retrosuburban dreaming

My moneyless life is evolving.

While still keeping my own impacts low, I am now living and working with my dear friend, Sharon, to ‘retrofit’ her household, lowering the whole family’s footprint. The time of my relative isolation is over and it’s the dawn of a much closer collaboration than I have tried thus far in my moneyless life.

Sharon and I have been close since our kids were in nappies. I moved to this part of the world (far north coast of NSW), when I found myself visiting her and her family here more and more often. Since her husband’s sudden passing almost two years ago, I have tried to be available as a support in her grief.

Sharon moved into this large, old, but beautifully renovated, timber federation home in June (the day of her 50th birthday). Ensconced within its walls are her two children (19 and 21), two dogs and two indoor cats. My gorgeous daughter, Amy, her husband, Sam, and their two cute dogs have moved in too. Adding to the fun, Amy and Sam are pregnant with their first. It’s one big happy family.


Wanting to be part of all the action and seeing a chance to be living a Jo-type version of family life again, I’ve built a small sleeping loft in the little timber shed out the back (using left-over materials salvaged from Sharon’s old house). Sharon will have help to meet the needs of her large household and, being the incredibly flexible, easy-going and generous person she is, she has given me carte blanche to help turn her new property into a green, low-impact oasis. This move is another collaborative win/win in my moneyless journey.

Although I’m a country girl through and through, now living on a busy street in a big noisy house full of people and animals, this is a golden opportunity. What if I can use this property to show others what can be done? This is a regular suburban house and household. The footprint is ‘normal’ but on a downward trajectory – thanks to Sharon’s foresight. So many Australians (and other big polluters around the globe) live like this – in suburbs. Rather than going off to start over on some bit of land, we are using what we have available as built infrastructure already in existence to decarbonise and mobilise!

Sharon is on board. She holds down a job, is responsible for two kids, four animals and has a mortgage. She doesn’t want to live without money nor should she have to. But with help from me, the time-rich member of the team (and somewhat skilled gardener), we can reduce the household footprint and resource use little by little. This is the kind of education-by-doing, making do with what we have, community sufficiency and sharing that I truly adore and wish to bring forth more as a response to climate disruption.

So, I get the benefit of hanging out with my ‘family’ and throwing myself into something more appealing and useful to a broader audience and Sharon and I get to hang out with each other, support each other AND reduce our impacts on the planet and others!

We are part of a retrosuburban revolution!


shaz and me.JPG

But wait! There’s more! My wealth knows no bounds.

While Sharon’s household is now my main project, I also intend to keep spreading the low-impact living love.

The location of Kim’s ‘farm’ on the flood plain here in town means I could never live in her yard for long (the little blue wagon will be relocated soon). I will visit regularly though, tend the garden we built together and try to be available to help Kim out when needed. Kim’s little suburban ‘farm’ is about 20 minutes by bike from Sharon’s.

Good friends, Nic and Kirsty (and kids), have moved up from Sydney and bought a beautiful, bountiful farm just out of town (maybe even within bike riding distance?). Anytime I need some country air (at least once a fortnight), I can visit and stay as long as I like. Kirsty and Nic will grow loads of food and have plans to retrofit their farm into a low-impact oasis too. I intend to help out in the garden and on the land and, hopefully, make myself useful for some of their house renovations as well as the odd bit of child-minding. This is where the little blue wagon will live for a while.

What a rich and privileged life I live. I must use my privilege for good.

And with not a moment to lose. Reading the latest report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), in just 12 years at current rates of global carbon emissions, we will lock in a 1.5 degree temperature rise and the very real potential of an uninhabitable planet possibly by the end of the century. I read this news with a sense of relief – yes relief. This very serious attitude from the likes of the IPCC (with less dumbing down of the wording for public consumption), might mean more will join the fight, kick-starting the vital, and long overdue, large scale mobilisation needed. Here’s hoping and praying! 

Fortunately, our timing is backed up beautifully by the recent release of two fantastic books: David Holmgren’s latest book on permacultural living in town called Retrosuburbia: the Downshifter’s Guide to a Resilient Future and  Dr Samuel Alexander of the Simplicity Institute with his new book Degrowth in the Suburbs. 

David’s latest book takes the ingredients already found in suburbia, mixes them around a bit, adds some appropriate technology and bakes it into a wonderful new version of the suburbs in which we all grow food, live in close-knit, resilient communities and share all the great stuff we create. 

This seems like the sanest thing we can do. We will not be able to rely on large-scale agriculture into the future, or large-scale anything for that matter. The more we grow our own food and produce our own power in our suburbs, and the more we localise our needs, the safer (more resilient) we will be – at least those of us fortunate enough to live a relatively affluent life in the suburbs of the western world. There is no other way for us. Hopefully, this will also decrease the damage done to disadvantaged communities around the globe as we rely less on them, and their precious ecosystems, to meet our needs.

So, we suburbanites must be revolutionaries – using what’s already available in our homes, our neighbourhoods, our town, to shape a truly low-impact life for ourselves and those to come. 

We are part of a new story – the story of the GREAT retrosuburban revolution!






6 thoughts on “retrosuburban dreaming

  1. Hi Jo It is great to see you are happy and enjoying yourself. As you are experiencing “the more you give the more you receive” The more people that realize this then more people will be happier and living fruitful fulfilling lives.Love and best wishes Robin n Sherie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just read Retrosuburbia, and even more motivated to keep lowering my footprint and increasing my food-growing capacity and bringing the neighbours along with on my suburban street. Exciting times! All the best, fellow Jo:)

    Liked by 1 person

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