Real estate tips from the terminally ill – Why Australia needs to listen

When Tracey was lying in hospital recovering from a month of almost not being here anymore, she wasn’t dreaming about a bigger lounge room or a fancy facade. In fact, she wasn’t wasting time dreaming about buildings at all. She wasn’t thinking about her house: she was thinking about her home. She was thinking about the people she loves and her life’s experiences.

And after three months in hospital, when she came home she’d changed. In the first three months she tossed out sixty-two large garbage bags of stuff we had in closets and under beds. Stuff she couldn’t bear to part with only the previous year.

“I don’t know why I was holding on to all this,” she told me cheerfully one day as she pointed at yet another couple of bags for me to drive to disperse to either the tip or a local charity. “Not only does it do nothing, it clogs the house up and makes it messy which stresses me out and makes me more frustrated with the kids.”

To put this into perspective, this is the woman who refused to throw out her cassette tapes from when she was a teenager, even though we own the same music on CD (which also went) and now iTunes.

This year Tracey and I made a decision which is changing our future. We decided to not build a newer, bigger home for our family and to sell our block of land which I’ve spent years drawing up house plans for. We decided to be happy with what we have and to keep the old Queenslander and simply make a few changes so it better accommodates our big family.

Death taught us that. Well, near-death.

So instead of each of the kids getting their own room: instead of a butler’s pantry and recessed lighting on the footpath: instead of a walk-in robe with his and her sinks: we’re renovating. But even before that starts, we’ve decided to buy a bus and travel around Australia with the kids for a year or so.

Not a fancy bus either. A simple, practical, ‘it’ll do’ ex-school bus with everything we need and nothing more. Because you don’t have to spend more money to have more fun. Not only was the bus we bought a quarter of the price of every other one we were seriously considering, since we’ve started fitting it out for our family we’ve halved the amount we thought we’d be spending because we’ve decided we don’t need ‘stuff’. Plus, the stuff we need doesn’t have to be the biggest stuff.

Stuff needs to be maintained and stored. Stuff won’t love you back. Stuff takes money away from experiences with the people who will.

It’s a mind shift, but it’s worth taking the time to practice. When we first got the bus we were still doing it wrong. We sat on the bus and wrote lists of all the things we needed. The list was exhaustive and expensive.

Then we spent hours sitting on the bus working out what we don’t need to have fun.

We weren’t silly. We’re still having a fridge installed and an air conditioner, but we’ve decided to forego the washing machine. We save $2500 for the purchase and install of something which wouldn’t have been big enough (4kg) for the seven of us anyway, and there are laundromats all over the country we can use.

Do it. Grab a cuppa and quietly contemplate what you think you need but can do without. The infinity pool? The parent’s retreat off the main bedroom? The second floor extension? Do the kids really need their own bedrooms even? You’ll be amazed how you’ve fooled yourself.

Which is sort of the whole point of these videos which UBank have put together with six terminally ill people sharing their final thoughts about what’s important as you find yourself about to step into the great beyond. Have a listen to them and maybe let their words trigger a small change in you, spark an internal dialogue, rather than waiting until the end of your life – or near-end as in our case – presents you with your own penny-drop realisation: It’s just stuff.