Out Of The Loop: My New Life In The Bush

by

Time to move on

Around May 2022, my lovely landlords told me that, like so many others during the Covid lockdown, they had been reassessing their lives. They wanted to let me know they were planning on selling my apartment. They offered me the opportunity to buy it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough money to make the purchase.

Out of the loop

I was out of the property loop, and the apartment went on the market. They set a date for the first open home and I made the place look stunning — yet still stylish and comfortable.

It sold at that first open home!

Did I shoot myself in the foot?

Maybe. But I have pride in making sure my home is welcoming and comfortable. The same pride and integrity meant I had to present the place in the best way possible. Plus, I had fantastic landlords; I couldn’t do anything less. Certainly, I’m the opposite of those ‘renters from hell’ you see depicted on TV programmes.

My Raglan apartment

My Raglan Apartment

So then it was a matter of waiting until the purchaser met all the legal and financial requirements. After that, I had another 90 days before I needed to leave.

My last day was 2 December 2022.

I had 5-6 months from when I knew the house was on the market until I had to leave.

So what did I do?

I’m a great believer in creative visualisation, so I made a mind map of everything I’d like in my next dwelling so it would help focus my visualisations. I added photos that depicted the essence of my forthcoming space. These were minimal requirements. After all, there’s only the dog, the parrot and me. I needed an extra room for seeing clients, and from which I could run my business, but I wasn’t looking for a mansion. In fact, I’ve never lived in a large home. My apartment was only about 900 square feet, and that included the garage.

I intuitively thought I was going to buy a house

However, I’ve been out of the housing market for a while, and during this time, house prices have escalated. And, while I’m grateful to still be in business after a miserable couple of years financially because of Covid restrictions, logically — short of winning the lottery — it made no sense that I could buy somewhere.

And yes, I began buying lottery tickets.

I also began an advertising campaign

Confident I’d find somewhere suitable, I put posters up all around town, letting everyone know I needed a new place, and asked everyone I knew to keep a lookout for me and to get in touch if they heard of anything. Local Facebook Groups gave me loads of positive remarks about what a great tenant I’d be. Leads were few, but I followed up every one.

On two previous occasions when I’d rented in Raglan, I’d only received 6 weeks’ notice and found a new place with 2 or 3 weeks to spare.

This time, things were different

Raglan is a small (but growing) coastal town on the West Coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Famous for its surfing and ‘left-hand break’, it attracts people from all around the globe.

Raglan Market

Raglan Market

It’s home to a multicultural community — one of the main reasons I settled here in 2009. Its growing popularity has meant increasing numbers of people living here.

In addition, there are many holiday homes

These are occupied by people who are part-time community members, and who may have little idea of the housing situation for many permanent residents. These factors, together with the increasing number of Airbnbs, the governments’ more stringent rental property standards, and a general shortage of housing nationwide, have resulted in a diminishing supply of rentals and escalating often unaffordable prices.

The very few options offered were unsuitable; either far too expensive (and often also too big) or too small for my needs. And I wasn’t being picky by any means.

I continued to visualise while packing up my stuff

I started packing slowly at first, contemplating what I needed amongst the stuff I’d accumulated, both personally and for work. In this phase, I gave away a lot of stuff. I also sold items via Social media groups.

One day, Celia, a former business client who’d also attended the Power of Personal Change course about 12 years previously, came to buy bed linen. She left the country some years ago, and I hadn’t seen her for ages, so we had a long chat to catch up. After she left, she sent me a message inviting me to put a tiny house on her piece of land at Waitetuna.

My initial thought was; how wonderful, thoughtful and generous. I felt grateful that someone would make such a fantastic offer. My second thought, looking around at all the packed and yet-to-be-filled boxes, was, “How on earth can I fit all this into a tiny home?”

I’d seen tiny homes and, while they are very cute, I just couldn’t imagine actually living in one — let alone thriving. And Waitetuna seemed such a long way out.

Hobbit House - Hobbiton

Tiny House – Hobbiton

Yeah! I know that isn’t really a tiny house! It’s a Hobbit house. I’ve been there and I know there’s nothing but a gap and soil behind that door!

But I wanted to stay in Raglan

I kind of put the idea to one side and continued to pursue my ‘advertising campaign’ to find a new home. But Celia kept sending me images of tiny houses and ideas of how it might work.

A month or two after the house went on sale, I’d recruited just about everyone in Raglan to join my hunt for a new home. Even a real estate agent called one day to tell me “Three-quarters of Raglan are looking for a place for you!” Yet, despite enlisting help from the local population and following up on every lead, nothing eventuated.

One such lead took me to Fiona and Jim, some friends with a cottage they were renting. Unfortunately, they’d already promised it to the sister of their current tenant once they’d finished renovating it. However, they said, “If you get desperate, we have a caravan you can borrow.”

Fast forward a few weeks

With no rentals becoming available, I called and asked Celia if I could have a look at the proposed site for a tiny house and have a chat. It was 20 kilometres from my place. It seemed a long way out. I felt strung out with everything; packing, questioning, shifting, searching, and working. Although I must admit to losing motivation to chase new work. That’s the downside when business and home are in the same place.

Arriving back from Waitetuna, I continued what seemed like a never-ending hunt for somewhere to live. I was unsure about living 20 kilometres from my beloved Raglan.

Other people began sending me images of tiny houses that were for sale — with links. And, of course, I looked. I didn’t believe I could commit to moving to Waitetuna, building a tiny house and locating it on a property I’d only visited once. After all, whatever size tiny house you’re considering, it’s a BIG investment, and it’s a TINY house!

Then I had an inspiration!

Borrow the caravan, site it at Waitetuna, and try it out for a few weeks to see if I liked it. If I liked it, build a tiny house. If I didn’t, follow Plan B.

At this stage, Plan B was a figment of my imagination — I still had to develop one! I suppose I was still hoping a suitable rental would become available.

I called Fiona. “How big is your caravan?”

“Teeny Tiny”, she replied. “Come and have a look.” I did — and she was right, it is “Teeny Tiny”.

Teeny Tiny Caravan

Teeny Tiny Caravan

I went out to visit Celia again, feeling more relaxed but still without a potential Plan B. I turned off the sun-bleached main highway into the shade of the trees and thought to myself; “How come I never noticed how beautiful it was here the last time I came?”

In the late Spring, everything was leafy green; birds were flying by with beaks full of nesting material, preparing to build their own tiny homes. I suggested installing the caravan there to see if I liked it. Celia thought that was a great idea.

The drive home took me 15 minutes!

I’d become so spoilt having a 2-minute drive from home to town or the beach that I’d obliterated from my mind times when I’d lived in places where it was a 40-minute plus drive to the beach. Or even the 3-hour drive to ANY beach from the Midlands, in England, where I grew up.

Sometimes I can get things entirely out of proportion!

I organised to take the caravan

Fiona and Jim told me I would be the ‘crash test dummy’ for their caravan. Purchased for their daughter to stay in while she was studying in Dunedin, they — Fiona and Jim — had spent no time in it but they were planning to go on a caravanning holiday for a month in February 2023. They hoped I’d house-sit for them during that time. They would fix any problems I identified with the caravan before they went away in it. Sounded like a good deal to me.

Packing up was exhausting

While continuing to pack up my life and business, I experienced a deluge of unwanted emotions: irritation, frustration, disappointment and shame. Even greedy that I seemed to have so much. Unless you’re a hoarder, you monitor what you keep in a two-bedroom apartment. I don’t consider myself a hoarder, so I didn’t believe I had a lot of extraneous ‘stuff’.

I questioned myself continually

Questions

Questions

“Why do you have so much STUFF?”

“Do you really need everything?” (Clearly, I didn’t because by this stage I’d sold a lot, and given heaps of stuff away to the local opportunity shops.)

“I’m only in a 2-bedroom apartment. How much stuff is it possible to accumulate?”

“When was the last time you used this %4#?”

“Why have you even got this?”

“Are you going to need this before you shift to another place, or is it going into storage?”

(And yes, when I get frustrated, I talk to myself as if I’m speaking to some random moron with no brain!)

The questioning was mainly about my behaviour, my personal and household possessions, and gifts given to me by people I love.

One bedroom in my apartment was actually a client room/office dedicated to my business. I had a cupboard full of non-fiction books and, while I don’t look at every book every day, I use them as a reference library. There were also many manuals from courses I’d attended.

Out they went

I resolved that anything I hadn’t looked at in the previous 2 years was getting chucked. I’m sure I single-handedly kept the recycling guys employed for several weeks. Other than old manuals, I kept most stuff in the office, some because of legal requirements, and others because they are important for my business and self-development. However, as with the bits and pieces from the rest of the house, I questioned what was worth keeping.

Decision-making overwhelm

As the deadline for moving got closer, making these decisions became more time-consuming, and I realised that, rather than making what could be a rash decision to get rid of something, I could put it in storage and delay the decision until I had more time and wasn’t feeling so pressured.

Downtime

Late into the evening, when I got fed up with packing, I’d watch HGTV. I’ve always had an interest in creating a welcoming, cosy and attractive home, so discovering this TV channel seemed like a great way to relax and get some ideas before heading off to bed.

It wasn’t, and I didn’t.

Instead, it just made me question more. It seemed unbelievable that couples with no children needed a 4000 square foot home to live in. How would they use that amount of space?

Mansion

Parents with 3 children demanded at least 4 bathrooms and 5 bedrooms. Then I read an article suggesting how very little of our homes we actually use.

I thought back to my childhood

My sister and I shared a double bed in a room where dad had built in a small dressing table and where there was room for only 1 bedside table and a blanket box at the foot of the bed. My two brothers shared an even smaller room with bunk beds. There was one toilet and bathroom between all 6 of us.

In this environment, we learned valuable lessons:

  • Patience.
  • The importance of sharing.
  • How to get along with one another.
  • We understood that tidiness, organisation and respect for other people’s things were vital to a well-functioning household.

I did a lot of reflection and critical examination — of my own and others’ behaviour.

The critical examination of others’ behaviour is called being judgemental!

People can have whatever size house they want, but I know from the approximately 1400 square foot home I owned in Auckland that I rarely used the lounge and the spare room and, apart from sleeping, spent very little time in my bedroom and ensuite. There was a lot of wasted space.

Caravan life

Jim delivered the caravan to Waitetuna on 30 November, so it was ready for me to move into on December 1 after I’d finished shifting my stuff into storage.

Within two days, I knew this was where I was supposed to be

The bird life is amazing. When people call me, they ask if I’m in an aviary! A short walk down a track leads to a beautiful pristine bush reserve and a sparkling stream. Glow worms dwell on the banks. I look for fairies every time I walk in there.

I feel guided to be here.

Actually, it was more like a universal kick up the bum!

Teeny Tiny Caravan on site

Teeny Tiny Caravan on site

The caravan was uneven

The water in my water filter clearly revealed this huge anomaly, and I felt a bit ‘seasick’! Every time I stood up, I’d fall onto the birdcage or trip over the dog — sometimes both — and then crash into the sink. It was quite disconcerting, as the only thing that was really moving was me!

Jim to the rescue

Jim came out with a spirit level and straightened everything up.

I have a barrel-shaped water container (you can see it on the right in the photo above) that holds 40 litres of water; apparently enough for a 4-minute shower. Celia’s house and the water supply are about 70 metres away, and that meant rolling the empty barrel to the outside tap at the house, filling it up and then rolling it back to the caravan. A bit of a hassle.

Jim thought we could link several hoses together and connect them directly between the house and the caravan. This would mean we could do away with the plastic barrel.

He came back the next day with more hoses and connected them all together. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t work because the pump at the house affected the pump in the caravan, causing water to spurt out. Not what you want when you’re on tank water and it’s summer!

The following day, Jim and Fiona were back again with a large coil of Alkathene pipe. Jim connected a short piece of hose and a connector to one end and a tap to the other. Voila! I had a water supply. Now all I had to do was to fill up my barrel each day. Easy!

I had cold water but no hot water

The shower tray was cracked and, although Jim had patched it, he thought he hadn’t used enough repair compound, so he plastered it on nice and thick. “Okay, now it needs 24 hours to cure,” he remarked as he and Fiona drove away.

Okay then…

I might need to explain how a 3.5 x 2-metre caravan works in the ablutions area. The handbasin, shower and toilet are all contained within a tiny space of about 70 square centimetres. The shower tray is, therefore, also the floor for the whole ablutions area. So the repair meant I couldn’t use the loo for 24 hours. I can only say that I was very grateful to be living out in the country with no neighbours as I ventured out to pee on the grass at 3.00 am, wishing I hadn’t had that last half-gallon bucket of tea.

I might have felt differently about the situation if it was the middle of winter, but it was summer and I found the whole thing hilarious!

Grey water disposal occurred via the drain in the sink and the shower into a cassette outside the caravan. This was on wheels and was pretty easy to drag down to the long grass at the end of the site to dispose of.

My bush view

My bush view

However, Jim had another idea and a couple of days later turned up with a much bigger hose. (Apparently, Jim has a double garage full of bits and pieces he’s saved for just such events as these!) So he then connected the hose to the drain and guided it under the caravan and out into the long grass. Another job taken care of, as the grey water now automatically went where it was supposed to go.

Fiona said; “We feel as if we’re delivering civilisation to you — one day at a time.”

I still didn’t have hot water at this stage

However, in anticipation that this would occur soon, I installed the shower curtain. Or, I should say, I tried to install the shower curtain. No matter what I did, it was only ever going to cover half the shower. And with such a tiny manoeuvring space, I knew that having a shower while fighting with a plastic shower curtain would be shambolic for both me and the shower curtain! I asked Celia how she would feel about me using her shower instead of the one in the caravan. She was absolutely fine about this.

Relief!

A few days later I got hot water! Yay!

OK, I can do this caravan thing.

I should also mention that there’s not just me in the caravan. I also have Ragz, my Tibetan terrier and Shaggy, my Quaker parrot with me. There’s no room for Ragz’s dog bed in the caravan and Shaggy is in a cage about half the size of his normal one.

But the main thing is that Ragz and Shaggy both seem happy. Celia has her own two dogs here and Ragz likes to visit and hang out with them. Shaggy is managing well in his travel cage. He loves sitting next to me all day and wandering around the tabletop, getting into mischief, or sitting on my shoulder, supervising my work.

Shaggy on my shoulder

Shaggy on my shoulder

What I’ve learned from living in Teenie Tiny:

  1. Before you can do anything in a small caravan, you have to do other things first! This might involve moving the dog, the parrot cage and the bench settees to turn one settee into a bed, or returning everything to its original position to pursue daytime activities. Or shutting the overhead cupboard door and sliding the dog to one side before attempting to open the bathroom door.
  2. I’ve had to slow down. A LOT. I’m used to doing everything at full speed, and that’s just not possible in a small caravan. This has forced me to become more mindful and deliberate.
  3. Work, leisure and sleep are all in the same place!

I’m out of the loop again

I’m living minimally. I reckon it took me about 3 weeks to get everything sorted in the caravan; to determine what I absolutely need on a day-to-day basis. With very limited space and storage, I am amazed at just how little that is. I’ve only been to the storage unit once and don’t intend to go again until I shift everything out.

In my spare time, I’m reading all I can about living minimally — the pros, the cons, the how tos.

I feel content and grateful

I’m grateful for the kindness of the Raglan community, and the sheer number of people who were constantly looking out for me and checking to see if I’d found somewhere to live. Some days my walks with Ragz would take almost twice as long, because people would stop and enquire how I was coping and whether I’d found anywhere. I’m so grateful to Fiona and Jim for letting me use their caravan and, of course, to Celia, who is sharing her special spot in the world with me.

I’ve been here nearly two months at the time of writing, and I’ve surprised myself with my resilience. Sure, it’s cramped. But it’s also cosy. I figure if I can do this, a tiny home is going to feel like a mansion!

And that’s the plan

No, not a mansion. A one-level tiny home with a cabin for my business space, so I can see people face-to-face and in person again.

Now that the building industry is back at work, I’ll be moving my project forward and hope to have a house to move into around April.

My intuition didn’t fail me

I am going to buy a place.

I’ll keep you informed as I move forward with my plans. Thank you so much for being patient and for your kindness in checking in with me.

I got internet service the first day I was here, and I’m continuing to coach people from the caravan. So get in touch if you want to get on a Zoom call — or see the inside of Teenie Tiny. 😜

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Tags: Change, Resilience, Thinking and mindset

12 Comments

  1. Cheryl Capener

    Hi Steph, your blog, brought a few tears, on your resilience and humour, at what was a very difficult situation. Everyone needs a place to call home, and yours was being taken away from you. Well done Steph. The part about your childhood accomodation made me laugh, one son had to share a room with his brother when we emigrated here as our house was very small. He complained often, so l thought the part about what it teaches you was excellent, l shall be sending it to him…l get a really good feeling about your new environment, and think it will attract a lot of people to you and your business, l can only wish you well. Sending you a love bubble to wrap your dogs, parrot and tiny house..xx❤️

    Reply
    • Stephanie

      Aww, thanks so much for your comments, Cheryl. 😊 My journey has involved some ups and downs, that’s for sure, but lots of learning along the way. I often think to myself, “Will I look back on this and laugh?” If the answer is yes, I make the decision not to wait — to see the funny side and laugh now! Sending love back to you.

      Reply
  2. Jenny Berczely

    Hi Steph, It was amusing and amazing to read your blog. Yes, mindfulness grounds us and enables us to move through life more aware and awake to what is really important in our lives.

    How do we accumulate so much stuff!? I had to leave my James st rental a couple of years ago, and also jettisoned so much – what a great feeling! My son and his family had left a huge garage full of stuff so I had to sort that out too with help from two friends.

    I too visualised my new home on paper and ended up in exactly the place I had asked for. It happened to belong to a good friend on Ohautira Road on the Okete stream. I’ve been so happy here living rural and learning a lot about taking care of the land so I’m forever grateful.

    I’m sure you will love Waitetuna. I sometimes work a the school there as a teacher’s aid and we take the children to the bush on Fridays to be in nature and learn about the trees etc. It’s so nurturing for us all.

    As we live so close to each other if you would like to pop over for a coffee any time please do! I’m less than 10 min from you towards Raglan.

    I do miss Raglan a bit but only go in maybe once a week now as I’ve learned to be more self-sufficient, growing veg etc.

    So, enjoy your time in nature and do get in touch.

    X

    Reply
    • Stephanie

      Thanks, Jenny. I think I’m going to just refuse stuff in future! I won’t have the space to put anything that I don’t really need, so going tiny will put a stop to me accumulating things! I’ll be in contact for that coffee. 😊 xx

      Reply
  3. Tanja Blinkhorn

    Hey Steph,
    It’s great to read about all the changes and news in your life. Wow….lot’s of change for you in the last year and a bit!!
    The bush setting and the video of the stream look absolutely gorgeous.
    I am so looking forward to seeing the finished Tiny House, and also any progress reports and photos. I suggest lots of photos! And of course another blog about your experiences and learnings from building a house.

    Warmest wishes
    Tanja

    Reply
    • Stephanie

      Hi Tanja, yep LOTS of changes! Sometimes I forget that we have to go through a bit of a ‘dark night of the soul’ before we find what was there for us all along — if we weren’t so intense about how, and in what order things ‘should’ happen. And yes, there will be plenty of photos and progress reports. Will be great to welcome you for a visit. xx

      Reply
  4. Kamilla

    Thank you sharing your story. It is amazing.

    Reply
    • Stephanie

      Thank you so much, Kamilla. It will no doubt continue. 😀

      Reply
  5. Kerry

    You’d shared a little – but it was truly great to read this through and get the WHOLE picture!!!! I believe there is a reason for everything – and feel you have already learnt a few of those reasons already – but more to come!!! It is stunningly beautiful where you are – like a little retreat. Look forward to reading more about your coming adventures. Big love and hugs x

    Reply
    • Stephanie

      Thanks, Kerry. Glad you enjoyed it. And yes, I also feel there are more adventures to come. The place here is ‘Majestical’ (to coin a term from a well-known NZ film!)

      Reply
  6. Edith Symes

    Good one Steph
    A fun read 😬

    Reply
    • Stephanie

      Thank you, Edith, that means a lot coming from a professional writer.

      Reply

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