAPS and rekindled an interest which fell away just as it was born: wild food. You may recall from a previous post (Coasting) that I made an attempt at identifying edible plants. However, I really had no idea how to begin and quickly got overwhelmed by the whole thing. There are a lot of plants out there and armed only with a field manual, it’s difficult to know what to look for, where, or whether to choose a plant and hunt it or, to try to find a plant first and identify it after. Luckily, this wild food guru gave me some pointers. He was also an avid dumpster diver and reminded me the shameful amount of ‘waste’ that our modern societies produce and throw away despite it being perfectly sound food.

It’s inspiring to see someone who has mastered using naturally occurring resources, be they completely natural or occurring naturally as a result of habitual human processes. Another WWOOFer may just have introduced me to my illustrator which leads me to the next, quite unexpected dilemma.

Now, part one was expense reduction: recognising the current limit in my situation (the drain on my meagre earnings). That’s going pretty well at this stage, all things considered. Part two is addressing the limit of income without trading off time. This one obviously has some complications… at least for those of us without surplus cash to invest. It is NOT however impossible and these days, with the internet, is becoming more and more achievable. My planned path at this stage is to produce some books about my driving passion for improving animal (and their humans’) welfare. Again the Gods guffawed. There have been complications, but still I plug on. Faced with the removal of my last excuse for not moving forward (the rest were removed by an encounter in Waihi), I’m forced to confront the real issue.

Despite the logical and compelling arguments of several authors and even a personal friend who embody entrepreneurial success, I struggle to embrace it. As it boils down, it’s becoming clear that the idea of having others do work on my behalf is a psychological sticking point. Unfortunately, this is what the whole idea of delimiting wealth creation hinges on. It’s not the first time that I’ve delved deeply into the depths of my psyche in an attempt to create life change. On the contrary, it’s become kind of a compulsive behaviour. However, every now and then, if you choose to stretch your comfort zone or challenge your beliefs, you hit a wall. This is one. Pair it with fears of both failure AND success and you’ve got a real mess. Alas, I digress and that’s for me to work out, not for you to suffer through.

Luckily, I’ve happened upon a couple of ways to earn an income without wasting my time by spending my time doing things I love. They don’t pay that well, but if you refer back to action point one (i.e. expense reduction), things are shaping up nicely. While you’ve no doubt hear people paying lip service to the idea that “less is more”, it turns out there really is truth to it. Sitting here in my tiny, unheated (though surprisingly well-insulated) caravan, I feel content and peaceful. My wardrobe consists of the same handful of shabby clothes brought to New Zealand in one suitcase. A small store of basic food lies in plain containers. A few key possessions bought for their utility rather than their service to an ego surround me or fill drawers and storage nooks. Still, the clutter of useless “stuff” creeps in.

But a funny thing happens when you choose to reduce consumption: you appreciate the things you do have and the things you do use. The empty space created allows gratitude for what comes your way. It also allows space for compassion for those who have less still. Furthermore, it helps to highlight the lure of things like drugs of misuse (coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, weed, naturally occurring drugs like adrenaline, or indeed anything harder) and the search for external acceptance which drives so much of human social behaviour. Taking a step back from habit causes us to examine the ‘why?’ behind actions. The lure of those habits doesn’t go away, although it lessens. What does happen is that a space is created between the self and the action. Well I suppose I can’t speak for you… or for anyone else for that matter… but that’s been my experience.

One unavoidable truth of such downsizing is that one is forced to be more conscious of resource consumption… or face the exhaustion of them. So far, I’ve been lucky enough to be linked to practically unlimited water supply, but electricity currently comes only from what can be generated by the sun and stored in the caravan’s battery. Gas for cooking is limited to what is left in the propane canister. And with money tighter, purchases are less frivolous. I am eternally grateful that these have become so clear.

The other thing to be grateful for is time. Reduction has brought free time: time to slow down and to enjoy the moment. For now, that time is spent enjoying my family (my dogs and my cousins), making improvements on my home comforts, listening to the sounds around me, feeling the breeze, smelling the flowers (occasionally also horse shit) and lie-ins reading books. Once I’ve got my home space set up, there should be time to start going bush again. This time I hope to develop a habit of harvesting wild food. All the while, taking time to explore and appreciate the stunning natural beauty of this area I get to call home.

Home Building- Week 3

March 24th-31st 2016

This is the last week of major internal changes. There will continue to be smaller changes for the foreseeable future, but the bulk of things have been done.

The wheel arch area on the door side has had several potential uses throughout the planning phase. First, I was thinking of installing a unit for keys, wallet, shoes, umbrella and other little things you need just as you are leaving or want to stash as you arrive. As the project came along though, I realised I had created other areas for these almost by accident. When I discovered the original use for that space in this model of caravan was a vanity unit/dresser, I considered restoration as an option, but finally, it was Piccolo that made the decision.

The little ramps I’d made were just too daunting for him and I wanted him to be comfortable with our home too. I could have trained him to accept the ramps, but I figured there was no point when he didn’t like them and was already ok with jumping up to the bed via the wheel arch. Why re-invent the wheel(arch)? So the first task of the week was insulating and tiling the arch structure in the same way the floor was done. Seemed as good a use of the excess materials as any.

It also made sense because the dogs are often tethered in situations where free roaming could be dangerous for them (i.e. places with inadequate fencing, near kiwi colonies or busy roads). The tiling covered the particle board cladding that was then the top layer. This gave it a protective layer to prevent wet ropes damaging this particle board covering.

Actually, plumbing was the FIRST job of the week… but I had no idea what I was doing and after trying for half a day to “fake-it-til-you-make-it”, I realised I should abandon that and seek some help from someone at the hardware store. So I moved on to the wheel arch that day and made a point of getting down to Mitre 10, Stratford the next day, where I picked up all the ideas and materials I needed to get the job done. Once it had been properly thought through and all the proper parts had been procured, it actually came together pretty easily. Everything lined up well and got cemented in place with no dramas. The result was a much more simple, accessible and watertight grey water line.

The table… Oh how I wish I’d not done the table how I did. It is by far the project that took up the most time and it was entirely because I’d tried to be too clever. The worst thing is once I had it all working great, I broke it. But that’s life. It still works, but when I’d finished it all, I went to drill a hole to hang the peg from. Unfortunately the place I chose to hang it (the top of one of the stabiliser rails) didn’t deal well with the vibrations from the drill. In fat, the vibrations shatters a vital piece of plastic holding the rail together. In the end, I think it got raised in perfect working order maybe three times. Now it is a much more sensitive operation. Still, it is handy to have a table at an ergonomically correct height. Even if my bachelor habits of computing on my lap and eating while standing at the bench are well-ingrained

The best thing this week was also one of the simplest. The bench extension makes all the difference when I consider practical application. It’s not even a metre long, but it created a storage place for my suitcase and hiking pack as well as a dumping ground for everything. Oh… and I suppose I could use it as a kitchen bench some day too. I went for simple on this design. A couple of pegs fit into the wall at one end and the other end rests on the current bench support. The hardest parts were making a piece to fit the available space out of off-cuts and lining up the pegs and holes. I am amazed how much difference a bench makes.

The next part was one of the things I enjoyed most in the whole thing. I liked the problem solving. I made two key pieces of furniture: a shelving unit and a wardrobe. Without them, there really wouldn’t have been much point in the whole restructure, as they made use of the vertical space available at the front end. But they were made to be light. Unfortunately, while the light materials were strong enough to stand alone, they didn’t really stack up when they were stacked up. My solution was to use lightweight plastic twine to lash the corners together and create diagonal tension braces. Happy to report that the plan worked out swimmingly.

The bed furnishings had been underway for a few days. They were projects I’d been slowly chipping away at in the evenings. The headboards/armrests and bed width extension all came from the previous second bed. It was just a matter of slowly chipping away at first making the pieces and then sewing the covers. The mattress cover was just a matter of downsizing the previous one and the headboards were old velvet curtains, repurposed to fit the need.

Next came the bookcase. This was a job which had been put off so many times I lost count. This time though, it wasn’t through procrastination or laziness, but through unexpected or unforeseen intermediate steps. Often, the reason was that I had to complete some other stage in the bed development before I was needed. Once the table was finally done and the trellis work was finished, there was no reason not to crack on. So that’s what was done.

Lesson learned from the wardrobe and shelving too. This time it seemed wise (since it was built from the same wood) to notch the joints for extra strength. The result was a very sturdy little support structure. Not a bad thing, since it was to support the bed base. I don’t know how often it will ever actually have books in it, as it will be moved at least twice a day, every day. It will, however be handy as a charging station once the inverter and USB ports are wired in. It’s a handy little addition.

Now, the curtains had actually been complete for about a week by now. However, I’d not worked out a solution to the morning condensation issue on cold mornings. I wanted to see if I could solve this dilemma before hanging the curtains, as the previous curtains had started to develop a little mould from the dampness in Turangi. It didn’t seem to be such an issue in Taranaki though and even though I was headed back to Turangi, I made the call to hang the curtains anyway. Being less porous, they are less prone to absorbing moisture. Time will tell whether it was a good call or not.

The final big job was sewing up the wardrobe skin. Originally, there was a skin planned for the storage shelves too. But on seeing the shelving, I decided that it was more practical to allow access to the crates from the top. After all, it’s only likely to be me in here most of the time and I don’t really mind if I can see what’s in my storage containers. Plus, it confused the hell out of me when I was trying to sew up my self-designed pattern. Luckily, technicraft in intermediate school and a very crafty mother had equipped me with the sewing skills I needed to get it done. I surprised myself when it not only fitted, but actually fitted closely enough to add a little more strength to the wardrobe. WIN! I don’t mind admitting I did an actual victory lap of the caravan when I tried it in place and it worked.

With that done, it meant that all the big things that would affect pack-down were now complete. It was time to test if the whole rig would still fold down. In theory, it should work fine. A couple of brackets would have to be moved because the bed height had changed. I’d have to work out how to pack everything so it overlapped or fitted around other things, but the theory worked. I was still nervous though. How often in the past have things worked in theory then failed miserably in practice? Luckily, this was one of the occasions where it all worked out as planned. In fact, the new configuration supports the walls more completely and permits less movement, so it stands to reason that travel will actually be less traumatic to the poor old girl.

Other little things still to come are: electrical work, which was delayed by non-delivery of parts from an eBay order; water catchment system; a toilet/shower extension. These projects are all at different stages.

The next step though, is the most important. Now that the rig is more homely, the plan is to set up a home and start learning through experience of farm life. Learning how to live a life of sustainable practice through experience of sustainable practice. First stop: back to Awhi Farm where I had arranged to set up shop for an extended period.

Home Building- Week 2

cover pic2

March 16th– 23rd 2016

Week two was a different beast. Having reclaimed all the materials from the previous version, this was more about CONstruction instead of DEstruction. The first project was the bed space, which consisted of several parts and which also had a few prerequisite jobs to do. You can watch a video summary of it on YouTube HERE

Getting the base level was first up. That meant getting everything done on the ground before permanently fastening the cabinet (which was to take the majority of the weight) to the floor. After measuring everything up and sketching up a few different alternatives, I decided to build a box to raise the area where the previous bed was. This was done entirely out of materials from the previous design and the trellis I was kindly donated by my hosts.

Because of the different thicknesses, this meant a box with two different levels and it all had to line up with the support on the other side of the caravan. So everything was dictated by the eight of the greywater pipeline and the housing around it. The table was specifically designed to flip over to rest on the housing and become the bed base on that side. This double purpose design is what allowed space to be freed up and more efficient use of the space.

Once that was built, I had to do the flooring I had planned before completing the bed. Again, this is because it was going to alter the height the bed would sit at. I chose a thin foam insulation and pre-glued vinyl tiles… which I will never choose again. Using these two things in combination was a nightmare. As soon as the tile touched the insulation later, it had to go down. It gripped instantly and couldn’t really be removed or repositioned without ripping the insulation. Alas, I did my best and came away with a passable result. I did however, opt to use a silicone sealant to fill the gaps between a few of the tiles as it wouldn’t be so flash to have water seeping down between the flooring layers and just sitting there to cause rot.

The other thing I was aware of (along similar lines) was the potential for moisture to build up under the storage spaces if things were stored on the floor. The solution: to raise the storage spaces off the floor slightly. Using the trellis once again, racks were created to fit the spaces and allow airflow between stored things and the floor.

Once all that was done, It was time to actually set down the bed. Another trellis layer was cut to size. Again, to prevent moisture build-up and to allow airflow under the mattress. It’s just a cheapy foam mattress without any of the fancy breathable technology of modern mattresses. Since it is essentially a large sponge, it obviously has the potential to soak up sweat and become mouldy. Best to help it aerate. The trellis/slat base needed to be cut in two lengthwise to effectively stow away under the mattress in ‘sofa mode’. It then gets hauled out and laid down side by side to become the slat base in ‘bed mode’.

The table performs well in its folded state and as a bed base. Once the book case is there to support the floating section in ‘bed mode’ it’ll be a lot stronger. Having said that, the overlapping nature of the bed design means it is already pretty strong and the forces are distributed along the whole base. Another small job to finish the base was to add an extension to the existing bed base. This is purely because the previous bed space was a little shorter and it just created a flat surface for the slats. That was whipped up just using off-cuts from other projects.

The second foam mattress was mercilessly brutalised to become the extra bed width. Off-cuts were strengthened with some small wooden flooring off-cuts to become arm rests that doubled as a headboard. Nothing fancy. It was just a big job of hacking things to pieces with a knife.

Sewing the outers for them was a little more delicate and was again made possible by the kind donation of my hosts. This time it was some old curtains. They were repurposed under an ad hock design pulled out of my nether regions. Luckily, it all worked out OK. Turns out I still remember how to use a sewing machine. Who knew?! This fact came in handy when creating curtains out of another set of donated, pre-loved curtains. All these projects were starting to come together and the caravan was really taking on a more comfortable feel.

With that all done (and with the arrival of news that the people I was housesitting for were returning early), it was time to turn attention to the front end of the caravan. This was always going to be more a case of furnishing than of renovation. Because of the way the caravan folds down, any extension above the folding point MUST be collapsible or removable. The main purpose of the design down this end was to use as much of the wall space as possible for storage. So everything had to be able to be stored in the new floor space created. I wanted everything to be light, but strong enough to handle movement during freight. This presented a few design challenges.

I opted for using the remainder of the (very light) trellis wood. It was solid, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the strength it had. This was an issue I took on the following week. But the main structures were built and ready to go. Again, they were made up entirely of recycled materials.

The other small project that I did, but failed to mention in the video was a bench extension. I opted for a design based on dowels running into the wall at one end and the bench just sitting on the existing bench support at the other. There’s a picture of it in the video, but no verbal explanation. With a curtain to be added later, it not only added bench space, but also created a storage space for things that wouldn’t be accessed too frequently.

That was pretty much what happened in week two. It was a busy week and was when I saw the caravan taking on new life. It was becoming a homely space instead of a travel space. It was pretty exciting to see actually. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but Casa de Stephen was really beginning to feel like home.