It’s a year since Tom and I moved out of our last land-based “big” house. Our life now is different in many ways. What I want to talk about here is the change in life’s rhythms.
The Mustard Yellow House — the view George the cow gets as she heads to milking.
We all have to align ourselves with rhythms drummed out by the world about us. Pay day, rent day, recycling day, wash day; working days, weekends, Christmas, spouse’s birthday, club meeting nights, laws, deadlines, use-by dates and so on.
Part of being competent at Life is fitting yourself into those laid-down rhythms, then making up your own patterns within them and getting things done that you want to get done. As a result you get to feel somewhat free.
The rhythms that I’m talking about are more or less the same as your obligations — the things you’re meant to do. You can look at them as a burden, or you can look at them as the bones of your life — the structure that you flesh out.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these rhythms now that I live so differently from one year ago.
A misty winter sunset in Paddock World.
Weather: I’m more aware of, and bound by, the weather. Part of this is living in a paddock in a farming area. Weather transforms the landscape around me, scorching it in a rainless spring or soaking it in days of continuous winter rain.
If it’s dry, then I must water my own plantings and play my part in the watering roster for the Makahuri vegetable garden.
Another part of it is depending on the sun for our electricity supply. In summer, when the battery is always full at 8pm, there’s little to think about. But in July it’s a daily task of keeping the battery in its safe zone (70 to 100 per cent), setting up the generator if needed, and trying to avoid having the low-battery alarm go off while we’re sleeping!
And as we live in a paddock on unmanicured farmland, winter can be a messy time with our dogs. Lately our driveway has been muddy, so we often have to carry the dogs down it rather than let them walk and become filthy.
George and her little Tofu, now three weeks old.
Milking: George the cow needs milking every day at 3pm. I’ve learned the process and help out most days: herding George and Tofu up the race to the shed, gating them in, cleaning the udders, avoiding cow pee, fixing on the cups, avoiding cow poo, washing out the machine, rinsing the mats, clearing the cowpats.
That’s me, beckoning George and Tofu to the milking shed.
This work feels very ancient, simple, important, honest — and rhythmic. I like it, and the muckiness makes me like it more.
Availability of delicious, creamy milk has put me into a porridge routine — another change of rhythms!
Home life: Living tiny means a change in patterns. There’s no room for a dishwasher, so sink-washing dishes is a twice-daily routine. Fridge and cupboard space is limited and there’s no freezer, so we have to be vigilant about storing and eating food so nothing is wasted.
Generally, Tom and I try to minimise the rubbish we create, especially plastic. A shopping trip now involves the deployment of woven tote bags and drawstring pouches for produce. We recycle religiously, Saturday being the day for a pilgrimage to the recycling station.
It’s not to look good or even really to feel good about our practices. I think it’s imposing a good discipline on us, making us less thoughtless and chaotic, more careful.
I do laundry when the battery is fully charged or the generator is running. Getting it dry is a matter of pegging clothes out at the right time and watching the weather — there’s no electric dryer or space in the house to hang or drape damp washing.
Inevitably, trips to the laundromat have become part of the process, ferrying dirty things to be washed and wet things to be dried. To make the journey more valuable we build in visits to the gym — new elements in the rhythm of life.
Keeping warm: Previously it was just a matter of turning on a heater. But now we need to find and store wood and pine cones, cut it to fit our tiny firebox, and fetch it in most days because we don’t have room to store a lot of it! That’s the thing about living in a tiny house — chores are smaller and briefer, but more frequent.
Village life: Makahuri is a little settlement now, with a clutch of households and regular visitors and friends. There’s a lot of contact between us: morning teas, weekly news meetings, monthly movie nights, special events like the solstice gathering. I see my neighbours every day.
I’ve never really lived like this before. Years of night work, natural introspectiveness and more recently agoraphobia gave me the habits of a hermit. I’ve seldom known my neighbours beyond a nod.
But now, when I take the dogs for a stroll or a rubbish bag to the shared wheely bin, there’s always someone to greet who knows who I am. I’m part of a little world that has its own ebbs and flows.
The neat rows of Makahuri’s vegetable garden.
I’m willingly submitting to these rhythms, requirements and obligations rather than trying to create a zone that I fully control with the flick of a switch. That’s what I’ve tended to do in the past, and it’s a mistake. Control is a myth, it’s unachievable, and the pursuit of it makes you anxious and out of sorts with the world.
It’s better to submit to something, to allow that there’s something bigger in your life than your own preferences. Fit into rhythms, accept and fulfil obligations, and when a shower of cow poo disrupts your plans, laugh about it.
Must go. Lots to do!