Wednesday, October 04, 2006

House Arrest

Moving to a different home needn't break the bank

When I arrived in South Africa from overseas, I'm pretty sure the belly of the 747 had stretched a bit. After all, I was lugging around the detritus of a 4 year stint, excluding kitchen appliances and television set. Oh, and washing machine.

When you've been away for some time, or even if you're just a student moving away from the folks, a reasonably comfortable setup doesn't come cheap. After all, you'll suddenly have to provide your own:

- lounging and sleeping infrastructure
- refrigeration
- cooking
- washing (clothes and dishes)
- entertainment

If you're moving into a hostel (I prefer the afrikaans word: koshuis), you don't absolute have to provide yourself with a microwave, or a washing machine, or even a bed. If you really want to, bring a TV and a small entertainment system (DVD+MP3 player).

It's a lot harder when you move into an unfurnished place, and harder still when you do so mano e alono.I went the VERY budget route, trying to live simply but comnfortably. I suffered a few nondescript heart attacks when I went shopping for a bed and a two seater coach. The double bed futon that I had my heart set on cost a little under R3000. Okay, and then a really nice Raccoon (I think it was) couch set (although I just wanted the couch) was priced at over R6000 (in a dicounty store called King Kong). I called my brother, remembering his leather bombshell, but instead of hearing a better price he said he was lucky to get his two seater at R7000. Great!

OK, no problem - except, if that's going to be my first purchase, do I mind spending another R10 000, or R15 000, R20 000 just to be existing somewhere else geographically, and sipping cold water? R20 000 is sweat and tears! Am I really just going to wipe out a large quadrant of my bank account so I can sit and sleep .00225% more comfortably?

Well, one has to think strategically before going out. There is really a lot of amazing stuff out there, and to be honest, most of it isn't stuff you really reall need. For example, I almost bought a beautiful Black Braun refrigerator, it's front door completely transparent. A small little thing that was at least R1000 more than a bigger Samsung, and it turns out the Braun is a wine cooler - it keeps the temperature at 6 degrees Celcius, and won't stop the milk from going bad.
The guy selling me this stuff was partly helpful, and partly trying to offload slightly expensive stuff. In a way, he had a point. For example, he recommended a large but cheap refrigerator for R1700 over a more compact R1300. But when I carried the smaller fridge into my place, my shadow patted me on the back, cooing: 'Glad you didn't buy stuff that was too big for you even to carry'.

For me, consumerism is incredibly vulgar. We feel entitled to all the stuff out there, but imagine if the animals around us all lived in their own concrete houses, with bird TV, bird radio, a tumbledrier, a wormifier, ringtones and every other birdie necessity. The birds get along pretty well with just trees, blue sky and their nests. We wreck the forests just to put up a few blinds and make doors to our homes. We hollow out the Earth, turning rock into metals so we can cook on our fancy stoves. Yes, we're clever, but multiply one person's household needs over several billion. Its a LOT of unnecessary environmental predation.

Perhaps I've been influenced by the minimalism of the Orient. In the end my very small lounge became a very low lounge. The futon doubles as an almost ground level couch (and the suede is quite a nice touch). The poof didn't really work, I thought, but with the futon it does. I'm not sure why we perch ourselves so high off the ground in beds, high heeled chairs and tables. A desk is different, but beds and lounging ought to be lower. Lower means fewer (or no) legs, and that's necessarily cheaper.

In terms of cooking, you can buy a kitchenette thingy for R600 (if you want to control the heating, add another R100) which allows you to cook inside the oven, and on top, on two plates. I am a little suspicious of microwaves. I've heard warnings about 'allow your food to stand for a few seconds, because it's still cooking'. I also have a feeling microwaves kill everything that's good in food, and what's the point of that.

I'm also happy with my frige. If I'd bought a bigger fridge, I'd probably want to put more in it. And with the R400 that I've saved, I can buy a blender, to whip up bananas and oranges for healthy cool drinks.

I've also been tempted to buy a desk, because the one I have is an icky color. A friend of mine has an electric sander, and although it is quite a big job, it;s kind've fun seeing how the puke baby blue gives way, underneath, to soft veins and knots in wood. Given the hour of work already committed to that desk, I'm going to have a special feeling associated with that desk that I didn't have before. I think painting, or sanding your furniture is a bit like picking the fruit you eat in a field or an orchard, or stalking a gemsbok in the desert and remembering its spirit while you braai its meat over a fire.

In order not to break the bank remember these three golden rules:
- set a limit, and try to stick to it. - be practical (there's nothing worse than buying a fancy doodah and then finding, horrors, it doesn't actually fit in with the modesty of your surroundings)- invest in quality, but remember everything you save allows you to buy some other useful gadget, like a blender, or a wine or bookrack.

Put it on your credit card, but be firm with yourself to pay it off immediately. That way you'll probably buy what is within your means, which is what this should all be about. Let's live within our means, and encourage others to do the same.

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