Pared back living: the romance and the reality

Pared back living: the romance and the reality

So - at the moment - the house sale is proceeding smoothly. Contracts have been exchanged and it's pretty much a given that we're moving to Skye very soon. We even have a completion date: 15th December. Now the practicalities of a long distance move need to be dealt with: enrolment forms for Joe's new school, notification of address changes, emptying the loft, making logistical arrangements for transporting and storing all our belongings.

This is a long-held dream for us. It's something we've talked about and planned for years now. And it's finally happening. Already we've negotiated our way around Major Stumbling Block #1: finding a temporary home up there. You see, we'd thought that we were timing things nicely. If we managed to get the house on the market and secure an offer during the early autumn, we'd have quite the pick of rentals. Off-season, no tourists. Empty properties everywhere.

Not the case.

You see, it would seem that people do actually visit Skye over the winter. They go there just for Christmas and New Year, too. So most of the holiday lets have bookings. Feeling a rising sense of - maybe not panic, but deep concern, shall we say - we started joining Facebook groups. Of course, the people up there are very friendly and welcoming and happy to help out in any way they can. That's just one of the reasons we want to live there so much. And we did find a new, temporary, home.

It's a static caravan. 

Even now, a few weeks after securing it, I'm not sure how I feel about that. Relief to have found somewhere. Trepidation (lack of space, energetic five-year-old). Excitement (a complete change from what we're used to). Optimism (maybe the novelty will last for the several months we'll be living there). Resignation (a 40-mile round trip to the launderette suggests said novelty could wear off very fast). Curiosity (what does Christmas in a caravan feel like?)

I've become quite the curiosity at the school gates. Mums want to know all about it: the house sale, our plans for the future. Some say they admire us. Most admit they couldn't live somewhere without retail parks and restaurants on the doorstep. Many assume we'll go up there and just buy a house outright. Well, the fact of the matter is that while we could do that it would leave us with no financial safety net. So we'll need a small mortgage to top up a sizeable deposit. Which means Jay will be looking for a job. Any job (within reason). He's up for it, having slaved behind a desk and put up with a horrible commute for years. Suddenly, becoming an island bus driver looks quite appealing. 

Longer-term, we're hoping to both be self-employed. But the fact is, for most of us, taking such a huge leap requires sacrifice and stopgap measures and compromise. We can't just go and purchase a lovely house and live off our vast savings. Because we don't have them. Instead we're taking a chance and making do and we'll achieve things one step at a time: somewhere to live short-term, enough income for that mortgage, a modest house with - hopefully - a decent-sized plot which we'll gradually make our own.

In the meantime I'm trying to figure out what comes with us to the caravan and what goes into storage. What are actual necessities? And which home comforts will we need to feel settled? Those familiar things which will help us feel a sense of home, however temporary our stay. 

Like it or not we're on the road to Christmas now. This year there'll be no prettily-styled mantelpiece or tree twinkling away in the corner, scenting the house with pine sap. We'll still have cosy blankets and candles, DVDs to watch and books (always on my present list) to read. But no mammoth baking sessions or large family get-togethers around the dining table.

There's much Pinterest fodder to be had about living in remote cabins with just a hand-carved wooden spoon and a log-burner for company. Will we be sitting on our doorstep, artisan-crafted wool rugs wrapped around our shoulders, savouring freshly-brewed coffee and watching the mist over the mountains? Probably not. The kitchen is just a small area. The freezer space is negligible. There's no bath, just a shower. In the Hebrides. In winter.

Those beautiful, modern rustic interiors we all sigh over: reclaimed wood panelling, sheepskins, artfully creased linen bedding... in our case, all that will exist only within the pages of magazines or on social media accounts. Most rented static caravans (ours included) are comfortable, clean and inoffensive. A base from which to set forth and find adventure. 

Do I sound like a design snob? I promise you I'm not. I just love quiet. Quiet colours, quiet rooms. That, and enough space in which to swing a cat. But it's what we're doing to get to where we want to go. A step on a journey. If you look out of those caravan windows you'll see real mountains and not much else. It's a short walk down the road to the beach. Joe will be learning Gaelic at his new school. We'll be living in a crofting village with a loch and pine forests within a stone's throw.

So for now, the lovely things will have to go into storage. We'll be living a very different life - a pared-back, simple one - until we find our forever home. My work will be focused on writing and sketching and taking photographs. Printmaking will be resumed once we have more space. Internet access will be sketchy (hello Portree library, also a 20 mile drive away). My wardrobe will get much smaller, Joe's toys whittled down to a select and beloved few. Books will be edited to include only favourites. Ditto houseplants. I'll be food shopping every few days rather than filling the cupboards on a weekly basis.

Who knows, maybe this experience will make us realise that, although materialism has never really been our thing, we can be happier with even less. Things, distractions. Instead we can explore the island and meet new people, become part of a community.

So yes, many people I've talked to think we're mad. Maybe we are. What we're doing is a risk but it's a calculated one and - ultimately - life is both short and unpredictable. A bit of madness is preferable to a lot of regret about chances never taken.

Wish us luck.