“You’ll get cabin fever.” “You won’t get any sleep.” “You won’t make it.” Who: Web:

Me­lanie & Ben Brookes, Pippa (7), Kit (5), Sylvie (2) Where: Awaawaroa Eco Vil­lage, Wai­heke Is­land www.awaawaroa.org

NZ Lifestyle Block - - FEATURE -

That was what we heard in 2013 when we an­nounced to fam­ily and friends that we were run­ning away from sub­ur­bia and mov­ing to a tiny, off-the-grid cabin with an out­door bath­room in an eco vil­lage on Wai­heke Is­land.

Their re­ac­tions were, shall we say, mixed. The com­ment that we wouldn't make it was from my won­der­ful mum, who was se­ri­ously wor­ried that her grand­chil­dren were be­ing whisked away to the 19th cen­tury.

Three years on, we're still liv­ing in the tiny cabin, and we're still mak­ing it. Our home is within the Awaawaroa Eco Vil­lage where we share, along with 14 other fam­i­lies, close to 160ha (400 acres) of land, a mix­ture of bush and pas­ture which curves around the shore of Awaawaroa Bay, at the south­ern end of Wai­heke.

Our lit­tle house is 20 square me­tres. Yes, 20. That's not a typo. The av­er­age New Zealand house is about 150 square me­tres, so you could fit our house into the av­er­age home seven times, with room to spare.

We didn't set out to live in a tiny house. When we bought one of the 15 shares in the vil­lage, the cabin was al­ready on our land, a ginger­bread cot­tage sit­ting in a jun­gle of kikuyu grass.

The cabin is built en­tirely out of nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als. It has macro­carpa cladding, pine and red­wood lin­ing, and re­cy­cled na­tive tim­ber floors and join­ery.

It's split into two rooms. There's a lounge-kitchen-din­ing room where pretty much all our liv­ing hap­pens, and a bed­room, where all five of us sleep. The bath­room is out­side, with a com­post­ing toi­let and out­door shower.

We run a small scale mar­ket gar­den we call Lit­tle Creek Farm on our patch of land. There's a di­verse range of veg­eta­bles – around 20 dif­fer­ent types – with the aim of feed­ing is­land fam­i­lies. We sell our pro­duce through a weekly vege box scheme, and at the lo­cal mar­ket.

We're en­tirely off the grid. So­lar pan­els pro­vide our power, enough to run a fridge, wash­ing ma­chine, lap­top and lights, but not a lot else. Heating comes from a lit­tle pot­belly stove and wa­ter is cour­tesy of the sky. No smart phones.

On a good day, it's all very Lit­tle House on the Prairie, but with run­ning hot

wa­ter and broad­band. On a bad day, with three kids bounc­ing off the walls and two par­ents shout­ing to be heard over the rain pound­ing on the roof, it’s more like a form of tor­ture. Only self-in­flicted.

I ex­ag­ger­ate, but there are def­i­nitely chal­lenges to liv­ing in a tiny house, es­pe­cially with chil­dren. Rainy days are tough. When we’re crowded into two small rooms, we do some­times (quite lit­er­ally) trip over each other. Small chil­dren can make a fair bit of noise and chaos at the best of times, but in a tiny space it all seems some­how… mag­ni­fied.

It can also be hard to find pri­vate space. Time out needs to be ei­ther out­side, or tucked up on one of the beds. The two older chil­dren have ‘bed­room space’ in their bunks, and they each have a set of shelves for their spe­cial things so they have an area to call their own.

Ac­com­mo­dat­ing vis­i­tors is trick­ier. The din­ing ta­ble seats only five and even if it was ex­tend­able, there wouldn’t be any space for it to ex­tend into. Bed space is even more of a chal­lenge. We now have a cute lit­tle 1.5-seater couch that pulls out into a small sin­gle bed. Be­fore then, when my mum came to stay she some­times slept un­der the din­ing room ta­ble as it was the only floor space big enough for a mat­tress.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not com­plain­ing. We ex­pected all this. Heck, we moved into a house that al­lowed just four square me­tres per mem­ber of the fam­ily. We knew there would be some dif­fi­cul­ties.

What we didn’t ex­pect was the sur­pris­ing num­ber of ben­e­fits, the pos­i­tives of liv­ing in a tiny house that have changed our out­look on hous­ing, on fam­ily, and even ba­sic hu­man ‘needs’.

From a prac­ti­cal point of view, a small house is quicker to heat and quicker to clean. I can clean all the win­dows in an hour or so, and clean­ing all the in­side sur­faces doesn’t take much longer. Not that I do these things on a daily ba­sis or any­thing. Just that if I did, it wouldn’t take too long. Hey, I have three small chil­dren: clean the win­dows and 10 min­utes later there are peanut-but­tery fin­ger­prints at tod­dler height. It’s an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity.

Some of the ben­e­fits have been more ab­stract. We’ve learned to make do and to go with­out. When you’ve got less space, you have less stuff. As par­ents, it has been a great ex­cuse not to buy un­nec­es­sary toys for our kids.

“I’m sorry sweet­heart, we can’t get that life-size elec­tronic di­nosaur/2-me­tre-tall stuffed pink teddy/other piece of plas­tic rub­bish – we just don’t have room.”

As a re­sult, we’ve watched our kids play again and again with the same ba­sic toys, in­vent­ing new games with the play­things that have been en­ter­tain­ing kids for decades: Lego, puz­zles, books, wooden train­sets, minia­ture an­i­mals, toys that give a lot of joy for the space they re­quire.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.