Life Off-Grid, Skill Development, and Empowerment

Obviously, it takes a courageous sort to live totally off the grid, but even so, we are in over our heads from the start, and constantly playing catch up.

I used to picture an off-grid homestead much the same as many people. A little garden, some animals, a cute little house surrounded by solar panels, and perhaps a big shop. Maybe a greenhouse too.

And from a distance, that’s pretty much what it looks like, but today I want to look a little deeper at the part that most people don’t see. I wasn’t born a carpenter, or a mechanic, or an electrician, or even a gardener. I grew up knowing absolutely nothing about farming past the pictures and shows on television. As I sit here in my tiny cabin, less than 20 feet away from me is a growlight stand loaded with over 500 seedlings.

Growing things with homemade growlights

The cabin around me was built by my own hands and a small batch of tools, and a few deliveries from a local lumber store. My garden was staked out by hand. That giant pile of firewood behind my house? Yep, I cut that, and split it and stacked it. I set up my rain catch system, all of my plumbing, my electrical panels, etc.

And today I spent time developing another skill: sewing.

One of my first hand-sewn patches

You Have to be Ready to Learn New Skills on the Fly

In thinking about my experiences out here today (sewing patches gives you a lot of time to think), I started to realize how far I’ve come. And another skill set is quickly on the waiting list thanks to a video I watched the other day.

It’s insane. It’s a mindset. You wake up in the morning with a problem to tackle. Money’s tight, and time is always against you. You come up with a solution. Watch some videos, read articles and blog posts (and sometimes books), and give it a go. You might not even have all the standard equipment to do something, but you find a way to make it work.

Developing new skills becomes a paradigm for how you live. For me, it started slow. I dealt with one problem at a time as they came, and learned what I needed to know. Now it’s an almost daily routine. I wake up with an idea in my head, or a plant I need to either locate in the wild, or identify from my nature books. Every time there is something I need, or rather feel compelled to purchase, my first thought lingers on how I can make it myself, or devise something that I can construct from what is immediately around me.

Much like my caveman ancestors, this new vigor started with an axe. The day I realized that I could literally go out into the wilderness with an axe and harvest everything I need to actually survive was a revelation. Splitting boards and lumber by hand isn’t easy, but it’s liberating as hell to gain that knowledge.

Imagine standing at a woodline, holding literally the oldest human invention in your hand, and knowing that you can build a fire, split planks, construct a shelter, make hunting weapons, and probably score a meal by the end of the night if you are lucky.

Litter diversion here: An axe is a wedge. It is the simplest of all machines, and they can be made by smashing one rock against another. From there, with the right skill set, you can not only fall and chop trees, but you can split, carve, slice, shape, and mill wood in virtually any way that you like. A very thin axe is called a chisel. Mallets can be carved from a log easily, allowing the use of the stone part, even if you can’t bind it to a handle. And this simple device is what separates us from the other critters on Earth. Combine that with fire, and you essentially have everything needed to construct human culture, even though it might take a while.

When I needed to devise a composting system for my poo, I built it myself from pallets and a five gallon bucket. I use another five gallon bucket with a plunger for a washing machine, which I’ll be posting a YouTube video on soon.

Off grid washing machine

I’ll be posting another about the sewing.

Lots of skills, too many to name at this point, and here’s the interesting part:

Skill Development Never Stops

It’s almost become an addiction. I have two pallets sitting outside my front door right now, for instance. I’m planning on chopping these up and using the boards to make carrying crates. Where others might go fishing online for milk crates, I’m to the point where I’d just as soon do it myself. I’ve even thought about using my first batch of split planks for the same purpose once they are ready, but those will be expensive boxes due to the amount of energy that goes into splitting a big trunk into usable lumber.

I saw another video from Steven Edholm yesterday discussing basketry and growing willow specifically to harvest shoots. Now I want a small willow plantation. Though I’ll be growing black willow, which is usable but maybe not the best basket wood, but it also has a truckload of other uses. Homemade asprin tea, anyone? Also dyes, and, well, we’ll get to that later. It’ll take me a couple of years to get the little trees producing the needed reeds, and I need to find some specimens to transplant first. I think there may be a few on my property already. And I have crazy ideas about how to create a swamp for them right up here on the hilltop. Crazy, right? I dreamed all of this up last night, and now it’s on my official “to do” list.

I ripped up two pairs of jeans at work in two consecutive days. While I wanted to find some cheap pants in town, the search didn’t go well, and I don’t want to use brand new jeans for concrete work. But I have all these worn out jeans laying around here. All I need is pants that don’t have holes, which would allow rocks and powder to fill my boots and it’s no fun. So I sacrificed one old pair to repair another with patches, AND I fixed the tears on both of my work jeans. They’re ready to be put back into service. Why did I even consider buying new jeans again?

It’s everyday. It’s in your face. It doesn’t matter if you start down this path without the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time. You WILL develop skills that will help you become more self-sufficient. You will find alternative ways to accomplish the necessary everyday tasks. I find myself doing all of this partially out of my newfound poverty, so maybe it’s one of those necessity things, but this lifestyle does eventually grow on you, and I’ve found myself constantly looking for ways to do it cleaner, cheaper, and simpler, not matter what ‘it’ I’m referring to.

It’s actually hard for me to look into the regular world, the culture that I came from before moving out here, without a sense that humanity has lost something very important, or rather traded it off for a little comfort. We are incredibly capable creatures that don’t need consumer marketplaces to survive. We’re adaptable and ingenious in our capacity. Sometimes all it takes is a little push to realize how much you can accomplish on your own.

Or as Chuck Palahniuk puts it (paraphrasing from memory):

It’s only when we’ve lost everything, that we’re free to do anything.

Chuck Palahniuk — Fight Club

If there is a skill you would like to learn, any skill, even if it’s something that you believe you’ll never be great at. If you have the desire, then learn it. You don’t need to buy a kit. You don’t have to wear special clothes. Just jump in with what you’ve got and try your hand at it. I swear I learn so much faster when I set my mind on accomplishing something rather than worrying about having all the proper “gear.” Just do the thing. Do it any way you can. Get started and develop the skillset. Worry about the tools later. You can play golf with rented clubs, you can learn to fly from a computer program, you can create art with the mud in your backyard. All it takes is the desire to get started, and develop a basic proficiency by any means necessary. Then buy the tools as you need them.

Have a great night.

PS, and if you don’t mind, check out my YouTube channel and give me a Subscribe click, lol. I’ve been posting more over there lately than I do here, so it’s a good way to keep up with everything I’m doing around here.


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