Friday, January 04, 2013

So, how did we do it?

I have been asked on more than one occasion to share with people just how I came to find our dream home.  I've heard so many people say how envious they are about our new life in the country.  Many share with me how it is their dream too, but they don't ever see it happening.  Often it is finances that hold them back, or a lack of belief in their ability to make a drastic change or take a risk.

I always respond with the words.  You CAN do it.  

Please be assured that we haven't achieved what we have through having oodles of money.  Believe me when I say the truth is that we are very far away from having a full bank balance (or even a slightly healthy looking one!).  Our dream was achieved by doing something that every single person reading this is capable of doing.  

Dreaming.  Hoping.  Wishing.

Having a goal and making it happen.  

Here's how.

There was an incident that occurred at the end of May/beginning of June that changed my thought processes. Nothing life-threatening or seriously nasty, just something that someone said that made me re-evaluate my life.

I have always been the sort of person who likes things to be settled.  I always liked the idea of change, but was scared to actually attempt to make it happen.  It's just so much easier, simpler, to continue doing what you are doing, plodding on and knowing that the tomorrow will more than likely be the same as the today, and the day after that and the day after that.  It's safe.  Something has always held me back from reaching for the dream.  I guess I like to feel secure.  I like (and need) to know that as a mama of 5 beautiful children, we have a secure roof above our heads, enough money to pay the bills, and the financial ability to stock the food cupboards.  I need to know that I'm providing a stress-free, happy childhood for those beautiful children; by which I mean them living within a carefree, no worries environment, at least as far as I am able to control.  I am a happy plodder, content with my lot and not needing to make any change. 


For years I have held a yearning for a life in the country.  I was bought up around horses and spent the majority of my teenage years lurking around the stable yard instead of street corners eyeing up the boys.  I enjoyed all the work involved; the mucking out of stables, the refilling of water buckets, the exercising, tack cleaning, turning out and catching, the trips to the farrier etc etc.  I loved being outdoors.  The fresh air, the feeling of the chilly wind brushing by my face and reddening my nose and cheeks, the frosty bite on my fingers and toes, then in contrast, the warmth of the sunshine beating on the back of my neck during haynet filling and going for picnic rides with friends by streams for the horses to splash in.  When I met my city loving husband and we settled to have children, I accepted that my horsey days were over - too expensive both financially and in terms of time.  

Throughout our 17 years of marriage I have often remarked on how much I would love to live 'the good life'.  I have eagerly tuned in to watch self-sufficiency programmes on TV and read books describing the lifestyle.   I have read inspiring biographies, numerous homestead blogs online, and dreamed.  I have seen my husband gradually acclimatise to a slower pace of life.  At first he was very unsettled in Devon, always yearning for a return to the hustle and bustle of his near Manchester home town.  He complained life here was too quiet, too boring, too expensive.  To a degree he was right, but I felt safe here and felt it to be a great place to bring up children.  There were numerous times when we almost packed up and headed up North, but we never quite made the move, there was always something holding us back.

In June this year I knew I wanted to move house.  We all sat down as a family and discussed things.  We talked about the kind of house we wanted.  Did we want to move to a busy city or a rural lane?  Did we want to go down the minimalist route and live more simply in a smaller home, or did we want to move areas and go where we could get more for our money?  We even considered selling up and touring around on a converted bus :)  At this point it was just talk.  Talk like we had talked many times before.  There was a real difference this time for me though.  I wanted change.  Actually, I really needed change.  The house at that time no longer felt like a happy and secure place for me.

I shared my idyllic dream with my husband and children.  My husband wasn't at all surprised of course, and actually, neither were my children.  I think that enough hints had been dropped throughout their lifetimes.   At that time of course, it really was just that though, a distant dream that actually felt pretty unachievable.  I'm pretty sure I started the discussion with something along the lines of  "If we won the lottery...." or "When we can afford it..." I would love to live in the countryside.  I really don't think I actually thought it would ever really happen.  A flick through the property rental pages and websites showed prices way out of our reach.  But it was such a great yearning. 

I needed to change my mindset

Instead of continuously telling myself that it would never happen/we could never afford it/we need a lottery win/or any one of those other silly excuses, I needed to tell myself that it could of course happen.  I just needed to make it happen.

Remember that bit because it is important.  I needed to MAKE IT HAPPEN.

One night, when all my littlies were sleeping and husband had retired to bed, I sat down and made a list.  What could I do to achieve my dream?

First off there were the money making ideas.  I could declutter and have an Ebay sales fest, I could make things to sell, I could somehow look at making funds from my website and blog.  I eyed up job opportunities, work from home schemes, business ideas. 

I think the key point here is that I really wanted this to happen and I was going to do my utmost to make sure it did.

I still had to get around how we would be able to afford the going rental rate on a place with land.  Scanning through letting agent adverts and online rentals it was clear that we were looking at a minimum of £1000 per calender month here in Devon, more likely nearer to between £1200 and £1500.  Realistically just how were we going to afford that on a monthly basis?

I needed to think outside the box.  

If we were going to trudge along with the rest of the good folks in looking for property rentals land, we were going to have to come up with something a little different.  Going to a letting agency and jumping through their hoops would be a struggle - we have pets and young children and claim a little housing benefit.  How many properties do you see in letting agencies stating no pets, young children, or housing benefit?  Certainly a high percentage.   Along with that hurdle, property with a bit of land is much sought after at the moment.  People are looking at saving money, self-sufficiency, vegetable growing, chicken keeping etc etc.  Many are wanting to live simpler lives, going back to home-baking and making, and the countryside offers the perfect location for that sort of lifestyle.  The competition was going to be fierce and I knew that.

I wasn't deterred.  There was a time when I wouldn't have even started looking.  There was a time when I would have just allowed myself to be defeated instead of taking a chance.  There was a time I would have just settled with the no chance of that ever happening mentality.

Not this time.

What could I do that would make us different?  What could I do that would make us stand out from the rest?  We couldn't offer high financial deposits.  We couldn't offer a wealth of experience.  We couldn't offer high rental payments month after month.  So why would anyone want to rent to us?

Because we wanted it so very badly.  Because it was our dream.  

Now believe me when I tell you this.  There are some amazingly wonderful people out there in this world.  You just have to find a way of reaching out and connecting with those people.  There are people who genuinely want to help you.  There are people who would love to make a dream of yours come true if they could possibly do so.  There are people who put human beings before money-making schemes.  Yes really, there are!  How do I know?  Because I have conversed with many.

I sat down that evening, with the house fallen silent, and wrote out a plea.  

"Firstly, thank you for taking the time to read this plea.

We are a family of 7, currently living near Torquay in Devon. For a long time we have longed to live a simpler and more fulfilled lifestyle and we have decided that the time has come to make that dream a reality - life is too short not to seize the opportunity for happiness! We aren't restricted to any area, so are looking nationwide.

Our family consists of a married couple (married for 17 years), with 5 beautiful children aged almost 2, 7, 10, 14 and 16.

Our perfect home would be a cottage/house/bungalow/liveable shack (!) with land.

Ideally we would love to be able to keep a variety of animals including chickens, and grow our own vegetables. Think self sufficiency and 'The Good Life' and you are kind of on our wave length. Our daughters would really love space for a family pony or two!

Both my husband and I are hardworking and outdoorsy types - I've spent years mucking out stables in the rain and snow, being up at 5am and finishing a days work at midnight - I am not seeing our dream through rose-tinted glasses, I know full well how tough and harsh such a lifestyle can be. I also know how much freedom it will allow our children to have - exploring nature, living and learning from the great outdoors. It is something we have strived towards for a long time and we want to finally create it in reality.

We don't mind what state the property is in, as long as there is a roof over our heads. We are willing to decorate and fix up where necessary, so will consider any property in any state of disarray. The more rural the better. We need at least 3 bedrooms, although the more the better. My husband is a qualified plumber so always willing and able to do any plumbing work that is needed, and he has also had building experience in the past and enjoys a DIY challenge!

ALL offers will be very gratefully received and seriously reviewed. We aren't time-wasters, this is something we have wanted for a long time and we will be grabbing any suitable opportunity that opens up to us. We are long term tenants - living in our current property for 6 years, and our previous one for 8 years (only moving due to landlord selling up). We love wherever we call home and treat the property as if it were our own. Maximum rent is dependant on the property and opportunity offered but we are looking at around £750 per month. This could be increased if there was a way of gaining finance from the land or property.

If you have something available that you may think will suit us, we would genuinely love to hear details from you.
To find out more about us, please search for Classroom Free and find our blog.

Thank you for your time.

Regards and Blessings
Julia “

Take a look around the property wanted ads.  What do you see?  Same old, same old. 

 Wanted, 3 bed house. Must have garden.  Must accept children, pets, and DSS.  

Now whilst this might work for some, it wouldn't make me want to rent my house out to you if I had one to offer.  There is nothing in that advert that would draw me to you, nothing to make me want to help you.   I don't like demands.  I would like to get a feel for the person behind the ad, to have the ad affect me in some way.  I don't mean like someone writing out a long sob story about their husband having an affair with the barmaid in the local pub and finding out that their goldfish died this morning and they don't have any money for the funeral - not that sort of ad.  Instead I like things that are quirky and a little different to the norm. Things were I can see time has been taken, and thoughts have been processed.  My plea was just that - different, unusual, but heartfelt.  Nothing expected or taken for granted, just a genuine seeking of an opportunity.  I opened my heart and wrote down my long term dream, then put it out there online for all to see.  I placed an ad on Greenshifters (£5 for however long you need it on the site for), Preloved (free), Gumtree (also free but scammers rate is very high), on my blog and facebook page, and anywhere else where advertising was permitted.  

As all this was going on, my mind was whirring with questions.  Did we really need to stay in Devon?  We weighed up all the reasons to stay and actually there weren't that many.  Friends in Devon were the biggest draw but we had no family living full time in the area any more.  Thinking that we could make an extra effort with friends - visiting them and having them stay with us - we started looking at rental prices elsewhere.  Three options jumped out immediately; Ireland, Scotland, Wales.  These areas offered properties with land for far less than we could get in Devon.  Was there another way of finding a property.  Wanted ads are great, but how do you target people who aren't even thinking about renting a property out?  I started looking through houses for sale ads.  I looked for adverts that gave a clue as to being on the market for a long time, or ones that perhaps hinted that they were second homes.  I contacted the owners of these and politely asked them to keep me in mind if they ever thought of renting the property out.  I apologised for contacting them and said I realised that selling their property was preferable, but just in case....

The replies came flooding in.

Seriously, we had numerous replies.  

We had emails from all over the world - England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Wales, the list goes on and on.  We got offered advice, contact details of people we could speak to, information about websites to look on, agencies to contact, people who might be able to help us.  We had people wishing us good luck, spurring us on with our dream and retelling their own tales of dream hunting and gaining.  We even had people asking around on our behalf and checking in on our progress ever few days.  I was truly amazed at the response and support we received from total strangers and it really did restore any lost faith in human kind.  

We were offered amazing opportunities.  A cottage in Wales, living rent free, just paying bill costs in return for helping out on the 16 acres of land.  A livery yard and stud farm in Normandy.  A yurt camping business and farm in Cornwall.  A farm with stables in Spain.  A dog kennels business on the Isle of Man.  Numerous off grid properties in Ireland.  People needed decent tenants for their property and we needed help achieving our dream.  

On the afternoon of September 27th I received an email through Preloved in response to my advert.  A lady had seen my plea and thought she could help but she needed to speak to her husband.  After a couple of emails to-ing and fro-ing, we arranged a viewing.  Having set off very early in case we got lost, we arrived at the property before the owners.  We immediately fell in love.  We stood in awe at the gate and couldn't believe that somebody was potentially going to offer it to us as our new home.  

We wondered what the catch would be and presumed it would be the rental asking price as that was yet to be discussed.  

The owners arrived and I immediately took to them. You know when someone has an instant likeability factor?  Well the whole family had just that.  I felt immediately at ease and the chatter flowed freely.  We had a tour of the property and it's grounds, and exchanged stories.  They shared a very sad tale which I won't share here as it's not mine to tell, and we even found out we had mutual friends.  Despite the shoulder high nettles and brambles, and the overgrown greenhouse which no longer had an entrance, I longed to live there.

I took a sharp intake of breath as the owners were about to put forward a rental price.  My ears just couldn't believe it.  It was cheaper than we were paying for our 3 bed semi on one of the busiest main roads in Devon.  Wow wow wow.  We were taken for a stroll up the lanes to admire the surrounding views, and returned for another look inside the property.  I could contain it no longer.  As the owner took us to the amazing attic room and asked if we would like to take it on, the tears flowed.  Relief.  Amazing people and generosity (the rental value is actually far far higher than we were offered it at and the owners knew it but wanted to help, seeing it as a win win situation as they gain tenants they like and trust).  The achievement of my long-held dream.  We had a few days of sorting things out.  I didn't want to get my hopes up until I'd received absolute confirmation from the owner which didn't happen until a few days later, but oh the excitement started to build from the moment we left that house.

We moved here on October 17th 2012.  Three months of searching time - three and a half months between thinking outside the box and moving into our dream.  We didn't have much money - we obviously made sure we had enough to cover the rent and hire a van but that was pretty much all we had.  We took a leap of faith regarding Lee's job, thinking he could commute the long distance for a short while but then hoping a job nearer to home would present itself asap as the fuel costs would cripple us.  It wasn't easy.  We were paying nearly £100 a week for car fuel - then the car broke down.  That wasn't a good time.  Lee's work didn't make things easy and actually, the poor guy had to cycle all the way to Exeter at 4am one morning in order to catch the train on to Newton Abbot.  We had to juggle our finances in order to find a new car as a replacement.  Finding that car was a task in itself - how do you go about finding a new car when a) you haven't got access to the internet.  b) you don't have a telephone line (and no mobile signal).  c) You live a 6 mile round trip to the nearest store and there are no buses. d) you have no car to actually get you to potential purchases and don't know anyone in the area to ask for help.  We didn't give up and managed to find one after only a few days.  An expensive purchase though a month before Christmas.  Fortunately our leap of faith paid off and Lee was offered a new job with his own works van to use so no fuel costs to pay - a job which he started at the beginning of December.

The neighbours here have been amazing.  We have suffered three garden floods since being here due to the unusual amount of rain we have had here this year, and each time neighbours have offered to help. We were invited to a lovely New Years Eve gathering and had a great time, and have been invited out again tomorrow.  

All in all it has been the most amazing journey and one I would very much encourage anyone to take on.  If you have a dream - be it travelling, moving, business starting, whatever - DO it.  

You too CAN make it happen, and there are always people out there willing to help you.  


  1. I have loved reading this post sooooooo much Julia! I couldn't be happier for you, and am really looking forward to reading more about your new life in the country. As you know, I believe completely that you can change your life by simply changing your mindset, and working hard, as I've done the same. It's been just the best to share that experience with you too. Love Deb xxxxx

  2. Just what I needed to read this morning "Thank you" Wishing you and your family a wonderful 2013. Heres hoping we reach our dreams too x

  3. What a wonderful story , you are so right about there being some wonderful generous people out there sometimes you just need to look.

    Thanks for popping by to my blog and I am so jealous of the quail I plan to hatch a batch soon but need to sort the shed out first (we have a rodent problem near where it is currently sited), have you considered ex battery hens the cost of them is minimal as you just pay what you can afford as a donation to the BHWT theres bound to be a rehoming event near you


  4. Fantastic! What a completely heart-warming and uplifting post. I'm so happy for you all that it worked out so well. And how brilliant that there are so many 'goodies' out there who are prepared to help people who they've never met. Wishing you all the best in your new home xx

  5. What an inspiring post! It is wonderful to read about a family who are truly following their path. I wish you all the best for the New Year. I am really enjoying your blog.

  6. Thankyou again for sharing, I am going to make it happen this year! (I keep saying that to myself), it would be easy to chicken out, I think I am very much the same not easy with change, but change is very much needed, we have landed up in the middle of suburbia through having to move quickly but it was so the wrong choice, 7 years later we have decided that is it, maybe a mid life crisis of a sorts but if we don't do it now, we will always wonder. I am the same I love the outdoors and also spent all of my time with horses when younger, but I would pity the horse now (need to lose weight before then) i feel content outside listening to the birds and frustrated by too many cars and not very nice neighbours where I am now. So glad you have nice helpful ones, it makes such a difference. I think i will be reading this post over and over again in the coming months, just in case I wobble thankyou again, Rosie.

  7. Julia - you are an inspiration <3 I will make my dream come true too!

  8. Thank you for sharing Julia - it is souplifting. I've been following you for a few years and I was hoping you could fullfill your dream. And I must admit I was surprised how quick you were able to do it - and wondered how you afforded it as I know the rental market all too well :(. It is amazing story and I love it - I am very happy for you even though it makes me jealous - in the good way - making me to fullfill my dream even more :) Thank you again!

  9. wonderful! uplifting and inspiring :))) thank you x

  10. fabulous, so glad there are stories like this to keep me going in search of my dream x

  11. fabulous, so thankful for stories like these to keep me going in search of my dream xx