Heading down under!

In under a months time we are upping sticks and moving to Australia for a year. Kalleco will still be running, so don’t panic, but more on that in a future blog! 

It’s a huge leap into the unknown for both of us. For Kat, it is the fulfillment of a childhood dream. She has longed to escape the cold of Yorkshire since she was five and now it is time to see if reality can match up to the vision laid out in her imagination: a more forgiving climate, an outdoors lifestyle, and a host of new experiences to be seared into her memory. For me, it will be a second time living down under. Last time was almost half a lifetime ago, when I was only 19. Full of confidence but with few independent living skills, I was fortunate enough to have friends and family there who helped teach me to fend for myself (at least to a better degree than I had previously).

Joe in Australia when he was 19

It’s also the first time that I won’t have worked for an extended period since I was a schoolboy. From a paper round and dish-washing, through summer labouring jobs and bar work, to the various ‘careers’ that I have inhabited since I finished my education, I have never gone more than a couple of months without a pay cheque. I’m too old for the young person’s working holiday visa that Kat is going on, so I am heading out to explore on a holiday visa. Even if I want a job, I won’t be able to get one. 

When I speak to friends and colleagues they largely express some form of jealousy at my venturing into the unknown with no more of a detailed plan than to spend more time with my wife and indulge in my hobbies of writing and living a more active life than I’ve managed since entering the classroom. I understand their point of view, but also find the idea terrifying! I’ve never been an expert at managing money, and whilst I’ve slowly improved under Kat’s careful tuition, knowing that I have a fixed budget for the year based on my savings is, if not giving me sleepless nights, certainly giving me pause for thought...

I’ve been saving non-stop for the last two years, with this at the forefront of my thoughts. Although I have managed to raise enough to live on, it’s certainly not going to be enough for me to live an extravagant lifestyle, and so I’ve been thinking even more keenly about how best to live a sustainable life on a budget. Once school term finished, we packed up our possessions and are spending our last few weeks having as much time as possible with families and loved ones. The aim is to enjoy some final memories of England before waving goodbye when summer comes to an end. 

Time will tell if aims and intentions manage to hold up under the relentless scrutiny of reality, but I’ve been preparing and researching how to go about the next year. I started off thinking about how I plan for a low waste sustainable holiday, then realised it’s not really going to be like a holiday: a whole year means it will be our lives. 

Staying with our families and in-laws has reminded us how lucky we are, not only to have such supportive loved ones, but also that they have been looking after so many possessions for us. Having stayed with my mum and dad for the last week (the longest I’ve been home for at least five years), I’ve found out that one of the guest bedrooms was absolutely full of clothing and other things that I did not even realise I still had, from before I developed an interest in reducing my impact on the environment. 

My relaxing time at home has therefore involved a lot of organisation. Over two old rugby kit bags full of clothes to charity shops, not to mention the ones that are not in good enough condition to be sold, but are being donated to charities that take ‘rags’, as well as lots of old papers being recycled. I forgot how much I used to keep hold of. It’s not all disposing of things though, I have managed to find clothes which can replace items that had become unwearable and unfixable, so I can replace them without having to buy new or used.

We are still using the ‘Buyerarchy of Needs’ as a guide for purchases, and this is my first tip for sustainable living on a budget. Thinking about whether you ‘need’ something, or just ‘want’ it is a key step when reducing your waste. If you just ‘want’ it, why is that? 

An example is the suitcases and bags that we will be living out of for the next year. Our flights to Australia are booked, and therefore our baggage limitations are set in stone! One suitcase each plus our carry on, and a year ahead of us! Kat has been using the same suitcase for the last ten years (that’s longer than she’s had me), and was thinking hard about getting a new one for this adventure (suitcase, not me - I hope). The handle sticks sometimes when you pull it out or try to put it away, and the wheels don’t roll as freely as they once did - I should mention that this bag has not only been used for the last ten years by Kat, but was her grandma’s before! 

Kat with her old yet sturdy suitcase

We applied the buyerarchy and hey presto! We are keeping the same bag! It is not in perfect condition, but it is still perfectly workable (plus the wheels sticking doesn’t really bother Kat as she gets me to drag it 95% of the time anyway). 

The other factors that are going to be really significant for the next year is that we will not have the capacity for a lot of the waste saving products that we usually have. Although we try our best to keep everything minimal we are a long way from perfect and packing up and unpacking at our parents’ houses has taught us that we are still accumulating a lot of ‘things’. This can’t happen next year as we will be moving intermittently with the same luggage limitations that we are arriving down under with. 

My starting point for this is thinking about what my essential items are, so I can factor them into my packing. A refillable water bottle tops my list, closely followed by my reusable hot drink cup. Although neither are full vacuum flasks, they keep my drinks cold or hot for a remarkable amount of time. Along with my handy bag of straws, a notebook and pen, and a spare tote bag, I never leave the house without them. 

Joes reusable essentials to reduce plastic waste

I’ve done some research and found this incredible resource for zero waste stores in Sydney where we are starting our travels. We have quite a few linen and cotton tote bags for transporting goods to and from, and one task that we will be doing before we go is creating some smaller produce bags with drawstrings using muslin cloth and old clothes so that we can transport and store our goods from there. Pulses in particular are an essential part of our low cost diets and I can’t get enough lentils and beans! We’ll also be taking our beeswax wraps to avoid food waste. My luxury item is an incredible pour over drip coffee filter, made of stainless steel which provides paper free coffee to pop in my reusable cup every morning… It’s potentially the greatest gift Kat has ever got me, given that I am a complete caffeine fiend. 

Stainless steel coffee strainer

Minimalism is going to be our watchword though, and this will be due to necessity as well as wanting to. Being used to sharing a house or apartment with each other, as we have for over four years since we last shared with someone in London, means that we are used to having space. For the first couple of weeks we are going to live in a hostel (a terrifying prospect for a Sixth Form teacher - please none of my pupils stay at the same place as us), before looking to move into a flat share when Kat starts working. This means no spare room for clothes and book storage, not buying too much in the way of food and drink as we need to share storage space, and a real change of lifestyle. 

People keep asking about the plans beyond that but we want to give ourselves freedom. We’ve looked at the possibility of pet-sitting for a while, we have vague plans to also stay in Melbourne for a time, and Byron Bay, but that is it. Vague plans. Not many people have the opportunity to take a mid-career gap year, so while I’m planning on making the most of it, freedom is an important part of the experience! 

With the changes that I have already made to make myself more sustainable, the key is consistency. The necessity of living a minimal life due to space restrictions should help but it will not count for anything if I don’t continue to be mindful of my impact on the environment. As Anne Marie Bonneau, the Zero Waste Chef, says “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Taking small steps to improve constantly and doing it consistently over the next year will give me habits and life lessons that I’ll be able to continue to use when I return to the UK and necessity is no longer a driver! 


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