Words by Kate-Lois Elliott
I'm obsessed with shows about unconventional living. I spent an entire Sunday watching Escape to the Chateau after a friend recommended it to me. I fantasised about purchasing a derelict castle in the south of France and doing it up room by room. I would have long weekends where friends from London would visit. We'd lull around by a log fire in the evenings, eat 19 different kinds of cheeses and drink red wine with every meal. The mornings would be full of the hustle and bustle of fixing leaks and chasing away the neighbour's goats...Oh what fun we'd have.
I also watched How to buy without a Mortgage on Netflix. It's full of stories about people buying house boats and building homes on the back of old horse trailers. The height of the drama is usually the struggle of finding creative storage solutions in your tiny house, and usually results in hiding tables in walls or storing potato's in the floorboards. I expected to find this show inspiring, but all it did was make me reduce the monthly payments into my Help To Buy ISA because I realised the entire thing was hopeless. These shows are a lie: the supposedly positive premise is that it’s not that expensive, so instead of having 500k to spend on a house I now only needed between 25k and 75k, cash. When did living in a hut in the woods become a game for the very privileged and not an act of necessity?
The demand for shows like this comes from a growing desire amongst the younger generations to find alternatives to entering a painstakingly expensive housing market, which for most people feels like an impossible task.
There are government schemes to help first time buyers. There is an argument that Shared Ownership (where the government owns part of your house and you pay rent on it until you’re ready to buy them out or sell it) is a bad move. Given the unpredictable housing market and extortionate interest rates, you may end up losing money on your purchase rather than gain equity. Saving in a Lifetime ISA means the government will give you up to £3000 extra as you save to buy a new home, but that’s still a drop in the ocean when looking at houses prices throughout the UK. As helpful as these schemes have been to many people, the bottom line is, they are often not helpful enough.
Many European societies have a culture of renting, and it makes sense: you’re not tied down to anything and have no financial obligations, you can travel, be free and spontaneous and have no mortgage to fill you with angst. But in today's housing market, where we’re flinging rent money into a cavernous abyss, having nothing to show for it accept an empty bank account and stylistically compromised communal areas, it's no wonder these shows are popular.
Building a tiny house for under 10k is a steal if your parents have a spare field and you don’t mind taking low-pressure showers for the rest of your life. Compared to investing a 50k deposit on a three bed terraced house in Mile End that you’ll never pay off, it’s arguably doable. But what must we give up for it, and is it worth it?
Let's say you do manage to save up the money you need to build or renovate a home. Let's say you've also decided that you don't want kids (much easier living on a boat if you don’t have kids) or a conventional career (not possible to get to Bank by 9am if living in a field in Suffolk.) If you manage this, then welcome to a life of relative financial freedom, liberty from the societal norms that bring the worst out of humans - capitalism, corruption, greed, vanity and processed foods - and indirectly doing everything you can for the environment by not having children or using cars very much.
If we all decided to move to the countryside and live in tiny houses and tiny communities then the world would be a better place. We'd grow veg and live off the fat o' the land, building things out of things and living relatively normal lives in the interim (I promise I'm not thinking about getting a generator and putting on acid raves in the woods.)
The thing that stops me from doing these things is FOMO. I am tapped into this urge to be present in the city, where I believe things happen, where there are events and dinner parties, and creative opportunities where I might get a chance to do something clever sounding with my career. I might even find lasting love with a human-life-partner type person. I'm somehow convinced that I wont find fulfilment unless I'm in the middle of a big fat metropolitan rat race. It seems like I'm fantasising by even suggesting that smaller communities and home-made-homes could become the norm, but I'm not. It's completely doable, we've just been conditioned to believe that it's not.
If you’re in a bubble, and the bubble is holding you back for whatever reason - the only way to fix it is to remove yourself from it. It may feel incredibly unnatural to do it, but once it’s done you’ll see the bubble from the outside, and how very small it is.
In the last 8 years most of us have spent at least £60,000 on rent in London. Perhaps we’ll all ponder the notion of doing it differently for another 8 years, whilst throwing away half of our earnings on rent in the meantime. We could all aim to buy tiny houses, if that’s what we want, but then again by the time we get there we might not care for owning anything anymore.
I’ll perhaps amend what I said. I don’t want every young person living in London to escape the rat race and go back to living in farming communities in the woods, as idealistic as that sounds. Perhaps what’s more important is that we get away from the idea that there is one correct way to do things, that we pop our bubbles, and embrace the endless opportunities that lie outside of them.
How to Live Mortgage Free is available on Netflix now.
Kate-Lois Elliott is a writer, producer and actor. She has contributed for publications that include VICE, Caboodle, Femini, XYZ Magazine and Mouth London. She is also co-host of the Podcast Diversify. Kate was the assistant editor for The Shapers Project book with The Creative Society, Jazz FM and Mishcon De Reya, has had her short fiction read out on Wandsworth Radio/Either-Author and had her work staged at Theatre 503. She regularly champions first time playwrights with her company Backbone Theatre, who run workshops and readings at London venues.
Twitter and Instagram: @kateloiselliott
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