When we decided that we needed to be on the farm full-time, we did not even have a shed erected on the site. Council approvals and bad weather had delayed us for over 6 months. Originally we thought we would have two sheds up by the time we wanted to move here, but obviously this didn’t happen. We moved to the farm anyway … to live in our caravan for the short term until we got further accommodation sorted out.
Those who know me may remember me as a city girl who likes her creature comforts. Having been a regular day spa visitor and not being a big fan of dust, windy days or hot weather this was a big change for me. In fact in the last few weeks before we moved I started quietly looking at the Real Estate online rentals section to see if we couldn’t get ourselves a few creature comforts for a small price. And then I would do the maths and realise that it would cost us at least $1000 per month to do that – that seemed like an awful lot for a few creature comforts and it also represented a lot of things we couldn’t do on the farm that we really wanted to do if we spent that money in another way.
So we moved into the caravan – I kept telling everyone I met that it is part of a ‘rite of passage’ for anyone who builds their own home on acres. And I did think it would only be short term. I still think it will be relatively short term.
Moving into the caravan, though, meant we needed a few more things than we did if we just stayed down on weekends. Simple things like electricity. We invested in a 2600W generator which will become the backup to our off-grid solar system for the future house. We also bought a 750W, 12V solar system which runs the deep cycle batteries for the caravan and from this we can run lights, hot water and pump water into the shower and sink. So we have hot running water. For at least 15 minutes a day we have hot running water. In that time 2 people can have showers and wash their hair – personally I never would have thought this possible even 3 months ago. But then I had tresses halfway down my back. Now I have short hair – I had over 12 inches or 30 cms cut off the length soon after we moved here – I didn’t even consider it a sacrifice and now I love my short, easy to manage do and I can get through a shower in under 8 minutes which I never thought was possible!
The generator means that we can charge laptops, phones, modems for about 1 – 2 hours per day and we can survive on this amount of connectivity every 24 hours. If the modem goes flat from over use (or forgetting to turn it off when not in use), or I run out of battery on my laptop, then we have to make a decision as to whether to re-start the generator or to go without. Depending on the day we choose one or the other although I like to challenge myself not to restart the generator more than once a day – it keeps my carbon footprint small. But on days when I am on my own on the farm all day it does seem that more often than not I need the connection to the outside world, so I am prepared to use a little extra fuel for that.
Water has proven to be challenging too. Our only rainwater tank is about 500 metres from the caravan and was connected up after the first shed was erected, which was after we moved here. We had about 450mm rain in the winter months leading up to the time the tank was connected, so that water went down the creek – literally! Since we had the tank installed we’ve had a total of about 120mm in the last 2½ months and we’re coming into summer which is usually dry. So we have had to buy some water in – but it still cost us less than a month’s rent! The challenge is that it is 500 metres from the caravan and we don’t have a hose that long … And so we have carted water, 200 litres at a time from the tank, down the hill, across the creek and up to the caravan where it is siphoned in 100 litres at a time. 100 litres is about three showers and two or three sinks full of dishes. So this can last us 2 – 3 days, depending on who is showering where (sometimes my husband showers at work before he starts his shift).
We have also installed a small rainwater tank for the garden – no food without water!
For heating we have a small gas powered radiant camping heater which heats the caravan in about 20 minutes on a very cold night. Living in small spaces has its advantages!
So while these are some of our daily living challenges, in the past few months, I have learnt to start the generator, fill the generator with petrol and stop the generator when I need to. I even fixed the generator this morning when the on/off knob vibrated lose and fell off in the trailer while it was being used by the shearer. I now know where the screwdrivers and pocket knives are and often have need to use them. I have been practicing how to drive with the trailer and lately I have been practicing reversing the trailer which is a whole new world of challenge – if you’ve never tried it, don’t try it without supervision! Today I filled up the water barrel for the first time and managed to get it strapped into the trailer and towed back to the caravan without spilling it or tipping it over. I’ve learnt a lot about securing things in the trailer too.
But the really important things that I have learnt in these first couple of months is how little I can actually survive with. I don’t need an extensive wardrobe of designer clothes, I don’t need to apply conditioner to my hair every day – twice a week is all it needs. I don’t need TV. Although I do watch some programs over the internet at times, selectively. I don’t miss seeing all the ads on TV and I don’t need to watch the news every night to find out what’s going on in the world. I don’t need to buy the latest fad – I don’t even know what it is. I don’t need to buy books and CDs when I can borrow them from the local library.
What I do need is the support of my family and friends in this adventure, the love of my husband and time to make our plans reality. I need a bit of chocolate now and again. I need to write and think and ponder this life. I need fresh food, shelter, rain, fresh air and a few things to wear. It’s a simpler way of living, but I have surprised myself by how little I need. Some days I reflect back on where we have come from and I am amazed that we are doing okay – actually doing better than okay – in our little caravan on the hill. Sometimes smaller, simpler, down to earth, yet challenging, invigorating and demanding at times. It’s a caravan life!