When we first arrive at Tricia Hogbin’s rural property in the Hunter Valley, she’s preparing for the school run. Only it’s unlike any school run I’ve ever seen, because instead of a car and traffic reports, this one involves saddling a horse and strolling along at a sedate pace down a quiet country road.
Accompanying Tricia and her nine-year-old daughter Olivia on the short ride to school seems the perfect way to start a conversation about how she and her husband Mike navigated their big tree change.
‘A mere five years ago we were a typical urban-living, dual income, busy family. We had a beautifully renovated home in Newcastle, but with it came a big mortgage and Mike and I were both working full-time jobs. Olivia was three years old and was in childcare five days a week,’ says Tricia.
Her description of their ‘old’ life in the city will sound all too familiar for many – constant feelings of overwhelm and hectic days filled with rushing between commitments. ‘I felt like I was being forced to compromise and make choices that didn’t reflect my own beliefs,’ says Tricia.
So, the family took the plunge and sold their big home in Newcastle to relocate to a nine-acre property in the Hunter Valley. ‘When we first decided to make the move, we thought we’d buy a house with enough space for a veggie garden, but we ended up falling in love with a bush block and bought acreage that had no house. The only thing that was here was a driveway and a shed – no running water, phone, electricity or internet – horror of horrors!’ laughs Tricia.
Admirably, they decided to forgo many modern-day comforts and live very simply in the short-term, rather than go into debt to build a house. ‘We put our furniture inside the shed and made it look like a home, and in summer when it got too hot in there, we slept in a tent. It seems insane, especially when you’ve come from this big beautiful home. But we were so determined to stay out of debt.’
Sleeping under the stars brought with it a few unexpected benefits for Tricia. ‘I’d suffered from back pain for quite a few years and almost overnight sleeping in the tent, my back got better. And because we were in the tent we’d go to bed when it got dark, around 8pm, and then we’d wake up with the sun at about 4:30am. So my body clock was all of a sudden totally in sync with the moon. My back pain was gone and I felt really energised – it was incredible! If you want to focus on your fitness I think sleeping in a tent is the best thing you can do!’
After a short time, Tricia and Mike started work on building a shipping container home for the family to live in, connecting to town power, and building and making improvements as they saved the money. The tiny home is a mere 6m x 2.4m, with an enclosed veranda doubling the small living space.
Again, it’s a far cry from their former house, yet Tricia has risen to the challenge, and become somewhat of a poster girl for tiny home living. Her Instagram feed is a study in living a simple, thoughtful life – growing vegetables, wild foraging, fantastic homesteading advice and inspiration, and thought-provoking, sometimes uncomfortable truths.
‘Living this way has really forced us to prioritise, to declutter our belongings and only keep what we really need, or what has real meaning for us. We’ve also learnt to completely declutter our schedules too. It’s been an incredible experience and has helped us to recognise what’s really important in life,’ she reflects.
Surrounding the tiny home are sprawling vegetable and flower gardens alive with bees and butterflies. The small deck provides stunning views of Wollemi National Park in the distance, and a stillness only broken by native birds and the horses in the far paddock.
Today the family is mostly single-income, and almost completely debt free, which allows Tricia ample time to spend adventuring with her daughter, gardening, and tending to her flock of 25 chickens. ‘I finally feel like I’m living a life rather than just earning a living.’