WORDS KAREN LOCKE PHOTOS HONEY ATKINSON
When we first arrive at Tricia Hogbin’s rural property in the Hunter Valley, she’s preparing for the school run. Only it’s unlike any school run I’ve ever seen, because instead of a car and traffic reports, this one involves saddling a horse and strolling along at a sedate pace down a quiet country road.
Accompanying Tricia and her 9 year old daughter Olivia on the short ride to school seems the perfect way to start a conversation about how she and her husband Mike navigated such a big tree change.
“A mere five years ago we were a typical urban-living, dual income, busy family. We had a beautifully renovated home in Newcastle, but with it came a big mortgage and Mike and I were both working full time jobs. Olivia was three years old and was in childcare five days a week,” says Tricia.
Her description of their ‘old’ life in the city will sound all too familiar for many - constant feelings of overwhelm and hectic days filled with rushing between commitments. “I felt like I was being forced to compromise and make choices that didn’t reflect my own beliefs,” says Tricia.
So the family took the plunge and sold their big home in Newcastle to relocate to a 9 acre property in the Hunter Valley.
“When we first decided to make the move we thought we’d buy a house with enough space for a big veggie garden, but we ended up falling in love with a bush block and bought acreage that had no house. The only thing that was here was a driveway and a shed - no running water, phone, electricity or internet – horror of horrors!” laughs Tricia.
Admirably, they decided to forgo many modern day comforts and live very simply in the short term rather than go into debt to build a house.
“We put our furniture inside the shed and made it look like a home, and in summer when it got too hot in there, we slept in a tent. It seems insane, especially when you’ve come from this big beautiful home. But we were so determined to stay out of debt.”
Sleeping under the stars brought with it a few unexpected benefits for Tricia.
“I’d suffered from back pain for quite a few years and almost overnight sleeping in the tent, my back got better. And because we were in the tent we’d go to bed when it got dark, around 8 o’clock, and then we’d wake up with the sun at about 4:30am. So my body clock was all of a sudden totally in sync with the moon. My back pain was gone and I felt really energised – it was incredible! If you want to focus on your fitness I think sleeping in a tent is the best thing you can do!”
After a short time Tricia and Mike started work on building a container home for the family to live in, connecting to town power, and building and making improvements as they saved the money.
The tiny home, made from a shipping container, is a mere 6m x 2.4m, with an enclosed veranda doubling the small living space. Again, a far cry from their former home, but Tricia has certainly risen to the occasion, becoming somewhat of a poster girl for tiny home living.
Her Instagram feed is a study in living a simple, thoughtful life - growing vegetables, wild foraging, fantastic homesteading advice and inspiration, and thought-provoking, sometimes uncomfortable truths.
“Living this way has really forced us to prioritise, to declutter our belongings and only keep what we really need or what has real meaning for us. We’ve also learnt to completely declutter our schedules too. It’s been an incredible experience and has helped us to recognise what’s really important in life.
“We’re planning to build a larger home at some point in the near future, and the tiny home will become accommodation for visitors, but for now it’s a wonderful home for us.”
Surrounding the tiny home are sprawling vegetable and flower gardens alive with bees and butterflies. The small deck provides stunning views with the Wollemi National Park in the distance, and a stillness only broken by native birds and the horses in the far paddock.
So how does a self-described ‘career woman’ find herself living in a tiny container home out in the country?
After university Tricia completed her PHD and worked in threatened plant conservation for much of her career. “I worked ridiculous long hours, I was very passionate about what I was doing and I loved my job. I thought I was doing a wonderful thing. But I was overwhelmed and stressed. When we first moved out here I tried to continue working part-time, travelling a long way to and from jobs.
Not long after I was offered what I would have described as my perfect, dream job. I was so excited, and started planning how I was going to drive several hours to Sydney every week, put Olivia into after school care, and basically turn our whole lives upside down for this job. But as fate would have it, I hurt my back and was out of action for about 3 months.
Coincidentally, only a few days after the injury I had a Buddhist monk, whom we’d met briefly earlier in the year, show up on my doorstep. He ended up staying with us for quite a while. So I was out of action and had lots of time to think about what I really wanted to achieve with my life.
I’d spent my whole career working in threatened species conservation and I felt almost like a hypocrite. Because the problem with threatened species is the way we live. Our materialistic society's over consumption is destroying their habitat. We just keep building bigger stuff – bigger houses, bigger estates, bigger shopping malls – and we’re clearing and degrading their natural habitats. If we all just learnt to live far more simply then we’d be much more effective in saving these species.
Understanding what I really wanted gave me the confidence to walk away from a career. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do, if you’ve been working in a field for a long time, and have worked really hard to get there, to be able to say ‘no thanks’ and walk away.
It’s strange how we can feel really uncomfortable with not having a career, as if being a homemaker is some kind of second rate job, or not important. But it’s actually the opposite, because I think if we all looked after our homes more, and spent more time with our children, a lot of our modern day problems would be diminished.
So what advice does Tricia have for others wanting to make a change to a slower, more sustainable lifestyle?
“Just do without, don’t buy all the things, don’t get that big mortgage. I wish I had understood that in my 20’s. We had a cute little cottage in Newcastle and we went and put this big extension on it. I wish we’d just learnt to live in that little home, we would have paid off the mortgage years ago. Go as small and as simple as you can so that you’re not trapped under financial burdens.
Imagine what our society would be like if we all lived off less money, if we only had to work part-time because our living expenses were so much lower. Then we’d have time to spend contributing to the community in a meaningful way, and to contribute to our own children’s education, rather than this 9-5 mentality that society seems to deem necessary.
People get obsessed with thinking that they need to buy all these things to be ‘green’ – solar panels, reusable this or that. But you don’t actually have to buy, you just have to learn to do without or make do with what you have. That’s being ‘green’ in itself.
When I was working I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do and making a difference. But what I’m doing here at home is just as important, by being the change myself.
Today the family is mostly single-income and almost completely debt free, which allows Tricia ample time to spend adventuring with her daughter, gardening, and tending to her flock of 25 chickens.
“I finally feel like I’m living a life rather than just earning a living.”