Minimalism, Mortgages and a Green Swing

Minimalism, Mortgages and a Green Swing

Last year I touched on one of the major reasons behind my decision to take on full-time employment. I’m a huge advocate for working part-time hours and one of the best decisions I ever made was going part-time back in 2010 when I first started consciously journeying towards simple living.

However, situations change and last year Glen and I made the decision to buy an apartment. It was not a quick decision – in fact it took us several months to finally commit and sign the paperwork. It wasn’t any apartment we were after, but a specific one… more on that in a sec. The decision to buy somewhere meant that I needed to find employment in order for us to save the deposit.

Taking on a mortgage seemed at odds with our commitment to live simply. One of the biggest attractions is the freedom that comes with having few possessions and having few financial obligations. Neither of us want to feel like we have to go to work just to pay for the stuff we’ve bought or to pay off debt. We’ve pared down our expenses so that we can survive on the salary of one person. It means that if one of us was made redundant (as happened with me a couple of years ago) it doesn’t have a life-changing impact on our spending or standard of living; or if one of us hates our job so much we want to quit, we have that choice. It’s a pretty powerful feeling, knowing that if you wanted to, you could walk away from it all.

However, a mortgage will potentially change all that.

What about the alternatives to house-buying? One of the big lifestyle ideas that’s come out of the simple living movement is the idea of tiny houses – houses that can be less than 10m². Often built on trailers, they don’t require a mortgage and provide debt-free living for converts. We love the idea, but neither of us have any DIY experience – I’ve never even put up shelves! We don’t have any land to park a tiny home. With temperatures in Perth exceeding 40°C in summer, I’m not convinced it would be a comfortable solution. Plus despite our minimalist intentions, we are not ready to fit into a space that small.

Tumbleweed Tiny House
A Tumbleweed Tiny House from the USA. And people do actually live in them!

Another option would be to carry on renting. And actually, I’m a big fan of renting. I find it frustrating when people say “oh, renting is just throwing money away!” How so?! You get somewhere to live in exchange for your rent money – sounds like a pretty good deal to me! Plus when things go wrong, it is someone else’s problem (and expense) to fix them.

So why did we choose to go down the house-buying path? Well, a lot of it was to do with the place we decided to buy. It’s an apartment…but with some differences. It’s part of a project called the Green Swing which has been set up by two couples in Perth. Fed up with the current urban design in Perth, which features huge houses and tiny courtyards, double garages with large driveways, and buildings not adequately designed for the Perth summer heat, they set out to do things differently.

Their focus is on creating small-scale inner city living environments that are high quality and made with recycled materials where possible, promote building community, make proper use of solar passive design to dispense with the need for air conditioning, and have other green features. They started with their own homes, building four dwellings on a block that are centered around a community garden (you can see two of these houses in the featured picture at the top of this page).

They are now working on their second project The Siding, and it is this one that Glen and I are buying a unit from. We first heard about the Green Swing just as the first project was being completed back in 2012 and were really excited that someone was out there doing things differently. When the second project launched on a block four doors down from the original, we wondered if it was something we should buy into…literally!

We thought about it for ages. I’d met Eugenie (one of the Green Swing owners) at a Community Garden open day in 2013 and invited her to speak at the Less is More Festival, which she did. We went to look at Eugenie and her husbands’ place a couple of times and had many discussions about what they are doing, and why, and how. The more we got talking the more we felt that their vision is similar to ours, and the project is one we want to be part of.

So what were our doubts? I’ve already talked about the mortgage. We also held back because it wasn’t… ideal? There are solar panels on the roof, but I wanted a bigger solar PV system. There is a rainwater tank, but it’s small and shared amongst the three units in our building so will only provide token rainwater. There’s no grey water system. The community garden area is smaller than I’d like (I’d have less houses and more garden!). But then I caught myself. Why did I want everything bigger and better? That’s not a very minimalist approach! Plus, whilst I might have done things differently, it isn’t my project. This project isn’t about being the most sustainable community-oriented project ever. Sustainable and community-oriented, yes, but within what’s practical and what’s possible.

Eventually we cast our doubts aside and decided yes. Whilst we like living in our current flat, we are ready for a change. We want to be able to grow our own food. We love the community aspect of the new place – and the whole suburb has a real community feel. Glen is excited that we will no longer have to store our bikes in the bedroom. We love that it will have solar panels and rainwater and we won’t need to retrofit (something we wouldn’t be able to afford if we bought an older property). It has a 10-star energy rating. There’s lots of other great features like communal veggie beds and shared bike storage. And we’re really looking forward to having like-minded neighbours!

The Green Swing – The Siding

The project is still under construction, so we won’t move in until the end of the year. (Hence the new job – we’re saving hard for the deposit.) I’ll share some more info about the building and its green features once it’s completed and I can take photos. You can always have a look at the Green Swing website is you’re really interested (or nosy!)

What I will share is the site plan. Needless to say, I’m really excited about being to grow more of my own food! There will be lots of fruit trees. I’m even wondering if we can get some chickens on that patch of lawn!

Green Swing Site Plan
This is the site plan. Our unit is number 3, in block 2. It’s the ground floor flat. The orange blobs are the community veggie garden beds. It’s no coincidence that our unit opens directly onto it!

 What do you think? Do you like the new place? What about the balance between the desire to living simply and the need for money? What choices would you have made? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

32 Responses to Minimalism, Mortgages and a Green Swing

  1. No way! My boyfriend has bought one of the flats above yours and we’re both looking forward to moving in! :-) It isn’t the most minimalist lifestyle choice owning a house, especially given the fact we both want to do more extended travel, but for now it seemed the right choice and it works out better in terms of commute time, so winning in that respect :-) plus I’d love to have chickens, my boyfriend’s old flat used to have some and fresh eggs are the best :-)

    • No way!!! That is so super awesome! We debated the flats upstairs for quite a while (months) – I love their design. Glad you’re up for the chickens, apparently official rules say Vic Park don’t allow them but that space would be so perfect! We will of course look after the chickens whilst your off on your travels ; )

  2. Love the path you’re taking and your approach to life. You set a great example. A couple of thoughts I have: Once you have made the purchase, how will your total home owner expense compare to your current expenses? Also, do you have an exit strategy? In other words, if it doesn’t turn out as you expect, how easy will it be to sell, or somehow, regroup and move on?
    I think it’s a great plan, but it’s good be prepared for all options.
    http://www.DirtyRedHat.com
    Archie

    • Hi Archie, thanks for your comment and your kind words. I really like your questions, however I feel I need a whole blog post to answer them. (I think it’s one I might have to write!) In term of expenses, the mortgage payments will be more than our current rent. That said, our flat is fairly cheap but it is not in good repair, so not somewhere we’d like to stay long-term. We could afford to pay the rent here if only one of us was working for minimum wage – the new place is more ,but we have a lot of flexibility! With the solar panels (and no gas), we will have one energy bill that should be lower than our current one – although we don’t pay for water where we live now, so they may balance each other out. However, we will be able to grow far more of our own food, we will have a second bedroom that we could potentially rent out, or even the garage space. There’s always the option to rent it out and live somewhere cheaper if it got that bad!

      Don’t worry, I am pretty good at being prepared for all circumstances!

  3. What a great endeavour! I look forward to reading more about it as it progresses and the end result. I just think of the great benefits like sharing items rather than all buying individual gadgets.

    My partner is a builder and he recently finished a set of townhouses. Rather than a garden that was pretty he set about to put fruit trees that the residents can eat from, made sure they had some space for a small garden and put solar panels on each roof. He has another project coming up so i might see if he can work more of the ideas from your new home.

    • Hi Erin, thanks! I’m really excited about how it will progress. I’ve been thinking already that we need to get an inventory so neighbours can borrow each others’ stuff and not have to buy so much – although it’s very early days and only 2 have sold, so these neighbours do not even exist yet!

      Communal fruit trees are great! Especially citrus because they look great all year round. Community veggie beds would be even better – get your partner onto it! ; )

  4. LIndsay, what a fantastic place for you and Glen! You know you can still be a minimalist and own a home. I have yet to buy or add any furniture to my home that I didn’t have in the studio apartment (aside from the one kitchen cabinet I turned into craft storage).

    I can see why you were torn about this decision and took a while to make it. I have always resisted any ownership that comes with restrictions. For example condos are pretty popular and I considered it but outside of the freedom to do anything I wanted inside the condo I had no say or control in what I could do outside. Similar to how you would like to have chickens or maybe more garden space. But no property will be perfect and it sounds like you found the right fit for you now.

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about your home as the plan progress.

    • Thanks Lois! It’s funny, Eugenie said to us about taking time before rushing out to buy furniture to fill the space – ha! I will be buying as little as possible! We might get rid of a few things we have here though, so there might be some replacing (second-hand of course!) and we would like a table that seats more than 4. But without a car, it’s actually very difficult to buy furniture, especially as second-hand places don’t deliver! We just bought some new shelves for the flat as we didn’t have a pantry. We moved in here in May, and we’ve been making do with a makeshift cabinet and a box on the floor. I just couldn’t fin anything second-hand locally. Eventually last week I finally got sick of the pile in the box on the floor, and we got new shelves. 8 months before I caved in. That’s my shopping speed!

      The thing that I love about the community aspect of the garden is that if we decide to move back to England at any time, the garden will continue and when we came back, it would still be there. Even if we go away on holidays, we don’t have to worry that things will die. Plus many hands make light work! If you have a house and leave it you’re saying goodbye to your garden : (

      • Good point, yes I had to leave my gardens behind when I moved. I’m still hoping they will continue through other tenants. And here if I left for any extended holiday my gardens would suffer.

        Love how it took you eight months to cave. :-) Sounds like something I would do.

        • Haha, yes 8 months is a long time to stew on something! We saw the Tiny movie whilst we were thinking about it, and that certainly didn’t help! It could probably be said that I have a tendency to over-think things!

  5. Yes, I love the idea to live with people on the same plot, that have the same or similar thoughts.
    My family started such a life 15 years ago:
    we built a low-energy house in such a place in Germany. It was a pilot-project, called ‘car-free living with children’ in a rural place in our county, so the ten families, that were involved, got some money from the state. The idea was: building a house in the middle of a circle, that all families could use for several purposes, birthday parties, playing with more than 2 or 3 children, shelter for the kids in rainy days etc.After a while, when each family built their own house, most of them said: there is no more money for the community-house, why do we need it, we have our own place now. For my family the idea of a community-house was the reason, why we joined in the group, because I had many plans with the kids… Long story short: no community-house, no community, more cars than kids, everyone lived on his/her own, no contact with neighbours, only a few exceptions.
    We left that place last year, moved to the UK and now living in an old Viktorian House in the middle of a small town with beach. It is less efficient, has no solar pannels, only a few double-glazed windows … we started to upcycle, also called renovation :-)

    Life is full of compromises and you have thought a lot about the step to buy that flat. Owning a place, that you really like is much better than renting it. You are able to change things and have not to ask for everything and waiting for the money back. Working for a mortgage is ok in my opinion. Renting a place for years is in the end more expensive and the winner is the landlord. In many cases he earns a lot more money than the property is worth.

    I wish you good luck and happyness with your decision!

    • The project you describe sounds so great, and then ends so sadly! I can’t believe people would choose to abandon the community aspect of such a place. How very lonely.

      What town are you living in now? Is there a good community there to be involved with? Love the sound of upcycle-renovating!

      Life is all about compromise – tell me about it! Owning our own place will be good, yes. Being mortgage-free will be better, but we can work towards that!

      Thanks Susanne!

  6. Lindsay, I LOVE your new place! I would live there myself in a heartbeat!
    I think that you have made a very good decision.
    Wishing you well, Carol

  7. Yes, indeed, the end was poorly, but we came over it with a new-start here in Ramsgate/Kent, where we lived from 2011 to 2013, because our daughter wanted to visit school here. After she finished, we went back to our place in Germany, sold our beautiful low-energy-house and bought one here (without a mortgage, because the english banks don’t give mortgages to strangers and the german banks don’t give money for a house abroad. So lucky we, we are mortgage-free, jeppee.
    Here you find a lot of great people, artists and artists-of-life and because of our two big dogs we have contact to many animal-loving people. A lot of germans are around as well. We love that place, that we have chosen and there are many possibilities to find interesting people. Only the recyling is pooooooor. So an other compromise: living here mit all these odds and be happy :-) or living in good old Germany with a perfect insulated double-glazed house and great possibilities to recycle but in the wrong place and unhappy ;-(

    • Mortgage-free living – that’s the dream! When Glen first came over the the UK he found it very hard to get even a bank account, so it doesn’t surprise me that it’s hard to get a mortgage, although it’s very unfair. Still, sounds like it wasn’t a problem for you : )

      I’m from Kent actually, from a small village near Ashford, and I lived there until I left for university at 18/19. So I know Ramsgate a little! And yes you’re right, the recycling in Kent is terrible – my parents only got verge-side recycling collection in 2013,which is ridiculous.

      Being happy is definitely not a compromise. If you weren’t happy at the other place then there was no reason to stay. Even if the recycling facilities ARE amazing ; ) Glad to hear you’ve found happiness in Ramsgate.

  8. I completely agree with your thoughts on working part time. Too often it is thought that you must work part time because something prevents you working full time… it can’t possibly be a choice!

    • When I was in my twenties, the only women I knew who worked part-time were mothers, and it seemed like children were the only valid excuse for society (and me) to justify it. It took working at a charity where people did all kinds of working patterns and alternative lifestyles to realise I could do what I want, regardless of the status quo.

      There were people I worked with at my old job who thought I must be a “kept woman”. No, I’m just very good at managing my money! I think my parents struggle with it too – they don’t understand why I’d want to work part time when I could work full time and earn far more money.

      Practically it makes far more sense to go part-time if you don’t have anyone else to support other than yourself, anyways!

      • It’s something I’ve only realised the benefit of in the last year. The economy combined with my job sector had forced me into irregular and part time work long before I was ready to accept it! Now I have adapted and in fact my husband and I both work part time! This won’t always be the case – but like you said, it’s a powerful feeling knowing that you can make it work!

        I really enjoy your honest writing – you have some great ideas!

        • Sounds like you’ve got it great if you’re both working part-time! You must have so much more time to spend on the things you enjoy! I look forward to when I can go back to part-time hours.

          Thanks so much Claire!

  9. Lindsay I’m so glad you dropped your blog name in on instagram!. Oh my, I have a lot to read in here! Love it, loving it all! :-)
    As for the renting vs mortgage and community living such as the one you’ll be moving in to…lots to say, this a big one for me at the moment coming from a rented apartment with three kiddos. I love the looks of your new place to be though. Sounds rather awesome.

    • Hi Brydie, thank you so much for visiting and it’s lovely to have you here! And even better to hear that you like what I have to say! Nice to finally “meet” you : )

      It is a big topic and I could only say a fraction of what I wanted to here! The sustainable idyll is always the big patch of land and being self-sufficient, but money and life circumstances don’t always allow for that, do they?! Still, there’s plenty for us to do from our rented apartments! : )

  10. This sounds wonderful. There’s a set-up a little like this in Atlanta. It’s been around for a couple of decades though. We visited there last year. Parking is at the perimeter and all the buildings are connected by walkways, with the community house and the gardens and playing field in the middle. Too bad it’s further out than I want to move. As for having a garden: I was just sorting out a box of canning and jam jars I found in the basement (from my more-agrarian past). I doubt I’ll get to have a garden again so I’m donating them. Too bad I’m so far away and can’t give them to you.

    • Wow, imagine having enough space to put a playing field in the middle! (Although I’d turn the whole thing into a huge veggie patch so it’s probably best I don’t have one). I would rather live in the city than the country at the moment – I just want country living in the city! So there’ll never be that much space : /

      There’s so much of yours stuff that I see and I’m like, ooooooooh, but NO! I’m trying to minimalise! I think that’s why you’re so far away – to stop me straying from the minimalism path!

  11. Congratulations with your new home! It sounds really good. I especially like the possibility to grow your own veggies. It’s also nice to have a place to park the bikes. And living on the ground floor means easy access to the garden, a little bit closer to nature.

    We also want to live simple. All we need is a big kitchen to cook nice food and to hang out, a small bedroom, and a simple bathroom. We don’t want to spend a lot of money on housing and a big mortgage is something we try to avoid.

    After coming back from China we were extremely lucky to find a house that is awaiting sale or demolishing… it is in good shape though… and we got to live in it for a very low rent. It is just perfect. We are now exploring our new town. It’s really nice and quiet and only some 4 km to the beach.

    To make things even better we signed a contract for a garden (in a greenhouse, not heated though!). It’s only a few hundred meters from our house so we’re very happy. While it was snowing outside, we sowed carrots and some greens this morning.

    The only downside is that we do not know for how long we can rent the house. The owner can cancel the contract on a 4 weeks notice.

    Hope you too will love your new home as much as we like our current place. It may be a big change to work so many hours a week, but in return you soon get to live in a really nice place.

    • Hey Annemieke, thanks for your comment! Yes, growing veggies again is going to be the best – I gave my beloved allotment up when I moved to Australia, and I’ve never felt quite the same since!

      Our mortgage will be big because houses in Perth are expensive, but it’s not big for Perth. We intend to pay it off as soon as possible!

      Your new house sounds great! And the garden sounds better : p Hopefully you’ll get to stay in the new place for a good amount of time – still, living simply means it’s not so much hassle to move.

      Your argument doesn’t quite stack up… I get to live in a nice place, except I’m out working all the time to pay for it so it’s sitting empty! Well, it’s not quite like that. I’m working now, hopefully once we have it (and we’ve proved to the banks that they should lend us the money) I can work less and garden more! : )

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