Blog 4. The Economy of living

“But, what are you going to do for living out there? …” It was the first question, we heard every time we told about our plans to move in the Swedish wilderness. Yes – it’s a good question, and we haven’t found a clear answer to it yet, and of course this is a strong uncertainty in our life. But we have some ideas and things we are doing and believing they will bring us to the answer soon. 

It’s not a secret that sometimes the uncertainty can give pain in stomach, but we moved to Sweden with great sum of money, we had on our bank account after our apartment was sold. We were lucky to buy the apartment at right time with lowest prices on market and sell it at the most right time for ourselves, when prices were highest. Money we got from the apartment could let us live for three years without any need for earnings and jobs. But for sure – nobody wants to sit and wait till the account is emptied – and we do our best to move things in the right direction – probably it moves too slowly at the moment.

When we moved to Sweden, I still had a solid collaboration with one Danish furniture design company ATBO. I worked on creating visual content, the company used for their catalogs and social media – they needed artistic nature photography of all four seasons. Unfortunately I only worked for a short period, because the company went bankrupt shortly after our collaboration started. When we moved, I was also participating in one art exhibition in one of the biggest art museums in central Denmark, where I got some honorary, so it was great. But as known, earnings are unstable for most of artists. The same it is in my case. Of course, you hope for better exhibition opportunities and earnings, but you can’t predict how it will go. By the way, recently I was contacted and invited to participate in one tender, where the biggest regional hospital wants to select one artist for decorating part of the interior in the hospital. I am really excited and I have applied for that tender – that chance could make myself more visible on the Swedish art scene as well as it could land a long-term contract with salary. So, crossing fingers and wishing so much to get this job. 

Another possibility to reduce the cost of living is our dogs’ Instagram profile @zarwoe.oligarch. A profile, we started as joke, because of Zarwoe’s real name given by the breeder. Orest was convinced, that the name “Oligarch” would attract many female users on Instagram, willing to have relation with a rich man – as known, “Oligarch” in Russia means “a new rich Russian man”. And Zarwoe’s official name, given by breeder, is Oligarcha. I was not a great user of Instagram, but I thought it was a funny idea to start a profile for dogs – at least it was a good place, where we could collect and archive dogs pictures during their life. In the beginning we took occasional pictures with mobile phones only and without any actual storytelling, but pictures were popular as well as the profile. And more followers it got, more fun for us it was in taking pictures and we started to focus more on content and quality of images. And of course we began to research, what actually that storytelling could be used for. Orest has an analytical mindset and he researches things and reads about how things in SoMe world work, while I’m only interested in a visual side of our work. Later Instagram introduced video functionality, and Orest works on creating video content. If somebody asked us for years ago if wanted to become “influencers”, we would have laughed on it, as we didn’t even know the meaning of the word. But at the moment the account has over 24K active followers and still growing organically. 

We have a permanent collaboration with two brands, and we contacted them by ourselves, because we already used their products and we were convinced in the high quality of products. And we wanted to be ambassadors for such brands with ethical values and great visions for their products. The first of them is Essential Foods, one of the world’s best producers of dogs meals, snacks and other ingredients, and at the same time one of the most ethical brands we’ve ever known.

Essential Foods

The quality is the highest priority for them, and it’s above the profit. In addition they donate a lot of money to the pets charity programs as well as the owner is personally active in those programs. And we are absolutely proud to be their ambassadors. Another brand is Non-Stop Dogwear and their new subdivision, Non-Stop Polar (clothes for humans).

Non-Stop Dogwear and Non-Stop Polar

A Norwegian brand, which produces high quality accessories for outdoor activities for both dogs and their owners – vests, leashes, winter clothes- you name it. Products, which are used for hiking, running, skiing and more. Almost every week we receive collaboration offers from diverse brands via Instagram, but we made a simple rule for ourselves- say yes only to those products, which we would have bought by ourselves. So, we refuse many offers. When we are curious and have an interest for a specific product, we take an initiative and contact the brand. In most cases we get a positive response and we get possibility to test a product. But it’s still so much to learn and it is a long way to real earnings, we don’t have any agents, who probably could bring the whole thing on a professional level. And some of our “learning by doing” experiences were confusing. For example, once we were contacted by an American brand, producer of pet toys. They offered collaboration- they would send us couple of toy samples exchanged on 5 posts on our dogs’ Instagram profile. Our proposal was approx. 90% of what they expected, and we were sure, that they wouldn’t go for that deal. But surprisingly they said “yes” to our conditions and, afterwards we could see, that we fulled ourselves. It basically meant, that the company sent us two toys for pets, and we had to take pictures of our dogs playing with toys. Not just post or advertising, but the company got pictures of their toys for a small cost of approx. 30 Euros. It was learning for us.

Learning by doing

Obviously, there is still much to learn and to get to the real profit-making tool, but that is not our priority in this case. We move ahead, so far our followers and we have fun with this profile, until Instagram keeps following their original principles of the community they created for years ago.  

Back to our collaboration with Non-Stop Polar. They have designed their dawn jacket Jakka in collaboration with professional sports people, living in extreme winter conditions in the northern parts of Scandinavia. We had an opportunity to purchase them with 70% discount promo price and we used them during our first winter. They are just amazing and and absolutely must to have in our region. And of experimental quality. If it was a product of a famous brand, it could have costed twice as much of their normal price. They are not cheap, but we have an affiliate agreement with producer and if you are interested, you can visit their website and if you want to purchase it online, you can use our “code” word “zarwoe” and get 10% discount. Website www.non-stoppolar.no

Remember to use the code “zarwoe”

Orest invested in drone just after our move and it was not only for fun. He creates videos, which we post on the dogs’ Instagram. He has also started creating small commercials – among others he made a little promo video for the recently opened local RV camping. He did it as a free of charge favour, which could be seen by others, and there is some interest from small local businesses, willing to make commercials for their products or services. This can probably become another way of earning money in the future. Making videos is his passion and he has been doing them for a long time. He can also find out to work with simple web design and can help people to start their websites, help with SEO and other website related details, as well as get other Social Media channels established. This is also possibility to get orders, and offering much lower prices, than it usually costs. We are going to launch a separate website for our services and hopefully there will be orders. 

Another way of earning, I relied on before moving here, was a commercial photography like portraits, but even though my offers were much below a half price, there still was no interest for that. It seems, like getting a portrait is not the first priority, on which people would spend money. And if you want to find customers in bigger towns, then you would spend all earnings on fuel for your car – distances are really big in our region. This was another example on, how we were thinking things should work here, while we still were in Copenhagen. Instead we have a collection of selected images, placed here on site under Gallery, and any of those images can be purchased by sending request. This is not an art, but images as digital products and they can be used for any purpose. And for the future we have also another concrete project. We have just bought one property, which has an exceptional location. The property consists of two houses- one of them will be used as an artist refuge, and any artist can rent it for a period and live and work in it. Much more about our dream home in the next chapter – we are looking forward to telling you about it.

“day in the office”
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Blog 3. First period

BigDoor

Can you imagine that feeling when you don’t own any keys? Well, we did have the key to our car, but it was the only one we had. And no other keys to anybody’s property – neither neighbors nor family. Indeed we had only the car key, when we were sitting in the car, parked on the street nearby our just sold apartment. It was a special feeling and we never before thought that the keys could have such a big meaning – a key symbolizes a relation to some place. Not having a key means you don’t have a physical relation to any property. 

It was a plan to start this blog from day one after we reached Big Lake Village. But in reality our minds were exposed to so many new things around us and it was no chance to have a clear feelings about what was happening during the first period. So it is actually first now, one year after our arrival, our minds have used to a new situation, it is possible to see the whole picture from aside, and so we can start telling this story. And one year after we went through that huge change we can understand today, how big that change was. 

The first period on new place was filled with many practical things, sometimes frustrating and ridiculously complicated. Such simple things like opening a bank account and paying bills were not that simple as you can imagine. But it was also time of great experiences. 

We arrived to Big Lake Village on November 1st, in our car with trailer, filled with things- only those of the first priority. Including 10 pairs of my high heels shoes… They were brought all way up north just because I forgot to deliver them to the temporary storage of our things and furniture In Denmark. But later on those shoes got their positive role. The first thing we did on our arrival was to start the fire wood oven and prepare big portion of cheese fondue as well as to open a bottle of red wine. It was a long 13 hours drive and we were really tired. We were sitting in front of each other, euphoric and exhausted, and no doubt we both were thinking: “what the hell are we doing here? What have we done?”… But at the same time we were excited about the future. By the way, the house was kindly prepared for our arrival- the owner took a long way from where he lives in southern Sweden to make the house ready for rental. For us it was easier to have an overview of the property. 

Cheesefondue
Cheese fondue on arrival

Next couple of days we moved all unneeded furniture and things from the living space we wanted to use. We decided to live on ground floor, and moved a lot of things on first floor. Living on ground floor was in our opinion more practical and could help us reduce costs spent on heating during cold winter months. Here there is a beautiful old firewood oven in the kitchen and electric heaters in small rooms. And in such old and energy inefficient house you can end up with high bill for electricity in a cold winter with temperatures below -40 degrees Celsius. In addition, our dogs don’t like stairs. Lastly, I love living in small space. The first floor we use for our things and for drying washed clothes, as well as there is a room for guests. We live basically on 50 square meters as well as we have a garden of approximately 2.000 square meters. 

HouseDress
Inside of the house

We decided to let us be “free” the first month – just to have time to acclimatize on a new place and observe surroundings, not being disturbed by any other activities. And of course to have time for the basic practical things – for example to find out where we could buy fire woods for winter season, which already had been started.

Firewoods
Ready for winter

We landed at new place in November, where local people were already prepared for winter, but we were absolutely not ready for that. Basic thing like opening a bank account took a lot of time and efforts. Before you apply for bank account in Swedish bank you have to have a Swedish Identity card, and the Identity card can be issued only after you have got a Personal number from tax authorities. To get your Personal Number you have to wait some period after your application is registered. So, when you have your Personal Number issued, you can apply for the Identity Card, and after two weeks you can be lucky to get it and, after that you have to visit a bank office in person and apply for the smart thing, called the Bank ID (your digital identity). We chose our bank just because their office was closest to Big Lake Village – 165 km. We had to meet with bank guys couple of times, before the whole setup was ready to be used. So in practice it can take up to two months before you can optimally function as “digital citizen” with digital signature in the “digital society”, so you can order mobile broadband and basic things like to pay your bills. Thanks to my cousin during that long period – she paid all our bills, while we transferred money on her account. Maybe it is the same process in Denmark and elsewhere, when you are a new in country, but it feels complicated and unneeded bureaucracy, especially when we talk about digitalization of public services.  

Many of you probably wonder if we have Internet connection. Yes, we do have it. We were actually impressed by the fact that Sweden has done great job for cohesion in the society, so nobody feels isolated. Even the smallest villages have good mobile network coverage. Of course, we had to purchase an external antenna for better signal, and it works fine so far. Though we don’t stream TV, but it’s not relevant for us – we have never watched TV. I actually was thinking, that I would watch TV after moving here, but it was only an idea.  

Houseboats
Library in the living room

We have to admire, that we had some prejudice about local people in the region, before we arrived, and we were convinced, that it was the same way back. There were for sure rumors about two Danes’ arrival to the village. Approx. 90 people live in the village, so everybody knows each other. Most of inhabitants are born here and most of them are hunters, and suddenly we together with our two dogs are moving here directly from Copenhagen. I was grown up in the countryside in northern part of Denmark, where people can be really unsocial, so my prejudice was based on that, and I expected that it would be the same here – even more extreme. But in reality it was absolutely opposite. We were welcome here from day one and almost everybody was open and curious to know more about us. And we could feel so much helpfulness  – it is something you almost have forgotten it did exists after many years of life in Copenhagen. Here in Big Lake Village you don’t ask about help – here you think about what you could do for others to help them. As example – your neighbor comes and asks you, when you are back after a short trip, so he can get the snow off from the entrance to your house and you can get drive in late in the darkness when you arrive. Or in summertime you come back home and you know that flowers in the garden were taken care of, because neighbors took initiative to help you. This is a gesture, you value really much. We did also things in order to be open. One evening in the middle of December and 6 weeks after we moved in, we invited three closest neighbor families to our house to have some Danish typical before Christmas drinks and cookies. It was nice “ice-breaker” and cozy evening. And our fridge was quickly filled up with moose meat – invited guests here don’t bring flowers to hosts, but 1 kg of meat. I am vegetarian, but Otis was really happy as he before our move dropped his attempt to become vegetarian. 

Knogler
Non-vegetarian street view

Another episode, which was important for us, happened the Christmas evening. We did choose to stay here for Christmas against of traditions. We have a small family – my parents are not alive anymore, and Otis has only his mom far away in Ukraine. So we were sitting alone, but suddenly somebody knocked on the door. It was one of our neighbors, who came to us with a little present for us. He excused because presents were not wrapped in, but we were so impressed by the thoughts of care about us, especially when you are new here, sitting alone Christmas Eve. 

On the other hand we had a naïve idea about, how fantastic it would be – to just open the door and let our dogs run free around the house. When you have lived most of your life in apartment, and finally you got your garden, it was really exciting to think about that freedom for dogs. But there was no fence around garden, and it took about just one week for our dogs to find out, that there were parts of moose (bones, head etc.) hang up in the trees by neighbor in order to attract wild foxes closer, so he could shoot them. Of course, no way, that our dogs can run and eat that old meat, as they also get sick of it. And as it became obvious later on, there were many old rests of moose bones around in the area in the forest. Every time our dogs came proud with new found bone, we had to take it from the and place up in the tress, which was not easy, as our dogs are tall enough to reach bones up in the trees. 

We know, that many wonder about the financial side of our adventure. What do we do for living in this place? We will touch that side of our life in the next blog.

Sunshine
November view
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