Housing

Housing (whether purchasing, building, or renting) is typically life’s greatest single expense, so living simply involves thinking especially carefully about where you live and why. Exactly what kind of shelter do you need to live well and to be free? We must answer this question for ourselves, but the words of Henry Thoreau might give us a moment’s pause: ‘Most people appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have.’

  • Live in a modest abode: The ostentatious ‘McMansions’ which are so prevalent in many developed nations are extremely resource intensive, energy intensive, and expensive. They are also ugly. The Simpler Way involves embracing smaller, much more modest and energy efficient homes.
  • Choose your city, town or rural area carefully: There are many complex factors that come into play when it comes to determining which city, town or rural area you live in. Your family, friends, your job, the weather, cost, etc. all play a role. Nevertheless, so far as you have a choice, think very carefully about where you and your family decide to set up camp. Housing can be very expensive in some cities and this can lock you into a large mortgage, which can lock you into a job you may not like. If possible, live in a place where housing is affordable. Low cost housing could save you years of labour. Think about it.
  • Try to live close work or work close to where you live: This isn’t always easy or affordable, but living close to work is an important goal. This will allow you to bike to work easily and it will also mean that you don’t have to waste lots of time commuting. Research shows that commuting is one of the most unpleasant aspects of modern life. Do what you can to avoid it.
  • Avoid unnecessary or purely ‘aesthetic’ renovations: Don’t get sucked into the belief that everything about your house has to look ‘brand new.’ So what if your carpet is old or your wallpaper has a little tear in it? When renovations are necessary, consider D.I.Y. and buying second hand materials.    
  • Co-housing options: There is a growing number of people in the Simple Living Movement and beyond who are exploring co-housing arrangements. This can involve groups of people (a group of friends perhaps, or two or three families, etc) living in the same house. Co-housing can be a very effective way to greatly reduce the cost of housing, and it also increases urban density (rather than contributing to urban sprawl). Taking in a ‘boarder’ is another progressive option for those who have a spare room. These choices also promote community. There can be compromises, but the benefits (especially financial) are huge.
  • Eco-design: If you are in a position to design and build a house, take eco-design seriously. It can be more expensive, but often the initial costs of eco-design can pay for themselves over time (e.g. solar panels, quality insulation, double-glazed windows, efficient heaters, etc.). Small is beautiful.
  • Explore alternative housing: More radical exponents of the Simpler Way might wish to explore various forms of alternative housing. This might include building a straw bail or mud brick house, or living in renovated shipping containers, or a ‘house bus,’ or an Earthship. Take a look on the internet for some inspiring ideas.

14 Comments

  1. A good post. Couldn’t agree more. Our culture drives unaffordable, unsustainable shelter.

    Mr Simple
    lessisbetter.org

  2. Thank you for the wonderful and informative site. We live in Minnesota, USA, and have a severely cold climate in the winter, with hot and humid summers. We have built an earth home using contemporary technology and assuming a 500 year (or more) building use. We have been surprised at how well we were able to alter our lifestyle to “fit” into a tiny fraction of the space we were used to. Simplicity, once an adversary, has become a close friend.
    I want to make two points though: We tend to become slaves to our “stuff,” rendering simplifying terrifying; and we need to take control of the councils/building departments who have been created and taught to serve the interests of the construction and mortgage industries.

  3. used Html and I guess it didn’t post http://youtu.be/33IWs4H3kL4

  4. Hello
    This is a great website. We built an earth-bermed, ICF, passive solar House on a budget….wrote a book on the experience.
    Here is the video house tour on Youtube

  5. Thanks Samuel, Ted and Simon for a great site! I’m sure as more and more people spread the good news, it will grow and provide a fabulous source of connection and inspiration for those seeking a simpler life.
    A quick note on Richard’s (Feb 17, 2012) comment…if only we all had the financial ability to follow your lead. Unfortunately many don’t and there is considerable financial outlay to live as you do, which means that a great percentage of the population are instantly locked into a ‘brown’ lifestyle. Being in such a position, my family have chosen to live in a house truck. For a family of four, the dramatic shift in size has allowed us to free ourselves of unwanted ‘things’ and enabled us to think about what we really need in our lives. Challenging as it has been (especially the space factor with our children who are 4 & 7)it has provided us with a clearer understanding of how wonderful the simple life is. We live where we are and we can take our home wherever we like…to where the work/weather/fun is! I am soon to start a blog, which will share our journey in living simply and I hope to inspire and share so that other’s can benefit and help to preserve our wonderful planet by living a more simple life.

  6. I think smaller is better. Steps, reach and consumption could all be smaller in our complex, data filled days. A gradient approach of scale is easily adjusted to accommodate change and ground the momentum before striding forward (in small steps) to meet a future that is gentler around the body, quieter in the mind and ultimately fulfilling of the spirit. Considerations like the time to, how much, what for… and all the other complexities of choice are easily minimized by smaller bites, actions and desires. Simple is often singular in focus, yet with variety the single blade of grass becomes the field, becomes the island, becomes the planet. My housing has been an evolution of design that constructs and deconstructs as my environment changes, today I live in a cow shed, tomorrow I will live with the earth itself as my walls, floors and ceilings…ahhh heaven on earth. I love life in small doses, it leaves you wanting more. Thanks everyone for your shared concern and the hope it offers us all.

  7. I have been collecting samples of simple dwellings on a playlist here:
    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC0A671B7C90E7D01 – I hope you derive as much inspiration from them as I do.

  8. We are really interested in a more eco friendly house. However, we are not in a position to purchase one or buy land to build. Does anyone have resources on renting or ways for financially hindered people to start out? I love the earthship idea but I feel like we are so tight that we just can’t get to that point.

  9. I have moved to Inverell a lovely country town in NSW to take up a job offer. Houses abound around $200,000 which means I just have to do a bit of retro fitting. People here don’t talk about permaculture but many grow vegies and have chooks. I have secured a raw milk supply. My work is 5 mins from home so I have lots of free time. Plenty of cheap home made jams, pickles sauces, eggs and soap available at the twice monthly markets. That is all sourced in 1.5 months. It is not a trendy or hip place but people are friendly.

  10. Yes, McMansions are a real problem. It also needs to be acknowledged that for very wealthy people there are often considerable tax incentives to spend MUCH more than necessary on very large homes. The capital gains tax exemption on one’s residential home needs to be revisited; perhaps it should be phased out altogether for McMansions.

    Eco-Design is an important consideration when retro-fitting/refurbishing existing homes too.

  11. Yes, richard is correct in what he is saying but why do we need more people living in poorly designed houses that are actually not that cheap when we consider that normal working people are enslaved for most of there lives in order to pay for such a house. It is because we don’t do it for the people, we do it to make developers and building companies rich and feed an economy that needs exponential growth. In the 1970′s many people opted out and built earth houses and lived in caravans and experimented with alternatives. That has been almost totaly extinguished now, what is left of it is certainly not simple or cheap. Now that housing in Australia is so expensive, it may be a good time to kick that movement off again but first, council rules need to be altered to reflect this need. And people were drifting into small country towns in the 70′s, where rules were a little slacker and land was cheaper. The next time around, we need to see if we can find ways to house ouselves in cities and suburbs as well as rural towns. Thoreau spoke of american houses as porches at the front of burrow’s. The burrow was the cellar and was essential to store food to stop it freezing. In Australia, we could adopt a similar approach for different reasons. Subterranian or semi subterrainian housing means no heating or cooling is required and may also help people in the hills and towns to live close to nature but be protected from fire. I could imagine sleeping and relaxing down in the burrow part whilst perhaps cooking and eating up on the surface. Anyway, there are some ideas tho think about.

  12. Councils in fast growing, high population areas need developers to supply ‘affordable’ housing. Developers need buyers such as newlyweds, immigrants, property investors and the like to buy their houses. These buyers need houses that they can afford. These houses then, by definition, are poorly designed, poorly built, poorly sited on the block and will ensure high power bills to keep cool/warm. This downward spiral is far too common in Australia. It doesn’t need to be this way. Any or all of the stakeholders (councils, developers, buyers) can break the cycle i.e. by refusing planning permission, by better design, by refusing to buy. But nobody does! Good public education programs on the benefits of sustainable housing are needed. Not sure who pays for this but the benefits are enormous.

  13. Retrofitting: there are ways around double glazing where you just add another layer to the glass. Fix draughts, have curtains and pelmets, only heat/cool when actually necessarily, install solar panels, water tanks, tap aerators, insulation, energy efficient heating/cooling, ceiling fans (if your ceiling is high enough), etc etc. Retrofitting can make a previously “brown” house much “greener”.

  14. In 2008 we left Sydney’s Balmain and built a $300,000 house on a suburban 600sq. metre, $100,000 block of land in Qld’s south-east. We installed 50,000 litre water tanks (buried), a 1.8kW solar system and designed the house to be elevated (to ensure constant breezes), with 3 verandahs (to keep the sun off the external walls and windows) and sited it on the block to maximise/minimise the sun’s effects depending on the season.
    Now in our 4th year, we have not paid for one electricity bill or one litre of mains water (however, we do pay the service charges associated with both). We don’t have (or need) an air conditioner, heater or lawn mower. The yard only contains local native trees and shrubs and is totally devoid of grass, with the exception of native grasses. We grow 50% of all our vegetable needs and 100% of our pineapples, passionfruit, pawpaws, bananas and avocados (luckily the mature tree was already on the block). We are semi-retired and socialise and travel a lot.
    I disclose all this to emphasise how simple it is to live a sustainable, comfortable and fully engaged life in a suburban environment, while avoiding large utility bills. It just means putting in some thought to house design and placement on site. Upkeep of the block is not onerous, in fact with most vegetation being native, it is virtually maintenance free. The garden is watered by an automated irrigation system, meaning that we can travel AND keep a functioning garden.

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