This is me sitting outside a house I built from garbage. Well "house" might be a strong word. It's more like a celebrity-endorsed shack but, yes, Vanilla Ice loved it. I'll get to that in a moment.
It all started when I decided I finally wanted to buy a house, but I couldn't. I don't know what houses cost where you live, but right now in Melbourne the medium house price stands at $740,000. For that, you get a little something you hate in some distant, mean-spirited suburb where it's always windy and your friends never visit.
So I didn't buy a house. Instead, I got angry because the only people I know who own houses bought them with money they inherited from dead grandparents. People literally have to die for my generation to buy a house, and I don't want people to die. But I don't want to keep renting forever either.
What other options are there though? And that's when I had an idea. Why don't I just build a house out of free stuff? What if I found some land, found some wood, and just built a house? FOR FREE.
Chapter 1: Building Free Houses Is Easy
"For free" would mean I'd need recycled wood, which is where this rubbish dump came in. I found this dump next to a nature reserve at the back of an industrial estate, and just knew. You know when you just know?
I convinced my friend Jim to help me drag bits of chipboard into the nature reserve, and then we nailed them onto a couple of upright posts. Jim is that kind of guy. Other friends were concerned that we weren't architects or builders, or that we didn't get council approval. But those guys didn't understand. Building houses is easy. You just have to not think about it.
Days passed. At first, I was leaning towards a Country Cottage interior, but in the end I settled on Poached Eggs and Dukkah-Style Minimalism. That basically means white walls, 1970s artwork, and a couple of plants. If I'd had bricks I would have exposed them, but I didn't. An arrangement of native flowers in a vase gave the place a sense of botany or whatever. Then I was done.
Chapter 2: How to Add Value to a House Made of Rubbish
Now, let's be honest here. Houses aren't just a place to sleep. Houses are also a way to affirm our position on the social ladder. On the other hand, glorified cubbies are a way to get asked if you're okay. To avoid this issue, I knew I'd have to get my shack endorsed by a celebrity.
Vanilla Ice isn't just the spiritual father of Eminem, he's also the host of a home renovation show called The Vanilla Ice Project , which sees him pimping mansions around Florida and selling them for millions. I hit up Vanilla Ice on Twitter and by some miracle he agreed to chat.
It took a while to make Skype work but finally there he was. Vanilla Ice.
Mr Ice's first concern was whether I'd acquired the proper building permits. "The county is gonna bulldoze it if you don't have the paperwork," he warned me. After that I think he realised it was a joke and was happy to just shoot the breeze. In fact, if there's one thing I learned about Vanilla Ice, it's that Vanilla Ice is nice.
My favourite moment was when he told me that owning my own house was cute, but it wouldn't necessarily make me happy. "It's not about the house," Vanilla said. "It's about the people you're with." Then he paused before adding, "You know that."
Vanilla Ice then told me I should invite a girl over and have some drinks on the porch, light a fire, and tell ghost stories. When he said that I was like nah, but then I was like yeah?
All up we talked for about 15 minutes. Vanilla wouldn't get dragged into the politics of housing accessibility, but he was impressed with my shack. Finally I asked him to describe the place in three words. He didn't skip a beat.
"Ball of fun," he said.
Chapter 3: How to Have a Ball of Fun With a Girl in a House Made of Rubbish
This is Jade. She has great hair, can say things nice about anyone, and manages the Aesop store near my office. I figured I'd roll the dice and see if she'd come have a drink on my porch. "Sure," she said. "But if you put me in your article please keep in mind that I'm a real person and I have real person feelings."
The thing that Vanilla Ice and I both recognised was that it would be funny to fuck with status. That is, dudes with houses are cool dudes, and girls like cool dudes. Except that my pad looks like a sort of high-end chicken coop, so I was fucking with status. Jade got it too, which I guess is why she warned me about being nice. Also I'd say her body language was somewhere between enthusiastic and unsure.
We lit a fire and the champagne did its thing. For a guy living in a industrial estate on the fringes of town, I was rich. I'd made it. I'd joined that creamy echelon of people who watch The Block for "ideas." Who constantly try to steer dinner party conversations back to bathrooms. Who clog up Facebook with photos of real estate signs, and then Jason sanding a balcony. I felt a new lust for negative gearing and a new contempt for everything else. I had a girl, a house, no mortgage—and every murmur of sadness had evaporated. I was a legend. I was the Australian Dream.
Chapter 4: Parents Can Always Be Trusted to Call Bullshit on Your Fake Australian Dream
These are my parents, Ian and Amanda. One of the reasons I started this thing was Mum. She often wants to talk to about houses, mostly asking me if I've started saving for one. I always tell her no, but that had obviously stopped being a problem, so I figured I'd get them over for dinner.
We had fish and chips and rain trickled down the walls. I used the opportunity to talk about why they thought buying a house was a good idea, given how meaninglessly expensive they are. "Because renting is only an option if you work forever," replied Dad. "One day you might want to retire. Who knows what rentals will be worth then, but paid out monthly it'll be more than your superannuation."
I told Dad that wasn't optimistic but he shrugged. "It's the truth. We'd be screwed without our place," he replied.
"You've always had a nice imagination," added Mum, waving her fork around at my Scandinavian interior. "But you're being melodramatic. Just buy something a bit cheaper, suck it up, then move your way up to something you like. Believe me, it's less annoying than getting old and having nothing."
At that point, Mum's dogs got all jazzed up and barged into the shack. The conversation was aborted, but not before Dad threw in another financial secret. "Work hard," he advised. "Look out for opportunities, maybe even do a bit of freelance on the side. Any extra money you can put to a mortgage will help out."
Chapter 5: How to Make Money With a House Made of Garbage
That's when I decided to put the place on Airbnb. It's still up there now. You can go and book a night right now. But you'll have to wait a week to find out whether anyone has, in the groundbreaking conclusion: "How to Get Rich With a House Made of Garbage."
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