Lately I’ve been meeting some interesting people who have inspired me with their lifestyle. I thought it would be fun to start a series called Intentional Living, where I interview some of these people and share the inspiration with you. Let me know if you enjoy today’s post and if you’d like to see more of this kind of content from me!
Recently, during one of my stays in the South West, I was lucky enough to meet Jane Hilton. Jane runs an Airbnb from her stunning two bedroom home in Margaret River. We got chatting, and upon learning about our shared interests in minimalism and sustainability, I realised that she would make an excellent subject for this blog. I knew that you would love to hear from Jane about her life and home in the South West. Jane generously agreed for me to interview her and photograph her home.
Jane is a dynamic and youthful woman who exudes style and fine taste. She shares her home with her gorgeous pup Suki. I reflected to Jane that I thought she had the eye of an artist, as every aspect of her home looks like an artwork. Every item seems to have a purpose and a place. The words ‘intentional living’ describe her home perfectly. This was my first impression, so you can imagine how excited I was when the conversation turned to minimalism.
Jane has resided in Margaret River for close to thirty years. We discuss her version of ‘intentional living’, her nomadic past and how she has made her dream life a reality.
What motivated you to move to the South West?
It was mainly for the nature, the trees, but also the mindset of the people down here. The dynamic community, the very alternative like minded creative people caring for the environment. I liked what I saw down here, the oceans, the trees, the forest. It was a very easy choice and made totally spontaneously. I visited on the weekend, and moved here on the Tuesday.
Amazing. And where had you lived before that?
I was in Cervantes near Jurien Bay for a year.
So that’s pretty rural as well, that’s in the middle of nowhere, actually.
That was two hundred and fifty people stable population, and prior to that, Sydney.
And you’re from England?
From England. Bristol.
So that’s a lot busier.
Yeah, but I grew up in a country town about the size of Margaret River, so I’ve always been a country girl. Bristol was where I left home to in my twenties and pursued my career at the time. Sydney was where we got posted to when we migrated here, but very soon, after a year or so had passed, I knew that I needed somewhere more rural. Cervantes was definitely it, rural coastal, but not so much forests and definitely not a very alternative or sustainable sort of mindset. I loved every minute of it, but it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to live long term.
I know that you’ve got a minimalist mindset, so how would you say that your minimalist values helped you in your move here?
I know I went through a very ardent phase of believing that everything that I needed to own was in my backpack, and it was a real struggle for me at times when I began to settle in different places to unpack the backpack and start accumulating more than would comfortably fit in it. There was a certain anxiety I noticed in me, that when my possessions got greater than would fold back into the backpack easily when it was time to go, I somehow felt anxious. I think I’ve always had the essence of just wanting to own a few but carefully chosen, meaningful to me things. They don’t have to be exotic, they don’t have to be designer they don’t need to be precious, but as long as they’re meaningful to me I will hang on to a few things in life. I’ve never been a hoarder. Easy come, easy go, which when you’ve travelled, most of the time you have to, and you have to carefully consider what you will hold onto and what you won’t. Now in my more settled part of life, I only want to own things that I love, that are functional, preferably beautiful and functional. Life is too short to own ugly stuff or stuff you wont need, and it’s cluttering up space, it’s consuming room, its using up energy, and its stuff that other people could be enjoying. My idea of beauty isn’t necessarily someone else’s idea of beauty, so when it’s time to let something go, just send it out into the world for somebody else to relish and enjoy.
That naturally leads us into talking about your beautiful little home. Could you tell me a little bit about your house?
So I built my house six and a half years ago, just as my son was in his late teens, almost ready to move out of home, barely ever home anyway. The house that had served myself as a single mum, and him through his childhood and into teen age just felt superfluous. More room than we needed, certainly more mortgage than I was willing to support any longer. I wanted to downscale my working time allowing more time for creativity and freedom, so I reevaluated what I needed. I realised I didn’t need a three bedroom house any longer, even though it was one I had designed and built myself. I decided to redesign a house that served what I needed now in this more semi-retired phase of life. So I began with how much I was willing to remain indebted to the bank for. Given that I’m in my late fifties, I didn’t want to have over a certain amount owing anymore, and that was just a practical decision, and I stuck to that really firmly. If whatever I decided I wanted to build or want didn’t fit into that budget, it just didn’t get in.
So you made many of your decisions based on that budget?
Then it was a case of practicality in terms of warmth, light, aesthetics. What I built grew out of what I needed. It’s that old thing of form following function. It was never how do I want to look, or what do I want. It was how do I want to live. For me warmth, freedom, indoor/outdoor. I’m a very outdoor person, in the summer I spend most of my time outdoors. I don’t need a large house in order to do that, it was more more important to have a large remainder of the block to garden and landscape, so I could enjoy the outdoors as much as the indoors, and then conversely in winter, a small cosy space that will be easily heated, that I can hunker down in, shut the door close the curtains light the fire and enjoy in a different sort of way. So it was practicality, certainly sustainability. It had to have a north facing aspect, the block I chose had that. The house I built had to be solar passive. It had to have a concrete floor as a heatsink, to gather the winter sun, and also to remain cool in summer without any artificial cooling. From that, even within the house, how did I want to move and live? What was going to be the focal point? The view outside to the trees. The view to the wood fire in the winter, access from the bathroom come laundry, access to the outdoor courtyard area, where there is an outdoor shower for rinsing off after the beach, a washing line to hang the wet laundry on. All these elements eventually worked themselves into a floor plan.
How large is the house?
Part of what impressed me is that you did manage to do something that I think a lot of people dream about, but think is impossible, and that’s work as little as possible but still have a beautiful home. Would you like to comment about how you have downscaled your working time to allow more creativity and freedom into your life?
It was a choice of how much do I want to work.
Was that a big consideration when you looked at your mortgage?
Yes, I worked out how much I wanted to work, or was able to work at my age, what was realistic. I’ve got nothing against working, but I want to do meaningful work. I’ve come to an age where I’m not prepared to slog it out for the minimum wage for someone who doesn’t really care or a big corporation that certainly doesn’t care. I work for a small family business in town. I also do volunteer work, because I love to contribute back to the community. I do two or three different types of volunteer work. I do Airbnb.
You’re comfortable with me mentioning that?
Yeah, I think so. I actually see the Airbnb as a way to spread the word. People come to my home, they enjoy it on the whole, they are slightly interested in how I live, if not very interested. It sparks a conversation at least, and here I am now talking to A Small Wardrobe weeks later, further on the subject. I see it almost as a live blog. I get people coming to my home on average once a week, from all corners of the world. Some get it, some don’t, some are are interested, some aren’t, but the bottom line is I give them a nice time, I cook homemade, home prepared food for them. Some of it is home grown, and they get to experience it. That is also another way I feel I contribute back.
I was going to ask about that. It does seem like you are interested in talking about this. Have you ever considered starting your own blog?
Nope! Jane Laughs.
But you do want people to know about your lifestyle?
To a degree. I have had the house featured in an English magazine and an Australian magazine. I’ve opened the house for Sustainable House Day for the last two years, 2017 and 2016. I may do it again this year, I’m not sure yet.
And when is that?
September. It’s a national initiative, it’s the same date across Australia, it’s an Australia wide initiative, you can visit houses all over Australia open on that day. It’s a worthwhile thing. You get to look at everything from places that are so filled with new technology it’s mind blowing, to mud homes that are just so off the grid it’s not funny, and everything in between. My take on it is not any of the eco bling, and it’s certainly not about any alternative building materials, its just about reducing the size of what we build and reducing our consumption.
You built this house in a way to be passively sustainable, in the sense that you’ve built ways of capturing light into it and ways of minimising waste, and utilising what you have well. Can you think of any ways in which people who perhaps want to be more sustainable and can’t build their own homes could potentially save themselves some money or just be kinder to the environment?
I think insulation is everything. It’s not sexy, its not ‘techy’…
But that’s something you can do yourself, and that’s something you can do while renting.
It is. Retrofit insulation if you’re buying a home that’s already built. It’s something you could certainly approach a landlord about. Not everyone has the luxury, even if they are building or having a north facing plot, but the more light at the right time of the year you can get in, the better. That can be manipulated and adjusted as well. Even mirrors on the wall, it sounds corny, but you can bounce light around. If you’ve only got one window in a room, bounce the light round with some shiny surfaces and mirrors. I’ve seen that done in a shady garden, where they installed some mirrors, and bounced the light around, and got all the light they needed to grow their crop. Everything in my house is very passive, ‘low-tech’. My grey water recycling is bailing the buckets of water out of the bath for the citrus trees. I’ll often have an epsom salts bath. The epsom salts help the citrus trees grow. They love it, it’s magnesium. The clothes dryer is literally a home made rack on a pulley above the stove. The wood stove heats the room, it heats the kettle in the winter. It cooks my food, it toasts my bread if I want it to, I’ve got a toasting fork hanging next to it. It’s an ambient atmosphere. It can dry a pair of jeans overnight, or even sheets overnight. It’s often not about the elements themselves, its about finding what works for you, for your own given locality and environment. Don’t discount the old methods of drawing the curtains to keep the cool in, or keep the heat out. Shut the doors, keep everything shut until the heat of the day has passed, and then open it all up at night and let the heat back in. Sometimes it’s about doing the very basic old school things.
Letting the breeze in at the right times?
Cross ventilation. I did retrofit after building a screen door onto my eastern facing door because at night we get the offshore wind in the summer. Having the option of keeping that door open without the mozzies coming in and flushing the air through the house. The less interior walls and partitions, you have, the more the breeze can slice through. From my eastern facing door, the breeze can come in, and go out straight through the louvres on the western side of the house with no obstruction. If you’ve got another three or four rooms in the way, it’s not going to work quite as well.
Final question. Tips for anyone who would like to take inspiration from you, quit their job, start a new life in a beautiful small town, or any town of their choice?
I had the luxury of doing it on my own, I might add, it might be more tricky if you’ve got a partner or a family because there are different people to accommodate with different needs at different times in their lives. I’m at the luxurious end of being an empty nester, heading into nearly sixty and having choices. Sitting myself down, or the family down, and evaluating how do we want to live, I would ask. Not where, even, but how. How do we want our life to look? Then just by asking the question, things will come up. Look at it as a whole thing, but start with how, get right down to the essence of how. What are the fundamental things. For me it’s freedom and creativity. Creativity doesn’t easily get channeled into the spaces in a 9-5 job, five days a week. To live a creative life, I need lots of free time for daydreaming, and musing and walking, all of the things that then allow the ideas to pop up. If you’re the sort of person who likes more structure, a 9-5 job might not be problem at all, but it might be who you work for. Really start with what you want you life to look like, feel like, taste like, and go into all that exploration and then work out what where how that’s all going to come together, and start that conversation going with the other people in your life too. That just bleeds on into the rest of your life. The sort of things you get involved in, based on your values, then you become involved in the things that support your values, and then by default, people become friends because you’re involved in the same sort of things they are. So it really comes back to examining what your values, what your motivations are in your life. Believing that you can have that, that you don’t have to just do what society tells you you have to do. Question that.
A big thank you to Jane for allowing me into her home and mind.
Sustainable House Day is September 16 Australia wide.
I hope you enjoyed this very special post, and I hope to be able to bring you more inspiring people in the future.
A final quick bit of admin, I will be making another Q&A video in May. If you haven’t yet given me a question, I encourage you to do so! It can be related to the topics discussed here, or anything else at all to do with anything I have written or made videos about.
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