Everything must go
I have one last week left in my house in Glasgow. It’s been sold, along with just about everything else I own. The last trappings of my prior life as a consulting engineer, liquidated. I can’t say that they won’t be missed somewhat – they represented convenience, status, achievement, dreams and any other number of things. They could be summed up in two words: comfort, security. But my outlook on life change drastically over the past five years, and the burdens associated with all those comforts became increasingly apparent, and I began to realise that the things that made me feel secure were just a psychological trap. A lot of things hadn't worked out, and a lot of things that had worked out were just downright disappointing. A nice house usually comes with a not-so-nice mortgage, which may (or may not) mean being tied down to a nice (or not-so-nice) job. I honestly couldn’t complain about my job, regarding work hours or pay or colleagues, but after nine years of working for the same blue chip clients and travelling the world, I realised that I was directly supporting some of the least ethical and least sustainable industries. It also became clear that the life path I’d worked so hard towards – 17 years spent at school and university, and 10 years in full-time employment – had yielded little more than a two-bedroom semi-detached house, a sports-coupe in the drive, a home studio for making music in the conservatory out the back, and a hard drive full of photos and a head full of memories from a decade of travel and growing up… or just growing older, I couldn’t tell. These things framed the pinnacle of my existence, it seemed. All I could think was how depressing that was, with an accompanying sense of having been sold a lie from an early age.
Perhaps it was also a bit of the “seven year itch”, but by this time a year ago I’d reached a moral and mental breaking point, walking away from what was once a dream job. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to take the past year off, but only because of the unfortunate death of my mom a year before. She had worked non-stop from age 16 to age 70, only to retire and never see out her first year of retirement. I’d decided in the latter half of 2013 that the thought of working another 30 years was too much to face, and started looking for ways out. But when my mom died, it was a stark reminder of the ultimate futility of basing your life around a notion of security and leisure at some point in the distant future, in return for working roughly a third of your waking hours for the best part (and by that I really mean the best years) of your life – most likely employed in jobs you don’t enjoy or are so demanding that you have little time to really explore life..
It’s a very easy and wonderfully cathartic thing to do… just sell all the stuff you don’t need, and simplify your life. People do it all the time. However, what people don’t do all the time is sell or otherwise remove the roof over their head and, by definition, that means remaining tied to some form of employment to cover the cost of mortgage or rent, and bills. Insurance, property tax, water, electricity and gas, all inflating insidiously year by year. To me, it seemed to boil down to two choices – all or nothing – and the “nothing” option appeared quite daunting at first. The charity of friends and family (and even strangers) can be leaned upon at times, but ultimately there had to be a plan for radical self-reliance if choosing the “nothing” option. Just to be clear, the “nothing” option for me meant: no mortgage; no regular job; no income taxes; no property taxes; no fuel, water or electricity bills; nothing on credit and no debts. All this implies a life off grid, living a simple and frugal lifestyle. However, even though I consider myself a hippie in some sense, I’m more a blue or white-collar hippie, and that means certain self-imposed limitations in terms of living standards. First and foremost I like a spacious place to live, with good aesthetics. I want organic food without paying organic-food-prices in the supermarket. And I still want to be able to travel, preferably with my home on my back, so to speak.
What makes a home a house?
Nothing, really. For most people, a home equates to a house – a rigid structure affixed to a piece of land and tethered to services, perhaps an investment, maybe a status symbol. For a minority, home is something much simpler and less permanent. A cave is a good example – whether natural or man-made, a cultural tradition or a squatter’s simplest abode. Then there are all manner of tents, yurts, thatched and mud huts, wood and corrugated iron shacks, tree houses, wendy houses, tiny houses and prefabricated houses that provide various levels of shelter, security and mobility.
I wanted to have my cake and eat it.... I had a vision to create a spacious, light and airy structure that provided the benefits of mobile living without the limitations of commercially available mobile homes or tiny houses, and offered the advantages of traditional static homes without the associated costs and disadvantages. I'd already spent a lot of time at the drawing board devoloping this vision, and it was almost time to bring it to life...