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February 5, 2013 at 12:00 am #63308
Hi Off The Gridders. This is a genuine question, not meant to flame, insult or hurt anyone. I’m just curious as to the big WHY “going off the grid” is so romantized? I’m truly curious about your passion for it. I’ve been into Tiny Homes my entire life, but they had always been used as artist studios, kid’s playhouses, chicken coops, or the “5th room” for when in-laws came. Now, I read all over the web that they are synonymous with “Being off the grid”, getting away from ALL humanity, and becoming more Alexander Supertramps.
Here’s my background: Born 1950, raised in the absolute wilderness of the Minnesotan/Canadian BWCA area. Grandparents raised me, we had a dairy farm, raised hay and rye. For the first 16 years of my life, we and everyone around us were OFF THE GRID! Why? Two reasons: the utility companies said it “didn’t pay for them to run lines to the few farms in that area. (Makes perfect sense) and 2) There was/is EXTREME prejudice against the native American population around us and the utilitity companies didn’t feel the need to supply those people with help.
So, we had a wind mill that pumped water and a hand pump to bring water into the house by pails. Heated the farm house by wood that my granpa and uncle chopped. Milked 60 head of cows by hand. Had a root cellar, cut ice in winter from our pond and had ice all year long in the milk shed, layered between saw dust. Granma did all the canning for the year, had an orchard, vineyard, and traded with other farmers for meat; we raised our own chickens, ducks, turkeys. We used oil lamps to see; no candles as they cost too much and blew out. Music was from people who could play an instrument. Bedtime depended upon sun rise and sunset. Had a wind up alarm clock, cuckoo clock and grandfather clock.
Our bath tub was in the mud room and water was boiled on the wood stove and added to the tub, which drained outside of the house. The tub was filled ONCE, and you bathed in the order of your filthiness. Cleanest people went in first, dirtiest person went in last. You’d take a “rag” to wash off your naughty bits during the week; baths were on Saturday night. Many of the hired men bathed in our “crick” during the Summer or in hard rain storms.
Did we want the conveniences of a phone, electricity, running water, and propane? HELL YEAH! But, none of the farms or homesteaders had a choice until the power companies finally came into our area in the late ’60s, and that was only because the “weekenders” from Mpls. and St. Paul were building cabins in the area and demanded utilities and a support structure.
Live was brutal, hard and exhausting…and that was under the BEST of conditions! If the weather was your Devil, through “mile high” snow or drought/heat wave, life became harder. If a part from the combine broke and you couldn’t fix it with spit or baling wire, the nearest BIG town was 110 miles…ONE WAY!!! What we wouldn’t have given to have a Home Depot down the road! And forget injuries or sickness! Got a broken arm? Good luck climbing up the ladder to the hayloft or milking a 100 head with one hand! Get a nail driven through your palm? Better be prepared for lockjaw, my friend! Or, take out the knife, cut into the area and suck out the poison, putting a bread poltice on it and saying your prayers.
We cooked with butter, lard, and bacon fat. Sweeteners were honey, molasses and sorghum; white sugar was TOO expensive and only reserved for birthdays and holidays. Since everyone near us was a farmer, we’d trade goods: eggs for butter; pork for chicken; hay for cut wood.
Now, here’s the kicker for those of you that want to “GET AWAY FROM ALL HUMANITY!” —-we farmers LOVED humanity! Ever hear the phrase “Cabin Fever”? It’s a real condition where humans are trapped in a dwelling, no mankind around, and they become depressed and either commit suicide or a homicide/suicide combo. Read some Willa Cather novels about the amount of immigrants who came from cities in Europe, lived in a sod house in Nebraska, and ended up eating a shot gun in the barn. It was a time for true celebration when you could tear yourself from the non.stop.chores. and actually take a break, put on some “purty clothes” and travel 5-10 miles to the nearest farm. It meant the 1st milking was done, the chickens were fed, the bread was rising, the “warsh” was on the line, and the peas picked and shelled for supper. Yes, there were some “Norwegian Bachelor Farmers” in our area, that never hooked up to the grid, grew a beard down to their groin, smelled like hogs, and were avoided like the plague by the rest of us. Why, you may ask? It was the crazy look in their eyes and the fact that we all knew they had just gone “feral”. They were human only in and of the fact that they stood upright when taking a piss. No one admired them. No one wanted to be “them”. We just felt sad, scared and pity for them.
A bar of soap was a true luxury. ONLY my granma and I got to use bar soap from the store. The rest of the menfolk used homemade lye soap, which made their hands beet red. We weren’t trying to avoid humanity, but again, a 220 mile trip to Duluth to pick up a bar of Dove soap…wasn’t gonna happen but twice a year.
Once the “weekenders” began building up by us, civilization came, too. Actual restaurants came within a 20 mile radius, and the retired farmers would meet there each morning, for a coffee klatch. The co-op came, the feed store came, a bank and a dry goods store. Yeah, the “grid” was coming to US!!!!
Now, fast forward to the 1970’s and my being in Ag school. A “City Gal” decided she wanted to be part of the “Back to Nature Movement” that Joni Mitchel sang about. 100% of the students (except her) came from immigrant farm families and we were all “WTF???” But, no amount of horror stories could persuade Cynthia and her dream. So, she married a sheep farmer, made 100% of her lye soap, ONLY wore cloth carded and woven from her sheep, and only ate mutton/lamb. (sidebar: WOOL underwear?!? ’nuff said) Five years later, Cynthia and her husband moved back to the suburbs of Lake Minnetonka, from whence they came, never to wear wool undies or eat a piece of mutton, again.
I understand and respect people wanting to move from a large urban area and move to a slower, less populated place. My husband and I actually did this, after raising 3 amazing children, who are all in their 30’s and late 20’s. We sold our 2,800 foot home in Lincoln Park, Chicago when the last one went to Uni, and moved full-time to an 800 square foot “cottage” on an acre of land. Our cottage was actually a dry goods store in our area, back in the 1920’s-1950’s, and was only converted into a home when the store owners retired. We have ZERO plans to do anything to the footprint beyond maintaining it. No extentions, bump outs, or “improvements”; the size fits our new lifestyle well and when the kids visit, they stay at near by hotels.
We have chickens and let them eat the garden’s bugs. I planted currants, gooseberry, raspberry and blackberry bushes the 1st year we’re moved. We go wildcrafting in the woods, picking wild mulberries, blueberries and black caps. Morel mushrooms grow by the bushel basket in my daylily beds…go figure!he We have two upright freezers and throughout the year, I make food and freeze it. I also can 100’s of quarts of applesauce and spaghetti sauce, jams and jellies. As much as I can, we line dry our clothes 90% of the time. I have clothes lines and drying racks in the garage, where the washer is kept. We recycle, EVERYTHING! Our waste is about one plastic grocery bag’s worth each month. Our local town supports recycling and we toss our food scraps out to whatever eats them: chickens, dogs, cats, coons or possums, with an occasional fox stopping by.
So, kind reader, if you’re with me this long, you can see that I’ve lived the life of off the grid, and it wasn’t pretty. None of us farmer’s looked for a medal or book written about us. All we wanted to do was pay off the mortgage, get debt free by not borrowing, and pass the farm down to the kids. When my grandparent’s retired, they were debt free by decades, with over $500,000 in the bank BEFORE selling the farm. It was through prudent saving, not buying crap you didn’t need, and reusing/recycling. But, they loved their electricity, gas, grocery stores and movie theatres! They just silently shook their heads and rolled their eyes at the hippies who wanted to go “back in time” and choose to live the way that so many immigrant families were forced to live.
So, this is what I don’t get: WHY would anyone want to mimac the early settlers, who came flat-out broke to America, and only wanted to make a better life for themselves? WHY deprive yourself of heat when it’s -20 degrees with 4 feet of snow outside? WHY despise other humans so much? WHY despise a soft bed or a nice bar of soap or food that you didn’t have to grow, harvest, kill and process? Even a truly wild animal appreciates a pond they can drink from and a regular food source, such as my bird feeders provide. We have critters come from all over the place to feast off our land! If wild animals like to take an easier route to survival, WHY do so many people want to take the hardest route possible. I just don’t get it. :(February 6, 2013 at 12:00 am #67156chowanParticipant
I loved the read thank you.
Simple answer from me is that i do want many of my modern convieniences even luxuries i dont despise other humans
i just want to be able to provide for my needs without depending on a complex web of production and distribution
to do that its pretty much a definite that you will need to move to where there are less people
I read something once where it said its a feeling of acomplishment older than dirt to be able to
bring meat to the table with a bow an arrow you have built yourself. this is very true and i think says a lot about why
being of grid is interesting to meFebruary 6, 2013 at 12:00 am #67157DustofferParticipant
I’m from Minnesota, too, and spent a lot of time up north camping, working on a dairy farm, canoeing , fishing, hunting, skiing, snowmobiling, flying all over, hiking the back country, staying a month in the summer at my grandparents’ cabin, and another month exploring and camping in the “west”.
Saw it get overpopulated and fished out and finally had it with mosquitoes. Didn’t realize we were off grid in many ways, especially at first. I was born in the summer of ’49.
I’ve been running from overpopulation much of my life, and the real reason for off grid independence is thinking about future generations. I am a deep ecologist and had to walk the talk. It isn’t the old outhouse and candles life with food in a winter cut ice and straw underground shed. Wild strawberries, fish from the lake and ducks during season. My Godfather was a full blood Ojibwa.
No, it is one child only, solar power, Earthship, gardens, composters, low water use , not too big a house, hybrid SUV, 3 R’s—a 1/20th the average American Eco-footprint. Gardening is the main “old stuff”. Composting is a more knowledgeable “old”. The Solar power is new but passive solar dates to smart cave men. The three R’s started with my grandparents in the Depression. I know much more about nutrition, and no lard!!!
I doubt that my efforts of conscience will save the world from the crash and thermageddon later. I am against Ecocide, but there is no place except in fantasy, to go.February 6, 2013 at 12:00 am #67158
Thank you BOTH for such insightful answers! I’m grateful that you didn’t feel I was slamming anyone’s life style choice. In my own way, I feel that my family has made a HUGE effort to downscale, compared to our peers. Some of my dear friends laugh at us lovingly when they come to our 800 square foot cottage and state, truthfully, that their “…3 car garage is bigger than your home!” And they’re right. LOL
Everyone has to follow their own heart. My heart says, “I love to bake and weave and garden, give back to the community, and have friends over for dinner at least twice a week.” I have cherished family antiques that go back to before my kin immigrated from Finland and Sweden. Unlike some people who go off the grid, my cherished items do NOT own me, I am simply their caretaker until my adult children inherit them. Then, their children will inherit them. It’s about roots and a past and belonging.
What scares me about some of the videos/photos I’ve seen on line from some of the “off gridders” is that they truly look to be going feral and I wonder about their mental health, thinking, “Oh Lord, do we have another nutter going to steal a boy off of a bus?” The photos they place on line have NO family photos, NO art, NO colour…nothing that ties them to humanity. Just a couple of pegs to hang up their 4 pieces of clothes, a chair, a couple of mismatched plates, and a dog. I wonder where their family is. I wonder, “Is there no one that loves you or that you love?” I have over 50 framed photos of my family, going back to the 1860’s; they are the roots that keep my “tree” alive.
Again, thank you for your genuine answers; I’ve learned much from the two of you. :)February 7, 2013 at 12:00 am #67162JayParticipant
I truly enjoyed reading your post and wanted to say hello and maybe give you a little bit of my view.
I believe a lot of those people who want to go back to the land like their ancestors did in the past really are only having a romanticized love affair with the ideology of it rather than the pain staking work that is involved. I assume what they really want is for the back breaking hard work to be done for them and they spend thier time enjoying nature and taking in all that is beautiful in life.
Now for myself and the hard truth. I started with the idea of going off and living off the land but realized quickly that from my past knowledge that I was lying to myself. I grew up in a small town and love manual labor (casually not 7 days a week). My family (uncles/aunts) are farmers and I liked helping them out but I knew they have always had it difficult. So on my search for what i wanted it dawned on me. I want a semi off grid lifestyle. I want to live ‘off the grid’ in the sense that i have no electric bill, I provide my own heat, water and I grow some fruit/veg that i want and some small farm animals. But nowhere near anything that is back breaking. As for the rest i have many ways I can suppliment my current income to still live a comfortable life. I do not want to work until I am 65-70. I do not want to live in a city and I do not want to spend every waking hour working to survive. So that is why I want to follow some of this lifestyle.
The disconnect people make is that it will be easy. I have no doubt it will be hard but I also am willing to make changes if certain aspects dont work for me like keeping some animals or gardening but I also have other sources of income. So in the true sense of the word will I be ‘off the grid’ NO. No i wont be but for me it is off the grid of working in a menial job and when you finally retire hoping you have enough energy to go out and enjoy the little time you have left (if your health allows it). So thats what it means to me and for everyone on here all are not ‘off the grid’ in the true meaning but I hold respect for them for pursuing the dream they have for themselves. some will make it many will fail and some will be unhappy but if you dont try how will you ever know ?
If you never tried a banana how would you know you like it ? The scale is much larger but so are the benefits and that is what draws me to this semi off grid style I want. I hope by the time I can make the move that it will be a smaller learning curve due to my skills and the lessons I learn from people here.
Thank you for reading,
JayFebruary 8, 2013 at 12:00 am #67163
Hi Jay! This has been a VERY welcoming crowd on this board and I thank you ALL for that courtesy. I find that when I can’t understand someone’s position on something, rather than mock it, I want to learn and listen to their position for clarity. I may not change my own mind, or…I may moderate it. But, I come away with a much greater understanding of a different position than my own and greater empathy for a different opinion.
Mirroring your words, Jay, I greatly enjoyed reading your post and your honesty. And, truth be told, what YOU are doing I applaud. I love your honesty with what will work for you and the compromises you’re willing to make to enjoy your life. I don’t feel that life’s choices need to be either 100% or 0%! What’s wrong with 33.3% or 14% or some other percent? That’s true for food choices, living choices and most other choices in life.
When my husband and I sold our large house in the city and downgraded to a cottage 1/4th the size, THAT was our compromise. Plus, growing tons of our own food, tapping into the local farmer’s markets and supporting the growing Green Industry out here, line drying our clothes and only having ONE car, vs. three. We also follow the 3-R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle.
I also heartedly agree with you that a great percentage of the people who post on sites like this are either 1) romatic, 2) delusional, or 3) mentally unwell, or a combination of some of those numbers. Let’s use Nature as an example: Can you think of ANY species, from mammal to fish to bird to plant that doesn’t DESIRE for an easier life? Can you imagine a wolf pack in Wyoming passing up a tethered animal to feast from? Or a desert cacti growing away from any water? That’s why coyotes, possums, and raccoons come into town: the living is far easier with better food, water and shelter sources than “living off the grid”, in animal speak! So, why are some Humans, the creators of a Kinder/Gentler society, so desirious of going Backwards In Time, and making life the hardest and more austere?
How YOU are doing it and how MOST of the people I’ve read about on this board seem to have found a great balance. Smaller dwelling; solar/wood/wind power; growing-trading for food; and generally slowing down to Stop And Smell The Roses. But, going into the Federal Wilderness with a Buck Knife to “disappear and never seen again”???? Well, I can only think “Someone’s off their meds or desperately needs them!”
I’ve had many a conversation about Off The Gridders with friends of mine, particularly friends who watch TV shows like “Doomsday Preppers”. What none of us can understand is this: “If a person has such a strong desire to escape society, go backwards in time and experience the most raw of living conditions, then WHY don’t they volunteer for a group that goes to 3rd world countries where they ALL live “Off The Grid” and help them?” Help those poor people dig a well for fresh water! Help those people set up a school! Work for Habitat for Humanity and help rebuild New Orleans and Long Island or Haiti or China or so many other places in the world that ache for clean water, minimal shelter and clean power! A person who did this would be surrounded by like-minded folks, making the world a better place and in the meantime, have food, shelter and friendship for themselves!!! When I read posts on forums stating, “I have NO money, I have NO job, I have NO skills but want to live Off the Grid”, I just shake my head that they have read waaaaay too much Thoreau and seen waaaay too many times the movie “Into the Wild”.
I also find puzzling people who proudly beat their chest and proclaim “I’m living Wild and Free and Off The Grid” when in fact, they’ve pitched their 84 square foot hand-built trailer home in a friend’s back yard and use their friend’s shower and running water to clean their delusional bodies!!! WTF???? Can you scream “Hypocrite?” The most famous of these pretender’s is Dee Williams, who has been on Oprah and the Tyra Bank’s shows, babbling about her 84 square foot home. Sorry, Honey, if you have to “live in somebody’s backyard and ask for daily water”…you ain’t living off the grid!!!! You’re simply a 40 year old kid who’s bedroom has been detached from the house! Grrrrr! And by the way, Thoreau went into town every frickin’ day and parked his hidey-hole hut in Emerson’s back yard, receiving daily visits from friends! (So much for Wilderness living!)
Likewise, I’ve read of people who have no means of preserving food and keep their food in a Coleman cooler, so they DAILY need to go to town for ice and perishables. Say what? Unless you’re walking, biking or taking your pony into town, HOW are you either being “Off the Grid” or even a Low Carbon Footprint? Buy that dang propane refrigerator and stock up on a couple of days worth of food, for crying out loud, so you don’t starve to death if you strain an ankle or get the flu! I say quite frankly, NONE of us reading from this board would be here if our ancestor’s were that unprepared and stupid!
So, to wrap up my response, from those of you who have shared your stories, I say “Well done and a sincere congratulations!” It seems that you’ve taken the BEST of both worlds and created one where you thrive, not survive! I’ve loved learning your views and hearing your stories; thank you all for sharing so much with me! And you’ve taught me that compromise is NOT a dirty word if you want to be partially on some type of grid, whatever makes the most sense to your way of thinking. Bless you all with the life your heart cries out for, as I’m living that version, myself. <3February 10, 2013 at 12:00 am #67166caverdudeParticipant
I think for many it has to do with having options. We don’t being told we only have the option of A or B and no A-Z. Especially when A and B are not much different. Also there is a downward class migration going on in America today. Recession is a big part of it. Globalization is another. So instead of trying to burn the candle at both ends for an eternal life of slavery to debt why not just settle for the upper end of poor if you can get most of what you want out of life. I used to dream of the middle class life with each year seeing it get further and further from me.
So now instead I dream of having land, low to no debt and most of the comforts in life we have grown to expect. If I gain some quality by doing it myself along this path then all the better. Its also about gaining independence from systems that are not giving all they promised to give.February 10, 2013 at 12:00 am #67167
Thanks, caverdude, for adding to this pleasant discussion. I particularly enjoyed your quote, “Upper end of poor…” ; it’s very descriptive.
This is just tossing a thought out there: are SO many folks who want to downsize and get out of debt simply looking in the wrong place? Here, in Berrien County, Michigan, places are begging for help and there are a gazillion tiny, tiny houses on land. Only right against Lake Michigan are the 10,000 sq. ft. mansions; if you go 1/2 a mile from the lake, you can find any “cracker box” (as my Gran called them) to pleasantly live in. Wide open space is EVERYWHERE, more stars than anyone can count, and if you want to see wild turkeys, fox and deer in your back yard, all you have to do is look out your window.
I am wondering if too many people are all looking in the same places for jobs and land and that’s why it’s so hard to locate something? Seems like most folks want Texas, the Virginias, Arizona or Florida. If someone wanted to move into either a 20 year old trailer on a couple acres of land or one of the tiny 3-season cottages up here, they could easily and happily live debt free with even minimum wages. Because Berrien County is so rural and agricultural, there are tons of seasonal jobs that pay very well in the orchard, vineyard and landscaping trades; make your money in the warm months and sit back and relax in the Winter! That’s exactly what my husband and I do: we own a landscaping company, work like slaves from April through mid-December and then sit back and get fat from mid-December til April. We pay $20-$25/hour to our guys and most firms I know start people out at $15.00. If you save your money and buy prudently, you can save enough for all Winter long. Even making beds at the local casinos pays $12-$15/hour, which is $2,400 a month or $28,800.00 per year. I can’t tell you the amount of businesses that have gone OUT of business because they can’t find people to work for them! So, I’d say to those that want to follow their dreams: “Put up with some snow! And come up to Michigan/Indiana/rural Illinois/Minnesota/Wisconsin and follow your dream.”February 10, 2013 at 12:00 am #67170Nick RosenKeymaster
Here Here Caverdude….you explained it very well….February 10, 2013 at 12:00 am #67171
Dang! I posted a long, positive response to caverdude and it’s nowhere to be found. :( Thanks for your thoughts, caverdude; I’m too sleepy to repost my thoughts. I’ve been playing with the grandkids all morning and I’m plum tuckered out. LOLFebruary 12, 2013 at 12:00 am #67175DustofferParticipant
Here you go Cahow, not all of us are nuts that live in shacks, bunkers, trash trailers or storage buildings, in primitive paranoid ways without art , color and beauty;February 13, 2013 at 12:00 am #67180
Hi Dustoffer: I looked at your photos and your home is sweeeeet! The people who I see that are berift of art, colour and beauty are the extremists who want to live in 80 sq. ft. homes on wheels. One of these folks actually counts the amount of things they own and limit them to three hundred! That would just about describe the amount of baking paraphenia that I have in my kitchen! LOL (I bake a LOT and gift it away to the seniors in my area who can’t bake any longer.) Thanks for posting your photos and sharing your love of home with us!
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