Home Sweet Home

It seems only right that my first post should be based around a letter to the editor I wrote for NZ Life and Leisure Magazine over summer. Keeping it simple you see!

I’d been inspired by a young couple who had downsized to keep life simple. They swapped a large villa with formal garden for a container home (quite popular in New Zealand following the Christchurch Earthquakes).

Here’s the unedited version which sums up why I support the small house movement. (No, not just because of George Clarke and his Amazing Spaces!) It just seems that if we want to simplify our lives, we should be living in smaller not bigger homes – especially if, like me, you’re the one doing most of the housework!

Dear Kate,

NZ Life and Leisure has an uncanny knack of arriving at just the right moment – often as we prepare to head away for a long weekend. Issue 71 found itself quickly moved from letterbox to overnight bag as we packed to head south camping for the New Year. As Tuis swooped overhead and the kids raced by on their bikes with their latest gang of friends, it was then devoured with a glass of Rose in the shade of native bush – perfect. It featured the usual offerings of inspiration and motivation but for me, the most memorable read was the forthright account of the Heeringa family’s decision to “lead a simpler existence” in the article Prefabulous by Ann Warnock.

While I’ve never owned a pool, chandelier or formal gardens, their pragmatic approach to decluttering is a sentiment I (and I suspect many others) share as trends towards smaller houses, staycations and slow cooking become embedded in the vernacular.

These days it’s incredibly challenging for young families to strike the right work-life balance. “I’ve got money but no time or time but no money!” seems to be a common lament. Saddled with debt from tertiary courses, struggling to get a toe hold in the real estate market, the temptation is there to work long hours and “get ahead” but often this has its own cost. Long commutes, less time with your children and weekends spent doing housework can take their toll.

Several years ago, possibly less consciously than the Heeringas, we purchased a home in the seaside settlement of Brighton, 17km from Dunedin along the Southern Scenic route. Since then, various visitors have confessed they also attended the open homes but deemed the house as “too small for us” – which was one of the reasons we fell in love with it! Renovated from a wooden bungalow to a two-storey, open plan home, ourhome sits on just over 800m2,  features four bedrooms, two bathrooms, laundry, office and two separate living areas. Most rooms are not large by modern standards but are well designed and provide ample opportunity for family time as well as chill out zones – my favourite the upstairs lounge with views south to Taieri Mouth. The house is modern, double-glazed, water is heated via a wetback and it’s easy to clean and maintain. We are fortunate to live one minute from a long stretch of unspoilt beach complete with seals, two minutes to a patrolled beach and a 20 minute drive to vibrant Dunedin with its world-class educational providers, museums, galleries, street art and cafes. Our children bike around the village, surf whenever they can and our eldest is a volunteer Junior Lifeguard. They play impromptu games of touch rugby at the domain with friends and, with so much space to exercise, we welcomed a feisty Fox Terrier to the family.  We know our neighbours by name, including a couple who volunteered to provide doggy day care once a week while we’re at work! There’s a lot to be thankful for.

In short, like the Heeringas, I strongly recommend the less is more approach. In doing so, you really give yourself time and space to be.

So what’s the take home? Buy a home that you can manage – not just financially but physically. Unless you’re loaded, buying a home always requires some compromises so maybe, size doesn’t need to be priority. Easy to clean, maintain, warm and dry were important for us. But equally important should be a home that allows you to live.

Photo: Views south to Taieri Mouth, Brighton, New Zealand.
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