The Meaning of Off-Grid

Because everybody these days has a different opinion, and those with the strongest are typically people who don’t live here.

Sorry for the lack of pictures, I’ll try to dig some up as I write this. I also apologize for being vacant for a while. There’s always so much to do here that I rarely get a chance to sit down for more than a moment, even right now, as I need to keep tabs on the kitties that insist on prowling about in the dark because they’ve been cooped up inside all day.

Off-grid is a term that gets tossed around quite a bit by bushcrafters, survivalists, weekend warriors, and other sorts. I’ll cut straight to the chase. The “grid” referred by the term is the power grid, and the term itself was coined to mean being disconnected from that ubiquitous utility.

When people think of “off-grid” homes, however, they rarely consider that meaning. Most have in mind some wilderness survival cabin in the middle of nowhere, and assume the inhabitants to be self-sufficient, much like the Amish, or at least our perception of those people.

They expect beards, cold baths in a stream, a fireplace for cooking and warming the house, and perhaps even beds of sawdust and straw. No power tools, no internet, etc.

It’s funny though, when I meet other people who live in the wilderness, whether on or off the grid, they don’t carry these bogus pigeon-hole ideas. All of us have certain things in common, and certain things that are very different about our lifestyles, and we don’t squabble about what “real” off-grid life is. In fact, it rarely comes up in conversation.

Example: One of my neighbors down the road is a family of four that’s connected to the power grid and they have a big propane tank for heat and cooking. I believe they have well water, but I’m not 100% sure. Anyway, they’re out here roughing it just as much as I am. They don’t consume a lot of power, even if it’s technically hooked up. In fact, I dare say that my house is a touch more comfortable in the summer, because I’m not giving up my air-conditioner unless absolutely necessary.

Another pair I’ve visited recently is totally off-grid, but unless they told you, you might not know it. You could definitely suspect it from the huge solar array attached to the house, but when it comes to amenities, they have mostly the same as any farm or suburban home. One of them even mentioned that I might think they were “living the high life” out there on my visit, but I just shrugged. They’re doing the “living” part.

I mention these two cases, because we all have different wants and needs, and no two of us forest people are the same, or even the mud-hut earthship people out in the desert for that matter. We are all living alternative lifestyles, and we are all giving up something from normal society.

What we have in common

Most people who chose this type of lifestyle do in fact have a few common threads. We tend to be resourceful people to some degree. Everything from building your own cabin to simply making simple crafts or enjoying meals cooked with food from your own garden and neighboring farms only. Everyone out here has some skill or another that enables them to give something of normal life up.

A bunch of us (but not all by any stretch) don’t watch television. Even those I’ve met that have TVs rarely turn them on. Mainly because…

We don’t have a lot of free time. You might thing being in the woods would give you all the free time in the world to craft things and make stuff, but it doesn’t. We still have to pay those darn taxes, and that means working for a living like everyone else, even if we can get by on a more modest income. But we all have chores to do, some of us working harder at home than we do at our respective jobs. It’s just part of it. Whatever piece of society you’ve given up needs to be filled with some chore or another, be it messing with the water system, checking the solar batteries, putting up wood for the winter, caring for animals, tending the garden, making and painting construction projects and furniture, composting, etc. Stuff simply isn’t as automated as it is in “real life,” and we’re good with that.

What we don’t have in common

I have a shower with a hot water heater powered by propane, a well pump, and a pressure tank. That’s my stuff. Especially now that I’m working a dirty job, having somewhere comfortable to clean up at the end of the day is a nice addition. I’ve taken plenty of water-bottle baths, but I prefer the shower.

One moment, the kitties are knocking on the door….

Okay I’m back. I also won’t be without power. When I finally got boots on the ground out here, I was working as a freelance writer, so internet and laptop were essential to my operation. I had the batteries and generator in place before I officially “moved in,” and added the solar panels a few months later.

I have a window-mounted air conditioner for the summertime, which eats pretty much every ounce of energy produced by my panels, but I don’t like sweating when I go to sleep, and I’ve spent a lot of nights sleeping on my trailer for that simple reason.

I also hooked up a normal looking sink and faucet.

What I don’t have: A normal toilet (I use a composting system), a television, a normal stove or cooktop (I have an electric range and a wood stove, and the pizza oven outside), a regular bed, washer or drier, and probably a bunch of other stuff that I’m not thinking about.

That’s my list. A bunch of off-grid people will still have a propane setup for stove and range, and perhaps to heat their house. A good number of them don’t have a normal bath/shower like mine. Some of us built our house, while others buy a tiny home or a large pre-built shed as a shell and fill it in, others have a normal stick built house. Some have a structure on the property when they buy it and make it a home, regardless of what it was before. Others don’t have their own property but live on a friend’s place or pay rent, or some other means. In fact, I would consider people who RV full-time to be living the off-grid lifestyle as well, even if they do connect up to grid power from time to time.

When I watch video from other off-grid people, I usually sort through this list as I watch. I’m thinking, “oh, you have one of those…that must be nice” or “too bad you don’t have this thing like me…lifesaver.” But like I said, there’s no quarrel.

Basically, take a look around your house sometime, and think about losing all of it, everything. Lost in the woods, build your home up in your mind. What will you use to hide from the elements? What could you do without? Most people nowadays seem to live this cookie-cutter lifestyle where everyone has generally the same stuff, so it might seem odd when you encounter one of us who’s out here doing it different, that we don’t have some particular item, like a toilet! But these are the things we give up, and as I said, each of us is different.

Bottom Line

Living “off grid” is not some cookie-cutter solution to getting away from society. It rarely means that we’re out here roughing it in a mud hut or bushcraft camp, as you see on survival shows. It’s not a one-size-fits-all lifestyle. We don’t have the same house, the same creature comforts, or even the same tools. We don’t even have the same breed of bean in our gardens (nearly everyone where I’m at is growing beans, but nobody seems to be growing the same variety).

And more to the point, we really don’t care what some dullard on twitter or facebook has to say about what “real off-grid life” is, because more often than not, that audaciousness comes from a city dweller in an apartment building or high-rise condo. I’ve yet to meet any person that I would call the “wilderness type,” who would chastise a fellow of the same nonconformist type of lifestyle for having some trinket or treasure or magical black box that makes a certain part of their life easier. Usually, it’s the other way around. “Oh, cool, you have bees!”

We aren’t trying to one-up or one-down each other. We’re each just doing our own thing, out by ourselves. Off-grid only describes one facet of this lifestyle, just as tiny-house, cabin, etc encapsulate others. Hell, even the people with rain catchment use the water for different stuff. I might use mine for everything, but some people only water their garden with it, using a well or even city water for the rest of their needs.

One size does not fit all, especially out in the woods. There’s no desire to live up to some stereotype, at least that I’ve seen, from people who are out here doing it.


5 thoughts on The Meaning of Off-Grid

    1. Haven’t seen the show, but I think I’m familiar with the content. For my part, I can’t believe what people pay for some of the tiny homes. They get off the grid and still have a fat mortgage payment, hehe.

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