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The story of our reversed treechange

When Wade and I had been together only a year or so, we went on a weekend minibreak to the Hunter Valley.  On a stroll around the vineyard we were staying at, we daydreamed about the perfect life we’d love to have together one day.

Living in our own farm made up the bulk of this perfect life – and we exchanged lists of the fruit we’d grow, the vegetables we’d grow and the animals we would raise.  For as long as I can remember, living right in nature has been my dream life – and to be self-sufficient for organic produce was the next level of that dream life.

I started floating the idea of a Gold Coast move to Wade in late 2016.

What attracted me?

The slower pace of life.  The proximity to nature.  The idea of Lexi growing roaming barefoot through her days.  The sunbleached dream.

You probably couldn’t get a more opposite to the life we were leading in Sydney last year: smack bang in the middle of Surry Hills with roadwork or renovations going on all around us, most of our life within a few blocks’ walking distance, the constant noise, traffic and general city hum.

To get a Nature kick, we needed to get in the car and drive to either Centennial Park or the beach and Lexi’s daily walks were on busy Surry Hills streets.  We had Messina on our doorstep, and any number of quick-bite food options within yelling distance of our house.

Between welcoming Lexi into the world, publishing my second book, exiting my first business and dealing (or maybe not dealing) with some heavy emotional stuff in 2017, I was spent by the end of the year – and Wade was feeling the same.

And then we found paradise.

Over New Year’s, we spent nine days in a one-in-a-million community in the Gold Coast Hinterland.  We were smack bang in the glory of nature, we had an abundance of organic fruit and veg in supply and the Gold Coast was a treasure trove of incredible cafes and healthy-living options.  We fell asleep to the sound of crickets and woke in the morning chorus of native birds.  We were in heaven.

Lexi’s first sighting of a kangaroo

 

One morning Wade was out for a run and met a local woman, who told him that a house was for sale in the area – and that it had been on the market for quite a while.

Later on that day, we went to check it out… and it ticked all the boxes.  Space, light, bright.  Walking distance to the swimming pool and café.  Set amongst nature.  And even our own small permaculture farm – all up, the property had 80 different vegetables, fruit and herbs planted on it!

Wade got in touch with the owner, an offer was made, an offer was accepted, we managed to get a mortgage (no small feat we discovered when both of you are self-employed)…

In the space of a few weeks we were on our way to become homeowners.

Designing The Plan

And then the figuring-out-how-the-hell-we-do-this began.

The Plan was that Wade would commute down to Sydney on Tuesday mornings and come back to us on the Gold Coast on Friday evenings – renting a room in Sydney mid-week.  With the house being only 18 minutes to the airport and the flight to Sydney only taking an hour, this seemed extremely achievable.

Longer term, he would lead the business’s expansion into Queensland, with a view to relocating himself permanently within a year.

As we had the space in the house, we’d hire a live-in nanny to care for Lexi – this would also mean I’d have the flexibility to travel for my own business when I needed to.

I’d work remotely and build my new business around that.

I’d find a tribe of friends easily and quickly, and would travel back to Sydney to catch up with friends regularly.

And that – pretty much – was The Plan.

Moving North

The move from Sydney happened in February, and it was rushed, stressful and came off the back of an intense business period for both of us.  Wade flew back to Sydney two days later and I stayed on with Lexi for another two days setting the place up for short-term tenants, then we were on a flight to Bali for our two-month Eat Pray Love Nappy Change adventure.

We really didn’t actually move to the GC until our return in April.  And then the Plan was put to the test.

We hired the nanny (Nikita), Wade found a place to live in Sydney and we set about creating our new QLD life – from discovering where to get our food from and taking tentative steps to making friends, to test-driving a new yoga studio and finding our favourite beaches.

We were most definitely living in paradise – or at least Lexi and I were.  The beaches were glorious (and empty!), parking was a dream, the most beautiful orchestra of birds woke us every morning, kangaroos bounced through our garden and we were eating the best produce of our lives – some of it was even grown within our community.  We’re talking zero food miles baby!

 

Wade’s original plan to be in Sydney four days a week didn’t materialise.  Given the requirement for him to be in Sydney over weekends for business commitments and to travel interstate and overseas, it looked more like him being with us on the GC for a week, and then being away for 2-3 weeks.  A very different proposition to what we had planned.

NB this is acai on Wade’s tshirt, not poo

 

Initially I found the stretches of time apart to be manageable.  I’d sprawl out in the bed, go to bed as early as I wanted, work late if I wanted to and revel in watching the shows that I adore and that Wade can’t stand – such as Call The Midwife and Queer Eye.  This got old pretty quickly though, and I started to actively fear the long stretches alone.

The reality of the self-sufficient dream

Our dream of bringing the rather-abandoned garden back to life and living off the land also proved more difficult than we expected.  With Wade’s travel and the time I was devoting to establishing my new business, we didn’t have time to educate ourselves on gardening – never mind actually getting out there and giving the garden the daily time it needed to flourish.

For weeks it sat there with the terrifyingly-aggressive Queensland weeds running riot – and every time Wade came home he’d have major guilts and overwhelm about how were going to get the whole thing just under control – never mind flourishing.

Over three days in June, Wade, my dad, his dad and our next door neighbour tackled the garden – weeding, clearing and generally putting some shape on the whole neglected mess.

Even with their intense efforts, it was clear that the garden would need at least another week of concentrated effort to get it to where we wanted it – and likely a lot of financial investment.  Suddenly going to the wholefoods market and loading up our shopping basket became a much easier, and much more achievable option!

Building a tribe… or not

I connected with a couple of like-minded women around me, however I didn’t invest the time and energy I could have in building friendships as I was focused on getting the business going.

And if I’m very honest, I felt shy about getting out there and meeting new people.  There’s something deeply unsettling about being in a whole new state on your own, and I realised how much of my identity was knitted into being a Sydney resident.  It all felt so overwhelming, and I missed the easy familiarity that comes with very old friends.

One of my wise AF mentees Jenny (who herself did the interstate move years ago) articulated this perfectly for me.  “Friendships need history”, she said.  “With new friends, you need to create that history.  And the thing with history is that it takes time.”

I started to feel myself sink into what is the closest to depression that I’ve experienced.  I felt constantly sad and would burst into tears numerous times a day.  I started working with a therapist, and had the opportunity to talk through how I was feeling – not just at that time, but working through stuff dating back to my childhood.

I missed Wade, I missed my friends – but most of all, I missed myself.  I felt my sparkle was gone, and that I was a dulled-down, low res version of myself.  I went from one end of the week to the next without wearing make-up (this is not me) and lived in my activewear and Uggs.  My hair was a mess.  To sum it up with a total Irishism, I looked like boiled shite.

My experience was in stark contrast to Nikita’s, who pretty much immediately fell in love with the Gold Coast – having never visited before.  She surfed, explored, hiked (often with Lexi) and generally had an abundance of energy for this new area she found herself in.  I envied how settled and happy she seemed.

As a way of digging myself out of the rut I was in, I implemented my Make Lorraine Great Again plan – and this helped enormously.

However the pinnacle of MLGA was a week spent back in Sydney kicking off my Clann mentoring group, filming and spending time with my Mastermind group.  The day before we were due to fly down, I noticed that my mood was immeasurably better.  I felt bouncier than I had in weeks, and that bounce intensified as Lexi, Nikita and I stepped of the plane back in Sydney – and continued for the whole week.

Returning home to the Gold Coast a week later, I could feel the heaviness descend and Wade was shocked at how quickly my mood had deteriorated in the space of a couple of hours.  The heaviness stayed, then Wade left again for another stint of a three weeks away.

On the Thursday morning after he got back, I was meditating and it was clear what we needed to do.   It was so simple that it was elegant:

We should move back to Sydney.

It hadn’t even occurred to me before that point, and now that it had, there was no doubt in my mind that it was the right thing to do.  I ran up to our bedroom to Wade and told him what I was thinking.

What ensued was a long, intense, emotional conversation about where we were at.  He was concerned about how us moving back to Sydney would look – perfectly understandable given us moving to QLD was a core element in his team’s plan for the business.  He was also very worried about the cost and logistics involved in moving interstate for a second time in just six months.

I felt – and still feel – guilty for pushing for the move to the Gold Coast.  Wade made a lot more sacrifices than I did in order for us to pursue our tree change dream.  He missed out on time with Lexi and he didn’t feel settled in either of his homes.  As a Cancer, home is deeply important to him and he found it incredibly unsettling not to have one solid base to operate from.  He was also on a plane pretty much every week.

That night, we ran some numbers on the cost of moving back and also did a comparison of living expenses on the Gold Coast versus Sydney.  Reducing our living expenses was a big motivator for us to move to QLD – our mortgage was half what we were paying in rent in Sydney and we thought that food, petrol and general living expenses would be less up north.

The reality was that yoga/gyms/petrol/food cost the same as in Sydney, and the costs involved in essentially running two different households was negating any potential savings.  The big difference if we did move back to Sydney would be childcare for Lexi.  Having the space to have a live-in nanny meant that our childcare costs were approximately half what they would be back in Sydney.

However – aside from the outlay of shifting all our stuff back to Sydney – there wasn’t a compelling financial argument to stay where we were.  And as I constantly say: “you can’t put a price on your happiness.” The decision was made – we’d aim to be back in Sydney by the beginning of September, six weeks later.

I think the only thing that kept us sane was breaking down the move into three steps – and not letting ourselves jump ahead until each step was completed.

Step 1 – rent out our house on the Gold Coast

This was done within a week via the network in our local area.  We were on!

Step 2 – find a house in Sydney

I was extremely worried about finding a rental back in Sydney – the competitive rental market stresses me out and we didn’t want to get panicked into paying way more rent than we wanted to.  Lexi, Nikita and I booked a week in Sydney to stay with Wade, during which Wade and I would househunt.  This intensified my stress as I was aware that we only had a week to find somewhere.

The area we were looking in was Bondi Junction and its surrounds, however we had one Rozelle wild card on the day we searched (six houses in four hours – boom!) and that was The One.  The rent was a good 40% less than we were budgeting to spend, we have harbour views and it’s got a magical old-cottage feel – we reckon it’s 160 years old.

We were also (pleasantly) shocked at how much Sydney rents had dropped since we last were in the market – properties had rent reductions two or three times while we were looking.  We were definitely in the right place at the right time.

Step 3 – coordinate the move

This was where we came unstuck!  We were super organised our end, given the next-level stress of the move north in February.  But our removalist proved to be inept/corrupt/non-communicative…  Enter stage left an epic save by Wade – he drove our car down to Sydney, got straight back on a flight to QLD and drove back down to Sydney with a van full of stuff the removalist had left behind. 100% hero.

 

I omitted to plan Step 4 – which should have been to set up our new life..

This has taken a solid two weeks, however we’ve got the guts of a new life organised: Lexi is in daycare two days a week and we’ve hired a nanny for two days.  The house is unpacked and set up.  Cleaner is hired.  I’ve found a yoga studio.  Wade has found a gym. We’ve located our farmers market, butcher.  Wade and I have planned out our weekly rhythm/Lexi care plan now that we’re actually properly living together for the first time in six months.  Life back in Sydney feels familiar, but also brand new as it’s a new area for us.

There are things I miss about our life in Queensland – the being able to rockstar park (for free!) for pretty much everything, the silence, the zero food miles produce, the sheer expanse of nature on our doorstep.  However once we find our feet properly in Sydney, we plan to get back into a groove of weekend breaks – when we’ll really appreciate those things.

What we learned

There have been some really strong learnings.

The biggest by far is the learned appreciation for everything Sydney has to offer – things I 150% took for granted before we left.  Most of all for the friends with history, and the almost exponential potential to meet like-minded people.  I have a list of at least 20 people that I’ve been saying “we must catch up!” to for years.  That ends now.

I read a quote by an interviewee in Tim Ferriss’s book Tribe of Mentors.  I’m paraphrasing: “Never leaving is not the same as coming back, as we see our lives with fresh eyes”.  That hit home for me.  The biggest gift that our attempted treechange gave me was a deep gratitude for the wonderful life we had in Sydney.

It’s also made me appreciate the tiny, non-noteworthy everyday things now that Wade, Lexi and I are actually under the same roof again. Like him snuggling up with us for Lexi’s bedtime story, to eat dinner together at the end of a workday and share our days with each other, to having our toiletries permanently in the same bathroom.  All this shit I took totally for granted before, and I find myself marvelling in the the wonderful simple joy that these small things bring me.

We also now know what the treechange entails.  It was always a pipedream, and with those pipedreams comes the arrogant assumption that life will be perfect in that pipedream.  Like we hit the escape hatch on our lives and somehow find ourselves parachuted into a world that is devoid of stress, worry or tension… where the realities of family responsibilities, businesses and relationships simply melt away.

We got the treechange.  And life wasn’t perfect.  I guess you could say we got it out of our system.  If we do pursue a more nature-connected lifestyle again in future (which I think we will), we’ll go into it with a much more realistic, educated lens.

Would we do it again?

I’m in two minds.

Yes as we got the benefit of all of the above.

No as we have invested in property there and it’s unlikely we would have done that if we hadn’t planned on living there at least for a significant period of time.  However the house is a solid rental investment and I believe that we’re all exactly where we need to be for the growth we need on every level of our lives.

And I guess we’ve had moments of feeling a bit stupid.  To nail our colours to the treechange mast so patently, for us to come back to Sydney three months later – well (as Wade said), the optics aren’t great.   However I’d much rather be the person who pursues a dream only to find it doesn’t work out, than to never pursue it at all.

 

So that’s it – our treechange story.  I hope it helps you if it’s something you’re considering.  It’s certainly been an interesting year! 

What do you think?

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