Rent in Wellington was very expensive, so we tried a home van

The first house Sal and Paul Fleling bought together was a small flat in a historic brick building in central Wellington.

At the time – in 2008 – they thought they would live there for three to four years as their first step on the property ladder.

Then the Christchurch earthquakes happened.

Include: In the aftermath, our beautiful home became unsellable. Our historic brick building was deemed earthquake-prone, and the 17 passionate, educated, and caring people who co-owned it were left to think, “Now what?”

Together, it has taken us 12 years to organize the experts, time and funding to retrofit our homes to meet new seismic standards.

Sal Flelling, 50, and Paul Flelling, 52, lived in a house van for two years because their apartment needed expensive earthquake reinforcement.

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Sal Flelling, 50, and Paul Flelling, 52, lived in a house van for two years because their apartment needed expensive earthquake reinforcement.

During the earthquake strengthening work itself, our apartment was destined to become an inaccessible construction site. While the estimated time to complete the project was nine months, the actual time was over two years due to Covid. During this time, we needed another place to live.

Rent in Wellington has become unattainably expensive. In addition, we had to factor in paying our old mortgage, as well as a new, larger mortgage to fund the earthquake strengthening work, while also paying rent and all of our living costs. It didn’t look good.

As my husband and I were originally from the UK, we had no family to stay with.

We tried sitting at home: but it didn’t quite work for us.

Home of a 1991 Ford Trader that housed the Flewellings for two years.

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Home of a 1991 Ford Trader that housed the Flewellings for two years.

We had to look at things another way.

We’re already on Instagram with the rest of the first world – so let’s jump in, we thought: let’s try simple living. After much research, we took the last of our savings and purchased a 1991 Ford Trader motorhome.

On Easter Sunday 2019, we drove it from Matamata to Wellington. That was more than four years ago.

As people who love us know, young life has been a radical adventure, with all the highs and lows such journeys bring. There are so many fun things: like taking a weekend off and then coming back from your trip and not having to unpack because you’ve already gone home!

Then there are the boring parts: like waiting for the towels to dry during your weekly laundry trip or figuring out where to fill up your truck tires with air (clue: it’s not at the local gas station).

Here are some of the most important ideas I’ve come up with during two years of living tiny in my truck house mate.

Sal says the young life was like

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Young life was a “radical adventure, with all the highs and lows such journeys bring,” Sal says.

We were taught to live young, but we were given a lot of aroha

Learning to live off the grid, with a 7.3m household van converted, while being a sole trader, while being part of a multi-million dollar seismic strengthening project, while in a pandemic with two lockdowns, as it was for many in 2020 – complete chaos.

Without the spirit of our amazing friends and the support of our small community, I honestly don’t know how we would have gotten through this.

I have a much deeper appreciation for life

For our first two years, we lived completely off the grid. Suddenly, all the things I had taken for granted felt special. We went from a tiny apartment to a tiny house on wheels – it wasn’t that big of a leap – but finding access to resources (e.g. potable water, removing waste, creating and monitoring energy sources) radically changed our way of seeing and being. In the world.

It’s easy to forget: many humans like to get a taste of life here in Aotearoa. When I transitioned to living minimally — this kind of epiphany often unfolds in the midst of a trip to the supermarket or a rainy bus ride home.

The mobile home is set up for comfortable living.

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The mobile home is set up for comfortable living.

I am grateful for the water in ways I never imagined

During the home truck research phase, a friend connected us with a great guide that helped us navigate the truck buying journey.

I remember our guide saying “When you live this way, you will always be balancing the water you have now, with the tasks ahead of you.” They were not wrong!!!

Our truck holds 160 liters of fresh water in two tanks. This should last us a week This sounds like a lot, until you realize that an efficient shower head uses 9 liters of water per minute. Those that are ineffective are used much more.

We’ve become experts at taking two-minute showers.

When you’re responsible for cleaning up your dirty work, you’re more aware of how much you’re creating.

Over the course of four years of household truck ownership, my husband and I have emptied 12,480 liters of our poo and urine at haulage stations all over Aotearoa. A big salute to all sectors of society that support and maintain this.

I’ve never felt more grateful than when I was able to use a regular toilet – without having to flush it.

The couple loved meeting so many other travelers along the way, especially during their trip to the South Island.

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The couple loved meeting so many other travelers along the way, especially during their trip to the South Island.

The best thing in truck home life

I asked my husband one day, “If we came back to a house and you could bring one thing home from truck life, what would it be?”

His answer? Solar Panels. My answer was too.

In the summer, solar panels absorb energy from the sun to power your life. It’s incredible to keep the lights on, charge your phone, your laptop, and even your mini lithium-ion food processor, thanks to solar charging. It’s something you feel good about, no matter how you look at it.

By continuing to live young, we created a new life.

In February 2022 (six months after we got the keys to our new earthquake-affected apartment), my husband and I waved goodbye to Wellington. Over those last few months, we renewed, sold, and fully paid off our mortgages. No mean feat!

With the help of our loved ones and a very supportive employer, we took Mate on a holiday around Te Waipunamu. Every three to seven days we would truck to a new location, meet new people, and explore new ways to live, all at Level Red, while working remotely.

We haven’t looked back.

Living on the bare minimum gave us the opportunity to start over. We are creating new life in central Canterbury with alpine views, fertile soil and generous spirits. We bought a small three-bedroom house of 108 square metres

We’ve looked at every option and looked at building small, but there’s a lot of complexity around the legal side of it.

Tiny life on wheels is not for the faint of heart. It’s also not the Instagram fantasy it’s often portrayed as. But in times of chaos and difficulty, it can be a way to refocus priorities, live frugally, and – when you can afford fuel – travel to new places and meet great people.

As our #adventuresinmatty comes to a close, Matty is now up for sale and ready for new adventurers. Take a look around the mate here.

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