Affordable Living Off the Grid – Our last post, The Challenge: Affordably Living Off of the Grid, got so much response that I decided to tell a little more about our backstory.
This is a detailed post with lots of experience and lessons we learned about moving from a fast-paced lifestyle to a remote location.
I want to share our “get to the country” plan and how things changed and developed along the way.
Affordable Living Off the Grid – The Beginning
The story really does go back as far as childhood for both my husband and myself.
We both have always loved being out in the mountains, and have been interested in back-to-basics.
To put it into perspective, when I was just a teen, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response was not that I wanted to be a nurse or a teacher or firefighter.
My response was “I want to be a hermit in the mountains and live off the land.”
As years went on, life took over and I began to forget about my dreams of living in the mountains.
I got caught up with the hustle and bustle of life — or at least our culture’s concept of it — until one decisive moment.
Time’s are a Changin’
It was Christmas, and we just had our first daughter.
We were in one of those very difficult times that young parents go through.
We were dealing with unemployment, a major and traumatic split in our church, and the reveal that our pastor was somewhat of a con artist.
I was also feeling very unsettled with life in general. Parenthood had made me begin thinking about life in a much deeper sense than I had been before.
We had no direction, no goals, and it felt like we were just floating along in life.
At the time we were living in Colorado.
It’s where my husband is from and where we met.
However, I was feeling some very strong pulls to move to Washington where my family was.
In retrospect, I know that sort of thing happens often when young people become parents.
It was a time of transition, in many ways.
I was feeling very discontented with my life.
And with the responsibility of this new precious baby girl we now were caring for, my husband and I were feeling like something needed to change.
Then, for Christmas, my mother, Marie, sent me a special gift.
It was Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living.
I still remember the following week when I devoured the book.
I remember reading it cover-to-cover while in the bathtub, while cooking or nursing my baby, and in those precious stolen moments by myself.
It stirred the discontent in me.
I started talking to my husband about it.
He was feeling it too.
We talked about how we were attempting to live our lives the way society and civilization expects, but it felt like putting a square peg in a round hole.
We talked about our dreams, and how we would love more than anything to see our baby girl grow up playing in the mud and climbing trees.
It was mostly talk at that point, until I happened to say something to my brother about it in an email.
He had been feeling the same thing.
We wanted to live in the country, raising our children together as neighbors so they could be close as well.
Then my older sister and her husband were on board.
Our parents, who had been looking for 10-20 acres to retire on, were thrilled about the idea of a joint venture.
Before I knew it, we were shooting emails back and forth looking at different properties and sending the real estate listings to each other.
Just window shopping, right?
My husband and I didn’t have jobs, much less money to buy anything, but it was fun to look!
One day, I looked online and happened to find this one listing.
It was much more property than we were considering, but it was stunningly beautiful and not too far from where my older sister lived.
It had a nice mix of pasture, woodland, and even a decent sized pond, at an amazing price.
I emailed the listing to my mom, telling her I knew I’d sent her a lot of listings but she and Dad just HAD to look at this one!
Long story short, we ended up buying it.
Not “we” meaning me and my husband.
It was all of us together: my parents, siblings and our families.
We are all in it together.
This wasn’t our first rural property
Until I was six, we lived on a 5-acre hobby farm next to some other families we knew.
One of those families actually was family.
So basically, I grew up living in the country with my cousins nearby.
It was so fun for us as kids, that when this idea of living near each other came up, my siblings and I remembered what that had been like and thought it would be nice to raise our kids similarly.
Life had taken our family to cities and suburbs overseas and in other states, but we all prefer the rural lifestyle.
Most of us are drawn to country life anyway, so it just made sense.
Buying property with family
After buying our property, we formed an LLC.
We all pay toward the mortgage on the land.
Granted, cooperative living like this can be difficult with different personalities and priorities.
However, we are doing our best to anticipate issues and keep things out in the open as we go along.
Also important is to have some very clear boundaries and privacy guidelines, as well as a general like-minded mentality, and so far it’s been pretty good.
Each family has its own home site with several acres of land, and we have some common areas too.
So now – let’s go back again to Colorado.
Here we were, my husband and I with just temp work, no resources, and a baby to support.
This was the point when we decided we were going to go for it.
Why continue to struggle forever for a life we don’t really even enjoy, when we could instead be fighting for a life that will feed our souls? (Click here to Tweet this)
So – we packed everything up and moved to Washington with the intent to live on the property.
We didn’t quite know how we were going to get there, but we felt very clearly and directly that it was our future, and given the fact that we were in a holding pattern where we were, it felt like the best decision.
The months that followed were very difficult.
We wanted to make our life on the property, but neither of us had a job, much less any money to build with, and we had this precious baby to support so we didn’t feel comfortable just *really* roughing it.
That year was challenging for us, in many ways.
Like many of you, we went through a lot of changes, transitions, dead ends, and fortunately, renewed hope.
And then, as it would naturally happen, we began working on a solid plan.
I’d been able to get a job at a local credit union where I was quickly promoted and really enjoyed my work.
My husband was working as a machine operator at a local box manufacturing company.
We were blessed with two reliable jobs, but it really wasn’t what we wanted.
Our Life as a Two Income Family
The typical two-parent working family thing was the only way we were able to really make ends meet at the time but life was miserable.
I was the worst working mom in the world – while I did enjoy the job itself, I could never balance work and home life.
I absolutely hated having to wake up my tired kids, and schlep them off to daycare for the day when all they wanted was to sit and cuddle with me (daughter #2 arrived in the middle of this time).
I’d then come home about 7:30, eat cold leftover macaroni and cheese for dinner, have a brief snuggle with my kids, and put them to bed.
Interesting side note – I actually used to LOVE when they would wake up in the middle of the night.
Yeah, I’d lose sleep, but it gave me an excuse to snuggle them back to sleep.
I cherished those moments.
Anyway – what we wanted was me to be able to stay home with our daughters, and we wanted him to make enough to support that in addition to being able to save up some money to build a little cabin on the property.
The other very real thing we had to plan for was income once we are there.
The truth is, it is very difficult to survive on the land if you have no income.
The right land (itself) can provide a living, if your needs are small enough, but there is an interim time.
I like to think of this time as the “bridge.”
You can’t just go throw up a cabin on a piece of land and immediately have that land earning enough to support you.
Infrastructure takes time, and income development takes time.
That time is time you’ll still need to have money to pay for food, gas, and other necessities (not to mention said infrastructure).
Lack of income is probably the #1 cited reason I’ve seen when people talk about obstacles and barriers to living this self sufficient lifestyle.
You have to have some kind of bridge that takes you from point A to point B, and we had no way of getting that.
We were making ends meet, but we knew if we just kept on the way we were going, we’d burn out way before we’d be able to save enough even for a small cabin.
Here’s what we decided to do
I’d continue working, and we very thankfully accepted daycare assistance from the state so my husband could return to school.
He is extremely intelligent, and could have pretty much done whatever he wanted, but we felt it was important for him to not be in school for the next 4-6 years.
So, instead, he would go to the local community college and train as a mechanical drafter.
Then, when he was done, he’d get a job that made enough so I could quit my job.
Then, we could really start saving money, and I (who have a pretty much voracious entrepreneurial bent) could look around and try various options for self employment.
The idea was that he’d be making more money, and we’d be able to live simpler because I’d have the time to do things like cook from scratch, grow food, etc.
This would allow us to save some money and also allow me to establish a work-from-home income that would help us bridge the gap and potentially provide self-employment for both of us when the time comes.
Here’s what actually happened
My husband went to school for his two years, working part time on the side.
He finished school in 2010 and was almost immediately re-hired by his former employer, but now instead of making the boxes, he’s meeting with clients and designing creative packaging solutions for them.
They also moved us over to the other side of the state, where their corporate office is.
Further away from the property, but my husband was also making more than most of his classmates and he really loved his job.
We rented a 3 bedroom mobile in a tiny town WAY far south, because we simply couldn’t handle the idea of living in the city.
The area was beautiful, although I was disappointed that the huge tall old cedars that filled the property didn’t allow for any kind of food production.
Costs of everything were rapidly climbing due to the recession, and we decided to have a third child which also had a pretty decent price tag.
My husband’s commute was long, but he chose it, feeling that a longer commute was preferable to living in the city.
As life will happen, we weren’t able to save up as much as we’d hoped, but we were able to do some.
I started trying out different ways to make money, and interestingly I really fell in love with internet marketing.
On my end, I enjoyed the day-to-day life with my kids, and also immersed myself in learning how to apply the marketing concepts I’d learned in school to the internet and making money online.
I have degrees in business and marketing, and I was able to transition to the new and different world of internet marketing.
I’d also started a business selling insulated tumblers online, though it didn’t really take off until last year when I started doing regular coffee mugs.
The Discontent Returns
We were living in that area about two years when we started feeling the itch again.
The nature of my husband’s job made it so he couldn’t really do it from the office where he originally had worked as a machine operator, but we were feeling a very strong yearning to get back to the other side of the state.
By this time, my parents had settled in to their new home on the land, and we were all making plans for projects we wanted to do and income streams we wanted to develop.
Finally, my husband had a moment of “enough” and began talking to his employer to see if there was any way he could work for them from the other office – even if it meant modifying his job.
To his surprise, they were so intent on not letting him go that they worked around and changed things just so that he could work from the other office.
Literally a few weeks after that, it was all set up, and we moved within the month.
That was last fall.
We were then faced with a decision.
Our property is about 90 minutes from the town he’d be working.
Did we want to find a place close to the property so it was easier to develop and work at, but he’d have a longer commute?
Or would he rather have a shorter commute and we’d spend more time up at the property on the weekends?
I left it up to him, since he’d be the one dealing with the commute.
He opted to look for a place closer to the property, which was quite convenient for me!
We were also very blessed to find a small cabin to rent.
Just a 1-room 24×30 cabin with a loft on a large acreage.
It has all the amenities, but it was definitely a change from our 3 bedroom home.
It is a beautiful little place – knotty pine interior and round log exterior, with a nice big kitchen and even a washer/dryer.
Our kids might not have their own room, but they do have a huge sky, a nice swing set and even a pond with a waterfall to float paper boats down.
There have definitely been some adjustments to living here.
Our older girls sleep in a bunk bed on the main floor, and we sleep upstairs with the baby in a pack’n’play next to the bed.
Privacy is near non-existent, but we are closer and more in tune with each other than ever.
The nice thing about living here, and part of why we wanted to, is that we knew we’d be initially building a very small place and this would give us kind of an introduction to living in a small space.
We’ve learned a lot just in the few months we’ve lived here, and have made modifications to our house plan as a result.
So – here we are today, living close to our property.
I’m home with the kids, and my husband is working a job he loves.
Slowly we’re able to set aside some money, and some of the investments we made a couple years back have performed beyond expectation.
It’s not much – maybe about $5000 total – but it’s ours and we can use it for our home.
But really, $5000 isn’t really enough to build a house, is it?
We kinda figured that was the case, and so we had planned on staying here for a few years and building gradually as we have time and cash.
And then, we received a text message from our landlord asking us about our move-out timeline.
Apparently, we’d had a miscommunication when we signed the lease…
We didn’t know at the time if we’d be building this spring or not, so opted for a 6 month lease, but then over the winter we thought we’d end up staying.
But the landlord had thought we were for sure planning on leaving this spring, and had already lined up new tenants.
My first thought was panic.
I hate moving, and I don’t want to move.
Not only that, but we got such a great deal on this cabin that if we had to move into town for another rental, that would probably suck up all the money we’ve been able to set aside and then some.
My husband’s commute costs are exorbitant, and so if we had to move, we might end up moving down to the town where he works.
I did not want to do that, since I’d already been making plans to run some meat chickens on the land this summer as well as help my parents with growing a significant amount of food.
But then I thought… why not move to the LAND?
My parents have a camper we could live in – could we?
Maybe this is God pushing us to “walk in faith” instead of what we think is practical or realistic.
I felt very strongly that I did NOT want to rent in town, and I did NOT want to move anywhere but to the land.
I didn’t think my husband would feel the same way, though, because let’s face it.
What kind of man would want to spend 3 hours commuting 5 days/week and come home to a tiny cramped camper with 3 kids and only one bedroom for EVERYONE??
But when I talked to him about it, the first thing he said was “I feel like our hand is being forced and we need to just build. I definitely do not want to rent another place in town.”
I think my heart sang :)
After about a week of frantic discussions, “how can we make this work?” talks with my dad, and phone calls back and forth with the landlord, we then decided we were going to go for it.
All signs pointed towards “yes.”
Preparing For Living Off The Grid
We’ve made the decision, and have our initial plan almost complete.
In a few weeks, we’ve got the excavator coming to prepare the site, and then we can get started.
Like I said in the last post, our house will likely not have siding or interior drywall.
We’ll be using a bucket and sawdust for a toilet (and an outhouse, probably), and I’ll be using miniature-sized propane appliances taken from our own small camper (not the one we’ll stay in).
In other words, it will be the very basic of basic homes.
Whatever the minimum is for it to be habitable.
This is interesting because I think a lot of people are concerned about our quality of life.
I think the thing that is important to recognize is that “quality of life” means different things to different people.
For some people it can mean the opposite of what it can mean to others.
Most of our society has a certain expectation for comforts, in the name of quality of life.
And, while we do have our comforts that are not negotiable.
We must have internet, and having a bathtub and not just a shower is a huge deal to us, for example, for us we would much rather start with the very absolute basic minimum we can get by with, in order to establish that independence.
I’ve done the math and have realized that our cost of living, once we are living there, is significantly lower than what it was in the city.
As in, HALF.
Not only that, but a huge part of our cost of living is actually the cost of my husband’s commute and work expenses.
It literally eats up about a third of his take-home pay.
That’s another reason why we feel it is so important to establish a way for us to earn a living from home.
And remember – earning a living from home does NOT necessarily mean you do only farm stuff.
In my opinion, selling your homegrown beef or vegetables is no more or less noble than selling non-farm related products via the internet.
In both cases, you are independently producing something you can sell to earn a living for your family, and that is key.
But that will probably have to be another post someday :)
In the meantime – now you know our backstory and how it happened.
And know this – we started talking about this move 6 years ago, and started making a real official “here’s how we’re going to make this happen” plan about two years later.
Free Land: How to Find Free Land for Homesteads