Self

The final five days of my tiny house life

Why I am okay with being evicted

Words & images © Paul Ransom

Eviction sounds dramatic but, in effect, this is why I am retiring from tiny house life, (at least for now). However, before we default to outrage or sympathy signalling, let me clarify. I am not about to become homeless. I am not devastated, crushed, gutted, or otherwise downcast. I do not have a landlord issue. In fact, I suspect she is the one who has suffered most through our recent upheavals. She had a vision for a sustainable, affordable community nestled in the hills. I was fortunate and honoured to be accepted into this community. But none of us factored in the power of the hostile neighbour, let alone their determination to be rid of us.

At this juncture you may think I am about to launch into a rant about petty, small town conservatives and the tick-boxing local government bureaucrats who sign off on their complaints. Perhaps you are hoping I will rail against the evils of the state and/or decry the current rules around property development in Green Wedge1 zones, or maybe you are waiting for me to weigh in on the hot topic of housing affordability.

With respect to the legal and broader socio-cultural complexities involved – and in deference to the noisy neighbour, whose reasoning and motivations I am not privy to – I shall narrow my focus. Much as I might enjoy a vent or relish the force of my own opinion, I am more interested in the intimate details.

Specifically, what concerns me here is the way we deal with rupture and uncertainty. I would say ‘crisis’ but, to be frank, this is not how it feels; if only because I knew from early on that my tiny house sojourn would not be forever. Indeed, I said as much in a piece I shared back in February called 50 Days In A Tiny House.

To this end, what follows is a brief journal of my last five days as a tiny house resident in a patch of forest in the Dandenong Ranges.2 Let the process reveal what it may.

Sunday

A cold, grey, breezy day. The mountain ash are rustling. The air smells like rain. Already, my once artfully arranged home is a jumble. But it is not my life that waits in boxes…just a few things. Stuff I can afford to store in the barn for a few weeks. Objects I won’t miss (much).

Although packing and heaving boxes is not the most fun you can have on a Sunday, one of the great benefits of tiny house living is that you do not have that much to move. Tiny life is light.

I have already shed the heaviness of over-stocked cupboards and bulging bookshelves. When I moved up the mountain last Christmas I off-loaded the vast bulk of my possessions; and I have not missed them, nor regretted their migration to the keep of friends and sundry secondhand sellers. The fact that I have been ejected from my new abode a mere seven months after leaving the old one has not altered this. If anything, I am even more thankful that decades of previously accrued baggage has been jettisoned. It is so much easier to have less.

Aside from the obvious practicalities – less heavy lifting, etc – my relative lack of things has mapped out as a greater willingness to ‘go with the flow’ and embrace change. It is as if less stuff equals fewer impediments.

In saying this, I am aware how smug and privileged it sounds. Perhaps only those who have never truly gone without are fortunate enough to enjoy the luxury of less.

  • I have also reaped the considerable benefits of modernity, and the peace, plurality and largesse of the First World; this despite being a working class migrant with a disability who chose low-rent bohemia over sensible, salaried suburbia. Had I not been born at this moment in human history and in this socio-economic circumstance, life as a poor ‘blind’ kid would likely not have allowed for the vanity and indulgence of blogging about being evicted from a tiny house.

Thus, the chance to ‘embrace hyper-fluidity’ is something for which I am deeply thankful. Were I not, I would be stressing out right now, because my near future remains stubbornly unclear. I cannot say with any certainty where I will be this Christmas. At a time when a combination of nationwide accommodation shortages and a post-pandemic inflation spike are impacting the housing market, the next few months might not be the ideal moment to linger in transition.

And yet…I feel fine. More than fine. Weird though it seems, I find myself looking forward to it. There is an undeniable quality of adventure to all this bumping around. After fifteen years in the same inner city apartment, the idea of floating – couch surfing, house sitting, staying with parents awhile – seems more like opportunity than disorientation. (True, I will likely tire of it if it goes on too long, but that too will be a trigger for change.)

Now, as the thunderstorm outside cracks and the promised rain washes down, my sense is that my brief tiny house stay has prepared me for the upcoming uncertainty. Less is not just more – it’s less. The anchor has been lifted, and treasured notions of self, of agency and belonging are less contingent on the standard markers.

In fact, the process of moving a few items to the barn has already convinced me to off-load even more of my worldly goods. And here again, the question: just how much stuff do I really want, let alone need?

Monday

9am. Fog. Cold. The forest is a veiled enigma, its beauty at once earthy and mystical. We imagine it as timeless and ancient, yet it is never still, always reconstituting itself, forming and unforming. My shape-shifting companion reminds me – there is only change.

Already this morning I have thought: three more sleeps. Like a whisper of sadness, a small separation. Rehearsing departure. This little house may have its design flaws, with its constant damp and musty downsides, but I have loved this place. My tiny sanctuary.

Here again, the benefits of less. Intellectually, most of us already know that the 4br, 2w/c designer home with Caesar stone benchtop, master ensuite and alfresco deck is little more than an expensive, hard to clean, crash pad – and that the great Aussie/American/Azerbaijani dream will not prevent us waking up to the fact of difficult marriages, debt burdens and spirit-deadening career paths. Neither will a tiny house – but at least the latter is a lighter load.

However, the tiny life is not simply about ridding yourself of unwanted clutter or avoiding the pressures of a high consumption lifestyle. For me, the last seven months have been about connection and simplicity. Gratitude and latitude. And let’s not forget, cosiness, solitude, relaxation and the daily childlike glee at snuggling into an adult-size cubby house…with all my favourite toys.

  • Seriously, your inner child will thank you if you ever get the chance to live this way – and this is not to be underestimated. Indeed, it is the little boy in me who will grieve most later this week. He has never been happier than he has since we moved here. He is less keen on change than the adult writing this piece.

As I reflect on it now, it occurs to me: I have been nurtured in this compact space. Its nearness is akin to an embrace. This is my miniature world. I do not need any more. I do not want any more.  

*

Mid-afternoon, and the winter sun is shining, crisp and pale. The ground is damp and smelling sweet. My house is emptier still. In the barn, the collection gathers. A clock ticks somewhere, hurtling towards Thursday, when I will click the jamb on a vacated space.

I smile now at the image. The hollowness. After we have gone, the quiet remains. As though we had never disturbed it.

All states are transitional.

Tuesday

The cold feels like a razor this morning. Still and sharp. Even the sunlight seems frigid – a chilled radiance. And somewhere in the trees, birds chatter. Crows, kookaburras, magpies and currawongs. Our tuneful neighbours. So much sweeter than their human counterparts next door.

I contemplate said humans – perhaps as they enjoy their breakfast – and wonder if they are happy in the knowledge that their numerous complaints to the local Council have resulted in the displacement of people who, by any reasonable measure, were not doing them any harm, and whose daily comings and goings would not have impacted either their business or the peaceful enjoyment of their home. The letter of the law may well have supported their agenda but I question the spirit of their determination to pursue it.     

There is much we cannot be sure of, other people especially. I have no idea who my litigant neighbours really are, just as they know nothing of me.

Yet, the brute reality of the week is that this does not matter. As ever, woulda/coulda/shoulda is irrelevant and useless.  

*

Perplexing humans notwithstanding, I am fortunate that my tiny home is set on a property large enough to contain several other (more traditional) buildings. The aforementioned barn, where my possessions will be stored while I float in relative limbo for a few weeks, is a mere twenty metres away, making this week’s bump out simpler than it might have been. But the real blessing is that the owner has stepped up.

In the aftermath of Council’s decision to force the removal of the four tiny houses – and to insist that she return the property to its former function as an upmarket B&B, rather than using it to provide homes and community to people needing refuge from broken relationships or affordable housing options – she could easily have left us to our various fates. Oh well, bad luck, we tried.

When I think of her support and generosity, and the manner in which she has made it her business to see that we are all ‘looked after,’ I am reminded that the world contains more than troublesome neighbours, outdated planning regulations, and unsustainably over-valued real estate. Having now lived in a tiny house I also better understand the multiple benefits they confer; as does the lady who made it possible for me. One day – soon hopefully – next door won’t moan and the law will rule in her favour.    

Until then…the barn awaits, the light brightens, and the cutting edge slowly comes off the cold.

*

3pm. The kitchen cupboards are empty of all but a few snacks, a couple of bowls, the cutlery basics, and my favoured coffee making components.

I ponder all the cookware I used to own and wonder what previously convinced me to lug it several thousand kilometres across two interstate moves.3 Partly, it was sentiment – relics of a fourteen year marriage – but also a form of refusal. There was I, single straight guy in his forties with elegant crockery and expensive saucepans, not conforming to ageist, sexist stereotypes. Proudly so.

These days I no longer feed off the vanity of resistance. The tiny life has made it abundantly clear that self-mythology is as surplus to requirements as the fifteenth ramakin. Possessions are not the only things we hoard.

As dappled winter sunshine slants sideways into my little house, I ponder life without 24/7 access to big white plates and matching antique shot glasses. Perhaps – wherever I land next – I will challenge myself to leave the barn goodies unwrapped. I say this not to be holy or heroic, nor to indulge in undergraduate anti-materialism, but to work out just how few anchors I can get away with.

Maybe lightness, like buying stuff, is also a habit.

Might we also say the same of self? We are addicted to who we think we are – cognitively, emotionally, intellectually. However, in the limited space of a tiny house, everything must earn its place; the clutter of ego included.

The view from upstairs (a few months ago).

Wednesday

The last full day. This time tomorrow I will be half way out the door. In the meantime, the usual moving rituals. The incremental de-personalisation of a box-like space. Returning home to house. A fresh slate for the new custodian.

For the next five weeks my house will be a suitcase. Clothes, computer, toiletries. Like a holiday from addresses. After that…well, there is a plan; but it remains fuzzy. When a small community has its living arrangement ruled in breach of regulations and its individual members are abruptly forced to find alternative accommodation, (and the property owner is trying to juggle everyone’s needs with the various legal and financial realities), certainty goes out the window.

Being evicted reminds you that nothing is truly guaranteed, save change and death. I have found it advantageous to be grateful for this.

*

Almost done. A few items left for a morning barn run. Whorls of dust in corners. If the sun shines through the north facing window in 24 hours time, as it is doing now, I will not be here to witness it; and it will not notice I am gone. What feels like drama down here, is routine up there.

*

7pm. A clear day turning to frosty night. One more sleep. Only now the sadness descends. This tiny house is not mine anymore. In truth, it never was.

I glance around. The space is no longer cosy. Already I am forgetting. When I leave tomorrow I know I will be relieved. That’s done. Next.

Tonight I will snack, watch Tour de France highlights, and try not to mess up the bathroom.

In our modern folklore these are meant to be big moments. Perhaps it will hit me later – when the child Paul starts to miss his dream cubby – but for now this is just a night in. Even if I find myself crying later, I will wake up tomorrow, pack my suitcase, bundle the last few bits into the barn and leave. Ultimately, this is what change is. Mundane.

Thursday

The coffee is made, the suitcase is half packed and my magpie friends, (Maz and D), have already sung for their breakfast. There is only one serious task to tick off – dealing with the composting toilet. That one of the final acts of my tiny house existence will be heaving a bucket of my own shit is doubtless symbolic. Saying that, I will surely not miss the poo bag routine.

Neither will I mourn the notorious tiny house damp, nor the nigh constant low-end whir of the de-humidifier.

Everything has its price, and I have been prepared to bear it because the benefits far outweigh a few kilos of faeces and the minor unpleasantness of pulling on ‘wet’ t-shirts on chilly mornings.

The tiny life will not suit some of you but it works well for me. Far from being a renunciant lifestyle it is a life of plenty. Such riches may not be measured in spa baths, walk-in robes or rumpus rooms, but if we place a value on simplicity – on enough rather than more – and on the flexibility and affordability that tiny houses offer both individuals and communities, they could one day become the micro mansions of a re-imagined form of wealth; one that can be enjoyed by the many, not just the few.

*

Late night. Dead tired. Glad it’s all over. But here too, a spike of melancholy. As I prep for a night on a friend’s sofa, I pat my pockets, checking for the presence of a key. Oh, that’s right, I don’t have one. A strange and oddly liberating lack.    

Afterword

Saturday morning. After the bustle of the last few days…quiet. I breath, relieved now, in a house by the sea, with an imperious looking cat for company.

The usual residents are taking a holiday in the tropics, just in time for me to transition from tiny home to house sitting gig, from small spaces to expansive kitchens and king size beds. (The cat and I will surely snooze on said bed one of these afternoons.)

I sit at the lovely and sizeable dinner table – with a long black from the espresso machine – and I ponder the distance between the material abundance before me and wealth of lightness that sustained me in my former abode.

Having moved (almost) every object I own to the barn, my sense is that I could shed a significant percentage. After all, why do I need four chopping boards? What benefit accrues to me from clinging to the remnants of old record collections or photo albums I never look at? Although true that keepsakes and precious items serve a purpose beyond mere utility, and that sentimental attachments are as valid as any other, there is nothing quite like the sheer physical weight of our collected objects to remind us how much we routinely carry around. Like armour. Or obligation.

Looking around the beautiful, spacious house I will be ‘sitting’ for the next fortnight, I am glad all this stuff is not mine. The tiny life has shown me just how much I prefer the comforts of nimbleness and, moreover, how achievable and pragmatic they are.  

Beyond that, over the last seven months I have learnt that I prefer to anchor in process, rather than to apparently fixed points like isms, postcodes and funky furnishings.

I realise this is not workable for everyone. Neither am I suggesting that it is a superior or enlightened attitude. However, it has helped me deal with the disruption of recent weeks and to look forward into the relatively uncertain near future4 with a sense of calm and self-trust.

Eviction is a rude awakening – as well as a big reminder of the central impermanence of our existence – and it has opened my eyes even more to the riches of tiny house living and to the subtle and profound joy of non-attachment.

Thank you, whinging neighbours. Not sure you will get what it is you think you wanted from expelling us, but your serial complaining has delivered multiple benefits to me. Happy now?                     

1: The land where my erstwhile tiny house was located is in an area classified as ‘green wedge’ – which, as the words suggest, is a zone where environmental assets, like forests, are afforded significant protection. For owners and developers, this entails an array of compliance caveats, some of which relate to the types of dwellings and other buildings permitted on a property.      

2: The Dandenong Ranges rise up east of Melbourne, Australia. My ex-tiny home was situated in a town called Olinda.

3: The two moves in question were from Adelaide to Port Douglas, and from there to Melbourne. My distance guess would be approximately 7500km. Curiously, despite the cookware cargo, both trips were preceded by a possession off-load. This makes me wonder about the accumulate/downsize cycle – perhaps a seasonal shedding of skin. Will I soon start gathering again?

4: With many thanks to the owner, I now have a room in the main house on the property, meaning no change of address and a return to share housing – this time with two fellow evictees. None of us know how long this arrangement will last but, for now, we will still have melodic magpies and problematic people for neighbours. (Thank you, Jess.)     

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