Renting in Wellington was too expensive, so we tried a house truck – Stuff

The first home my Sal and Paul Flewelling bought together was a small apartment in a historic brick building in central Wellington.
At the time – 2008 – they thought they’d live there for three to four years as their first step on the property ladder.
Then the Christchurch earthquakes happened.
SAL: In the aftermath, our home-sweet-home became unsellable. Our historic brick building was deemed earthquake-prone and the 17 motivated, educated, considerate people who co-owned it were left to work out “What now?”
Together, it took us 12 years to organise the experts, time and funding to retrofit our homes to meet the new earthquake standards.
During the earthquake-strengthening work itself, our apartment was to become an inaccessible building site. While the estimated completion time was nine months, the actual time was more than two years because, well, Covid. During this time, we needed somewhere else to live.
Renting in Wellington had become infeasibly expensive. Plus, we had to factor in paying our old mortgage, plus a new, bigger mortgage to fund the earthquake-strengthening work, whilst paying rent and all our living costs. It wasn’t looking good.
As my hubby and I are originally from the UK, we didn’t have family to stay with.
We experimented with house-sitting: but it didn’t quite work for us.
We needed to look at things another way.
We’d already Instagrammed along with the rest of the first world – so let’s jump in, we thought: let’s try tiny living. After a tonne of research, we took the very last of our savings and bought a 1991 Ford Trader motorhome.
On Easter Sunday 2019, we drove it from Matamata back to Wellington. That was over four years ago.
As the people who love us know, tiny living has been a radical adventure, with all the highs and lows that such journeys bring. There are so many joys: like getting away for a weekend then returning from your trip and not having to un-pack because you’re already home!
Then there are the boring bits: like waiting for towels to dry on your weekly laundry trip or figuring out where on earth you fill truck tyres with air (clue: it’s not at your local petrol station).
Here are a few of my biggest insights from two years of living tiny in Matty the house truck.
Learning to live off-grid, whilst converting a 7.3 metre house truck, whilst being a sole trader, whilst being part of a multi-million dollar earthquake-strengthening project, whilst in a pandemic with two lockdowns was – as it was for many in 2020 – utter chaos.
Without the aroha of our awesome friends and support of our tiny house community, I honestly don’t how we’d’ve made it through.
For our first two years, we lived completely off-grid. Suddenly, all the things I’d obliviously taken for granted, felt privileged. We’d moved from a tiny apartment to a tiny home on wheels- not such a big leap – but finding access to resources (think: drinkable water, removing waste products, creating and monitoring power sources) radically changed our way of seeing and being in the world.
It’s easy to forget: many humans would love a taste of life here in Aotearoa. As I shifted into living minimally – these kind of epiphanies often unfolded in the midst of a supermarket trip or on a rainy bus ride home.
During our house truck research phase, a friend connected us with an amazing guide who helped us navigate our truck-buying journey.
I remember our guide saying “when you live this way, you’ll always be balancing the water you have now, with the tasks you have ahead.” They haven’t been wrong!!!
Our truck holds 160 litres of fresh water in two tanks. This needs to last us a week. That sounds like a lot, until you realise an efficient shower head uses 9 litres of water a minute. Non-efficient ones use considerably more.
We’ve become experts in two minute showers.
When you’re responsible for cleaning up your own shit, you’re far more conscious how much of it you create.
Over four years of house truck ownership, my hubby and I have emptied 12,480 litres of our own poo and wee into transfer stations throughout Aotearoa. Big shout out to all the community groups who support and maintain these.
I’ve never felt more gratitude than when I get to use – and not have to empty – a normal toilet.
I asked my hubby the other day “If we moved back into a house and you could bring one thing over from house truck life, what would it be?”
His answer? Solar panels. It was my answer too.
In summer, solar panels literally suck energy from the sun to power up your life. It’s incredible to keep the lights on, charge your phone, your laptop, even your lithium-ion powered mini food processor, courtesy of a solar charge. It’s the sort of thing you just feel good about, whichever way you look at it.
By continuing to live tiny, we’ve created a new life.
In February 2022 (six months after we got the keys back to our newly earthquake-strengthened apartment) my hubby and I waved goodbye to Wellington. During those last few months, we’d completely renovated, sold and paid off our mortgages. No mean feat!
With help from loved ones and a super-supportive employer, we took Matty on a holiday around Te Waipounamu. Every three to seven days we trucked to a new location, meeting new people, investigating new ways to live, all in Level Red, whilst working remotely.
We haven’t looked back.
Living minimally has afforded us the chance to start again. We’re creating a new life in mid-Canterbury with alpine views, fertile soil and generous souls. We bought a small 108sqm three-bedroom house
We looked at every option and researched building tiny, but there’s a lot of complexity around the legal aspect of that.
Tiny living on wheels isn’t for the faint-hearted. Nor is it the Instagram fantasy that’s often portrayed. But in times of chaos and difficulty, it can be a way to re-focus priorities, live economically and – when you can afford the fuel – journey to new places and meet lovely humans.
Whilst our #adventuresinmatty are coming to an end, Matty is now for sale and ready for new adventurers. Take a look around Matty here.
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