Playful curiosity: The secret to a sustainable home-life

Written by Leanne Esposito

When we buy a home our thoughts are of settling down. It’s a major life investment. We’re in it for the long hall, especially our family home. We dream of watching our children grow and flourish in an abundance of our loving care. We are providing an essential of life. A roof over their heads. A shelter.

One of the basic human needs, along with food and water.

But what does that dream home look like and will it last? A building inspection will sort out the structure but that’s not all that goes on when we make a house a home. There is so much more to this habitation thing, and sustaining a happy and healthy place in which to live is optimum.

Once upon a time in Hollywood Ira Irwin portrayed the Stepford Wives as the very model of a homemaker. Supposedly these were perfect women who polished pristine silverware to within
an inch of a fork’s tine. Their fastidiousness was held up as the epitome of home care. Spoiler alert! They were all robots. Real women make real homes and not necessarily real pretty homes.

Now on to the pages of glossy house and gardening magazines portraying the ideal home. There is the white picket fence, manicured gardens, marble bench tops, pretty pendant lights and rain shower heads heralding the prize home. Sure they look great, but are they functional? Or even sustainable?

Would you want to work, all day, every day, maintaining the look that the photoshoot portrays?

What if, instead of the perfect model, your prize was to build a happy place where you all live, laugh and learn. A place where you feel comfortable. Where everyone is loved and cared for and there is a genuine respect for each other, an awareness of humanity, your surroundings and the environment as a daily practice. A space where you can live without punitive boundaries. A place where the ‘don’t touch that’ and ‘ah-ahs’ are not imposed.

On a mission to discover whether a relaxed and sustainable home was achievable I met with Jess Bunting, mother to three young boys aged 9, 6 and 2 and wife to Deagan. Prior to my arrival Jess warned that her old dog was a bit on the nose. She would meet me at the gate. What I didn’t expect was the heartwarming welcome I received from this young earth-mother. That gate opening was an invitation to her world where impish smiles and bright eyes are the order of the day.

Jess is captivating in her spontaneous effervescence. She shows me around where an array children’s playthings are scattered across the yard. And it’s a big yard! She explains that she often hosts families from the local unschooling community and that most of the toys have been sourced from the local recycling centre.

Next she invites me to the shed. It appears to be sectioned off into distinct quarters. The two older boys are busy constructing an imaginative piece in their designated area.

They are surrounded by an array of children’s paraphernalia. To the far left there is a matted arena where Deagan and the boys practice Jiu Jitsu. Opposite to that is Jess’ sewing quarter. She is a remarkable seamstress who crafts children’s clothing. Jess explains the function of the multipurpose space.

“We can all be in here together doing our own thing and we are never far away from each other,” Jess said.

No separation here. I agree that creating a space the entire family can use all at the one time is a stroke of genius.

Jess invites me into the house. We pass by the permaculture gardens which surround the house and
shed. The gardens grow with a rambling ease, fitting effortlessly into the landscape. No concrete bordered and whipper-snipped edges here. I image that television’s Costa Georgiadis, landscape architect, garden guru and sustainability practitioner would be proud. We sit at a round timber table and Sage, the youngest, hops onto his mother’s lap. He is a happy child, with a smile so infectious he could easily have the Mona Lisa’s lips broadening to a grin. Jess explains the garden and her sustainability practices to me.

“Everything is relational, all of it is connected. Our waste feeds the chickens, their waste feeds the gardens, the gardens feed us. When you view your smaller world as a connected unit, the bigger world is just at the doorstep, there is no segregation. We are it.

“The world is changing, the systems we rely upon are shifting with the changes and the move toward selfsustenance feels good. For my gardens to thrive, the plants, the soil, the sun must work in harmony. It feels good to watch them flourish.

“My family feels good. Our household quite literally runs on connection, our relationships, the fuel or the sun.

“Our solar panels very much physically collecting that sun and transferring that energy through, and we offset back into the soil, back into our children and each other,” Jess said.

I admire her knowledge of what is a sustainable practice and how they choose to live with an environmental awareness. She is modest and mindful of her own limitations.

“We utilise a lot of sustainable practices however I know that I can’t do it all now. The gradual lessons that you learn with the curiosity comes the realisation that you cannot get to a place of total sustainability now because versions of sustainability shift as we live within our means. There is
always the push to do more. The constant questions arise.

Does this feel okay with us? What’s our direction?

“We are constantly asking ourselves, where does that come from and could there be another option to doing it a different way?

“We do it at a pace that works for us. I find in those decisions that you make, and if you are not so hard etched into something, like I need to be more sustainable for the planet, then it works,” Jess said.

As I look around the Bunting Family home, I note the open plan design and eclectic mix of fabrics and furniture styles which fit comfortably beside each other. Computers, candles and climbing vines make for complimentary companions. A guitar, ukulele, keyboard and drums await the family’s next jam session.

Everything is in easy reach. Nothing’s packed away. It’s an open invitation to be playful.

Jess tells me her boys are unschooled in a government endorsed program where children are able to learn through life with lessons based on what is their particular interest. It is fundamental to her
family’s philosophy.

“Playful curiosity, of children unencumbered, is where for me it branches into everything else, especially my parenting. Continual curiosity gets you more connected to what you are doing and who you are and why you are doing something,” Jess said.

I comment on a floating fruit sling which seems rather playful.

It hangs alongside a stylish candle holder. Both items are attached to a single timber post, which is one of a pair that frame the kitchen bench. Attention to detail is still evident in this relaxed space as I spy an identical candle holder positioned symmetrically on the twin post. I ask whether the candles are ever lit, and it seems that romantic evening cooking sessions are often on the menu.

Jess tells me that the fruit holder is repurposed bird-feeder purchased from Bunnings by her mum who seems to have an eye for the unusual. Perfect to keep vermin away from fresh produce I think. Not only is the home functional it feels happy, with bright hand-painted artworks adorning the wall. It certainly is fun and not surprisingly Jess explains.

“I don’t look at my home from other people’s eyes because I’ve stepped outside of that wanting to keep up with the Joneses. Every decision you make is yours and so after it’s done I’m happy with it
because there is no questioning as to whether I’ve done the right thing. Does it fit with this piece? Does that work? Is this considered? Is this feng shui? I don’t care. It looks nice and I like it,” Jess said.

She is passionate about life and eloquent in her explanation of how the family live.

“So we are still blazing a different path. Our home has five respected individuals who communicate pleasantly with love and affection so that we are all seen and heard. So, this is all of us. There is no mum, dad and children. There is no hierarchy. There is no difference. This is our home. This is our space and we are all calm and quiet and we all have our movements within this space. Every one of us is respected. I don’t know how I ever did it any different. I don’t know how it works for some but it’s perfect,” Jess said.

As I say my goodbyes and float-off on a new-age cloud of understanding to my carefully curated world of matching doodahs, I feel reborn, enlightened. Her world has rubbed off on me. It causes me
to reflect on the angst of raising three eighties born children in a world where perfection was praised and where curiosity and playfulness was frowned upon.

I feel buoyed and optimistic knowing our future is safe in the hands of young families who are living in awareness of the possibilities for protecting our planet.