We have settled in to the off-grid lifestyle at a housesitting assignment in the remote mountain wilderness of the Sierra de San Pedro Mountains in Baja California, Mexico. We have spent 6 weeks living in a completely off-grid house 70 kilometers from civilization and have experienced record snowstorms, temperatures below freezing, as well as mechanical malfunctions and so much more in our short time here. After this article you should have a better idea if off-grid living is for you or if you should avoid moving to a cabin in the woods.
You Are High Maintenance
You might say, “I am not high-maintenance”, but how many showers have you had this week? Was your water really hot? Did each shower last longer than 5-10 minutes? If you take a shower every day, want your shower to be the same temp as the sun, and want to scald your flesh for 20 minutes or more, you are likely not ready to live on limited water in an off-grid home. That is not to say that you can’t enjoy a hot bath on occasion, but you have to plan ahead and insure that your bath isn’t going to deplete your drinking water supply for next week.
Are you accustomed to modern HVAC and are used to having your living space at a comfortable 72.5 degrees? Unless you are using a very sophisticated solar setup, modern heat and air is an unrealistic comfort. Learning to be comfortable in an off-grid home is often a matter of planning ahead (see below) and layering up or down. If you are cold in the winter, grab a jacket or sweatshirt. Hot in the summer? Run down to the stream for a quick dip to lower your body temperature. Small adjustments like these are a major part of living off the grid.
You Can’t Plan Ahead
The Boy Scouts of America motto has never been more relevant to us as it has while living off-grid. Being prepared for anything is vitally important when living away from the security of society in an off-grid home. You must make the most of your trips to town and make sure you are bringing back enough fuel, food, and supplies for anything that might happen before the next trip to town.
We have developed a schedule of resupplying every 2-3 weeks. We could easily resupply once a month, but we really enjoy fresh produce and seeing the sights of Baja. On our last resupply trip we topped off fuel, visited the hardware store, fish market, electronics store, Walmart and two grocery stores in a matter of 24 hours. Lists and discipline go a long way when shopping for a month’s worth of groceries and the process was a real adjustment for us compared to keeping 4-5 days of food in our bus and literally camping in grocery store parking lots on occasion.
You Need Instant Gratification
If you need to exist in a world where you must have fast food, fast internet, and fast traffic, off-grid living might not be for you. Although this isn’t the case in all off-grid applications, in our case we are 70KM’s from a town (a small town at that) and over 2 hour’s drive from the nearest market. The closest McDonalds is over 200 kilometers away, a 4 hour drive!
Your average work on an off-grid property will likely not be instantaneously rewarding either. Consider a garden, you will need to wait through an entire season of hard work and dedication before you ever see a reward from your labor. However, once you enjoy the spoils of fresh produce the work will be some of the most rewarding you have ever done. Parts for repairs are hard to come by in a timely manner, fuel is a long drive away and wood piles don’t cut down, split and stack themselves. At the ranch we are on, mail is delivered to Ensenada for pickup, near the closest Big Mac which you will remember is 4 hours of driving at minimum. Amazon 2-day shipping doesn’t apply here.
If you think there is a chance that you are going to have an urge at 2AM for a cheeseburger, hopefully you read there first point about being prepared and you have some ground beef in the freezer and cheese in the fridge and not have to rely on the minimum wage employee to greet you at a drive-thru window with your sustenance.
You Aren’t Mechanically Inclined and Won’t Learn
Do you often break something in your house and immediately call a repair man or relative for help? Do you refuse to learn new skills and techniques to fix things yourself? If so, off-grid living might not be for you! Off-grid homes are built on systems, often times redundant systems so that if one fails, you aren’t out of water, electricity or heat. So what do you do if the nearest plumber is at least 2 hours away and you have a toilet that is running or a water filter that is clogged? You learn how to fix it yourself. Most things in life, on or off grid can be fixed with common sense and hard work. The same is true when living off the grid.
In our limited time on the ranch we have replaced toilet fill valves, replaced PVC pipe, rebuilt a water sump pump, and have repaired a few roads and trails to avoid washouts from the seasonal rains. I had never repaired a sump pump before, but by following the owners manual and paying attention, I was able to restore our drinking water supply.
You Are Afraid of Hard Work
Similarly to above, if you don’t like working hard and don’t want to learn how, off-grid living is likely not for you. Between managing a garden, livestock, firewood supplies, house and property repairs, vehicle repairs and more, the work of an off grid property can seem like an endless endeavor. If you are able to put in the hard work early and often, the work is manageable and satisfying. Similarly to life, if you procrastinate and let up, you are often the one suffering because of it.
We have experienced a colder (and wetter) than normal winter in Baja, and therefore we have needed more firewood than expected. This means that instead of kicking back and binging Stranger Things on Netflix, I have to load up the chainsaw and tractor and bring back wood for the rest of the season. This is not an inconvenience if you plan ahead and work hard early in the season to maintain a large back stock of firewood, but if you let it get out of control, you can be left in a very cold house.
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