We lived in Sydney, the most expensive city in this big country. Having our rent increased should have been expected. We had heard non stop media alerts about interest rates going up every month to unprecedented levels. It was only a matter of time until those costs would be passed on from landlords to renters. And yet when it happened to us, we were outraged. “Bastard” we thought, “the house is practically falling apart! How dare he charge us more”.
Deciding it was in our best interests to downsize to a smaller place, the subsequent weekends were a rolling slideshow of one damp old unit after the next musty smelling terrace. Twelve inspections later, our enthusiasm was floored. Do we just fork over an additional $5,200 a year to continue living in the exact same home or do we move somewhere slightly cheaper but dramatically more grim?
With tension building, I took a time out to my parents house three hours north. It was here, sitting around the fire looking up at the stars that I had the thought, “damn I wish I could do this every night”. After sharing a beer with my step dad for courage, I boldly sent this exact sentiment to my partner who was holed up in our overpriced Sydney home eating an overpriced take out meal by himself.
It took no less than a couple of back and forth texts to decide our future. We were going to sell all our stuff, buy a van and live on the road. Announcing our new plan the next morning over breakfast wasn’t met with the same enthusiasm. My mum closed up like a clam. Not a word was said, just a disappointing double eyebrow raise. So I pried and pried until she blurted out “you’re 33, you need to think about settling down”.
Well, that settled it. I’m a child who always wanted to do the opposite of what was asked of me grown into a woman with the same defiant trait of doing things differently. The plan was definitely going ahead.
Fast forward a month and the days start flying by, watching strangers come to my house and take away all of the things I had carefully curated over the years to make ‘the perfect home’. Surprisingly, I felt an unexpected blankness. I don’t know what I was imagining. Perhaps elation at having nothing tying me down or a sort of grief over the type of life I was no longer going to live. But no, I felt… nothing.
This was only the first phase of the downsizing. What followed was a brief intermission with family while we got the van road-ready. I assumed the emotions would come later. Besides, we still had a TV (albeit now it was balancing on an outdoor seat bench instead of the beautiful oak and polished concrete console it had lived on for the previous four years), and we still had a bed and desks to work on. As the weeks peeled away, more and more of our possessions were offloaded to friends, family and strangers.
Looking around at empty echoing rooms, realising this is all we had, was an experience I can only describe as contradictory. It was both unsettling and liberating. We thought “what if we never find chairs as beautiful as those again?” straight after discussing all of our new possessionless possibilities - “we could spend next Winter living in Bali”, “yeah or we could rent a place in the Himalayas and hike every day”.
As two people of middle class families from the outskirts of Sydney’s suburbia, it was not lost on us during this process that we were extremely privileged to be making this decision. We didn’t have a mortgage or credit cards to repay, we didn’t have children to feed, we had family to fall back on if everything went to shit and we had jobs that afforded us the savings it took to purchase our van, while also making a little bit of money on the road. Plus having all of those belongings in the first place shows how ‘well’ we had been doing.
When the day finally came to ‘move in’, we only had a small bag of clothes each, some cooking equipment, our laptops and a few books. What had been an arduous task in the past, moving day was over within a rather anticlimactic twenty minutes. It wasn’t until the very moment the van door closed and we looked at each other, that the biggest, ugliest grins formed on our faces. We finally knew, “this is what it feels like to sell all of your belongings”.