Well, it’s about life in our cottage. I guess you could say we have committed to small house living. Downsizing and living in tiny houses is a growing movement over in America, but it hasn’t quite caught on with the same gusto over here in the UK…yet.
But while these tiny houses are designed for compact living, with multifunctional furniture, designated spaces and clever technology, ours isn’t. Our cottage is at least 200 years old. People didn’t have much stuff back then and the simple, vernacular houses were more shelters than fine homes. Our cottage is about 900sq ft. We have five rooms. Six, if you count the crog loft, accessed by a ladder. Two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom too small to accommodate a standard bath tub and a room that will become our tv snug but is currently a utility/dumping ground. We also have three kids. And just to make it that bit more interesting, we have two sons and one daughter. We have spent the last two years having plans for an extension drawn up, gaining planning permission and listed building consent (oh, yes, the cottage is Grade II listed, just to add to the fun!) and trying to find a builder to do the work. Two years. And we’re throwing it all away to keep the cottage as it stands and instead tweak our lifestyle to fit. All that work was not in vain. People got paid for their work and a lot of useful information was gained. But we also learned something we didn’t expect to learn. That we don’t need all this stuff and we certainly don’t need to spend tens of thousands of pounds building space to accommodate it all. That life isn’t about having the biggest house you can afford. That all that time trying to change the cottage and it was actually changing us.
We looked around at the piles of clutter. Frustrated at the endless search to find an item or important letter that seems to always lie beneath accumulated unrelated stuff we asked ourselves, where did all this stuff come from and do we really need it? Some people would suggest better storage, but we don’t have the space for designated storage areas and plus, we are not fans of flat pack furniture. All of our furniture, with the exception of electrical items, mattresses and the kids beds, comes from auctions, second-hand shops, antique stores…you get the picture. Nothing matches. It’s eclectic and we like it that way. So we began to de-clutter. I discovered the amazing technique of Marie Kondo and although I couldn’t bring myself to personally thank every item I was removing from our home, it certainly started the ball rolling. I also discovered that you need to be focused on the task and having three young children around wasn’t helpful. But I’ve made a start and am almost excited to carry on and see just how little we can live with. Even C, once a self-confessed hoarder, wants to join in.
We tired of mass consumerism a long time ago. The ‘must have’s, the seasons ‘most needed’ item, the latest gadget, gizmo and wonder all designed to make my life easier and more beautiful but doesn’t. Slowly we have started replacing items that we need with local or handcrafted quality items that have a beauty of their own. This is a slow process, quality craftmanship costs but it’s worth it for an item that will last much longer and will be much more pleasing to use than its plastic, imported counterpart.
De-cluttering began in an unusual way for us because it really began with food. When our 3 yr old was diagnosed with an egg allergy we eliminated the egg from his diet. Trips to the supermarket became very enlightening. At first it took a long time to walk around, checking the ingredients of each item, which were safe, which would make his eczema worse and leave him ill. After a while, even the egg free stuff was being put back on the shelf. The chemicals and colourings, additives, E-numbers, did I really want to be feeding my kids this stuff that was disguised as food? Then, I began to cut out sugar. This was a huge thing for me, seeing as the 10 or so mugs of tea I would drink every day contained 4 spoonfuls of sugar. Four. You read that right. Looking back, it’s simple math I can’t bear to do. Whilst I’ve still not managed to cut it out completely (it’s a work in progress) I now drink coffee, no sugar. And I feel better. Helped in no small part by having to go gluten-free as well because of health issues. So there we were, in the supermarket, looking for food that was egg free, gluten free and preferably sugar-free. And it dawned on us, that away from the fruit and vegetables, there was nothing in there that we could eat together as a family, or that we wanted to eat.
The one thing we won’t de-clutter are our books. Maybe some could go but we’re ‘book people’. We love books. We don’t own a kindle, we do own library cards. I doubt a month goes by without at least one book sneaking into the house. Trips to Hay-on-Wye are limited to once a year. Having a passion for books seems to go hand in hand with home educating. We are in the early days of this adventure, our oldest is only 5 and play is still the most important thing to him. Nursery and pre-school have never registered on our radar. Our three acres of fields are their playground. The Charlotte Mason method speaks volumes to us as her encouragement of using good literature and the idea of having some structure whilst still maintaining the freedom to play, explore and investigate appeals greatly.
Maybe you’re only interested in the small house living, the living with less stuff, or the home educating kids in a small house in a rural area. Maybe you just want to see what someone else grows in their poly-tunnel (construction begins in Spring!), how a small holding gets started, how to build up a self-employed business (or how not, we don’t know yet). Maybe it’s the whole lifestyle or just parts of it.
If we lived in America, we’d be called homesteaders, just starting out. Here in Britain, we’re eccentric, borderline mad.