What Living Off the Grid is Like, A True StoryOctober 7, 2019
Last year, after living in the suburbs our entire lives, my husband, David and I, in our mid-fifties, decided to move off-grid, to the mountains of extreme northwest Montana.
I was working for a large Fortune 500 company as an Information Security and Privacy Professional, where I had worked for 21 years. I had experienced many years of stress-related medical conditions, especially during the previous 10 years.
I recall a pivotal moment during this time.
I was sitting in my naturopathic doctor’s office, and she was going over my latest blood test results. She looked at me and asked…
“When are you going to retire?”
Her question, combined with the fact that my dad had passed away suddenly when he was 62 made me think about how I want to spend my time.
I had been dreaming of retiring, but it seemed like it was going to take several more years of working to pay off our current mortgage and have enough saved up for retirement. I thought to myself, if only there were a way to reduce our living expenses, maybe I could retire early.
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Inspiration Can Come From Anywhere
We were avid followers of several reality TV shows that depict the rugged living conditions in places like Montana and Alaska (Mountain Men, Alaska the Last Frontier, Life Below Zero, and The Last Alaskans).
So, at that same time, when our home in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon started to feel like it was closing in on us due to urban sprawl, we decided to follow our dreams and made the life-changing decision to move to a remote, off-grid homestead.
Although many people think they need to start from scratch to build an off-grid homestead, we decided to buy an existing one.
We purchased a 20-acre off-grid property that already had a home built on it and was set up for solar and generator power. By moving to a property that was already established, we were able to learn how off-grid power works from a couple who had been doing it for 10 years.
This really helped minimize our stress.
Now, just after a year in our new home, we are settling in nicely. We’re still re-learning how to garden in these remote conditions, but we believe we are much farther along in our understanding of living off-grid than we would have been had we tried to start from scratch.
The other bonus to purchasing an existing homestead was the previous couple gave us many homesteading tools they no longer needed. They even left detailed documentation for the off-grid power system and notes from their garden.
What I like best about our new off-grid lifestyle is that we are spending a lot more time together as a couple. This, combined with the fact that we get more sleep now, has contributed to a lower stress lifestyle.
I am not quite ready to retire, so I am doing a part-time, remote consulting assignment. I am also writing a book, and I maintain our blog about our off-grid lifestyle.
Who Would Have Thought?
One of the funny things about our off-grid move was that we ended up living just a few miles north of Tom Oar from Mountain Men. We’ve met Tom, and have seen him on several occasions.
David was even pulled out of the ditch last winter by Sean McAfee, Tom’s partner on the show. Both Tom and Sean are very down to earth and friendly men, just as they are depicted on the show.
We were surprised to learn that all of our closest neighbors are from California, Oregon, and Washington. Although there are people who have lived in this community for decades, everyone who has been moving into the area where we live are transplants from other states.
In the neighboring Idaho community, they are calling this trend “the invasion.” While everyone appreciates how it is helping the economy grow, not all the transplants are leaving their suburban attitudes in the states they are moving from.
How I Learned
I participate in many Facebook groups that are set up for off-gridders and aspiring off-gridders. I talk to many people who are moving off-grid, and to many different areas of the country.
The local laws are different in every state, so the group participants share a lot of good advice for folks to check and make sure the off-grid lifestyle they are pursuing will be legal in the locations where they are moving.
David and I both used to work in Information Technology because we like to continually learn new things. That’s what gets us excited about living off-grid as well, we are always learning.
Although we are very far from living entirely off the land, we are moving more towards self-sufficiency with each homesteading skill we acquire. After only one year, we have learned many, many new skills. We were newbies to the entire concept of off-grid power generation and managing a remote homestead when we moved.
What Living Off-Grid Taught Us…
During our first year, we learned how to generate our own electricity and manage our electric consumption, how to split and stack firewood, and how to manage our two woodstoves.
We learned how to replace our septic pump after it failed last winter. As a result of that experience, we learned the importance of always having redundant systems because of our remote location.
We learned the hard way how to monitor our propane usage after we ran out of propane during our first winter. We also learned propane is much cheaper to buy during the summer. I talk more about this in the video provided at the end of the article.
We learned how to live with wildlife and predators during our first year. In this area, we have many wild animals, including black bears and grizzly bears, mountain lions, cougars, moose, elk, wolves, and coyotes.
We were excited to be visited by a mama bear and her three cubs twice last fall. This year, we have a juvenile black bear we have seen several times, living about two miles from our homestead. We researched the local rules and regulations for protecting ourselves and our animals.
We learned how to avoid drawing predators to our property, including keeping trash cans indoors, not leaving any food outside, not feeding wildlife (except birdseed), and not keeping unprotected livestock outdoors.
We learned how to track several different animals last winter.
We learned a lot about the seasonality of living in this part of Montana. In the summer, we deal with forest fires.
We learned how to survive the forest fire season, which was particularly bad during our first summer here. Because of our remote location, and the time it would take the firefighters to arrive if we had a fire, we put together a fire fighting trailer and practice to make sure we are ready to use it.
We learned how to manage the trees on our property for optimal protection from forest fires.
In the winter, we are responsible for our own snow removal. We can have extreme temperatures and many feet of snow during the winter, so it was critical for us to properly prepare for it. We are now heading into our second winter here, and we feel much more confident about our preparedness for this extreme winter weather.
We learned how to forecast our own weather. Since we are located in the mountains, and between mountains, and we are far from any towns, there are no weather forecasts that are accurate for our homestead. We installed a weather station, monitor radar, and look at multiple local weather forecasts to put together our own predictions.
We learned a lot of new social norms for living in the mountains of Montana. For example, in the suburbs, everyone takes their shoes off when entering another person’s home.
Here, it would be an insult to ask someone to take off their shoes. When you ask your host if you should take off your shoes, they say, “No – it’s just a cabin.” Another example is women in this area do not wear makeup or carry a purse.
We’re still learning how to garden in this region. This area is very unforgiving due to extreme temperatures and a short growing season. This year, we learned a lot of things we will be doing differently next year.
For example, instead of starting from seeds, we’ll use small starts to allow sufficient time for plants to grow in this short season. We also learned how to dry herbs and preserve fruit this summer.
We learned what it is like to live in a national forest. There are some great perks, like being able to get inexpensive woodcutting permits, as long as we adhere to the rules as to which trees can be cut. We were able to purchase a cheap Christmas tree permit.
We learned how to drive carefully to avoid wildlife, especially the deer who live in the national forest. So far, we have managed to avoid any accidents with wildlife. It was also a unique learning experience to decipher the detailed maps we obtained for this national forest. They are clearly marked with public vs. private property.
We learned a lot about controlling pests that come along with living in a national forest. For example, we are currently battling an invasion of pack rats (also called wood rats). The locals tell us it is the worst year they have ever seen for mice and rats. The rats have been crawling up inside the engine compartments of our vehicles, making nests, and chewing some of the wires in our cars. They have also been eating our tomato and basil plants.
There are so many things we still want to learn…
For the coming year, we want to learn how to tie fly fishing knots and lures, how to pressure-can food, how to forage for food and natural medicines, and David is working on his polishing his photography skills.
Although it’s only been a year since we moved off-grid.
I am thrilled that we did it.
Looking back, several things came together to make our transition successful. These are things I share with anyone I talk to who is considering a move from the city or suburb life to an off-grid or remote homestead.
- Get out of debt and reduce expenses. This is one of the most important things we did that helped us prepare for our transition. By making sure we had no debt when we moved off-grid, and by substantially reducing our mortgage payment, we were able to reduce stress by not creating new financial worries. There are several ways to work on reducing debt. The Dave Ramsey plan worked for us.
- Start learning homesteading skills now. There is no reason to wait until you can move off-grid. You can start now by acquiring homesteading skills such as how to garden, preserve food, use a generator, cut and stack wood, fish, hunt, and raise livestock. You can also consider adding solar power to your current home to save on your electric bill and begin learning how solar energy works. We found books, magazines, survival shows, and homesteading social media groups to all be valuable sources for learning homesteading skills. We also attended a few homesteading conferences such as the Mother Earth News Fair.
- When you are ready to start looking for your remote or off-grid homestead, make sure to research the local laws and zoning ordinances. There are many unique aspects to purchasing a remote or off-grid property. We have heard horror stories from people who have purchased property in various states and later learned they couldn’t legally live off-grid there or they had issues with their property rights. We chose to work with a real estate agent who had experience working with buyers of off-grid properties and was familiar with the area where we were moving. We didn’t realize that not all banks and mortgage companies are willing to sell mortgages for off-grid properties. We also had to make sure there was year-round access to the property (snow removal on the access roads), and water rights were available.
Our decision to move off-grid was the right one for us.
We are spending more time together, getting more sleep, and learning new skills every day. We are looking forward to enjoying our remote lifestyle and continuing our learning journey as we ease into our retirement years. We know of many other couples who are planning to make similar moves.
We encourage all of you to follow your dreams – whatever they may be.