Just down the road from our house there’s a new development – a veritable suburban mansion that’s just about ready for its new tenants. It’s taken about two years from the demolition of the pre-existing house to completion of this new epic abode – and I certainly hope the new neighbours will find it to be all they wished for.

local suburban mansion

For my part, however, I see it as something of a monstrosity. It fills the block of land almost from edge to edge in all directions and has great big columns out the front. They’ve also painted it a sad shade of grey that, whilst apparently the colour of the moment, I find most unappealing.

Coincidentally, I recently watched a documentary on tiny houses – and they were the cutest, most practical little abodes one could imagine! The tiny house concept is apparently a relatively new one to Australia, largely due to building regulations, but it’s really starting to take off. This is hardly surprising, given the current housing and rental costs!

These little houses are the polar opposite of our local suburban mansion. They tend to be under 40m– which is definitely pretty cosy, given that the average house size in Australia is somewhere around 227m…which means many of the tiny houses are probably not a lot bigger than some lounge rooms I’ve been in!

So they’re small. But they’re also adaptable (can be moved to a new location if necessary), are relatively low cost to build and maintain (due to size), and are very functional. Starting at a base price of under $30,000 for the tiniest of houses, you can then option up to include any number of convenient extras, such as solar panels, loft space, composting loo, appliances, and so forth – depending on your budget.

What I really fell in love with was the idea of a converted school bus. This one, for example, ticks most of my (all new) tiny house boxes. Really, what’s not to love about this?

Couple-Convert-1993-School-Bus-Tiny-Home-002

There are a few things that need to be thought out carefully before going down this pathway, of course. I’ve listed a whole bunch of them here as they’ve occurred to me, so that we can think about them if we ever take the leap.

  • downsizing and dejunking
  • general storage to maximise the space and minimise chaos
  • deciding whether the tiny house would be on wheels (so that it could be relocated if we chose to move elsewhere)
  • where would we park it? (DaugherDearest’s property is starting to sound rather appealing….)
  • designing in appropriate lighting, heating/cooling, and sanitation
  • then there’s the layout: a loft bed wouldn’t really work for me, so we’d need a cunning plan that wouldn’t involve ladders (or hammocks or stairs)
  • the biggest gotcha of all is building/local government approvals, particularly if we buy some land and plan on parking the house on it as our primary dwelling – this would need a lot of attention and could be a right headache!

Further to this, it’s worth having a look at the planning codes for your state to establish what the general rules are – and then following up with some research into local council rules as well. Some councils are coming on board with the idea and I imagine that more will over time.

I think the biggest challenge for us would be to adapt to a compact, tiny lifestyle – because it would mean downsizing in a big way from our current 4×2 (etc.) house. I think I could do it… but Himself is super attached to his workshop and garage and we are midway through a number of renovations on our house… So it’s not a scenario that would play out well for us at present. But who knows what the future holds… so I’ll start keeping an eye out for a retired school bus… and on successful bus-to-tiny-house conversions in Australia.

I was recently in a group of people asked to name the most unusual item in our respective kitchens (ingredient, implement, other – as long as it was a bit quirky). The tricky thing with this question is that I, like most others there, consider my own kitchen to be fairly ordinary. This is a room that’s been equipped to be functional and, in many cases, designed to be attractive. So coming up with ‘the most unusual item’ in amongst the mundane actually equates to figuring out which item someone else might plausibly consider unusual.

Bringing up a mental map of my kitchen and gazing around it, I was hard pressed to see anything out of the ordinary. The butcher’s block, crates, appliances – they all fit in and work in their context. Condiments and tins – perhaps far too many of each – have been stocked with some sort of goal in mind. Cutlery, crockery and so on have accumulated over time and, whilst they may not be my ideal Homes & Garden version of same, they serve their purpose. Certainly nothing unusual in any of those.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have a small collection of teapots on the kitchen window ledge. I wondered if they counted as unusual? They’re fairly brightly coloured, but – when you come down to it – they’re just teapots. In the dishwasher I have a little clean/dirty sign, to let people know the status of the current load – but we think that’s pretty normal. Perhaps the handmade mosaic trivet on my bench top? hmm…

Then I remembered the yellow Tonka Toy lurking on top of the kitchen cupboards. It’s one of the classic road graders, a remnant of my son’s childhood. When he moved out, he made a pile of his Lego, Meccano, toy cars and so forth and asked me to donate them to a good cause. Most went to charity shops or friend’s children without a second thought, but the grader was harder for me to part with. I had (and have) so many fond memories of the roads we built with it in the sandpit and the games that followed.

But what does one do with a discarded toy truck or, indeed, any discarded – yet beloved – toy? In this instance I perched a pair of discarded dinosaurs on it (a diplodocus and a triceratops, I’m told) and there they’ve remained ever since, our watchful kitchen deities. They keep track of everyone and everything that happens in this crazy central space in our home, where people congregate and culinary experiments happen.

My dino-truck combo definitely counted as an unusual kitchen item in most people’s books on the day and, try as they might, no-one could trump it. Since then I’ve looked more closely at people’s kitchens when I visit, keeping an eye out for their version of quirky. To my surprise, most kitchens actually do contain at least one oddity – but the dino-truck still rules 🙂OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m one of those people who work best in a moderately orderly environment. With visitors coming to stay for a few months and a new puppy about to arrive, ‘orderly’ is starting to fall into the same headspace as ‘challenge’. The puppy arrives at the end of this week, the guests at the end of the month – along with their four chickens, five quail and two kittens. Luckily no partridge – and I already have the pear tree.

Our place has rather aptly been renamed Menagerie10 and will really be living up to that name over the next few months. To accommodate the various changes to our lifestyle, three rooms need to be compressed into one  and the contents of those rooms put away somewhere, baby-gates (repurposed as puppy-gates) have to go up to protect some areas from sharp little teeth and a cat run needs to be built. Since that’s clearly not a big enough challenge, we also decided to replace the water repellent, smelly back lawn with an all new buffalo variant. The existing lawn gets to be replanted out on the verge, after digging up the mostly-dead wild grass out there as well. The final item on the agenda is to lay down the conduit for a below ground power cable up to my art shed.

Clearly this little lot could only ever be achieved by chunking it into manageable mini-tasks, then working through those until the whole lot’s done … so phase one has been to accept that there is no room for scope creep, to actively set aside any bright new ideas that pop up and to focus on the core objectives.

Phase two has been to implement replacing the lawn with new turf. After a weekend of back-breaking digging, we recruited the help of strong backs (friends, family), acquired extra spades and hired a backhoe – then spent yet another weekend in the garden. Getting the back lawn up and moved was a fairly straightforward job, even if it was a long, hard slog, and it was done by mid afternoon of day one.

Phase three has taken longer and cost more, both in terms of dollars and sweat. The trench for the power cable was a fairly epic digging job and finding that a section of concrete had to be attacked with an angle grinder and chisels was just one not-so-small small hiccough along the way. By close of business yesterday the pipes were laid in readiness for the electrician and the trench was filled. At this point it was clear that there will need to be some late night gardening activity under spotlights this week in order to get the back lawn down by puppy-day (Friday). Replanting the verge was re-evaluated and has gone into the too-hard-for-now basket.
garden blitz_8&9nov14
Phase four, the three-into-one room compression, is ongoing. After flailing ineffectually at the task or a week or so, it became clear that the only strategic way forward was to take a step sideways. So I started by emptying the two rooms of everything that needed to come out, leaving one room furnished with guest beds and the other with a bookcase, table and two chairs. This effectively created guest sleeping and chill-out accommodation, so that part of the to-do list can be ticked off.

Unfortunately , this also left my study fair bursting with a combination of office equipment, books, toys, xmas decorations, craft equipment, old university notes and kitchen appliances that somehow don’t fit in the kitchen. Even though it was all stacked in neat piles, the increase in chaos in my workspace definitely pushed my limits. So it was back to decluttering basics for me: do a little every day, starting with one pile and working towards having everything either put away, boxed for storage, given away or binned. It’s the good old four box method and works pretty well for me since it forces choices: keep / unsure / re-home / chuck. The ‘unsure’ pile gets revisited for a second round of selection at the end of the process, by which stage the whole ‘do I really need or want this’ mindset is fully engaged and the decisions are easier to make.

Although it took a while, I could feel calm returning with every decision made, even if some of the harder ones stalled me out for a while. Keeping my goal of an uncluttered workspace in sight, I’ve made two trips to the Op Shop to donate some of the more useful gear and a lot more trips out to the bin with bags of junk so far. After unearthing the label-machine, all the boxes and drawers got shiny new labels as I put things away. My theory is that this will make it much easier – and less frustrating – to finding the left-hand widget (or whatever) that I know I had somewhere.

It’s been pretty satisfying to do a little every day, working around a slightly anxious dog and see the goalposts getting closer. Next step: getting that lawn down. We shall make it so 🙂