When our friend read the above title, I am sure there will be a few 'Well, duh!' comments. Throughout our marriage, Alan and I have been involved in various 'people groups' where we never fit the typical demographics. For example, we home schooled our children all the way through grades K-12, but we never fit into any of the stereotypical concepts of a home school family, we never
looked like the cover of the homeschooling magazines!
This past Friday, we attended the MREA (Midwest Renewable Energy Association) Energy Fair and I discovered we are not your typical attendees of such events. I love to people watch and soon after arriving, I was able to place most of the attendees into one of two groups:
Group 1 - Aging Hippies.
OK, I admit we are aging, but we have never been hippies. This group averaged about 10 years older than us, the men tended to have distinguished white beards and the women had long gray hair, wear long flowing skirts and Birkenstock sandals.
Group 2 - Aspiring Organic Enthusiasts.
These were young families consisting of parents (age 25-35) with usually a toddler and a new baby in tow. The parents were all slim and athletic looking. The men pushed baby strollers designed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and the women wore long skirts and Keen sandals.
Also, the food booths catered towards organic, vegetarian meals and fruit smoothies. However Alan did managed to find deep-fried cheese curds (we are in Wisconsin). Our main interest in attending were the vendor booths and we were able to pick up a lot of product information on generating power and other off grid topics.
The vendors at the event were also an interesting mix. We gravitated towards solar and wind energy products, but a lot of informational and 'shopping' booths were geared towards world peace and saving mother earth. Green
was everywhere. The day's experience had me thinking about the wide range of people that constitute off gridders, and of course, we once again do not fit any of the typical stereotypes. We recently found a Wikipedia article that describes the group we may most closely fit into - the Downshifters
According to Wikipedia: Downshifting is a social behavior or trend in which individuals live simpler lives to escape from the rat race of obsessive materialism and to reduce the “stress, overtime, and psychological expense that may accompany it.” It emphasizes finding an improved balance between leisure and work and focusing life goals on personal fulfillment and relationship building instead of the all-consuming pursuit of economic success.
However, we veer away from typical downshifting because it is usually a more gradual change: Downshifting, as a concept, shares many characteristics with Simple living, but is distinguished, as an alternative form, by its focus on moderate change and concentration on an individual comfort level, a “dip your toes in gently” approach.
But then, our years of not living a typical suburban lifestyle while living in suburbia could be considered the 'dipping toes' stage for us. While we are not even typical to downshifting, I am going to site a couple more examples based on the Wikipedia article: The primary motivations for downshifting are gaining leisure time, escaping from work-and-spend cycle, and removing the clutter of unnecessary possessions that are accrued while existing in those societies with the highest standards of living and levels of production.
Long before I read this, I told Alan my goal in setting up the house on the new property was to make sure everything I bought for it had a purpose. Now, that does not mean everything needs to be utilitarian. One of the first things I purchased was a Calphalon saucepan, I have never had 'good' cookware and I love to cook so I decided I want to have higher quality cookware in my new kitchen. I later laughed when I realized that until we are more established in the house my $75 pan will mainly be used to cook our 50 cent rice meals! On the other hand, we were in a home decorating store and I saw some very cute wire art fish that would look great in my kitchen, There were less than $10, but they served no purpose other than to gather dust, so I did not buy them. If they had hooks to hold keys, or some other useful feature, they would be on my wall right now. Another example is throw rugs ( I admit yet another new addiction), I am planning on painting the existing floors in the house. Wall to wall carpeting is out of the picture as I will not have a vacuum cleaner. I want to use throw rugs as the winter chill may make its way up from the crawl space under the house and I am enjoying shopping for colorful rugs for the various rooms - they serve a purpose and are also fun.
Many people have the concept that living off grid means 'bare bone' and frugal living, cutting every living expense they can, and while that may be the goal for some off-gridders, it is not the case for everyone - and once again we are not typical. I love analogies, and I come up with ones to use for almost every idea I am trying to get across to someone. When I worked the internet help desk at a company years ago, I was always coming up with analogies that compared someone's internet problem with something they were more familiar with, like their cable TV service. While walking around the Energy Fair last week I came up with a couple analogies concerning why
people live off grid. The analogy involves camping:
WHY we do it:
Some people camp only because they want an inexpensive place to sleep while traveling, while others camp for the joy of the camping experience. Likewise, some people move off grid because they feel there is a need to become self-reliant. There is a driving force other than the desire to live off grid for the fun and adventure of it. When I started this blog a couple months ago, I said I was not going to debate the various reasons why people move off grid, so we will leave this analogy at that - some people feel they have to do it, but may not be so enthusiastic about wanting to do it, whereas we are excited at jumping in! It is interesting how this same discussion fits into a past people group we were a part of - the reasons some people home school. We chose to home school because it was something we wanted to do, but we met many home schooling families that were doing it because they felt they had to do it as it was the best option for their children even though they did not particularly want to do it.
HOW we do it:
Some people camp with the bare minimum of supplies, they want the survival experience. At the other extreme, RV enthusiasts can purchase a $200,000 motor home and then hire a professional decorator to do a make-over before heading out on the open road. Likewise, some people move off grid by setting up camp on empty property and then, over time - often years, work at building shelter and slowly improving their 'quality' of off grid life. At the other end of the spectrum, people can hire companies that construct complete, state of the art, off grid compounds so that there is no work required of them prior to moving in. The item at the energy fair which got me thinking of this analogy is pictured to the right. It is a beautiful, highly polished, wooden blade assembly for a wind turbine. When I saw it my first thought was 'What is the purpose of it? It will be dozens of feet off the ground so who would even be able to see it to appreciate it?
' This definitely falls into the professionally decorated RV scenario.
Alan and I fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes on how
to live off grid. We have done minimalist camping vacations in the past (distant past) and have enjoyed it because that was the goal of the experience. We have also rented high-end vacation homes and enjoyed the experience because we had different goals at those times. If we were choosing these vacation accommodations simply based on how much money we could save, we would always be camping in a tent. The same with off grid living, in that if we were doing it to save money, we would be taking a very minimalist approach - no generating electricity, no rewiring the house, no running indoor plumbing, no wood fired hot tub on the deck!, etc. But, just like someone who buys an RV, saving money is not the goal in this case. A person who purchases an RV realizes that if they calculate what each night spent sleeping in the RV actually costs them based on the initial cost of the RV (ie. $70,000/1000 nights is $70 per night not including gas and campground fees) they will probably never 'break even' when compared to staying in cheap hotels, but they did not buy the RV with the goal of saving money over hotels, they bought it to enjoy the experience. Likewise, if we calculate the cost of generating our own electricity vs. connecting into the grid, we will never break even based on what we are spending to set it up. But, being able to share this adventure with the love of my life - PRICELESS!