How to earn a living in the Boonies – Part 1

We begin a new series by Julia Moore exploring working patterns in off-grid communities:

Fred and Susan – craft sales

Fred and Susan Klotz run their online businesses from their off-grid home.

Susan sells quilts and laptop bags, made on her sewing machine, and Fred uses the web to find customer for the furniture he makes in his solar powered woodshop.

They have lived together in Oregon for 5 years, not far from Crater Lake National Park, in a remote cabin with 95% of their power supplied by the sun, “and the rest from hard work.” Fred worked in high-tech before moving off-grid 35 years ago and Susan was as a corporate trainer, a high stress job, until she began living with Fred. Now they have a website selling the furniture and they each have their own Etsy stores (Hers & His), Etsy is a site for homemade or vintage items directly from makers to customers around the world. Fred’s outdoor cedar furniture being their most profitable enterprise, the couple have found, as many do, that living off-grid has given them the freedom to follow their interests rather than a pay cheque.

Susan likes to “Farm-sit” and looks after animals, weaves garden items such as fences and trellises from local wild willow, and has even done some writing. They own a vacation rental they hope to start making money from this summer, and Fred takes scrap metal to the yard or puts his carpentry skills to use doing remodelling.

All of this variety means they never get bored. Another thing they have noticed is that, despite the lack of safety nets, medical insurance etc., this way of working gives them a lot more security than someone doing a normal 9-5 job, simply because most companies aren’t loyal to their employees these days. Susan says “No industry is safe from layoffs, cutbacks. No corporation is safe from being bought out and re-organized” and adds “there is no real safety net in having a 9-5 job anymore, if there ever was one. It feels natural to do a variety of work, with the seasons and availability.”

On the other hand it can be hard work being self employed, Fred says that if you want to live this way “you better plan on working harder than you ever have in your life” and Susan remembers “when I first moved to S. Oregon someone said ’Welcome! Hope you brought your own money!’”. Fortunately for these two the benefits of this lifestyle vastly outweigh the challenges, and they have succeeded in pursuing their dream.

They have put some tips on their blog, Oregon Natural Living, which stress that it is as much about what you don’t do as what you do, do. Don’t shell out lots of money for things you can do yourself, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and don’t forget to enjoy it! Finally they were kind enough to give me their biggest tip “Don’t give up. Hold on to your dreams. Don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t do it, or shouldn’t do it, or can’t afford it. Find land and start making a home. Learn to live with a LOT less. If possible, find someplace where you have access to a community of similar folks and build a life that works for you.”

4 Responses

  1. Very inspiring story, indeed!!!
    I’m a furniture maker myself and I’m very interested on how Fred had set up his solar powered workshop.
    It would be great if I can get a chance to speak with you over the phone or perhaps visit with you and Susan.

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