Blog

Tree change to slow living

Last week I introduced my new series about slow living and making a tree change to Armidale in northern NSW. Before I start packing, I need to get my ducks in a row. The biggest “ducks” are having somewhere to live and a job. I am trying to open my mind to all the possibilities. However, deep down the sensible voice keeps telling me not to take too big a risk. I still have a mortgage to pay, I’m sixty and getting a new job might not be so easy as keeping the one I’ve got. I don’t want to end up poor and homeless which is an unfortunately common scenario for single women my age. Sure, I want to live simply but I still want to eat!

A blurry image of grass blowing in the ewind

The day job.

My current day job is secure and satisfying yet very reactive. Dealing with teenagers and their families everyday is draining. The idea of changing jobs gives me so many things to think about! Do I need the same sort of job as I have now, earning as much as I do now? Do I want to stay in the same intense people-centric job? Could I scale back? Could I get a job selling widgets who don’t yell at you and bully each other on social media? Could I go freelance? I’d like to. 

Some options for a tree change

As any good list maker like myself does, I sat down and came up with some scenarios. Ranging from going the “whole nine-yards”, selling everything, buying a tiny house and living off the grid, right down to doing nothing and staying put. Then, there is everything in between. Renting my place, renting something cheaper up there or even sharing with my family.  Here are two of the options I came up with from riskiest to safest. There were 7 other options in between!

Go really hard  – tree change deluxe model

  1. Sell up
  2. Buy a tiny house
  3. Find somewhere to park it – you might need to rent someone’s backyard 
  4. Grow veggies and chickens
  5. Live off the grid
  6. Get rid of most of your stuff
  7. Quit work –  go freelance!!!

Safest – Stay here – do nothing.

  1. Keep your stuff
  2. Keep working
  3. No veggies or chickens
  4. No cost.

Complex property decisions

It’s complicated by the fact that while the housing options in Armidale are more affordable, the gap between there and my current property is not huge. Probably not enough for me to  come out of the transaction debt free. 

The better news is that rent is cheaper and if I rent my place I can cover the mortgage and other related expenses. (just!). If I do sell I will never be able to get back into the coastal property market without winning the lottery. Ackkkkk!!!!!

I also have to acknowledge that I have the privilege to make these decisions in the first place.

Are my expectations too high

The best case scenario would be to be debt free and able to retire or at least work less than I do now. Then I can explore freelance work and a simple lifestyle. I don’t want to go backwards in terms of my finances but I don’t want to be separated from my family waiting for the magic unicorn of a job to appear.

Am I expecting too much? Does making the tree change to living simply and slowly mean you have to be broke? I know I am overthinking it. Should I just chuck it in and take the plunge?

I know I would have 30 years ago, because I did. 

Slow Living 2.0

Mudbrick house

This post is the first in a new series about slow living

While on my blog sabbatical over the last month, I  have been doing a lot of reading, podcast listening and Youtubing about slow living only to realise I had been down that path before. A path I chose with my Ex in better times. It’s a way of life I’d like to return to and by chance it looks like that may well happen. 

I’m planning on moving to Armidale in northern NSW in the next 12 months, once I get the ducks of life in a row. This time it was not my idea but one I’m happy to embrace. I’m following my family as they move to the region. I don’t want to be away from them, especially my grandson. An added bonus being that the move and the preparations provide a wonderful theme to write about here!

This week a back story about Slow Living 1.0.

Fast Living – Setting the Scene

In the years from 1991 – 1994  my (then) husband and I decided we needed to change our life and slow things down.  We had a one year old baby. He was working for a large Australian bank. (Which bank? Not that one, the other one) I was on maternity leave from an even bigger multinational oil company.  (The one that smashed an oil tanker against Alaska). 

My job involved a lot of travel. It was high speed and had long hours. His job was also high speed, with long hours but without the travel, unless you count the 4 hour daily commute. Interest rates were close to 20% and the Sydney housing market was booming.  

We had lots of money, no time and plenty of stress.  Sounds familiar heh? 

Internal frames go up.

The first slow steps

Before our baby was born we had decided it was important that one of us be the primary carer. We didn’t want our baby to spend most of their time with strangers, no matter how well trained and caring. We were ahead of our time because that one person did not have to be me. The Ex was open to staying at home so he could combine parenting with part-time study and fulfil his long term desire to get a uni degree. 

Serendipitously, our tree change journey was made possible because at this time we were living at my grandparents’ house paying well below market rent. We were renting our own house at a higher market rate.  Living there, much closer to the centre of Sydney,  cut the Ex’s commute by half and although we had less money on one wage, we managed comfortably. 

At first our goal was simply to change our occupations to something less frantic and more meaningful. A contributing factor for me was the Oil Company’s response to the Exxon Valdez incident. It left me cold and disgusted. The disaster was swept under the carpet with disturbing rapidity. I felt that their response did not align with my values and wanted to leave. A restructure of their business model meant I was able to take a generous redundancy package so I had an unexpected windfall on top of my maternity leave. 

Step 1 saw me heading back to Uni to do a Diploma of Education so I could teach. A much more meaningful and family friendly occupation. I was able to do my Diploma part time and on a campus not far from home. Besides taking Bub with me when they were very little, we relied on a combination of friends and neighbours to babysit. The Ex stayed with his work for the time being.

Hand built mudbricks

Green shoots start sprouting

As part of the Diploma, I did a subject on sustainability and became very wrapped up in environmentalism. My enthusiasm no doubt boosted by the oil spill. I became obsessive about the impending doom that climate change would bring. I wanted to be greener. A lot greener.  This desire to live a greener life led us to the next steps. After the baby was weaned and I started working as a teacher, the Ex quit his job and stayed at home to be the primary carer. This was a very courageous step. Back in 1992 there weren’t many stay at home dads around and he bravely continued to take Bub to playgroup.

He copped an enormous amount of flack for our decision, especially from his dad. I was really proud of our trail blazing lifestyle. Splitting up with rampant consumerism gave me a sense of power. It excited me to be with someone who was challenging gender stereotypes, and pushing back against the toxic norms. 

You’ll see echoes of this in my way of life now. My Year of Zero, my Eco Hacks and my desire to be more sustainable are throwbacks to this time. My decision to have only one child was deeply rooted in the desire to reduce my environmental footprint.

Plans become reality

Once we recognised the need for change, we started planning the move. Dreams and big talk turned into reality. The journey was incremental and multifaceted. In recounting it here it’s hard to remember the ins and outs and the exact chronology. One decision was layered over another. Ideas became blended and bent. This post can’t capture the whole convoluted story, only the overall result.

We sold our house, bought a two hectare patch(~5 acres). By January 1994 we had moved in with my mum in Bellingen on the mid north coast of NSW. In July that same year we were living in a half built mud brick house and by 1996 we had chickens, a veggie patch, a cranky old cat and a Labrador puppy.

By 2000, we were back in the city, trying to patch a broken relationship and pursuing a different dream. I’m at pains to point out that the slow living wasn’t the cause of the unhappiness. That unhappiness was for many other reasons, some of them a direct result of the previous fast living.

In hindsight, the journey was smoother than you’d think and while things eventually went sour between myself and the Ex, I really have to thank him for following my dreams and making this first tilt at slow living a reality.

We never did finish our mud brick house!

More about my plans for Slow Living Version 2.0 in the coming weeks. 

Light Painting

From the vault

This week’s From the Vault Installment is about light painting. Light painting is a photographic technique used to create images in the dark using a torch or other bright light source. I went to a workshop with Peter Solness of Illuminated Landscapes a few years ago and played around with some of these methods. It’s something I’d like to do more of. It even made it to my 60 for 60 list!

My trusty Panasonic FZ1000 is able to handle the technical requirements of light painting. Namely being able to keep your shutter open for 30 seconds or more. If you decide to give it a go make sure you’re able to use your camera in a manual focus mode. You’ll waste a lot of time relying on the auto-focus to try and find something to focus on in the dark. You will of course need a tripod!

About the images

Old Shack: This shot was taken on an Instameet in Bright, Victoria. While you can’t see it there is a man walking around with a torch, “painting” the shack.

Protea: The protea was attached to a light stand using a peg. It was up against a white wall. I used a small LED torch to paint it. You can put bits of coloured cellophane over the torch to make different colours.

The Fish: This image used a pixel stick. Pixel sticks use LED lights to create an image which is uploaded to it as a JPEG. A bit of digital magic!

Coloured spirals: This was a group effort. Three people with a bunch of torches tied together on stings. Swing them around and walk forward in a line one behind the other. Different lengths of string led to different spiral sizes. It never ceases to amaze me that you can’t see the person swinging the string! If they keep moving the sensor does not have enough time to capture them. You need to wear dark clothes as well.

Next level!

If you really want to get into light painting and have money to spare, check out Denis Smith’s Ball of Light Site. Peter Solness also runs his workshops on a semi-regular basis. Covid may have put a stop to that though!