Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Joys of Underspending

One of the good things about being a minimalist these days is it's pretty trendy.  OK, there are still plenty of people who think you're weird for not wanting to own much stuff, or 'going without' (in their opinion) but at least more people realise now that it's actually quite a good idea to try and avoid getting into masses of debt, or at least try and be a bit smarter about a) stretching your dollars and b) trying to hang on to them as well.  Lord only knows what people would have thought even a decade ago of a couple who chose to get rid of all their possessions and opt for a van over a house!  In the earlier days of Simple Savings, it was a real struggle to get the media to take us seriously, or think of us in any way but odd.  They just did not understand why on earth anyone would want to go out of their way NOT to spend.  I mean, why would you choose to make your life harder by making your own cleaning products instead of spending ten times as much on a bottle of Easy Off Bam?  Why would you waste 15 minutes of your time making your own lunchbox snacks at home when you could spend twice as long getting in your car, driving to the supermarket and queuing up at the counter to buy a packet of muesli bars?

We have the media to thank for making us write the $21 Challenge book!

Nothing used to annoy me more than taking the time to explain the benefits of simple living to what sounded like an understanding journalist, only to read it described as 'quirky' or ' quaint' in print a few days later.  On occasion, Simple Savings, with its thousands of followers was even likened by some reporters to a religion, or cult!  On the positive side, if it hadn't been for this innacurate portrayal, the $21 Challenge book would quite probably never have come about; such were the lengths we had to go to in order to dispel the myths created by the media swirl and ensure people 'got it', rather than completely missing the point of what we were trying to do, which was simply to help people!

Fast forward ten years or so and these days people are clamouring to learn how they can get themselves out of the financial poo.  You're not considered weird any more if you want to save money;  in fact you're daft if you don't.  Better yet, it doesn't matter any more how you do it either, as long as you do.  People are achieving amazing things with, and on, very little and celebrities like George Clarke are opening everyone's eyes to the fact that tiny houses are a very cool idea.  Not only that, the concept of only living with the stuff you really need is actually quite sensible.  You don't even need to be a hippy or a hermit to live in one!  Who would have thunk it?

Yes, the frugal lifestyle is becoming more and more acceptable.  So I was really quite miffed to see an article a few days ago called 'Excessive frugality can be as bad as over-spending'.  In fact it really got my back up, enough to drop my friend Rob Stock at Stuff a line.  As it turns out, the headline was a little misleading.  Rob explained that a lot of financial advisors, which the author Liz Koh is one of, have aged clients who are so worried about running out of money that they go through life without ever living a little.  As a result they literally have millions of dollars stashed away, without having a hope in heck of being able to spend even a tiny part of it before they leave this earth.  OK, so that I get!  But the headline was a tad misleading to say the least, and instantly transported me back a decade to when I felt I constantly had to justify the way I lived.

My cleaning cupboard and medical cabinet are one and the same!

These days I no longer have to do that; and I'm comfortable enough within myself that I wouldn't care anyway.   But if nothing else, that article made me grateful all over again for being the way I am, and knowing the stuff I know.  Without Simple Savings I'm not sure I would be doing what I'm doing now as I doubt I would have had the confidence, let alone the knowledge.  Being a Simple Saver in a van is just the same as being one in a house, even more so I guess and the article made me think of all the things I enjoy about it.  I still make all my cleaning products rather than buy them; you can take care of most jobs with a bottle of tea tree, or eucalyptus, or lavender essential oil and they're what we use most when it comes to first aid too!  For some reason I really enjoy washing laundry by hand (except on frosty mornings, holy bejaysus I can't feel my hands!) and I really love not being reliant on power. I would love to know what our power bill would be now, if we lived in a house and were charged for our current next-to-no-usage!  I love the fact that even though we live in a van we still walk everywhere as much as possible, even if it means walking several kilometres to the supermarket and coming back with both of us carrying heaving backpacks and still more in our hands.  I love not being tempted or ripped off by advertising; mainly because I don't see it but even if I did, I wouldn't be swayed anyway.  Besides, you can't be going and buying too much stuff when your whole house is only a few metres long!

Whilst I think you can become frugal overnight if you really have the mindset and the drive, I think it takes longer than that to work towards being a minimalist.  Before we left the house, I had been whittling down our possessions gradually for two or three years.  OK, so I had no idea back then that I was going to wind up living in a van, but I just couldn't bear having things around me which I didn't need - especially if not having them around was also going to make me a bob or two.  The clothes dryer was the first thing to go (much to Liam's disgust when he came home for his first uni holidays and realised he had to wait for his clothes to dry overnight!)  After that was the TV and then bit by bit all other non-essentials followed.  By the time the house went on the market, it was already pretty much just a shell!  Hence the transition into van life was incredibly easy for both of us.  The only thing I was sad to pack away were family photos, but even they seem so out of date now, the boys have grown so much since any of them were taken.  I'd rather have one photo I can carry with me of the young men they are now than a wall full of images of the kids they no longer are.

If some of you are reading this and have started following our travels within the past year, you may well be thinking 'Simple Savings?  Who or what the heck is that?!' It's an Australian-based website which teaches people to save money on pretty much everything you can possibly think of.  I consider myself extremely lucky to be a part of it and wouldn't be where I am without it, in many ways.  As a result, I'm rather passionate about it and its philosophy, as you can no doubt tell!

Ohh roast beef, where have you been these past seven months!!

We're still camping out in the kitchen and have got used to it now.  Bevin insisted that we should leave the van as long to air out as possible in the hope of getting rid of all traces of paint fumes before we move back in, so will most likely be here until the end of the week.  It actually really shocked me how daunting and upsetting I found it, adjusting to a bigger space but I'm growing accustomed to it.  Even so, if I lived in a room no bigger than this for the rest of my life it would be quite big enough now, thank you!  It's a bit like being on school camp, it's quite fun!  One definite 'highlight' was at the weekend when we cooked ourselves a full roast dinner using one of our three current ovens.  Oh my goodness, after so many months not having one it was absolute heaven.  I have a feeling we will quite probably treat ourselves to another before moving back into the van!

Monday, 12 June 2017

There's No Place Like Ken!

Have got a very different change of scenery today!  Am writing this from a commercial kitchen approximately six times bigger than Ken.  It's our current refuge for a few days whilst we continue our mission to rid the van of mould and we are extremely grateful for it as I honestly don't know what we would do without it at the moment.  If you haven't seen the Facebook page over the past few days, we discovered last week that despite our best efforts to combat the damp, our sleeping area was worse than ever and the mould was growing at an alarming rate.  Black mould in the corners, grey fluffy mould over the wheel hubs, white mould behind our heads and some nice green stuff for good measure.

This is what we sleep on every night.  Despite drilling a multitude of holes only
a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to increase air flow, it's still not done enough :(

That sneaky mould just gets everywhere!  Like behind your headboard...

Yet more mould, with a bit of rust thrown in for good measure.  All the rust 
has appeared in the past couple of weeks and is caused by the condensation dripping
down and pooling at the bottom, where unfortunately our stuff is stored

It didn't put us in the best of moods I can tell you, in fact it was pretty darn soul destroying.  We had no choice but to resign ourselves to the fact that we were going to have to strip everything out of the van and paint the untreated timber.  That way, while it may not fully stop the damp or mould, at least it would stop it being able to work its way in to the timber and clean up would be as easy as a quick wipe over.  Sounds simple in theory but there were two major problems with this - one, it is currently winter and the air is bloody cold and damp.  You can hang your washing outside for days at the moment but it won't dry and it's the same with trying to dry paint.  This was a bed we were painting here, the only bed we had and the pressure was really going to be on to get it dry enough to be able to sleep on every night.  The other problem, which is just as serious if not more so, is trying to get the paint not just dry but aired enough to be safe enough for us to sleep in.  I haven't suffered from asthma in a long time but it can still be triggered off by random things such as wool, feathers and paint.  Still, we didn't really have a choice, we had to try.

Anti-mould stuff that doesn't smell of anything and seems to work, woohoo!

This is our under-bed storage with the lids taken off.  The mould and damp has
got in to all of these, so we had to spray them all before we could paint 

We traipsed off to Mitre 10 and spent almost a month's worth of campground fees on anti-mould treatments, paint and supplies.  A small price to pay to get the van up to scratch but it was still $270 I would much rather not have had to spend! The forecast for the next day was dry and sunny so we got to work.  I hate chemical treatments and we had tried clove oil several times with great results on the windows but not much success with the timber.  Fortunately we managed to find a pretty benign spray treatment which was harmless to both pets and plants so we sprayed all the timber with it and left it to dry before applying our first coat of undercoat.  We knew that we were cutting it fine with the drying time, even with the sun and brisk Southland wind but we had to make the most of the weather so had to keep pushing along.  You can't really leave anything outside later than 4pm here as the air starts getting too cold and everything will get damp again but luckily by the time 4pm came round the paint felt dry to the touch and we were able to put the bed back together.  That was an interesting exercise.  Despite being outside for less than eight hours, the three sheets of timber which made up the top of our bed frame had all managed to bow at both ends and we couldn't slot them back together!  Still, we couldn't do anything about it at that stage in the day so we made it up as usual and hoped that the weight of lying on it would help to flatten it.

Our wonky bed boards after their spray treatment! 

We were lucky enough to have been invited out for dinner that night so we left the van airing with the windows open and vacated for a few hours to let the air flow through.  When we returned later that evening, all seemed well and we couldn't really smell anything at all.  Great!  It was bloody cold however so we turned the heater on to take the chill off and tucked ourselves into bed.  It was around 1.30am when I awoke and realised I couldn't breathe.  It was a very frightening feeling!  I leapt out of bed, turned off the heater and literally hung out of the door in the cold night air, desperately trying to get my breath.  What the hell was I going to do?  I couldn't sit outside all night, for starters it was raining!  But how was I going to get through the next few hours in the van?  Fortunately the rain meant it wasn't as cold as usual and we were able to slide open our insect screens fully.  This made breathing more easy but when it was time to get up the next morning my throat was so swollen I could barely talk and my eyes had puffed up so much I looked as though I had gone half a dozen rounds with Mike Tyson.  Fortunately we had half a cucumber in the fridge to help cool them down! Bear in mind, this was only the undercoat - we still had two more top coats to go! The only good part was, that every time I was out of the van I immediately felt better - but it rained all day the next day and as we were forced to spend more time in the van, things got progressively worse.

OK so I wasn't QUITE as bad as Jocelyn Wildenstein - but it wasn't far off!

After three days and nights in the van we could take no more.  I could barely function and it seemed that we were just going to have to stop our renovations and put up with the mould instead; anything was better than this.  Fortunately for us, Bevin the caretaker took one look at the state of me sitting outside gasping for air and came up with an alternative.  He said he would open up a room in the pavilion for us and we could set up our bed on the floor.  That way I could keep working during the day while Gareth finished the painting and we would have somewhere to sleep at night for as long as we needed until the van was fully aired and safe enough for us to go back to.  There was just one condition - I wasn't allowed to set so much as a big toe in the van until he and Gareth said I could do so!

I was sad to leave our little van behind but so very relieved at the same time.  The only alternative we would have had other than to stop painting was to put Minnie in boarding kennels and go and stay in a motel for the duration of our renovations and both of these would have cost a fortune.  Being the amazing bloke he is, we have also managed to save heaps by being able to borrow some of his tools to take care of several jobs, rather than having to buy them, as well as have all the space we need to do all the necessary work.  He has even given us a free lockable shed space for Ken so that Gareth can finish all the painting under cover and get it done and aired quicker!  Seriously, he deserves a medal.

Minnie is as bemused as we are at having so much space - 
but she's made herself at home anyway

And so here we are!  It feels very, very weird being in such a big space and is taking some getting used to.  For starters it is incredibly cold and despite having three heaters and a dehumidifier just for the one room, none of them make any difference whatsoever as it's so big.  Compared to how easy it is to keep our little van warm, this is easily the coldest we have been since living on the road.  As I write this, I'm tucked up in bed in the middle of the day, fully clothed complete with snow jacket, beanie, thermal vest and two pairs of socks and I'm still freezing.  Unfortunately I can't type in gloves or I'd have those on too!  In comparison when we're in the van we're usually in t-shirts or a singlet!  I had completely forgotten how hard it is to heat a normal size living space.

I also used a regular stove yesterday for the first time since February.  It's funny how you forget things like what element settings to use and suchlike, I couldn't get over how quickly my rice came up to the boil yesterday!  I'm also not used to being able to wash my hands in the sink rather than have to use hand sanitiser or baby wipes and keep going to grab those instead.  At least I know I'm not alone doing things like that; Bevin confessed yesterday that after travelling around in his motor home for a while he got so used to having to make a cup of tea by having to boil the kettle on the gas hob that when he went to visit one of his children he went to do the same with their expensive $120 electric jug and melted both the base of the jug and made a mess of the ceramic cooktop!

We also have a microwave in here, which I'm about to go and try to remember how the hell to use to heat up my lunch instead of using a saucepan on the stove top.  It's really nice to have a little basin to clean my teeth too!  We have a sink in Ken that we can use but normally I go off to the public bathroom so we don't fill up our grey water tank so fast.  Minnie finds it very exciting being able to toddle off and get her own drink whenever she wants rather than having to go out and get one, or us bringing her one!  And making the bed is a hell of a lot easier when you don't have to climb all over it to do it.

But incredibly grateful as we are, that's where the novelty ends.  I miss Ken terribly and can't wait until we are able to go back to our little home again!  I actually find having so much space rather daunting, it's far too big and not cosy like Ken.  It's also amazing how much more stressful I find being in a bigger place.  From the moment we moved our stuff in I felt compelled to rush around and play house, finding a place for everything, but even with all our worldly goods inside it doesn't even take up a quarter of the room.  I also feel as though I constantly have to clean because in a bigger space you make more mess and use more things.  In Ken we can't really have any mess because there isn't the room, every bit of rubbish we make is constantly being removed and our little benchtops are always tidy because they have to be if you want to have room to do anything.  I imagine it must feel downright bizarre to most people reading this, I mean who on earth would rather have LESS space and LESS things?  As it turns out, we do.

What a view to wake up to!  We get to enjoy scenes like this all the time

I'm sure I will discover even more differences as the days go on, we're only on Day 2 after all!  But one more thing I have noticed that I miss is being closer to the weather - the weather of all things! When we're in Ken we always know what the weather is doing and when it's nice you always want to spend as much time as possible being outside, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.  In here however we have no idea what it's doing through the frosted windows.  It rained all night last night and we didn't hear a thing; we were amazed to get up this morning and find the road was flooded outside! There's nothing better than being able to spot an amazing sunrise or sunset from Ken's window and jumping outside to really be able to experience it.  It makes me sad to think how many I missed all those years living in a house while I was too busy cleaning or watching My Kitchen Rules.

We love you Ken!  Hope to be back with you again soon <3

Over the years I have owned four houses and have downsized with every one I have bought.  Even so, I never dreamed I would get so attached to living in a van!  I guess at the end of the day, home is where - and what you make it!

Friday, 2 June 2017

Real People, Real Life

I remember some time ago having a conversation with Ali, back when we were living in the house. He would have been about 17 and I can't remember how it came about but I said something typically placating and really-wise-and-adulty along the lines of that other people's opinions didn't matter, particularly on the likes of Facebook.  'Opinions are just that - opinions', I told him.  'People can think what they like!  Doesn't mean they are right, or that you have to care'.  Heaven knows it took me well into adulthood to learn that, with plenty of heartbreak along the way; the least I could do was help my beloved offspring to learn it earlier.  His response however really shocked me. 'No Mum, you're wrong,' he said.  'Social media determines your social status, your physical status, your emotional status - everything!'  This was no nonchalant statement either; those words were said with genuine belief and passion.  For once in my life I was absolutely lost for words.  Call me biased but Ali is one of the most intelligent kids I have ever met.  His perception and depth of thought is mind blowing.  Is that really how it is for young people these days? It's no wonder depression is so horrendously common.  How is anyone supposed to live up to their own, or everyone else's idea of perfection? How is anyone supposed to see the beauty in the world and in themselves, when they're constantly bombarded with negativity and being told via a screen what they should and shouldn't be doing, what they are lacking and being forced to compare themselves with others?  It made me incredibly sad to think they live with so much pressure.

Real life - get out and experience it!

It goes without saying that we're a different breed, us road dwellers, travellers and nomads.  We're different in so many ways I can't even begin to count them all.  For starters we are not bogged down by so many of the things the rest of society considers important or stresses about.  We don't know a lot of so-called celebrities these days; we don't know their names or faces, their songs or their TV shows.  We don't know what scandals we're 'missing out' on, who is sleeping with who, what sort of clothes we should be wearing this season or which 'must-have' things we're supposed to want.  We're so busy just living life plain and simple that we are simply unaware.  I wish that everyone had the chance - or should I say - I wish they gave themselves the chance to live this way.

Sunrise and gypsy caravans - a wonderful sight to wake up to!

A little while back there was a Gypsy Fair in town and a whole bunch of them came to stay at our campground.  I loved having them around, with their beautiful, ornate wagons and exotic clothing.  A lot of people don't, however.  'You'll be glad to see the back of them, won't you?' someone asked Bevin the caretaker when they had gone.  'Did they give you any trouble?'  'Trouble?  Hell no! They're the best kind of campers you could ask for!'  Bevin replied.  'They take nothing for granted, they appreciate everything they have and they know the real value of a dollar'.  And that, I think sums up most of us travellers perfectly.  I appreciate things so much more now because I only buy or am given have the things I need.  I appreciate people so much more too, because I have more time and opportunities to interact with them and see their kindness.

I'm blown away all the time by how lovely people are.  Like the day a few weeks back when a woman we had never seen before shyly came and knocked on our door.  She is the sister of one of our dear friends from back in Te Kauwhata and took the trouble to drive around Gore and track us down so she could invite us round to dinner with her and her husband at their home.  We hadn't had a proper home cooked meal in a house for almost four months!  Not only did we enjoy a wonderful evening of warm hospitality (as well as some of our favourite foods that we're not able to cook ourselves such as roast potatoes!), we made some lovely and much-valued new friends who we will continue to keep in touch with.

My free herb garden.  This photo was taken on the first day, it's
grown so much already!

Sometimes the people we meet are little more than a fleeting encounter but they leave a lasting impression, such as a lady I met the other day when she was hanging out washing and I lent her some of my clothespegs.  Later on that afternoon I noticed someone had dumped a pot of parsley by the refuse station.  I figured nobody must want it but didn't want to simply take without asking so plucked up courage to ask the lady if she had put it there and if so, could I possibly have it?  'Yes, of course!' she replied.  'Would you like some mint and rosemary as well?'  I was delighted enough to have the parsley - after all, Gareth and I had first met when I was buying parsley and we were both heartily miffed when a possum dug up our special plant at the start of our travels in Warkworth!  Still, I didn't want to say no, so followed the lady back to her bus for what I thought were some cuttings. Imagine my surprise when she insisted I take two enormous tubs of mint, rosemary and thyme back to the van!  'Are you sure you don't want them?!' I asked in disbelief.  'No, I've carted them all over the country this past year and am going back home to Cromwell now, I'd love to find them a new home', she insisted.  I was over the moon - I don't even know this lady's name but she gave me a garden!  The plants are all doing great too, I hope one day I'll run into her again and be able to show her.

One of the things I love best about the people we meet on the road is that age or nationality or background is no barrier to friendship.  When you live in a regular house, living a regular life, you tend to only mix with people who are the same sort of age and have similar interests, or social circle, or life experience to you.  Living on the road, people couldn't be more different.  We chat, we smile, we swap stories, it doesn't matter who you are.  We were walking back from town recently when we got chatting to an elderly couple walking into the grounds at the same time.  The woman was a Gore resident and was off to her spinning class - by that I mean wool spinning, not the exercise!  She asked us how we were enjoying Gore and other general niceties when she said 'Hang on, are you the lovely couple with the dog?  I thought I recognised you!'  It turned out we had indeed met them before a week or so earlier.  They were walking past with their disabled adult daughter Jane, pushing her in her wheelchair when she spotted Minnie.  Jane was so excited to see our dog that Gareth took Minnie over to see her and Minnie, who normally isn't particularly co-operative when it comes to meeting strangers, sat patiently and let everyone make a fuss of her.  Jane has Rett's Syndrome, which is sort of a cross between autism and cerebral palsy and she is one of only 30 people in NZ who has it.  They were so touched that Gareth took the time to go over and say hello, they gave us their address and invited us to pop in and have lunch with them any time.

One way or another, we meet so many wonderful people I don't think we'll ever go hungry!  Just a few days ago we were supposed to be going to a pot luck dinner to welcome all the incoming campers for the Gold Guitars festival this long weekend.  Unfortunately we were both feeling under the weather and had to pass on our contribution to the caretaker to take along with him, as well as our apologies to everyone for not being able to make it.  We thought we had missed out - but far from it! Still feeling none too special I dragged myself up the next morning to make us both a huge pot of chicken soup when there was a knock at the door and there was Bevin bearing an enormous amount of food.  'Couldn't have you two missing out!' he grinned and promptly presented us with a huge stock pot FULL of roast meat and roast potatoes, pumpkin and kumara (this alone turned out to be enough for four meals for the two of us!) plus two different salads, chocolate cake, berry crumble, lemon meringue pie and a big bottle of cream!  What amazing warm hearted people we have had the pleasure to meet - although I couldn't help but wonder to myself if the 40 or so motor homers who had provided the glorious spread hadn't insisted they 'give it to the poor homeless couple in the wee van!'  I'm sure many people don't realise that we live this way by choice!

Us, no doubt covered in mud and in need of a shower as usual
but ridiculously happy anyway!

To me, these are real people, this is real life.  Genuine good people, who ask for nothing more than your company and are not interested in what you can give or do for them in return.  Life is so much more beautiful when you're living it for real, rather than vicariously through a screen. The people we meet are so much happier and more relaxed, and so are we.  I don't know if I've changed all that much these seven months but I truly believe that living this way has made me a better person.  Some of you may remember me talking recently about a lovely young couple from Ireland called Jake and Tasha, who adopted a puppy on their travels which grew into an enormous, boisterous and very lovable dog.  They have been travelling almost four years and the three of them live very happily crammed into their 4x4, with no desire to change.  Like us, they know that not everyone 'gets' how we live but that's fine, nobody else has to.  I think the proof was in the pudding when Jake and Tasha went back to Ireland last year and not one single person or family member said 'God you guys look terrible, you need to stop doing what you're doing'.  Quite the opposite, nobody could believe how well and happy they looked and encouraged them to keep on living just the way they were.  I hope when we see our families again they will say the same about us!