Know Before You Go: Off-Grid
In today’s glitzy world, all we see from homesteading and off-grid “influencers” is how easy it is for people to leave their modern (and, let’s be honest—wasteful) lives and transition into life off the grid. It's so easy to think this lifestyle is super simple, judging from all the clickbait from people and websites who may not be fully transparent with the realities of off-grid living. While there are incredible benefits to living this lifestyle, there are also really challenging realities. This is by no means a way to get someone to avoid thinking about living off-grid; this is just a reality check so that you know what you’re getting into. It's important to note that we would choose this life over one of normal modernity any day of the week and twice on Sunday, but we would be remiss if we told you living off-grid is all sunshine and daisies.
First, let's talk about social media influencers. They are an ideal, not reality. Most of these people are not normal—they obsess about the next post and how they can get as many views as possible. Their posts are stagged like a movie set to glorify them, not the topic. To us, it appears they are only about projecting a personality type that has nothing to do with living simpler. The mental strength needed to live like this is entirely absent from these filtered pictures and pretty videos. If your tits aren't out, are you really homesteading?
When Chris and I moved to our property in May 2020, we had to endure a tremendous culture shock. Besides CM's basic training, our lives were hooked up to the grid. Going from having any modern convenience work with the flip of a switch to doing everything by hand was mentally and physically exhausting. Despite watching videos on off-grid living for years, we were still unprepared for the initial shock of this alternative lifestyle.
As COVID erupted, businesses shut down, and mass hysteria took hold, Chris and I feverishly worked to complete the house, gather water from the stream, and slowly started learning how to do everything ourselves. We did not even have solar to charge anything. Instead, we relied on a generator or the truck to recharge batteries. We saw how easy it looked from influencers and thought it would be a smooth transition, but their gilded videos and pictures did not prepare us for all the blood, sweat, and tears it took to build our tiny house and farm from scratch.
Due to the stress of covid AND starting to live off-grid from nothing, we began to internalize these emotions off-grid and didn't talk as much to each other as we should have. This went on for a few weeks and then erupted into a heated argument from all the internalized baggage. Fortunately, we talked it out and course-corrected. We started making deliberate decisions to talk about our feelings, concerns, and thoughts more, we began to keep a realistic schedule on daily tasks, and we listed goals we wanted to accomplish to stay on track. Constant communication with your partner is the only possible way to succeed in your relationship. This prevented us from bottling up all those emotions which would grow into a big wedge between us.
Many, if not most, relationships end because the couple does not communicate effectively to resolve problems or hear the other's point of view. How often have we heard of couples separating due to unresolved issues that could have possibly been prevented if they had been open and honest with each other early on? Keep in mind that honesty is speaking your truth with respect. Don't make the same mistake as these folks. Talk it out constructively with your partner. They are your team, and you need them. We wouldn’t label ourselves relationship experts (like some people), but we’ve never been divorced.
Despite all of these life lessons, there is such a profound satisfaction once you get established that nothing on the grid can compare to. We have been called fake, hypocrites, and "looking to be patted on the back" by douchebags on Reddit for talking about our lifestyle. I thought about their comments and wondered, "do I need a pat on the back from others or an at-a-boy from people?" No, I do not, but I do pat myself on the back for one reason—my morals, ethics, passions, and convictions are all in line with living off-grid. This confidence energizes me to keep accomplishing my work every single day. To me, This is living with integrity that sets these trolls nuts. The only conceivable reason we get bashed online is because of transference—these people are self-conscious in regard to their own lack of preparedness/sustainability, so they lash out at ours.
While disorienting at first, you learn what is necessary and what is a “want.” For example, we want the air conditioning to be on in our house 24/7, but the reality of that is just not feasible. Not only is air conditioning a gigantic waste of resources, but it’s also only been mainstream for the past 50 years—we can all manage.
Choose Your Moment:
If you have a say in the matter, the season you should start work on your new property is in spring. This gives you several months of reasonably decent weather to get established, so you begin learning the ins and outs of what it takes to be moderately self-sufficient on your new land. When looking for property, please do not choose a place on a mountain top with a view that has a steep driveway. Instead, you need land gently rolling to moderately level so that you are not spending thousands of dollars every few years to maintain a driveway, nor are you in a place way up high with limited water. To help you choose a piece of land, check out our Finding Home Series. Also, you should look at this great video from Geoff Lawton on looking for a property that gives you the best possible ability to thrive.
We also want to stress that you should not be forcing your will onto a piece of property. For example, we live in a frost pocket that routinely gets late frosts into mid-May. CD loves Asian pears and wanted to grow them, but due to our local topography, the cold air settles in our valley. Asian pears bloom in late March when we still have almost two months of frosts to deal with. This means the blooms die, and no Asian pear fruit for us. We must work with the land and the local environment to grow things that bloom later, such as blueberries, elderberries, and blackberries, which thrive here. Another example would be you trying to install a septic tank when your land has a high water table 3 feet below the surface. That will not pass inspection because you would pollute the water table. Asking yourself what this land wants to do and how can you align your goals with it, is a much better mentality to have.
The mental aspect is the most important, so we will start there. It doesn’t matter how many nifty gadgets you have. If you are not mentally able to handle the change, forget about going off-grid. We would suggest taking baby steps instead of jumping right into the deep end. If it's possible and you have land already available, try making weekend trips where you can try things out by reducing your consumption of energy, wash your own clothes by hand, shower outside, use a compost toilet, cook under a tarp, and so on to get an idea of the things you will need and how to mentally prepare your mind for the transition.
When it comes to your garden, you will probably be tempted to grow a huge diversity of vegetables, plant fruit, and nut trees, and take on way more than you need to in the first year. I understand your enthusiasm and applaud you for it but do not overwhelm yourself. Unfortunately, I overwhelmed myself in the first year, which strained our relationship because I was so hyper-focused on “growing all of our food to keep us alive.” In truth, we didn’t know where the nation was headed as everything was shutting down, and I wanted to provide for our needs. Still, looking back, I would have been much better off growing a raised bed garden around 8 feet wide by 15 feet long and filling the beds with the best possible organic compost we can find. This would be much easier to tend, learn food cultivation skills, provide fresh vegetables, and give you a much-needed, confidence boost while you get everything else taken care of.
Hopefully, you have already planned to have a small structure to live in while building something bigger if that is what you would like. Something as simple as a pre-built shed would be perfect for developing your construction skills to build up.
On the other hand, maybe a yurt is more your style, which is incredible! The point is that you have a sturdy structure that won't collapse during a strong storm, and you are out of the weather and can keep warm or cool depending on the season.
There are three critical things to consider when starting on a new piece of land:
1. Have a weatherproof structure so you can live in it and not suffer from the elements. Please don’t try to just rough it in a tent, especially in the dead of winter. This will leave you frustrated, discouraged, or dead. On the weekends, we traveled between our apartment and the property (three hours one way) to work on the shipping container house. When covid started going wild in 2020, CD traveled down to the property multiple times a week and stayed in our travel trailer to get as much work done as possible. It wasn’t easy mentally or physically, so you must prepare for what is to come.
2. You need a reliable, safe-to-drink water source. This isn’t negotiable. Your thoughts should be solely focused on where your water is coming from and is it healthy to consume. When we first got to our property, we had a stream flowing on the north border. We would take our cart down to the stream for the longest time and fill up about thirty recycled milk jugs. We’d then use this water for cooking, cleaning, drinking, and bathing. For the drinking, you either have to use a filter or boil your water (Let’s do a short pictorial of how to properly prepare drinking water). We later moved on to digging our well and installing a pitcher pump. Later down the road, you can start thinking about getting water catchment systems to utilize rainwater in your off-grid water apparatus.
3. This is critical—you must understand and get in the habit of adequately dealing with your poop and pee. This last past is not as hard as you think it is. (add humanure authors name) The Humanure handbook lays out everything you need to do to keep yourself, your loved ones, and your environment safe from mishandled human waste. Also, check out our article on properly dealing with waste.
We could discuss the ins and outs of living off-grid ad nauseam, but so much of this lifestyle is actually living it. We can describe the culture shock and the temporary mental anguish of simplifying your life, but you won't honestly know the impact until you are experiencing it yourself. So all we can do is try our best to explain the fundamentals, and the rest of it is up to you. Neither of us would profess to have all the answers, but we feel confident knowing that we live according to our ethics and morals. We are trying to take less than we are given so we as a society can move forward in a world of resource scarcity and a future of unknown outcomes. Simplify your life now so you can start building abundance.