Some Houseless Ideas For The Modern Musician

After 40 odd days “houseless”, I decided to find a new home. I wrote to “Richard The Piano Tuner”, explaining my situation and asking if he could think of any good options for me. To my surprise he wrote an incredibly detailed response, which I am posting in full, in case any other’s who are thinking of going houseless find it interesting or helpful.

And yes, yes, I know I promised to reveal the nature of my new home in this post, but I’m afraid that will have to wait till the next one.

On 25 Jan 2014, “Richard The Piano Tuner” wrote:

Hi Kimwei

I’m afraid I don’t have many ideas for your immediate accommodation crises. All I can think of is to plonk all your stuff somewhere accessible, if you don’t want to bother other people a small 24 hour access storage unit in Exeter might be your best bet. I’ve even slept in such a unit a few times.

Then invest in a proper arctic grade sleeping bag and mat and be warm as toast at any temperature. That would be all your savings, but perhaps a better investment that some temporary accommodation? It really does have to be experienced to be believed, waking up on a frosty morning and feeling toasty warm and cosy. Your body does produce heat when you sleep, the secret is learning how to conserve it. I would say that a good sleeping bag is worth a whole year’s rent if you sleep in it every night.

But I’m missing the important point here, which is that it’s not about sleeping outside every night. A lot of nights you might end up crashing where you did the gig, or at a friend’s place. But you won’t know this until you actually try it.

And hostels don’t have to be for living in (which might cost £300-500 per month). For me they are just a welcome break from the outdoors, I spend £20, stay two nights and go back out all dry, clean and warm with everything fully charged. It’s so much more than just a bed, some even include a bottomless breakfast.

Having said that, I’m a large male living mostly in London where great hostels abound. I don’t want to guarantee it’ll be as easy or secure for you in Exeter.

Thinking more long term, your problem is having a lot of stuff and wanting to move it great distances at high speed on a regular basis. This requires a lot of energy and the easiest way to get this energy is from fossil fuels. In particular you have a problem with gigs further afield but always having to get back to one place quickly for regular commitments.

I don’t have an easy solution for you to continue doing this cheaply or in an environmentally friendly way. Living in a van it might seem like a downwards spiral: less work/gig commitments = less money for fuel and van maintenance = less ability to make commitments, might as well do nothing. Or the upwards spiral: more commitments = need more money for fuel and van = need more commitments, busier and busier for what?

I think this is being pessimistic. It’s early days and I think you can find a balance…

Be ruthless with your stuff. Yes you need a good guitar and some studio kit, but think very carefully about what else you really need.

Not long before I ‘moved out’ I built a very powerful desktop PC from £2000 of carefully chosen components. I justified my dream machine in that it would make my web coding, research, and music production work so much faster and more efficient.

But my lifestyle choice took priority and as difficult as it was, I gave the computer away to my dad’s business before I even got it fully operational, such was my excitement at the prospect of a free and simple life. I also had to give away 95% of my tool collection, this is a big deal for a bloke like me who only invests in the best tool for each job.

What I discovered was that tools and computers were not the limiting factor, my brain was the limiting factor to my progress and creativity. Now I’m mobile my brain is on overdrive and when I actually sit down to work on any computer or piano the ideas pour out nonstop.

What’s more I was born at the right time, we’re so lucky that technology is moving forward at breakneck speed. I thought that when I want to start recording and sequencing music again I would need a laptop which would be easy enough to carry around but oh no, my latest smartphone has a 2.3 GHz quad core processor, 3Gb of RAM and it will host external USB audio devices like sound cards and stereo condenser mics. The software options for audio sequencing and editing on smartphone platforms are expanding by the minute. So it seems all I will need is a high quality microphone. Anyway I give this just as an example, your music and your needs are probably different.

Be ruthless with your commitments too: put your foot down and say no to opportunities when they don’t meet your criteria. For example, turn down gigs that are too far away or that don’t cover your travel costs. Put your principles first: consideration for your own sanity and for the environment.

And finally as the months pass look into yourself and think about whether you want be to a local person or a nomadic person. This is only about now and the near future, you can switch between the two at any point in life. What I mean by local is your weekly commitments in Exeter – if you didn’t have them you could sleep in the pub or in your van next to the pub where you did your gig, or with the friend you came to visit. There’s no hurry and no rushing ‘back’ somewhere, just chugging merrily along to the next thing.

If you value a sense of familiarity and local community more, that can also be wonderful but being realistic you must consider dropping the travelling and compensating with more local commitments. I think the big problem in modern developed society is that we want to have all the benefits and security of a permanent home in one familiar location, but we also want the excitement and freedom to travel the whole world. I don’t need to say anything about why that’s not sustainable, not environmentally, not economically (unless you’re filthy rich), and maybe not so good emotionally and physically if it makes life stressful.

So in summary the balance would be less stuff, enabling smaller van with cheaper running costs, and less travel distances either by reducing commitment to one place or turning down opportunities that are too far away or both. I think if you work patiently and diligently at this from every angle you will find a space for yourself.

This is something I’m discovering myself this and last year, that I make the rules about what I agree to do and where I go, and if something doesn’t agree with my principles I say no. The front page of my website now reflects this, because I want to be less busy and travel at a more leisurely pace I’m only taking on my favorite type of work that’s more relaxed and pays well.

For various reasons I have very little money left here in Israel which has been most enlightening, I’m living off less than £2 per day and finding an amazing amount of delicious food thrown out by street sellers and supermarkets. I’ve come to the incredible realisation that I can do whatever I want with my time, all day, every day, which has been invaluable for my current research into the origin and meaning of life. Attached: a photo of one day’s spoils, food destined for landfill that I ate. It’s available every day except for the Sabbath.

I’m sure you’re aware that some folk buy a cheap secondhand builder’s van and convert it to a living space. It needn’t be that cold if you take the time to heavily insulate it and consider installing a little burner. Of course much better to buy a vehicle purpose-built for living in, and less legal issues. Something to think about: what exactly is it that makes bricks and mortar warmer or dryer than a van or a boat? What would you need to do to a van to be comfortable storing electronics there? I’ve been in a lot of buildings that are more damp and draughty than some of the cosy boats and vans I’ve been invited into.

I think a van is more practical for your lifestyle and gigging, but in your own time do check out the boat links I sent you because it really is a beautiful world. It’s immersion in mother nature. As a long term idea, boating you would have to build an extremely relaxed schedule around the waterways and the coast and all the blockages and stoppages that can entail, or just rent a mooring and get involved more locally. Travelling by boat, you cannot be in a hurry, ever, it just doesn’t get you anywhere. Note that most major cities and towns are accessible by boat for historical reasons.

Back to the short term, if you do need to work and rent to see the Winter out its not the end of the world, as a temporary measure. Just think twice before you sign any one year contracts!

Sorry if that’s all old news to you, I hope some of it helps.


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