We have been registered on a house-swapping website for a year or so now, but have never gotten on the horse and done the actual crazy thing yet. Until this trip to South Australia.
It was a bit nerve-racking. It’s such an intense thing to do, open your home for another family to come in and live. Lots of people have made a horrified face when I told them our plans. (Hi Mum!) It is a bit full on. It forces you to up your lifestyle game. Stuff piles and junk drawers and broken handles won’t fly. We had to accept the fact that we lived like animals and create a new kind of reality.
We cleaned out all the cupboards and scrubbed all the corners. We made signs like ‘don’t climb this crumbling retaining wall!’ , ‘don’t drink from this tap!’ and ‘broken drawer: don’t open!’ We made notes in a guest book about garbage night and coffee shops and local doctors and wifi and electronics. We fixed the greywater system and the water pump and the toilet, re-soldered bedside lights and repaired outdoor furniture. We sewed curtains and hung pictures.
Everywhere we looked, there were jobs to do.
It was nuts!
And yet, it was fine. I made a little pact with myself that I wouldn’t let it become stressful, wouldn’t let it turn into a kind of ‘my god, why hast thou forsaken meeee’ kind of drama. I decided to think of it like investing in a fancy future. It was just a lot of work.
On our final weekend, Mum and Dad took the kids for a sleepover so Keith and I could go hard. He was the outside dog, I was the inside dog, and we didn’t stop for hours and hours – into the night, and through the next day. Packing, cleaning. Cleaning, packing.
(An aside – while I worked, I listened to all 13 episodes of the Charles Manson Series on the old-Hollywood podcast ‘You Must Remember This.’ This sounds so grisly, but it is, in fact, an amazing series that dissects the dark heart of the 1960′s. If you like true crime – were you a Serial fan? – this is the genre at its clever, complex best. )
Anyway, we finally made it out the door, and after a week’s outback road trip, we arrived here in Adelaide, where we are staying in the house of a family who feel like a kind of Christian parallel universe version of Keith and I. They have kids the same age, and there are so many crossovers in the kitchen and around the place, except that they are very devout, judging by their bookshelves and art, and K and I are godless dirty heathens, judging by ours. They seem really, really nice.
And – hooray! – they are happy at our house, and we are happy at theirs. It’s been fantastic. I texted a picture of Keith at their piano when we arrived, and Chisty texted me a picture of Josh at ours. They looked hilariously identical – two happy middle-aged beardy dads. It’s a very communal system – we text back and forth – does this work? Where is the remote? Garden is watered! The house-swappers feel, weirdly, like friends we have never met, which I’m actually kind of comfortable with. I’m a blogger after all – I have a number of friends like that.
Now, Keith is working again, and I am living out my home-school fantasies (Can I get a ‘Yes, ma’am!?’) (No.) We’re enjoying living life in a different place for a few weeks, and Adelaide is a lovely town. It would be financially impossible for us to rent a place like this for three weeks with actual Mickey Mouse money. Instead, house-swapping operates in a sort of honesty economy – you look after our stuff, we’ll look after yours. This place is amazing – near the tram line, ten minutes from town, and with a good coffee machine. We even have a bike with a toddler-cart! I’ve got new books, the kids have new toys, and the vege garden is producing dinner.
My friend Emma thought house-swapping sounded amazing. ‘What, so you just wear their clothes and everything?’ she asked. ‘No, Emma, ‘ I said. ‘You don’t just walk out of your own door and into every aspect of the other families life. It’s not Wife Swap. But I love you. Never change.’
House-swapping has been such a success for us that I can’t imagine holidaying another way now. Plus, we get to go home and enjoy the fancy house we slaved to create, and haven’t got to enjoy yet. Bonus!