A breath of winter and the search for home

Autumn: it’s my favourite season here in southern Tasmania. Cool evenings, foggy mornings, high blue skies, apples and wood smoke; the season of fullness. This year it just might pass us by. Today Hobart took a short-cut straight to winter, with single-digit (celsius) temperatures, icy winds and a liberal dusting of snow on the Mountain.

Winter approaches and I failed to make the most of the summer just past. Injuries to hips and knees kept me away from bushwalking for the best part of January and all of February. Personal trials and tribulations turned my attention and energies inwards while I dealt with some complex situations and emotions, leaving little energy for the garden or photography, with what energy I could muster expended on maintaining the friendships that ground and nourish me and the life-affirming practice of taiko drumming. I missed the harvest of plums and blackberries: there are no jars of sweet preserves stowed away in my pantry this year. I haven’t sown seed for my winter crop of brassicas. I haven’t been present, in tune with the life around me.

I have been thinking, feeling, sketching out the roughest blueprints for building the next phase of my unfurling life. It’s difficult to act when my employment future is so very uncertain, but act I must. Waiting, rootless, disconnected is so evidently unhealthy for me. I am a creature of action and I need to be moving (physically, metaphorically), so moving I am, in the most literal way.

House of the Gum Trees: home no longer

I’m leaving the House of the Gumtrees. I am done here. It is time to create a new home. The sudden onset of winter weather confirms my decision: this house is cold, and with its open plan design, high ceilings and poor insulation it is expensive and horrendously inefficient to heat. I don’t need to shiver my way through another winter wearing a coat and fingerless gloves while I work at the computer. I dream of a smaller place, easy to heat, quick to clean and much more environmentally friendly in design than this too-big building with no winter sun.

I’m looking for a home that’s more sustainable, and not just in the environmental sense. It also needs to be a place that meets my emotional needs and helps me to look after my health. A place that feels safe and welcoming where I can relax and live the way I want to. I can’t do that here:it’s too big, too expensive, too far to walk places and too badly built. There’s no lagging between the walls or between the upstairs living area and the downstairs bedrooms. My housemate works shifts and his comings and goings disrupt my sleep. There’s no auditory privacy in a house where you can hear the other person talk in their sleep.

Beyond issues of incompatible hours and house design we’re not a good match for each other, Housemate and I. We’ve lived together for a year now and are still just as much strangers to each other as we were then. Our values don’t align and so many small incompatibilities have gradually grown into irritations. I’m interested in low-impact living and growing a sense of community; he’s interested in watching TV and playing poker. I cook locally sourced seasonal produce, heady with spice; he eats McDonald’s and Lean Cuisine. On a good day we manage perhaps 15 minutes of conversation. There is no companionship, only someone sharing the space and the bills. It’s not home.

Our lease expires in 7 weeks’ time so the search is on. I’ll most likely end up living in a place of my own, though I’m keeping an open mind about sharing if I find the right place and person, after all the research shows that those living alone are more likely to suffer from depression, plus it’s cheaper and less resource-hungry to live with others, which makes it the more sustainable option (at least with the right place and people). So what are the factors I’m looking for, as a renter, in a sustainable home?

  • North-facing, sunny position: the winters here are long and cold. Sun is a must for mental health, light and warmth.
  • Not open plan: it’s far more efficient to heat smaller rooms than big open spaces.
  • Insulated: this may be impossible, but it would be great to find a place with proper ceiling insulation, wall lagging and heavy curtains. Why so few houses in Hobart are designed for the cold is a mystery.
  • Workable kitchen with natural light: I spend a lot of time in my kitchen. It’s the heart of a home and needs to be big enough to put on a feast for friends and feel good to spend time in.
  • Space for a garden: preferably a patch of dirt in which to grow herbs & veggies and to keep a compost heap, but even a sunny, sheltered spot for a container garden will do, so long as there’s somewhere to store my growing-things gear.
  • Community: a walkable neighbourhood would be brilliant, but I’ll settle for neighbours who talk and look out for each other. Good neighbours are a joy and one of the things I will miss about this place, along with my little garden and the (dwindling) patch of bush over the back fence.

Of course there are many other things I’d like to have in a home, like a gas cook top, solar hot water, a garage, a wood stove and a decent bath, but while I’m renting they are insignificant luxuries. When I’m able to buy my own place, however… I dream of farmhouse kitchens, chook runs, evenings in front of the fire and other blissful things.

For now I’m just looking for a place to call home and mean it. Somewhere I can live more sustainably.

What makes a place “home” for you?

7 Comments on “A breath of winter and the search for home

  1. When I was growing up, we had a solar hot water heater (my parents got it installed when they bought the house) and I just thought that was the norm. It wasn’t until I got older that I realised very few houses in australia have them, which just seems nonsensical given the weather here.

    Interestingly enough, when I was in china I noticed that they are everywhere, even little ramshackle huts in the countryside had them.

    • Hi Kat! I remember my parents getting a solar hot water system in was I was 9 or 10. The thing for me that I thought was normal but other people didn’t have was a composting system! We grew up composting food scraps and I remember being stunned that other people just threw them in the bin. I still find it really hard to throw away veggie scraps and have managed to set up a compost bin wherever I’ve lived, including 7 years of living in flats.

  2. I also grew up with solar hot water in northern NSW on a hobby farm with a mum who saved everything, grew our own vegies and composted. I live in a flat now and composting is doable but it makes me sad I can’t design our home the way we would like. One day I hope.

    Solar hot water to me, is a bit like hanging your clothes out on the line -v- using a dryer. If you can, why on earth wouldn’t you? It’s easier, cheaper, you’re using the sun instead of power and your clothes smell gorgeous. I find it bizarre that most people in our block of flats use their dryers.

    • Argh, clothes dryers are something of a pet hate of mine. Even here in Hobart you can dry your clothes without one: string up a line under cover or hang things on a clothes horse to dry in front of the heater in winter. In Brisbane they make no sense at all.

      I too dream of owning a place with a garden so I can set things up the way I want to: solar, compost, chooks, dog. Better find someone to share it all with first though, else I’m going to be doing a whole lot of work on my own!


  3. Pingback: Small steps to sustainability « Shape of Things to Come

  4. Pingback: Potager Cottage « Shape of Things to Come

  5. Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection
    of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us valuable information to work on.
    You have done a outstanding job!

%d bloggers like this: