Friday, April 18, 2014

tiny houses vs communal living

When I was a child, and well into my teens, I spent hours drawing plans for living on a canal boat, or in a camper van. We'd had a few canal holidays which I'd loved, and we got a Bedford camper van when I was 9yrs old. It was great when my brother and I were small, but by the time we sold it about six yrs later it was getting to be a bit of a squish for the four of us. So I would eye up those big Dreamliner mobile homes and speculate how best to use the space.

There was something that always captivated me about making the most of absolutely every last square inch of space; having multi-purpose seating with storage underneath, foldaway tables, counter tops over the tops of stoves when not in use etc. One conundrum always reared its head though - how would I find enough space for all my books? In fact this was to become a real life conundrum as an adult and resulted in shelving over the top of doorways in a couple of flats I lived in in Edinburgh where high ceilings made this an excellent solution. In these days of e-books and digital music finding shelving space for such is less of an issue for anyone with limited space, but there's nothing quite like looking along the bookshelves and music collection to get the feel of a new acquaintance and to me it looks far more homely. In one flat we got a friend to build in a loft bed which encorporated wardrobe space underneath which meant the relatively small bedroom easily doubled up as a study which was useful as my partner was studying at the time.

I've known a few people over the years who have lived in narrowboats, houseboats and caravans. For those on the water it was partly a lifestyle choice, but for all it was the only affordable way to live where they did. And none of them stuck with it long term. So when I started seeing links to pages about tiny houses I was very curious. Part of me is very excited by the idea, especially as it is a form of home ownership that is potentially possible for me, and I could go back to drawing umpteen plans on scraps of paper trying to figure out how to fit everything in (or these days trawl the internet to see what other people have drawn up!). But I wonder how long folk will last in them - especially the couples plus dog etc who have next to no way of getting space from each other at home. And then I start thinking, how on earth would I lay out a patchwork quilt before sewing it up in such a small space? Where would I put all my sewing stuff? I certainly couldn't leave my machine set up anywhere. What about bulk food purchases - you can't fit those into a tiny kitchen. And then there's wanting a veggie garden, and needing somewhere to put gardening tools....Plus I love having visitors come to stay, where can you put them???

On the flip side though I've spent the last decade or so thinking more and more about communal housing. It is something I've been interested in since a Young Friends event at Pardshaw to discuss intentional communities, like the then new Quaker community in Bamford, Derbyshire which was over 20yrs ago now. At the time four of us were flatting together, three Young Friends and a very tolerant and understanding forth not-quite-Quaker. We lived together as a household and whilst not without its occasional downsides (more to do with the standard of housing and furnishings than the people usually!) it worked better than a lot of student type flats did. The idea of having several households living together in community seemed like a good idea - as long as you could find enough likeminded people to make it work...

So musings in recent years have tended to be around large buildings divvied up into self-contained spaces with communal facilities; collections of buildings; a stair of tenement flats with communal facilities like a laundry, common room etc. on the ground floor (I never did like lugging wet washing down to the drying green to hang out! Thankfully I never lived higher than the 2nd floor) and so on. I've discovered over the years that whilst I like having my own space to withdraw to or be able to leave projects spread out in, I'm not very good at nor keen on living on my own. Especially when I have had spells of illness/low energy, having people around without having to go to any effort to find them is important to me.

So it was with great interest that I watched this clip about a tiny house at the Earthsong community in West Auckland. I visited Earthsong a few years back as f/Friends of mine who live there were having a celebration and a few of us got the guided tour around several of the homes and the communal gardens. It is a lovely space and idea, but, or should that be BUT, it is in Auckland, admittedly out west, but even so, still Auckland. And let's face it, Auckland is pretty low on my list of places I'd chose to live. I do like the idea of combining tiny house space with community - it certainly solves the gardening and where to do your laundry when you can't drive to the laundromat dilemma. But do you think I could persuade anywhere to have a sewing room? I've been to The Quaker Settlement, Whanganui a few times over the years for various events, and they do have a craft room so it isn't entirely out of the question.... but there it would make far more sense to flat with others in one of the existing houses - if I can find folk to flat with of course! Unless there is someone like Phyllis who could use someone living in to help out I can't see another way of making it work as a single person.

Some years back a group of older Young Friends started throwing ideas around about setting up another intentional community somewhere sometime perhaps as we got a bit older, particularly aimed at those of us without families, but when ideals as to where it should be covered both islands, city and countryside it was obvious it wasn't going to happen in a hurry, if ever. But I'm thinking that it would be far easier to set up a larger community if you had a communal building with lots of land and then individuals had their own tiny houses around it - then if they wanted to move on they could take their house with them... we could take over a camping ground!

Recently someone was telling me about a new house built up the road from them - five bedrooms and four bathrooms, 'why one earth would anyone want to clean four bathrooms?' was her fair comment. Aside from the fact that anyone buying a place that size in that part of Auckland would probably pay a cleaner, it occurred to me later that actually a place like that could possibly work quite well for several folk living in community together, and then they could each clean their own bathroom! Despite the adverts that I find highly irritating about the pitfalls of folk flatting together and why you wouldn't want to still be doing that when you're older (when you could get a mortgage from that bank instead...) given the way property prices are going in this country, especially in Auckland, that is the kind of thinking that could solve a lot of peoples' problems - we don't have to all have our own castle, not to mention washing machine, etc.

Ah well, it is still all completely academic, I'm not moving anywhere in a hurry and chances are that when I do move the destination will be not so much out of my hands but with a sense of being chosen for me if the last decade has been anything to go by. But in the mean time it adds another dimension to my daydreams of how one day I might utilise my living space, big or small.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I moved in here when Andy and I split up, the boys came too with some of their stuff. Now they've pretty much moved out (and taken a lot of their stuff with them) and I'm still finding it too small for books, wool, space etc. And it's a 2 bed bungalow....
I don't think I could ever live full time with anyone again, but do quite like the idea of a Community of some sort.