So after about six months of househunting, I finally saw a house this morning that might work, in a pretty village with a great school. And it has a treehouse. So we could always live in that when the leaking roof gets too much.
But it's made me think again about renting. The hardest part of the downshift for me was selling our much-loved family house in London: we've been renting for six months in ruralshire, which makes us feel camped out here, permanently on the edge of flight. It's unsettling.
Unlike many Europeans, the Brits kind of look down on renting: it's something you only do when you're young or when you can't afford to buy. But it has upsides too. It's somebody else's problem when the boiler doesn't work, and it's cheaper than a mortage. We could just leave if we decide ruralshire is not for us. Why not rent for a bit longer? Doesn't look like house prices are soaring ahead any time soon.
In fact, the appeal of renting doesn't stop at houses. I read a really interesting blog by Brian Kaller recently about applying the library principle to other things. Do we all really need our own barbecue, or lawnmower, or cake tin, or anything else you use less than once a week but still feel compelled to buy and keep? Why couldn't there be neighbourhood 'libraries' for these things and we could all take turns borrowing them as needed?
Ok, maybe not the barbecue - we'd all want it on the same sunny Saturday night in August - but half the stuff cluttering up my garage is there because I might need it ONE DAY, not because I use it frequently. Think how much money I'd have saved by borrowing, not buying it.
The trouble of course is that stuff we acquire isn't just stuff: ownership of stuff is a way we demonstrate we've made it, a way we define ourselves, a source of pride even.
Ownership equals spontaneity and freedom - you don't have to book in advance, you just decide that morning you're going to have a barbecue or go for a bike ride. We're used to the convenience of ownership.
And actually ownership equals a healthy economy: it's more lucrative to get everyone to buy their own lawnmower rather than to have a central pool of it that everyone can borrow. Owning big assets like houses also makes sense because they can make you money, although the vast majority of stuff we have (from rusting barbecue to not-yet-rusting car) is actually losing value the longer we own it.
But maybe the recession is a chance to rethink renting. You can now rent designer handbags, jewellery, big-night-out dresses online - for those who want designer, but can't afford it. There are sites where you can hire your own expensive but rarely used things like ski stuff out to others who only need it briefly and don't want to buy.
We're used to timebanks letting us barter our skills: so why not neighbourhood asset banks, which would let me swap my (shamefully underused) lawnmower with you once a week if I can borrow your food mixer? It's the sort of trade that happens constantly in small villages, but not necessarily in inner cities, where people may actually own less and benefit more from asset 'renting'. It could even encourage people to talk to their neighbours.
And after all, if we buy this moneypit of a house we'll never be able to afford to buy anything else ever again. I'm going to need a communal barbecue. Swap you for a turn in the treehouse.