Why we’re doing things this way
Disillusioned with the modern-day lifestyle, my partner (known as the Manasaurus) and I are changing how we live our lives in response to the past few years. The past few years have left us reactive rather than proactive, and world events opened our eyes to the mindless, thoughtless consumption surrounding us. We’ve started doing more for ourselves, with the ultimate aim to one day leave suburbia behind for remote acreage.
The way I see it, a series of events led us to the point where we are at today, and I have no doubt that for some of you, you’ll have had your own series of events that have led you to rethink the way you’re doing some things. Ours is a particularly confronting journey and the recount below glosses over much of what we went through. Sometimes it was a struggle to get up and face the next day.
We have had our fair share of health problems: in July 2019 I nearly kicked the bucket from (then) undiagnosed heart problems, and he got diagnosed with cancer in early 2020, possibly the worst possible time to receive such a diagnosis. Now that we are past these health problems, it’s time to make changes.
2020 – a year of uncertainty
I worked full-time while he was at home, isolated and undergoing treatment. It made it very difficult for us to get our hands on things. I’d hit the shops to find empty shelves, the same as many others did. We got creative with what we had and made do. At this point, we were trying to raise finance to buy a business offered to us, a way for him to transition out of a less-than-ideal employment situation, especially as radiation treatment meant his work in the sun would have to be limited.
March was his formal diagnosis date. The worst time possible for any adverse health diagnosis. Instead of cutting-edge robotic surgery and remission within three weeks of the first operation, he was forced to accept radiation as the only alternative treatment. He faced seven weeks of being bolted to a table for three minutes each day to receive a high dose of radiation to the throat.
Once treatment finished, he had three months of waiting to see if it worked. His oncologist considered him to be in remission in September. Two weeks following, we closed on the business. My original cardiology appointments were scheduled for September and rescheduled for February 2021. Juggling these things all at once made for a difficult time. Constant stress and external pressures meant we would not take the time to make fully informed decisions. Being forced into that position still irritates me.
2021 – housing insecurity
2021 rolled around, and all seemed stable in the early months of the year. You couldn’t get everything on a shopping list at once; logistic problems still plagued everyone. Business as usual at this point in time. You accept it and move on. It’s normal now.
I attend my cardiology appointment in February. Doc set the surgery for the 11th of May, the Monday after Mother’s Day. The third biggest season of the year for our work, but you don’t turn down a surgery that changes your life. On the Friday before surgery, our landlord informed us they were selling, and we would receive a notice to vacate shortly, or we would have the first option to buy. The stress we felt from this absolutely gutted us because we knew we were at least a year away from purchasing from a comfortable position. We had owned the business for nine months. No bank would ever consider us seriously. The only other option was to try and find a rental in a city with a less than 0.5% vacancy rate. Add to that, my surgery failed and I was back to medication, operating at 70% of my usual ability, and added back into the cardiology cycle. Three days after having heart surgery, I was pulling together financial statements, approaching brokers, and looking for rentals as my mind began to fog over from the medication. Fatigue that had disappeared while unmedicated began to creep back in.
With three cats and multiple vehicles, plus a house packed full of his stuff, my stuff, the pieces we purchased together, and our old roommate’s leftovers – we were never going to find a place to rent that suited us. And we liked the area we are in. It’s close to our business, has a huge rear yard, is quiet, and up until this year, crime in the area was low. We managed to scrape enough cash together to make the ridiculous deposit (never be involved in a business with an ABN under two years old and attempt to buy a house in Australia) and purchased our home. It took two hundred days from notice to closing. Every day of this period introduced a new stressor to our lives.
You feel relief when you are not beholden to a landlord and their whims. The place is yours, and as long as you pay the bank every month, it remains yours, and you are free to do your own thing to it. Mount that picture. Paint that door. Take that tree out. Renting was never a viable option for us to maintain our (then) current lifestyle. We needed to buy. Housing insecurity, especially in today’s climate, is a real thing. I have the utmost empathy for anyone feeling it. I still feel nervous about it as interest rates continue to climb.
The house can be best defined as a “fixer-upper”. We had a building inspector go through it before we purchased it, but after many years of living in the house, we knew its problems. They were ones that we can fix ourselves or we know someone who can fix them for us. Supply chain issues have, once again, delayed some of these projects, or material pricing is beyond what we are willing to pay. However, even though the house needs work, one of its key advantages is that it has withstood multiple cyclones. We know the shell will withstand heavy winds. It has done so already. As long as we get it up to scratch elsewhere, it will continue to stand against the winds. The construction of it is core-filled Besser block externals. And, to our surprise, even the internal walls are core filled – an unusual extra for the era it was built in. The shell is going nowhere in a hurry. We need to repair parts of the roof, update the early 80’s kitchen and bathroom, and the rest is cosmetic. A new fence, maybe a carport or garage, and a shed are all wish list items.
2022 – economic dramas
You get somewhat complacent when things seem to be going your way. You settle into an easy routine. You don’t stop to think critically, especially when each day slides by. Our business is open 361/362 days a year. One of us always has to be there for compliance reasons. We don’t get weekends or holidays. We get moments snatched here and there. So it was far too easy to think we’d be okay. We’d mostly overcome our severe health problems (my heart problem was generally stable on medication – medication with massive side effects), navigated our way through most supply chain issues at work, overcome our housing insecurity, and were generally just cruising on autopilot. You’re not thinking too hard.
We come back to supply chains here. The price of a single lettuce shot to over $10 a head in supermarkets as freak weather destroyed crops further south. Roads damaged by flooding meant that supply chains already under pressure crumbled. We watched our grocery bill skyrocket, along with our mortgage repayments, our electricity bill, fuel bill, the price of almost every resource we use had increased considerably. There’s an olive oil shortage, a frozen foods shortage, an egg shortage, a chicken feed shortage, a shortage for everything. The just-in-time supply model has demonstrated its weak point over and over again in the past few years: any disruption to the supply chain, and it’s like a row of dominos, the entire downwards chain falls over. We were constantly reacting to different shortages and making do, getting creative with what we had already. Being reactive is the opposite of what you want to be doing in self-sufficiency. You want to be proactive, so when these dramas come along, you don’t worry. You’ve already got a system in place that doesn’t require continual external inputs.
Last year, being unable to purchase a lettuce or cucumber for a decent price but still wanting salad left me accelerating my own plans for our yard. We own the house now. We can put in garden beds and fruit trees.
So little by little I started changing the backyard into something that would produce for us. Our soil is sandy, we are close to the coast, and invasive tree roots had proved to be a problem in previous attempts at cultivating a productive garden.
Above ground garden beds were installed. I ordered a cubic metre of garden soil from a local landscaping supplier, and in went the garden beds. I utilised materials I already had from previous attempts, and rehabilitated others.
These garden beds and container gardens were a learning curve. But they were one of the things that prompted me, personally, to think a little harder about what direction I want to take. Do I just continually react? Or do I take the time to think about things, invest in my tools and skillset, and be proactive?
It wasn’t a hard choice, and now here we are in 2023 with many of the same problems present in society the past few years still valid issues. We’re in a different position to many homesteaders, we don’t get a recognisable or familiar seasonal pattern, we have a small suburban block, and we are extremely limited by our time because we do run a seven-day-a-week business. Planning out what we want to do and teaching ourselves the skills to do it will take time.