People looking to find meaning in life ─ with more focus on tranquillity and less on rat race and materialism ─ often have big life-changing decisions to make and may have to move country. But, some of us are able to do so without having to say goodbye to family or work. Meet a group of people in the heart of Europe who have managed to do just that.
Every summer, in a holiday bungalow park in the middle of the Netherlands, life becomes abuzz with activity. People from all over the country, Italy, France and Spain, bring their tents, dogs, children, fairy lights and excitement, to enjoy long lingering nights in the garden, playing cards under the trees. But, as the summer fades, life in the park does not. Because here, among the holidaymakers, there are people that stay for most of the year, and they are here to stay.
Because here, people from all walks of life, ages and backgrounds, reside in the holiday park for most of the year, and they have made their chalet their home. But above all, they have made the choice to fill their days with simplicity, with more focus on life, and less on work.
The homes of these ‘downshifters’ may be on wheels, they are fully equipped with all a homeowner would need. They are also much more affordable than a ‘real home’. Plus, they come with a whole lifestyle package. Just like people in Spain might spend most of their summers in their ´Naia´, or outdoor-covered terraces, here, people can enjoy nature, a sense of freedom and an outdoor lifestyle on their spacious verandas, with a glass of wine as the sun sets.
This is their story.
"I've looked at other locations as well, but this is just such a great place, and right in the middle of nature!"
I have been here since 2012. I really wanted to get out of the city, stop seeing parked cars in front of my door, and live in a less materialistic way. I have tried to do that somewhere else, like, I once moved to Bonaire, but in the end it didn't work out there. Here, I would describe life as carefree.
I've always wanted something different. I am always searching, thinking about how today's society works, and that is also in the way you live. Here, you are less forced to adapt to your environment, compared to living in a flat or "normal" house. That's important to me. The best thing about the chalet, actually, is that I can easily do what I want with it. I have adapted it to be one space, so you don't have to live in boxed-in spaces here. Even with two people, it is an excellent place to stay.
There are fewer worries about money, within reason you can pretty much afford what you want and do what you want. Once you have paid off the caravan here, the only remaining costs are for the bungalow park, which are much lower than rented accommodation or homeownership.
Why I ended up here instead of abroad, is because of my connection with the country: I am very much a Dutchman. When I live abroad, I miss my country. I miss my family, my children. Once you move to another country, or even another province, you first have to settle into a community again, you will have to make friends and acquaintances, you will have to integrate, and that all takes time. And when you get older, you will probably never have the same kind of friendships you used to have, which are all important reasons for me to stay here.
I've looked at other locations as well, but this is just such a great place, and right in the middle of nature! Yes, you are not allowed to stay here all year round, but it is actually also nice to go somewhere else for a while. Also, I'm quite a recluse, but you do want to be able to talk to someone now and then, and here you can. But only when I want it, and that's very important to me. So, I love it that no one bothers me, and yet I can also interact with the people that stay around me.
You have a real sense of freedom here, and at the same time you are close to civilization. Yes, for me, here it is all about freedom and living in the middle of nature, but in combination with the city, with culture around you, whilst also having the advantages of being able to stay in your own country...
"My house floats, and it feels free"
My house floats, as it were, it is not grounded, and it feels free. To enter my house I have to go up two steps, which is very posh. There is no bell at my door that people can disturb me with, there is no traffic passing by all day. My house is detached, has a luxury shower, complete kitchen, an oven, a freezer; and it has central heating, a washing and drying machine, TV and internet. All this on 33 m2. I clean it from top to bottom within three hours.
My house is in the middle of the forest, with all kinds of trees, mainly flying pines, and my garden is really a woodland garden. In the Hedera tree, there are seven nests this year; two pairs of blackbirds, great tits, robins and I even saw a thrush disappear into it the other day. Set up a birdhouse, and it is immediately in use. Every year a couple of robins hatch three nests in my shed, they fly back and forth through the open window. In the spring, the squirrels play tag in the flying pines, chasing each other, making a lot of noise. My youngest dog looks at this in amazement, what a bustle, normally this is a quiet neighbourhood.
From my house, I can walk straight into the forest with my dogs, all within five minutes. Three long walks a day, it keeps my body fit and my head in order. Shops and village facilities are within walking distance. The contact with the other people that stay here is friendly, we are all here in a relaxed atmosphere, with everyone having a chat. But we are not having coffee together all day either, which is something I like. If anything is up, you can knock on each other’s door, and we'll keep an eye on each other.
Of course, there is work to be done and money to be earned; there must be food on the table, and basic needs must be met. But I don't have a huge debt in the form of a mortgage, and I don’t have to work myself silly for a big house, which you only end up filling with things you don't actually need anyway. There are, of course, also disadvantages about living somewhere like here, but for me, there are more advantages than disadvantages here...
“People feel like a warm blanket around you"
I was looking for an affordable place to live, in a nice area, where I could live financially independent. But that kind or neighbourhood is usually where, as a woman alone, you wouldn't want to walk the streets at night. Here, on the other hand, it is cheap, nice, and safe. I can live here comfortably for years without being dependent on others. You get the peace, and the space to work on your own personal development, but without the loneliness. I don't ever want to leave from here now.
What I love the most about here is the sense of freedom, being in the middle of nature; the tranquillity, but without feeling like you are alone. This park is a kind of small community, where you live alone, but the presence of people around you feels like a kind of warm blanket. If something is up, you only have to snap your fingers, and they are there for you, no questions asked. We keep an eye on each other a bit, it just feels like a good way to live.
I did once consider moving to Italy, because I love outdoor living so much. Here in the Netherlands, people tend to live inside, in their houses, behind their shielded gardens. As a matter of speaking, you could lie dead in your house for three weeks, without people missing you. In Italy, people have a lot more contact with each other; I really liked that when I was there. In this park you can have a bit of the same. You can live outside, there is social contact, yet you can have your own place, and never feel lonely. I really love that about this place.
“You can make a house a dream home, and it doesn't have to be big"
I have always had this dream about owning my own family villa. Somewhere where we can go skiing in the winter with the family, and perhaps hiking in the summer. But, you would have to be able to afford it, and it would probably take a lot of time fixing and maintaining it. I have also thought about the option of buying a flat, but then you would have a lot of neighbours (laughs), and you would have to meet and consult with groups of people about the upkeep of the building. I prefer to stay in a chalet, in a park like this, where I have a sense of freedom all around me. Here, I can just do my own thing. You can make a house a dream home yourself, it does not have to be particularly big, and I can do all that here, without unnecessary time spent on cleaning or doing maintenance jobs.
This way of living is something I have consciously chosen. The freedom, the space, to be able to live so near the forest, but also near a village. Plus, my acquaintances and friends also live in the area, and they can just pop by. I don't want to work myself to the bone for a house, I don't think it’s that important. I prefer to live in a small home and enjoy a nice life. I want to be able to go on holiday, or, when I feel like it, go out for dinner, have an evening out with a friend. I want to be able to do that, without having to constantly wonder whether I can afford it or not. Not that I am in the habit of spending a lot of money without thinking about it, and of course some months you are better off than others, but I like it that I can say, I feel like going out for dinner now, and not sorry, I can’t go this month.
In the summer [Ed: Ingrid is a sculptor] I like to make things that have a meaning to me, a feeling, and there is usually a story to it. So, I let my thoughts go, and sit in this beautiful environment.