The Sustainable Home

I have been pondering a few ideas lately, about houses and homes, belonging and place, and finding a geographical location in the world where I feel I truly belong. I’ve come to realize how important it is to establish a physical home and create a space of my own, but that it’s equally necessary, if not more so, to build a strong sense of inner strength and security. We need to feel at home within ourselves, so no matter what we have or don’t have materially or physically, we are fine, because our sense of safety and security remains intact.

When I was a young girl, my best friend and I built a house made of mud, in the vegetable patch in the backyard of her parent’s house, with our bare hands, buckets of dirt and water, string, planks of wood, and plenty of smiles and laughter. We christened it ‘The Mud Cubby’. We slept there, and had long, late night talks over candles. Four years later I moved to another city, and she proudly wrote in my farewell card that the ‘mud cubby’ was still standing. Not bad for a pair of eleven-year-olds and no building plans!

That early experience with micro-housing may be the reason why, as an adult, I am drawn towards more alternative approaches to creating a living space, other than those accepted by society as ‘normal’. I don’t own a home, but sometimes I think I should, although I don’t know whether that’s because I really want to, or because of the enormous amount of social and cultural pressure to do so. I identify with Indigenous Australian ideas of land stewardship as opposed to ownership, managing the land and water as custodians, so on some level, owning a house seems absurd to me.

Experiencing a sense of belonging is vital. It may take years of exploring and experimenting to find where we belong in the context of a particular geographical place on Earth. It’s important to feel we belong, regardless of our physical location. Home is wherever our bodies are in time and space. We need to have a strong sense of self because if we rely on outside things to give us strength and safety, we will never feel truly secure. According to physicist Alan Lightman, our suffering is caused by trying to make permanent that which is, in fact, impermanent.

Our bodies are physical shells to ‘house’ our spiritual energy, and the space our soul inhabits. A house is a physical structure we build for our bodies to live in. In Performance VI of Body/Landscape JournalsHouses: and the Performance of Home – Margaret Somerville likens ‘home’ to “a nest, a shelter or a cave, a place to be inhabited”. The walls of a house form a space where our lives can unfold. A home is the spiritual, emotional expression of everything that takes place within those walls, how we move through and inhabit the rooms, and the energy of those we allow into our space.

I’ve always loved the shelled creatures of the Earth – snails, crabs, chitons and the marine turtles. Perhaps it’s because I was born under the astrological sign of Cancer the Crab (smile). Or maybe it’s because the idea of carrying my home on my back appeals to the nomadic, wanderer side of my personality, and the feeling of being portable, compact, free, unencumbered and mobile, with no excess baggage. Yet there’s also a side to my personality that wants to settle down, put down solid roots like a tree, design and build a house, and create a home. But not just any old house…

My home must be small. Not one of those huge five-bedroom, four-bathroom, three-garage, two-storey houses. Large houses encourage us to accumulate stuff we don’t need and won’t use, and keep us chained to unsustainable, capitalist consumer lifestyles. Large houses require massive amounts of energy to heat and cool, contributing to increased greenhouse gas emissions. I could honestly be happy living in the Chamfer Micro-Home by S-Archetype. Food, clothing and shelter are primary physical needs of human beings. Yet home ownership is becoming increasingly unaffordable for the average person. But a house is not, and shouldn’t be, a luxury item.

My home must incorporate elements of passive design. This innovative method of house design works with the environment and climate to maintain the internal temperature of a home, without relying on air conditioners for heating and cooling. A properly designed house specific to the climate where we live can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and our electricity accounts! We can orient our homes to utilize the natural features of the climate like the sun and wind, through careful design of the roof, walls, windows and floors to maximize energy capture, and minimize heat gain in summer and heat loss in winter.

My home must use natural materials and be built to last. I love how birds build nests to hatch and raise their young using natural fibres from the Earth but, unlike a nest which is designed only to last until the chicks have fledged, the design and construction of a home should be strong and durable, and last forever with little maintenance required. We can opt for water-based, toxic-free paint, solar panels and polished floorboards from sustainably managed forests. Inside our homes we have an opportunity for simplicity, by choosing minimal furnishings, and a few belongings with sentimental value.

My home must provide the means for me to be self-sufficient. I love the idea of designing and building a sustainable garden, being self-sufficient, and developing the surrounding land into permaculture zones, working with the Earth, not against it. I find the concept of permaculture fascinating and one day would like to get my Permaculture Design Certificate. I like the idea of growing my own fruits and vegetables from soils cultivated using the principles of organics and biodynamics, raising happy, healthy chickens (on worms, insects and grubs) for eggs, and generating my own electricity using solar and wind power.

My home must be near the ocean. I’ve been feeling quite strongly (more than I usually do) that I need to be close to water (it’s that astrological sign again). Where exactly in the world that place is, I don’t exactly know, but I need to be able to interact consistently with the whales and dolphins. I would live in a small wooden cabin surrounded by trees and vegetation, where animals and birds find refuge and a place to fly, crawl, grow and play. I would have a studio where I could write and create in peace and privacy.

I believe finding a place in the world where we feel we truly belong, the place that mirrors our unique spiritual self, is vital to achieve a sense of inner peace, and to fully express who we are. We need to cultivate a sense of security within ourselves, a strong inner foundation we can rely on no matter the circumstances of our outer lives. It’s important to know what the concept of home means for us, and whether we want to own a house. There’s no right answer for everyone, only we can know what’s right for us.

© 2015 Environmental Warrior
Photo by Daniel Chen on Unsplash

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