The Simple House

A few people have asked me what I’m doing posting simple thoughts from Kenya, rather than from within a yurt near Glastonbury, or in Marin. Which, given my skin’s disposition to redden at the slightest hint of sun, or hypocrisy, is a fair question.

I realise I’ve neglected to mention what I’m up to. Shame on me and my inability to post about all the wiggles of the Simpletom life.

I’m building a house with one of my best friends, architect Tim.

Yep, a house – in Kenya.

Which is pretty stupid, as I don’t have a house, a flat or even a shed in London or San Francisco – the two places I’ve made my home over the last 4 or so years. Plus, building a house 5000 miles from my birthplace doesn’t quite fit with the simplicity theme. Does it?

Those who read my posts more closely will have realised that simplicity doesn’t mean that you have to abandon all material possessions – at least not for me. I know that I’d be deeply unhappy living the life of a monk. It would sit in conflict with my upbringing, my interests and my loved ones.

There are certain things in life which I love that perhaps don’t fall into the ‘classical’ simple persons’s bracket. As I mentioned recently, I’m nowhere near as simple as I can be. My journey is about balance, rather than extremes. It’s about finding a simplicity that works, rather than one that screams from the rooftops of piousness. It’s about finding time for the things I love and reminding myself to stay away from the rat races pull.

Egyptian cotton sheets, beer, kitesurfing, movies, airplanes and parties are all in. Yoga, veganism, basket-weaving and trilobite-hunting are, for the moment, out. Watch this space.

As for Kenya and the house – I’ve been here for seven months already and things are going rather well, if slowly. Which is good, because life here is near perfect.

My intention was to build a green house and keep it simple. Both of these ambitions have been significantly challenged. My Swiss Family Robinson treehouse dream hasn’t quite remained untouched, especially as I watch another lorry full of cement arrive.

Yet it’s been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever undertaken and in future posts I will examine the ups and downs of this scheme and analyse the adventure from a simple and green perspective. For now, here’s a photo and a post I wrote for a blog that we’re keeping about the house building – A Walk on the Wild Site.


The view from the top of a palm of my plot

There seem to be two conflicting reactions to the claim that one is going to build a house in Kenya, thousands of miles from home.

The first is the understanding that it is a perfect adventure which is accompanied by coos and ahhs. It is something in and of itself, that serves no purpose above and beyond the process of building and exploring foreign climes. Swiss Family Robinson, Swallows and Amazons or my own childhood favourites Brendon Chase by BB and the books by Willard Price – all prompt that childlike urge to adventure in the wild. There is something about bonfires and rafts and nature and mosquito nets that appeals even more so now that many professionals spend 10+ hours a day in front of a computer.

That is what going to Kenya to build a house is all about.

The second reaction is one of practicality, or the apparent impracticality, that prompts questions like, ‘Are you going to live there?” Or, ‘How are you going to look after it?’ Or even, ‘What’s the point?’.

For me there are a few points:

The first is one based in ambition, which is somewhat paradoxical given that being here I’m trying to simplify and take a sabbatical from my ‘career’ (if you can call it that). Long ago, I made a list of things I wanted to do in my life and one of those things was to design and build my own house. So, here I am.

The second, as I’ve mentioned, is the process in and of itself. Even if the house burns to the ground, or the land gets taken away from me due to some unforeseen bureaucratic reason, it’s good just to be here, being active, nurturing that part of my soul that longs to be able to build my own furniture and understand how plumbing works.

Thirdly, this is a wonderful part of the world where just living in the day-to-day makes you stronger, browner, healthier and feel more alive. So building a house will help encourage many returns and provide hefty excuses to come back.

And finally, leaving money sitting in the bank, which I’ve done since selling my student house in Edinburgh, is decidedly boring and feels like a complete waste of making it. So instead I’m trying to do something that will result in better returns than the paltry offerings my bank gives me and is also something that friends and I can enjoy.

In conclusion – worse case scenario a very fun, long and expensive holiday… best case, a house that I can keep returning to when life allows and I can rent out when I’m stuck somewhere else or if things require that I can sell.

That’s a risk I’m willing to take.

3 thoughts on “The Simple House

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