Living alone in the woods has never been more appealing
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If the idea of the internet, aliens, and Big Brother have got you down then we have your solution: get off the grid.
Living off the grid (OTG) literally refers to living off the government-funded electricity grid, but in a more general sense it also refers to living without any dependence on the government, society, and its products.
A survey cited by USA Today in 2006 reported there were about 180,000 families living OTG. However, it’s likely that number has gone up significantly in the last decade, considering the growth in popularity of homesteading, permaculture, self-reliance, sustainability, tiny homes, and survival.
In order to live OTG successfully, one needs to take into account his or her own specific needs long prior to actually walking away from the modern world. To become truly self-sufficient, he or she would need to provide all electrical power, food, shelter and water. Here, we’ve outlined a few key elements to help think about, and even begin, a life OTG.
At the onset, expect to put in significant effort to establish food production systems. Jason Knight, director, co-founder, and instructor at Alderleaf Wilderness College in Monroe, Washington, who has taught nature skills for nearly two decades with a focus on wildlife tracking and wilderness survival, says, “I would recommend implementing food systems in phases over the course of a few years. Working on big projects in chunks of time on weekends. After that, time spent is primarily on harvesting and maintenance. Once the systems are in place, expect to put in at least 5 to 10 hours a week for harvesting and maintenance.”
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Prepare to pick up a few books on the subject and educate yourself on permaculture–a field of study on sustainable living focused on how to integrate all the various systems of living like food, water, shelter and energy in a way that gets every site element to work together. Knight recommends Practical Permaculture by Dave Boehnlein.
There are a lot of things humans can go without, but water just isn’t one of them. Living OTG, there are a few options, most common of which is to have a well drilled and a pump (either electric, wind-driven or hand-pumped) put in place. If there’s a good spring on the property, the water could be potable. “Be sure to have it tested to find out,” says Knight. “And if it’s not potable, sometimes it can be filtered and/or purified.”
Alderleaf has a well with an electric pump, 1200-gallon storage tank, and regular plumbing/running water. When the power goes out, which Knight says happens almost every winter for at least a few days, the pump stops, but they still have access to 1,200 gallons available in the tank that is gravity fed to the home.
One other option is setting up a rainwater harvesting system (those often require treatment systems too, to deal with possible contamination by things such as bird droppings).
Like a lot of living OTG, Knight feels electricity sources are a personal choice. “I have friends living off the grid that do so with solar,” he says. “Some solar systems are still grid-tied where they build up a credit with the utility that can be used in the winter, others are completely off-the-grid using a battery-based system with their solar panels, but this takes a lot of planning, as many high-energy-consuming appliances then need to be propane-powered. Most also have gasoline-powered generators for back up.”
There are also properties that integrate small-scale hydro and/or wind power in addition to solar panels. Friends of Knight who have lived without electricity seem to only do it for short periods–a few months to a year, before they decide they want to put in a system for electricity.
“I think it’s nearly impossible to get away from the need for money,” says Knight, “however you can choose to live frugally utilizing less.”
Lest we forget, even hunter-gatherers used items as a monetary system for trade before dollars existed. Also, within the permaculture movement, alternative currencies have been set up where you can trade and barter and convert your labor into various types of credits for transactions. However, Knight explains there are legal issues of taxes needing to be paid on those transactions.
“I think when you really dive deep into the pros and cons with trading, bartering and alternative currencies, you often do come back around to realizing how efficient our modern monetary system is despite its many flaws,” he says.
Preparing to live OTG typically does take saving money and maintaining that lifestyle is going to require some resources on a regular basis. A resource Knight recommends on frugal living and financial topics is Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]If the money system were to go away tomorrow, we’ve invested in things we feel would sustain us.[/quote]
For Knight and his wife, they were able to start the school, purchase land and expand their wilderness lifestyle by being frugal–garage sales, thrift stores, finding things free on the side of the road, working multiple jobs to save money and applying permaculture principles to every aspect of their lives.
“We do use money just like everyone else,” he says, “now earning our living through Alderleaf Wilderness College. However we do our best to be frugal and conscious about how we interact with and use those resources. And if the money system were to go away tomorrow, we’ve invested in things we feel would sustain us–such as knowledge, skills, relationships and food systems.”