So you’ve picked out the perfect land for your needs. You’ve looked at the climate over the last few years; you are aware of all covenants, restrictions, and local hurdles you will encounter. You know the political temperament both of the local area, the greater area, and your immediate neighbors. You know how you will get water, how far to the nearest hospital and store. You are ready to make that next step.
You are ready to start roughing it in the wild, right?
The more you bring the off-grid mindset into your life before you move, the easier the move will come. You will begin to live cheaper, healthier, and happier before you build a single thing. One day at a time. One step at a time.
While some people can easily just jump right in and embrace all the changes that come with a new lifestyle, the rest of us would like some sort of transition period to wade into before learning to swim.
Welcome to the Kiddie Pool where I will teach you the basic strokes that will keep you from drowning. So what is the key to transitioning from Linked-in living to Off-grid and the great outdoors?
In a word: Downsizing. If you want to be successful in living off the sweat of your brow, you’re going to have to make a few adjustments. For example: if you no longer rely on the power grid for electricity, you are going to be limited on how many appliances, and devices you can use each day. Maybe you’ll have to cook more things by hand. Maybe you can’t have all the new video game consoles and the big screen TV. Maybe you’ll just have to buy more solar panels. You have to weigh your own situation and separate everything all your dreams into needs and wants.
Do I need cable? Do I need central air? Can I live off 5-10 gallons of water per day instead of the US average of 100+? Can I switch to cooking only foods that I grow myself and only while they are in season?
When your goal is to provide everything for yourself, the most important question is: can I provide this for myself? If not and you need it, how else can you get it?
My rules are:
Rule #1: If it is non-essential, I can ditch it.
Rule #2: Everything is non-essential.
Obviously this is an exaggeration but if you think about the things you feel you need in your life, you don’t need nearly as many, or as frequently as you’ve convinced yourself that you do.
Living off-grid is a mindset. If you can’t provide for yourself while you are living connected to the grid with the supermarket available, how can you expect to provide for yourself when you live in the middle of nowhere and don’t have the safety net?
Before you can live off your garden, you need to practice cooking from raw whole food. For starters, don’t buy anything in a box, bag, or can. Use only real ingredients (plants and animals). If you don’t know what’s in taco seasoning, google it. It will be a great experience learning how to make gravy, seasonings, basic meals, salad dressings, etc from scratch. Also, anything you make will be healthier than anything you buy. (and you can brag to everyone that you cooked everything on the table from scratch.)
When shopping in your local farmers market (or the produce section of the supermarket), only buy produce that is in season and locally grown. You will realize that fruits and veggies aren’t available year round. Most only grow in certain seasons. When you live out on your own and grow your own crops, you won’t be able to import your food from the far corners of the earth. You need to learn to work with what is around before you get out to your fields and wonder why the corn is taking longer than an hour to be ready to eat.
Start your own vegetable garden in your backyard. This is important for a few reasons. Firstly it shows you the amount of work and time that goes into growing plants. Additionally, you see the yields of homegrown compared to store-bought. Some vegetables will be smaller, weirdly shaped, or have bad spots. We have to adjust for that. Cut off the bug eaten parts if it bothers you that much. NEVER throw out a tomato for being oddly shaped. You can cook with most garden produce the same as you would from a grocery store.
Food will be the biggest change for most people. One way to learn a skillset before going fully off-grid is to begin canning, pickling, drying, and otherwise preserving food in season and then cooking with it in the off season. If you mess up and need to run to the supermarket, that is fine. You are still learning. Dust off and try again tomorrow night.
When things break around the house (and they always will), fix them yourself. If you don’t know how and can’t find it on the internet, then take notes and watch as the repairman does his work. If your water heater stops working, or your car is making funny noises, you should be able to administer the first echelon of care. I would highly recommend buying a book on your car maintenance, basic repair work around the house, and basic construction in general so that if you ever need the knowledge, you have it available. Leave the books in your bathroom for some light reading in your down time. Don’t wait until you are living off-grid and your heater goes out in the dead of winter to worry about how to fix it.
Build things yourself. If you need a table, couch, bed, dresser, cabinets, etc, instead of paying someone else to put it together, get a book and follow the directions. The internet has loads of plans for all different kinds of projects. Look them up and start building things now. It will save you money in the long run as well as develop in you a familiarity with tools and how basic mechanical engineering works.
Get the family involved. Give everyone tasks to do now so that when you get to the new land, everyone is eager to pitch in a do their part. Let the kids help cook meals from scratch or do repair work. If they do this before you move out into the wilderness, then the learning curve will be much more forgiving. Include them in the composting process and the garden. Working with kids will help prepare them for the transition as well as make (slightly) less work for you.
While you are still living Linked-in, try a compost toilet. See what your thoughts are. (Be careful with this one as some localities restrict what you can do with human waste.) Humanure Handbook has all the details you could ever want and more regarding restoration of the nutrient cycle.
Use less water. This is a big one. When you live off-grid you won’t have access to the seemingly unlimited supply of water the city will give you. Even if you have a well, you will want to be as conservative as possible with your resources so as to not deplete them unnecessarily. Most the world survives on less than 2 gallons per person per day. As Americans we average 100+ gallons per day. My goal for myself is 5. I have rainwater collection as my main water supply so I use extreme low flow shower heads, waterless composting toilets, aerated faucets, and a super-efficient dishwasher. The greywater then is pumped out into the garden to water my veggies instead of dumped into the sewers to be purged into and pollute the ocean.
Use less electricity: no TV, play board games as a family, etc. Like water, you will have finite energy with which to run everything. This may mean no TV or video games (oh no…) and more board games, crafts, and playing outside. Start now so you are less likely to hear “I’m bored” for the first few months of withdrawal from the electronics. It will also build better relationships between family members. Win-win.
Read books. Start reading now. Today, people don’t read nearly as much as they used to so it is harder to muster the concentration to sit down and read a book. I recommend buying books that will be pertinent to the new life, including both practical knowledge and inspirational stories. Anything that will help you enjoy your life in the new home is a good choice. I am a big fan of fantasy novels myself. Fiction helps expand the creative mind to problem solve and think outside the box. Also important are cook books that use natural ingredients from the garden, how-to books, and books you can read again and again without getting bored. Go to the library first so you don’t waste money on books with very little value. Also, regarding how-to books, get books that are specialized in what you want to learn rather than generic books that briefly include your topic. Get the book that is only about grazing chickens in forested areas instead of “Homesteading with Animals 101”.
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