The idea of living off-grid conjures up these images of absolute freedom and a dreamy, idyllic homestead with smoke drifting out of the chimney overlooking acres and acres of picturesque landscape. It’s no wonder more, and more people have begun fantasizing about what it might be like to drop out of modern society as is and replace the neverending race for more money and more things with the slow rhythms of a simpler life.
But it is not enough merely to want to get outside of the confines of modern life. Transitioning to and maintaining an off-the-grid lifestyle takes a lot of work, and much of it begins long before you get to your land. Of course, you don’t need prior experience, but you will need extremely meticulous planning and preparation. You will need the will to persevere even in the face of what looks like insurmountable challenges.
Before you gather up your family or a like-minded group of friends to begin a new lifestyle, it’s important to be realistic about what off-grid living for beginners will actually be like outside of the fantasy. When you’re ready to stop dreaming and start taking steps toward your new life, here is a guide to some of the basic considerations you’ll need to dive in.
Off-Grid Living For Beginners
Everyone has to start somewhere. Just because you didn’t grow up living sustainably doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for this life. Figure out what specifically you want to achieve with living off-grid and optimize for your own goals. Maybe you want to live less wastefully, or maybe you want to reconnect with nature or something else entirely. You are not a failure if you aren’t completely independent right away or even ever as long as you are getting what you want out of living off the grid.
Easy Traps to Fall Into
There are some myths that people looking to live off-grid may fall into. Here are some things to know before you make this lifestyle change.
Simpler Does Not Mean Easier
In many ways, living off-grid can be a simpler way of life than the monotony of modern life. But don’t be fooled because this lifestyle is by no means easy. If you have been living a mostly sedentary lifestyle, start working on your strength and cardio fitness well in advance. Off-grid living is a very active lifestyle, and the manual work doesn’t end once you have your initial set-up. There will almost always be more chores to be done, and it pays to be in shape before you start.
Cost of Entry
Living off-grid can be cheaper than living the traditional way, but some people are surprised at the cost of entry. Getting started requires a series of large purchases, some of which can be mitigated by using recycled materials, doing as much work to yourself as you can, and only investing in what you need upfront. Annually, you can at least expect to still pay taxes and service bills plus any other upkeep costs that arise.
Making money while living off-grid can come in many forms. Most people interested in living off-grid do not have the luxury of being independently wealthy enough to just stop bringing in more money. Some continue working their day jobs remotely over an internet connection. Others are lucky enough to have investment returns or a pension that supports the cost of maintaining their homestead. Another way to make money out there is to exploit your skills working your land, such as selling excess eggs or produce, beeswax crafts or honey, or any other business you can come up with.
Know Your Local Laws
Wherever you settle down, it’s important to read the local laws and guidelines thoroughly to ensure you’re living legally. It’s not illegal to live off-grid, but you will need to do it right to avoid unnecessary fines, fees, or repossessions. In some places, cheap land may be zoned in such a way that you cannot put a permanent structure on it — ruining your homesteading dreams before they even get off the ground. No matter how little or how strange, to ensure no unnecessary trouble, you must know the laws and follow them.
No matter how well you start out, things are going to go awry during your off-grid living adventure. Being unprepared for when that happens is a surefire way to find yourself spending more money and time. If you lose a major resource, such as water or power, do you have backups available? Can you fix it yourself, or do you have to wait and find someone who can come out to help you? If you get injured, how will you help yourself long enough to get more help if needed?
The best thing to help you avoid some of these easy pitfalls is to research, research, research. Trust us when we say you do not want to take a blind leap. There are excellent resources to help you prepare, from books to online videos to in-person classes. Focus on areas where you may know nothing or very little and fill in the gaps before finding yourself stuck when it actually matters.
Make sure you have firsthand experience with basic mechanical skills, plumbing, carpentry, first aid, gardening or farming, and possibly even basic bushcraft skills. There’s no need to be an expert right away, but you’ll feel more confident in yourself and your decision if you can troubleshoot minor problems first before calling in reinforcements. Start making your supplies list right away, including all the important tools you’ll need for the ways you plan to use your surroundings.
The Five Basics of Off-Grid Living
Here are the five basic needs you’ll need to meet in order to successfully thrive. When you can account for all five of these necessities with a firm and realistic plan, you’ll be ready to start making it happen.
The land is the first purchase that you’ll likely have to make when it’s time to start living off-grid. You don’t have to own, there are options to lease land as well, but be sure the owners know what you’re planning to do and how long you are planning to stay.
When picking out the right location to begin living off-grid, make sure you consider the climate, any building code restrictions, and especially the availability of water. There is plenty of inexpensive land to be had — even some free land — but make sure that these are places that are habitable both legally and ecologically.
Not everyone is looking to be the burly, isolated mountain man in the woods — you don’t necessarily need a huge amount of land. Just make sure you have enough space to comfortably use as you’ll be planning your life around this decision.
Shelter is one of the first things to consider when living off-grid. If you’ve chosen to buy or lease land, most people won’t have the luxury of having a mega-mansion built. It’s just as well because a massive house requires massive heating, cooling, and maintenance. Smaller is much easier to manage when living off-grid.
A tiny house is extremely functional with minimal square footage. You can get one prefabricated out of a shipping container, or more normal house materials or you can try your hand at building one yourself. A cabin can be as small as a tiny house or larger to fit a family but is a permanent structure built onto a foundation.
Other options include building yourself an Earthship — a home made entirely out of recycled and/or natural materials that is made to be completely self-sustainable. These are as unique as the locations in which they are built but are truly beautiful to see.
Some may try living off-grid in an RV as well. RV living off-grid has the advantage of not requiring your own land and offers the freedom of the open road but could still be pricey depending on where you choose to park and how often you are fueling up. With an RV, make sure you have all of your basic amenities on board, including a kitchen with a fridge, solar power and batteries, and a bathroom with a shower to be less reliant on RV parks or truck stops.
Water is essential to life, and managing it is absolutely crucial to your survival. There are three kinds of water that you need to manage and prepare for. Clean, drinking water can be purchased and stored in giant tanks, come from a well, or come from a natural source. Make sure any water you are consuming has been filtered and disinfected.
Grey water is water that has been used for washing clothes, dishes, or even our bodies. It can be repurposed for non-consumption reasons, such as watering your plants or flushing your toilet.
Black water is water that contains waste, such as water from flush toilets. The level of possible contamination is too high to use this water for anything else, so it must be disposed of properly to prevent this wastewater from just running on your land.
How will you feed yourself? Many people have self-sustaining gardens, but this will take some skill and practice to efficiently and effectively feed yourself. If you live in a place that has winter, make sure you are well-versed in food preservation methods such as canning or dehydrating food so that it will last outside of growing season. Make sure you also stock up on bulk food items to get started as it will be likely months before you start seeing any food come from your land.
Meat-eaters should be sure to look up local laws for hunting. Will you need a permit on your land? Are some animals only in season for a limited time? You still can’t do just anything you want, so make sure any meat you harvest is done properly and sustainably.
Just as important as having food is having a way to dispose of waste. There are many waste disposal options, such as digging a septic system or composting but make sure again to follow any local guidelines to ensure none of your waste ends up polluting the land or waterways.
Living off-grid just means you’re not connected to the existing power grid, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll be living in the dark when the sun sets. You can absolutely bring the creature comforts of modern life (well, some of them) with you to this life. You will just need to generate and store enough electricity to power your critical devices after nightfall. But power storage in the form of big batteries is expensive, and there’s just not many ways around that. Be prepared to spend big, but technology is improving all the time, so you can store more energy more efficiently than ever.
Solar power is the main form of energy generation but, of course, only works when the sun is out. Solar panels can be one of the least expensive options, which is why they are so popular. Other options for generating energy include wind power from turbines, or possibly water power if you have natural water features nearby. Lastly, having a backup generator that runs on fuel or natural gas can keep the lights on even when everything else has failed. Make sure all of your appliances are designed to use these power sources effectively when sourcing them.
You’re Not Alone
No matter how far you find yourself from your new neighbors, one of the best parts about living off-grid is the community. From online forums as you begin doing the research to the people you’ll meet nearby, networking with other people living similarly to you is key to making this lifestyle as rewarding and fun as it can be. With the proper mindset, a willingness to work hard, and enough preparation, you’ll have everything you need to start seriously taking steps to live off the grid.
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