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Goats and chooks and sheds - everything good in life!

I love goats. I really wish I had room for them in my future house.

My visions of the future – life in my house and all that it entails, usually includes things with feathers, or hair, but mostly paws. I haven’t dreamed of having ‘stuff’ for a long time. The newest and latest electronics, furniture or homewares simply do not interest me. I buy and choose items wisely, always looking for a traditional piece of furniture – something that will not completely lose its appeal after a few years. The idea of trading a couch every few years is not for me – and it has nothing to do with a lack of creativity. I see the enormous waste in our world and shudder. The landfill centres across our country are bursting with stuff that is not always garbage. Just unwanted.

So, it's an interesting time for me as I embark on the journey of building another house. I built one in 2004 – the mega-build, and another in 2016 – the downsizer three-bedder. So, what will this one be? Simple! Now that my kids are adults, I can build for my situation. And that’s so exciting!

I think people build houses with a long checklist, because they want it to suit them at multiple stages of their life. But inevitably, they end up sealing off a wing of a house once the kids move out and preserving the memories behind the closed doors. Of course, there are advantages to leaving these rooms for them to return to. In my last house, I cleared the deck of children, only to have one return from university during Covid lockdowns, and then another moved back a few months later… with his girlfriend! A maxed-out house.

I know the situation for a lot of twenty-somethings is dire, as they try to save to buy their first homes. To rent is to be at the mercy of a landlord who often will unashamedly increase the monthly rent each time the bank increases the interest rate. The middle-man doesn’t always feel the pinch of the cost of living – only the most vulnerable. But, this issue of providing affordable social housing, is a rant for another day.

The other night I watched a really inspiring piece of TV, that showed how one family’s build included a section on the end of the house that provided self-contained living and cooking quarters for their elderly parents. The kids’ rooms were also designed to have moving walls, so that nothing was a permanent room. I love two things about this: first, that this family has bravely bucked the norm, and decided to look after their aging parents, rather than have them go to an aged-care facility; and secondly, that rooms will never be locked away, but fully utilized once the kids grow up. Yeah, before everyone starts slamming me for not admitting that this sort of thing costs mega-bucks, just take on board my point. Why not ‘think’ about the possibility of a multi-generational home? Because, I can tell you from experience – having a parent in an aged-care facility teaches you very quickly that we are failing. I get that not all elderly parents can be cared for at home, but with support services, maybe we can delay this one-way journey into ‘care’ by being more caring in the first instance. Many cultures do this without even thinking twice – it is culturally a person’s duty. Is to be Australian, to be ignorant that we can still have a happy middle-age, and have our parents living at the end of the house? It’s not as mad as you think.

The other thing I think many Australians get wrong is that the house is representative of our ‘success’ in life. I once knew the most unassuming man, who worked all of his life – but worked consistently all the same. Showed up everyday, did the manual labour he was required to do, and then went home to his wife and continued his modest existence. His house was one of those small brick veneer houses that many believe are a steppingstone to the next home. I went inside a few times with my Nan, who was his neighbour – and I remember thinking everything was ‘old’. There were no expensive cars ever parked in the driveway, always an older model. He drove it long after it should have been turned into the salvage yard; people shaking their heads in disbelief that it was still going, when they saw it making its way to his driveway. This man outlived his wife by over a decade, and he would spend his days fixing things in his little shed. Bringing a mower back to life; putting new palings onto his fence to replace rotted out ones; or respringing an old chair. He was always tinkering – but now I see it. He refused to say something was too old, too passed its used-by date…too anything! To many he was that old guy in the oldest house in the street, who wore the same flannelette shirt every day – whether it was winter or summer. He was reputed never to go far, let alone have an expensive holiday. I think he would visit his sister in Melbourne but that was it - certainly never venturing far, let alone overseas. Well, that’s what I was told after he died. You see, people were flabbergasted. This man had accumulated over three million dollars – savings, if you like. And, for all the knockers that thought he was a pauper, he had a good life. He had everything he needed, and never looked externally to fulfill desires. Those shifting sands, that tell us one thing one week, and another a week later. He got it - and, having no children of his own, most of his ‘wealth’ was bequeathed to charities that helped others. Wow, he epitomized living his best life and he ‘passed it on’. He was happy – with his modest house, his old car, and other dated possessions. This is a lesson for everyone.

I guess the thing that is really on my mind is that I want to build a house that is functional, yet simple. Full of things that have meaning. The chair that belonged to my grandparents that I re-upholstered, and now use at my writing desk.

The couch that might be a few years old, but due to being leather I know if I keep looking after it, I will enjoy its comfort for many more years, if not decades. Exactly what I have, is what I will take into this new house. And, I’m OK with that – because all the ‘stuff’ we accumulate sets us up if we believe there to be happiness in ‘possessing’ it. But that feeling fades – in the same way a new car feels sensational for the first year or so, but then come the thoughts of: ‘my next car will be a…’.

So, what do I want? The small but purposeful house is underway (well, concept plans are a-go!). My adult kids will visit, and we will make do with the space we have – it will be OK! A goat is impractical for my situation as a town-dweller (I know…teary-face emoji)…but a dog – hell yes! And maybe a couple of chooks…they are the funniest little creatures, and they will provide me with eggs and compost.

And – you know what else I will put into my new place? A shed, aka workshop. Because I’m going to tinker and repurpose and redeploy things, just as my Nan’s neighbour did. Who will I leave my millions to I wonder?

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