“Where do you live?” It’s a question I field often, and the answer has changed several times over the last five years. First, there was the caravan on my parents’ farm in Milton, then a tent in Tabourie, and finally, the back of my van, no fixed address. It’s been an exciting and rewarding experiment, allowing me to save money (and avoid debt), simplify my material possessions (and attitude towards “stuff”), and spend my time working on projects that mattered to me. Still, it’s confronting for a lot of people. Why choose to squat in your parents’ backyard or driveway when you’re in your late twenties? Are you INSANE?

No, not entirely. It all started when I took a gap year and worked on organic farms (through a combination of farm-sitting and WWOOFing). I met people living in rammed earth and strawbale homes, yurts, roof-tents, ancient stone cottages, and rusted vans. Entire worlds crafted within unusual spaces, almost living extensions of their inhabitants, filled with warmth, love, and most importantly, freedom. I was hooked. Over the past five years, I’ve attempted to do just that – create a simple space just for me.

THE CARAVAN

caravan external 2caravan framingcaravan desk

Screenshot 2018-06-21 14.56.49

I lived in a reclaimed caravan for three years on the family farm while I was working as a market gardener and studying horticulture. I loved the sneaky afternoon naps listening to the trees rustle, writing with a cup of tea at my little table, growing my own wild garden of herbs, salad greens, raspberries, sunflowers, and pumpkins, and working in my little mushroom laboratory.

PROS: I picked up the caravan and annexe for free, and after a good clean and coat of paint, it was more than serviceable. As a non-permanent dwelling, the caravan meets council regulations. It was a cosy and functional space, though logistically I still relied on the main farmhouse for kitchen and bathroom access.

CONS: The caravan was poorly insulated, making it a hot metal box in summer and deep-freeze in winter. It also leaked.  Bitumen waterproofing only works for so long, and using a tarp as an emergency doona cover isn’t much fun. Don’t be surprised if none of your friends come to visit in winter, and your dates don’t pan out.

Verdict: An excellent cheap home that’s easy to fill with character. For long-term viability, you’d need to spend some $$$ insulating and waterproofing. A compost loo and slightly bigger kitchen would be ace too.

THE TENT

tent

I lived in a CanvasCamp Sibley 600 Twin Pro for a year on a bush block in Tabourie. This tent is a BEAST at 20 square metres with high ceilings and enormous A-frame windows and doors. I loved lying on the deck at night to watch meteor showers, reading in the sun, and curling up in layers of blankets on crisp winter nights, listening to the waves just past the bush behind me. I lived out my childhood treehouse and fort dreams on a timber platform overlooking the lake…for a while, anyway.

PROS: I mean, far out, this was a seriously beautiful tent. The canvas was incredible quality and extremely breathable, and the interior was always flooded with soft light. It was super spacious as the entire tent is supported on two central poles, leaving plenty of pacing/lounging space inside. Council was also happy – like the caravan, this isn’t classed as a permanent dwelling (however, I did have to undergo a lengthy retro-active approval process for the platform I built to pitch it on, oops!).

CONS: The tent was difficult to furnish – its sloped walls and roughly octagonal shape made it difficult to incorporate traditional furniture (and it can’t touch the canvas, or it’ll syphon moisture from outside). Mould was unfortunately inevitable: despite the manufacturer’s “long-term use” guarantee, the tent only survived for a year exposed to the elements (despite regularly scrubbing the canvas with vinegar/eucalyptus/salt). This was pretty crappy as I then caused a biggish contamination incident in my mushroom lab, walking in with spore-covered clothes courtesy of my tent. Not great. Perhaps unsurprisingly, friends and dates alike preferred to sleep in the cottage on the property.

Verdict: Unfortunately, #tentlife was too good to be true. For shorter stints, it would work, but the Instagram and Pinterest version entirely overlooks the spore-laden air and stained canvas.

THE VAN

Screenshot 2018-06-21 14.59.20

I’ve been sleeping in my 2002 Toyota Townace for the last six months or so after the sad demise of my beloved tent. I recently swapped three weeks of puppy-sitting for a friend’s labour and now have a freaking awesome platform and drawers in my new digs (I feel like I came out on top – I got to hang out with a cute puppy AND enjoy my rad new sleeping space).

PROS: I can live wherever! I’m mobile! It’s super cosy; I’ve spent the winter in a nest of blankets surrounded by fairy lights. Discretion also means that council never needs to know.

CONS: Condensation can be frustrating; even cracking the windows only helps so much, particularly if it’s already humid. It’s necessary to air out bedding regularly. I’m still largely dependent on external access to kitchen and bathroom facilities, and I’ll admit I do sometimes miss my cathedral tent ceilings.

Verdict: It’s a winner! I love being able to sleep wherever and have all my stuff with me – I’ll never be short of a raincoat/jeans/mug/yoga mat again.

bottle wall

So what does the future hold? I’m currently planning on building a tiny house. Long-term, it’d be nice to have a dedicated work space, somewhere stationary to store my things and a decent-sized place to cook/wash up. I’ll be combining my favourite elements of all three alternative homes – the caravan, tent, and van – to create my dream little house, mortgage-free.

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5 replies on “Frugal living options: a five-year experiment

  1. You’re living my housing dream! Thank you for sharing your insights into the different modes of habitation, they all look beautiful and you’ve certainly brought them to life with your descriptions. For my own interest, I do wonder how they each would go with two occupants…
    I hope the van-life continues to be van-tastic and that you get to enjoy all of that the coast has to offer in stunning front-door views!

    Post script – As I am living vicariously through you, is a houseboat on the cards any time in the future…? 😉

    1. Anna!! Loving your Vietnam updates lady.

      The caravan and tent would work for two people, but the van would definitely be a stretch (haha).

      Oh my gosh, I would love to stay on a houseboat, they have rad ones on the Clyde River (though I got pretty seasick during my honours research on the high seas, so maybe not for an extended period of time).

      XXX

      1. Ever since my family stayed alongside the Murray River en route from Canberra to the NT and I saw the folks serenely sailing or docking in their house boats I have wanted to live in one…that was when I was 10, so the desire hasn’t been quelled in 20 years! The Clyde would be a such a beautiful choice – we found a free camp site literally on its banks one summer and it was so cool and quiet.

        Thank you for the occupancy information, we had fun hiring a camper van in QLD last year, but they have markedly more space than a van, so it is always worth knowing how much stretching would be involved! Palatial tents sound like a winner, though 🙂

        Glad you’re enjoying the Vietnam updates – we’re in Taiwan at present and it is strange and interesting and confusing and enjoyable to be somewhere different!

        Xx

  2. Love love love. I’ve always been a nester. I love my creature comforts, really old dark brown furniture and beautiful art. I don’t have expensive stuff, but I have lots of beautiful stuff because when you’re a visual artist, stuff talks to you and sometimes you want to make it part of your home. I have a friend who, since her children left home, has always been able to pack her entire collection of belongings into a small car. It’s what suits her.
    I think we are all like the different plants in a garden, each of us finding our best niche. The good news is, you have a nester as a friend, which means that while ever I draw breath you will never be homeless. You are welcome here any time, whether you sleep in your van or actually make it into the house. ❤

    1. Thank you, Meg! I’m definitely not anti-stuff; I love visiting friends’ places filled with memories and warmth and joy. I think it’s important to live in a beautiful space, especially when it’s your own definition of beauty. You’re completely right that we’re all different, and the spaces we love will of necessity also be unique.

      I’m based at my Mum’s place on the south coast in my van, so I’m not technically homeless (yet!), but thank you so much for your kind and generous offer – I’m so lucky to have incredible people like you in my life.

      XXX

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