Living the Simplest Life: Shelter

My brother recently sent me a real estate link for the Eurelia Hall. It can be yours for $35,000. Built in 1909 it is 'set on a large allotment of 4047m2 with quiet surroundings,' according to the real estate blurb (the real estate blurb also claims that the hall is circa 1876, but with less than a minute's research I can confidently state it was opened with a concert, followed by dancing and supper, on November 27, 1909). My brother also sent a map of the quiet surroundings.

Yep. Quiet. Very quiet. Eurelia is nearly 300km north of Adelaide on the southern edge of the Flinders Ranges. Its population, from the 2016 census, is 14. And of course, as I contemplated the Eurelia Institute Hall which features 'both a kitchen and a supper room with cement floors', 

I did the mind experiment which provides so much entertainment for me as I look at other people's houses while I walk the dog. First, I see any spare land (such as lawns) as real estate begging to be covered with fruit trees and vegetable gardens with a chicken coop on the side. Just think how much gardening could be done on all the scrubby grass around that hall. Think pergolas covered with grape vines and citrus trees and shade houses for summer greens. And then I contemplated how it could be used for some interesting purpose.

I looked up the mortgage calculator and found that on a 30 year loan the repayments would be $133 per month. Or $31 per week. Imagine if you and two of your best friends signed up for a mortgage together. Suddenly your housing costs are $10 per week. I'm thinking the chances are good that there are plenty of opportunities to do some creative recycling with old building materials found along the streets and the tip at Eurelia. Three bijou little residences either in the hall itself or in the expansive supper room with a communal kitchen. Could you convert some space for tourist accommodation? You are close to the Flinders Ranges. Could you start a yoga/permaculture/macrobiotic cooking retreat? Could you carry on your consulting/writing/accounting career from Euralia - probably, if it has internet. It may not, of course. In which case you could start a social media detox meditation retreat and write a lot of letters. Or buy a small printing press and start your own magazine or quietly get on with your oil painting or make ceramics. Or become a jackaroo on one of the nearby properties.

Alright, so there are not many $32,000 properties out there for sale, although there may be more than you think.. but what are some other creative ways to find shelter that will save your pennies and let you live the life you want?

You can buy your childhood school bus and live in it.

You can swap work for shelter. Farms often have extra houses on their properties that aren't lived in and negotiations can sometimes be entered into. The builder who built my verandah lost his house in a divorce and lived for a while on a farm, renovating the little farm-hand house in exchange for rent. Years ago there was a farming family in my homeschool group who rented an empty house on their property very cheaply to another homeschooling family. It was a win-win situation - company for the isolated farm kids and their parents and cheap rent for a family temporarily out of work. 

You can build a $12 dome house on someone else's land. 

You can live in a bus called Edna and host free tea parties.

You can live in a bus for twenty five years to save up for land and then build a house for $1000. We don't need fancy houses. My favourite houses are small and handmade and furnished with things found and hand crafted. Paul bought his land twenty years ago and put up a tin shed to live in temporarily. He is still living in that shed. It is not fancy by any stretch of the imagination but it has everything he needs. Let me say this again. We don't need fancy houses. 

Maybe you already have a house. Maybe you are renting or paying off a mortgage and money is tight. What then? The historical solution is to add more people. Once upon a time anyone who had a spare room rented it out. Often if there wasn't a spare room, someone was shifted around until there was. We have an expectation that children should all have their own rooms, but sharing a room with a sibling or two is how most children grew up before the 80s. And after. My three oldest children shared a room until The Boy was eleven (we were renovating. There were always several rooms out of service). We just carved him out a sliver of a room of his own in time for the youngest to move out of our room and in with her sisters and all three of them shared a room for another couple of years. The youngest two shared a room for years after that. The funny thing was that as the eldest children got their own rooms they would often go back to the communal bedroom for sleepovers. They were lonely for bedtime camaraderie!

Taking in boarders comes in all sorts of forms. Maybe it's a friend or a cousin or Grandma, or the grandkids. Maybe it's a stranger who becomes a friend. Maybe it's a disaster and has to come to an end in a hurry. Maybe it works out so well that you have a permanent companion or lovely 'aunty' for your kids. When I was a teenager I boarded with family friends in Adelaide so I could go to high school while my parents worked in New Guinea. I went from having one sibling to having five and it was an opportunity for me to see how other families live. 

When I was a new mother, home alone with a baby in a new town I encountered two couples who had taken the student share house concept and extended it to family life. When both couples got pregnant at the same time they decided to rent a big house together so the new parents had each other for support and the babies had instant friends. I remember being so envious of this arrangement as I was finding new parenthood difficult in the extreme and very isolating.

Beyond the spare bedroom is the granny flat or converted garage. Lots of people have attached garages these days. They can be made into little flats. My brother rented a single garage for a couple of years. It had been turned into a tiny apartment and still had room for his motorbikes. It wasn't spacious but there was enough room for him and the cat. Another use for garages is to rent them out as storage units or parking spaces. I live near a hospital with limited parking and there is a house down the road with a double garage that is rented to hospital workers for parking.

One of my friends is a single mum with a mortgage to pay. She lives in a typical old Launceston house built into the side of a hill. It has three levels and she has made the upstairs and the downstairs into apartments to rent out and lives in the central original house space with her daughters. The downstairs was once a nasty old unused garage that looked like a concrete cave. It was the kind of place that might have had bats, but now it is a beautiful, functional, wheelchair-accessible space that is currently rented out but could become a place that my friend's elderly mother could move into, or that she could move into herself in the future when her kids move out. And now her house will produce an income far into the future.

I think this is one of the key ways to think about our houses. They are not just places that shelter us, they can be the hub of our productive lives. They can produce a harvest for us in so many ways. They can provide income when we rent parts of them out, they can grow food and create energy, they can house home businesses and be the place from which we make a living. This has always been the historical reality for houses - that they are the centre of economic activity. We are currently living in an odd anomaly where houses are for sleeping in and watching TV and people go out to work from them, and make money for other people instead of for themselves. But that is a story for another day..

My house is a little cottage on an ordinary street in a regional town. The backyard grows food for me, the back verandah dries my clothes. The woodshed stores all the heat that keeps us warm. I was able to buy the cottage outright when I sold a large house and bought a small one, and not having a mortgage gives me a lot of options. Since the third childling moved out in January I have a spare room for the first time in many years. If I still did have a mortgage I would be thinking very hard about renting out that room to pay it off. And think about this. There are a lot of people who need a small, cheap place to live. Offering up our collective spare rooms could be doing a lot of good in the world as well as paying off the mortgage. As it is I am hanging onto the spare room for now because for the first time I will have somewhere for the kiddos to stay when they come back to visit other than stranding them on the loungeroom floor or squashing them into the tiny study where there is room for a single mattress but nowhere to actually walk. Still, if I ever need the extra income, room mate it is.. 

What I do love about my little house is that it is the centre of the whole life of both of its occupants. I work from home and the kiddo is now a bona fide homeschooler. This is the centre of operations. School work, writing, gardening, cooking, preserving, chopping wood, making, repairing, creating and storing hundreds of precious jam jars. It all happens here..

I would love to hear the ways in which you stretch your house to make it earn a living for you, or creative ways that you have found shelter. Tell us what your friends and cousins and great-grandparents did to provide themselves with shelter as well. I want to hear all the stories!


Mary said…
Intriguing post! I really enjoy the frequency of your posts these days. When I moved in with my partner twenty years ago, I put my house up for rent and am still doing that. My sister in California moved into her study and rents her 3 bedrooms through Airbnb. I have to say that I am a rather private person, as is my partner, so we both like having a lot of space. Visitors are welcome but it's always nice to get back to just us.
Treaders said…
I grew up in Birmingham, England, which was heavily bombed during the war. I remember after the war my uncle and his wife lived in what we called "prefabs" but which were basically just Nissan huts or left over air raid shelters. I was only a little kid but I remember actually loving his place. And I'm just curious but do you follow Bealtaine Cottage. She's very interesting too!
Jo said…
Mary, I couldn't cheerfully do what your sister does and have new people in the house every few days. I would never want to run a bed and breakfast for the same reason, although I know people who do, and who love it. I could have one long term person live with me though, as long as I liked them! I think that one day I will do what you are doing, in fact it is part of my retirement plan!

Anna, I wonder if you can articulate what it is that you loved about your prefab? I think that small children especially love small, safe spaces. I spent my whole childhood carving out little cubbies and dens all over the place. Here in Australia there was a severe housing shortage after the war, and my parents both spent years as they grew up living with relatives before their parents were able to build a house of their own.
Jo said…
Anna, oh, and yes, I do love the story of Bealtaine Cottage. I just added the blog in my side bar. If you click on the menu icon up on the left on the home page you will find a cornucopia of excellent blogs!
Anonymous said…
A lot of food for thought here, as always. I'm with Mary on the privacy, I would find it very hard to share my home as I like a lot of quiet time, and it might be hard to find someone who would be willing to tolerate me practising Rachmaninov at all hours! That said, if I were on my own and the right person came along I could probably do it as I imagine I would eventually get a bit lonely and sick of the sound of my own thoughts. I would happily have one or both kids back as I do miss them...

My home gives us such a lot. It's a small cottage on a big block and very cosy indeed. Aside from giving us fruit, vegetables, nuts and soon eggs again, I also have my studio here. This means I can teach in the comfort of my own home without travel and without rent. I have always felt so grateful for this. I am currently extending the vegetable garden and may be able to have an occasional stall at our local farmer's market when I have an excess. A couple of months ago I opened the garden as part of our local 'homegrown' tour and over 100 enthusiastic people came to look and talk about growing food. So I had the thought that I could occasionally hold little classes to show newbies how I do things. I am absolutely not an expert, but somehow manage to grow a lot of food in spite of the random and lazy way I garden!

Another thought is that I could allow a young person to teach in my studio for a little rent if I was no longer wanting to teach. You are sparking a lot of ideas this morning Jo!

If I had not just put two big rain water tanks on my driveway I possibly could have built a tiny home there. I always fancied renting it out to a single woman doing her PhD here at the uni! I think mostly we don't need a big home, but when you grow and preserve food, mend and make - that does require a bit of space for tools etc...But not everyone wants to grow food and some are happy to pop to the shops a lot, so could do really well in a little space. For me, the drought, fires and pandemic have all made me glad and oh so grateful that I live as and where I do. We can literally just shut the doors and be fine for months.

Anonymous said…
Jo, I can't for the life of me find the home page or the menu icon - what am I doing wrong?? You mentioned some links the other day that would be put up in the side bar, and I thought, side bar? I cannot find it. I am hopeless!

Anonymous said…
PS If you haven't already subscribed to Green Renaissance, their latest film is an absolute gem.

Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Beautifully said! :-)

Yup, over the years I've spoken to people about constructing a house and advised them to keep it small, comfortable and simple. Let's just say that it's good advice that was often blithely ignored even by people who could not afford to do as they were doing... Oh well, but I followed that advice myself and then set about making the land around it both productive and beautiful. It is a creative act (much like writing) and it is good to get the ideas and examples out there because they'll be needed for sure. Basically it is impossible to construct or live in a large house and not require a huge resource or energy base.

Two Kelpie pups are on the floor behind the desk and they are playing tug-of-war over kindling. In between that game, they're helpfully explaining just why stringy bark is so described. Very instructive and most helpful. The rug that they are doing this strenuous activity on is excellent at retaining the fibres. It is possible that the kelpies are producing a low tech version of dental floss. :-) So much fun, better head out and see what the chickens are up to.


Jo said…
Madeleine, I hear you on being grateful to have a safe space to retreat to in difficult times. All that saving and hard work pays off at the moment when you know that you can stay warm and fed in your own small space.
I will be interested to see what plans you come up with. I love doing the 'what if' thought experiments and crazy brainstorming to come up with plans for future proofing and resilience both for my house and my lifestyle.
Ok, to get to the sidebar first click on the All The Blue Day title to get you to the homepage with photos of a bunch of posts on it. To the left of the All The Blue Day title is an icon with three horizontal lines. Click on that to find many excellent blogs!
And don't worry, it took me days to find that myself when I set up this new blog template. I knew it had to be somewhere but it took a teenager to point it out to me. The advantage of this information is that now that you know it, whenever you see this icon on any site, not just blogger, you will know that it denotes the menu. My internet experience has expanded considerably since I discovered this!
simplelife said…
I've been thinking about this post all morning. I'm quite conflicted about our house, now that the kids have almost left, still a little bit of boomerang happening, our house is really too big for us, it's out of town so requires driving to everything, and is starting to need more serious maintenance as we are aging and slowing down.
Currently we give our neighbour use of the 3 paddocks for his cattle and in exchange he looks after it for us. It's quiet here, I love the birds, we have good neighbours and during the lockdown I really appreciated our space and the freedom we still had.
But sometimes I feel a bit lonely and isolated, and I dislike all the cleaning that still seems to need to be done. I would like to be able to walk to the shop for milk, the library and the beach. But we own it and there isn't much on the market in the location id like to be or the price I want to spend. I know we would struggle to share our space as both hubby and myself are quite introverted and the design of our house doesn't lend itself to separate areas.
I think I'll just keep my eye on the real-estate sites and continue on here for the next few years anyway. Hubby will be able to retire in 5 or 6 yrs so that's probably a better time to consider moving, the kids will hopefully be more settled and we will have more options of where we can go open to us.
Cheers Kate.
Anonymous said…
Oh my, I cannot believe how long I have been using the internet without knowing about the three black lines! Thank you for your help, Jo. I went onto a few other sites just to see the black lines and click on them! Yep, it's a thing!

Jo said…
Madeleine, Be Kind, yes, just watched it. A message for these days:)

Chris, Paul and I are planning an upgrade to his shed one day (compact, energy efficient) and we ave already been looking at photos and posts of your house on your blog. We have a request - would you consider putting up a gallery of photos of your house and links to the building posts so we can learn from what you have done?
Yes, small is beautiful when it comes to energy use. Now that I have spent much time on paul's off-grid property I can see in real time the limitations of energy production and what exactly can be used at any one time and how much technical knowledge you need to use an off-grid system properly. It's a real art and also science.
Ah, puppies. I make enough mess with stringybark logs even without them. But stringybark burns so nicely that it's worth the mess..

Kate, I have the same thoughts about moving out to Paul's one day - I love his land, the birds, the animals, the space, the trees.. but here I love walking everywhere. The library! It's a real dilemma, and moving house is one of those really big decisions. Maintenance is also a real issue as we age. I spent an afternoon doing a garden consultation with a young woman in her 20s who has a new giant garden and boundless energy. I'd forgotten about that kind of youthful get up and go when faced with a huge project!
Anonymous said…
Like you, I also own my home mortgage free. What peace of mind that gives, right? Interestedly, paying off ones mortgage is not a financial decision that is encouraged; at least, here in the USA (insert eye roll). It has to do with tax credits, and making your money work for you. I ignored that financial advise, and paid off the mortgage after my husband passed.
I have an acre, and am adding more fruit trees to make the property provide for my needs more. My gardening skills are atrocious, but I persist in growing some food. Although, I have not produced additional income with the property, in exchange for storing a trailer for a friend, I bartered for some groceries, and some maintenance work.
I have hosted several big family events here (weddings), and have thought about this as an income producer in the future. My mother who is in her 80s will probably move in with me in the next couple of years- which will be a financial help for us both.
As always, thank you for another thought provoking post!
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Respect. The house works both in the heat and the cold. I'll see what I can send you. The design can be scaled up and/or down, but too big and it becomes unaffordable on many levels. And if you can wield a chainsaw, well let's just say that a hammer and saw are easier tools.

Exactly too, it works like how it works, and not like how the grid works. You know, very few people understand what you just wrote. Very, very few.


Anonymous said…
I love the Eurelia Hall! I hope it will find a new owner to cherish it. I read a really interesting article today on the ABC News page, about the Art Nouveau-style huts which used to be at the base of kunanyi/Mt Wellington in Hobart. They were amazing and very beautiful, although I don't imagine they were built to last very long. Such attention to detail, and all built using available materials.

Linda in NZ
Anonymous said…
mortgage not gone yet here! Sydney mortgages!!! But if we had not spent money on travel and alcohol and going out and all manner of knick knacks, it probably could be gone by now. Our 20-something boys still live here - Mr S won't let me charge them board - he gets off by being the provider! One of the 20-somethings has not intention of leaving.

I don't want anyone else living with us - I like to retreat to my house after the noise and demands of the outside world, especially work.Though I would move my mother in, in a flash, if she'd come.
Jo said…
Patricia, I have heard that it makes sense to invest rather than pay off the mortgage. Well, it makes sense right up until the moment that the stock market crashes and you lose your job all in the same month which is the hard reality for many, many folks right now. I very much believe in investing in tangible assets and knowledge. I am very impressed that you can manage an acre of garden. I have trouble sorting out a little suburban block!

Chris, thank you in advance for whatever you can provide, house wise. We both very much like the farm plan you have on your web site - maybe you could add house and farm photos and post links there as well? I remember you did a series of posts on your house build with lots of good photos but I couldn't locate them when i looked last (ok, I didn't look that hard..)

Linda, I just looked it up.. I do love the concept of building with what is available in the local landscape. Then you get a house that looks and feels in place.

Lucinda, well, living with your son and your mother counts as other people. What a lovely extended family household that would be! These suggestions are essentially for people who need to survive on a smaller income all of a sudden. It's then that you suddenly find yourself doing things you wouldn't normally dream of.. and sometimes it turns out ok, or even better. And it's often family or friends who end up living in your house in hard times, which might be a really positive outcome.. although, never a bed of roses to share house space for the introverts among us:)

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