on homesteading, off-grid living, and money

January 17, 2013 · 44 comments

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There are a handful of questions that I get over and over, in person or via email/other social media.

  • “Why did you choose to live the way you do?”
  • “How did you get to where you are now?”
  • “How much did it cost to build your house?”
  • “Do you ever wish you lived in town?”
  • “Do you have any advice for an aspiring off-grid homesteader?”
  • “How do I get from where I am in my life to where you are?”

They’re perfectly valid questions, but they’re big and vague and difficult to answer. A lot of people also tell me, “You’re living my dream,” to which I really don’t know how to respond. I know it’s said as a compliment, but the reality is that I don’t think my life is anywhere near perfect enough to be worthy of someone else’s dreams. I feel awkward and uncomfortable about representing a lifestyle that may or may not be worth aspiring to. This post is an attempt (at least a start) to answer some of your unanswerable questions and give it to you straight–how it really is (as my friend Lynn once wrote about much more eloquently than me). My apologies in advance for being long-winded and scatterbrained here. I couldn’t stop myself. This post is also a bit raw because after I got the words out of my head and onto the page, I wasn’t  that motivated to do a ton of drafting and revising. Sorry for any typos.

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To start off, I guess I should give you the condensed version of my “story”.

My family was pretty solidly middle class when I was growing up. My parents worked very very hard (and still do). My dad was (and still is) in the timber industry, mostly planting trees (in the nastiest winter weather on Oregon’s nastiest steep terrain), surveying tree plantations (through the gnarliest poison oak and densest blackberry thickets), and landscaping around the company office. My mom was (and still is) a baker who, in the days when the Corvallis area really had no source of decent fresh bread, produced nearly 200 loaves of bread plus dozens of cookies, bars, and cinnamon rolls every week in a bakery room in my childhood home (where my parents still live). Both my parents gardened like crazy in their “free” time, and my mom sold (and still sells) her baked goods and vegetables at Corvallis farmers’ markets.

My brother and I…well…we didn’t help my parents at all. I remember occasionally wrapping cinnamon rolls late on a Friday night before market, and my brother mowed the lawn every once in a while, but really, we were not into it. We both, however, did learn to eat a lot of vegetables, and we saw a pretty good model of a family living frugally without feeling deprived. I should mention that my parents’ house was medium sized with all the regular household amenities: electricity, indoor bathrooms (2 of them), private bedrooms, and whatnot. When I was really little, we didn’t have a TV, but later we got one that would only get static-y reception for one channel plus movies and eventually Nintendo games, too.

I never really knew what I wanted to “do when I grew up”, but the one thing that I was sure of was that I was definitely getting out of this small town and NOT doing anything remotely similar to what my parents were doing.

When I was 17, I sought out a job at a local organic farm. Even though I didn’t know much about farming, but I was familiar with the farmers’ market scene after tagging along with my mom all those years, and I was pretty good at following directions, so I got a job, and surprisingly, I liked it.

When I graduated from high school, I was super burned out on the educational system but also lacking direction and inspiration. Because I’d decided not to start college the next fall, I was left with a vague dream of “going places and doing stuff”, but I couldn’t really figure out how to make that happen. I heard about a job opening at Gathering Together Farm and started doing one farmers’ market a week for them.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the decision to take that job was a majorly life-altering event. I wrote about my experiences working at GTF here, but somehow I left out the fact that GTF was where I met and fell for Henry. In the five seasons that I worked there, I somehow got over  the idea of needing to leave town and strike out on my own. I figured out that I could be a strong, independent person (woman) without ditching my parents and small-town roots. I gained a newfound respect for the things my parents had been doing all along for me and for themselves. While I didn’t learn to be a farmer, I did learn how to work my ass off, which is, ultimately, THE most important life skill (or at least one of the big ones).

While I was working at GTF, I also went back to school, first Linn-Benton Community College and later Oregon State University. I paid for community college classes out of pocket, and they were absolutely worth every penny. When I transfered to OSU, I had mostly merit-based scholarships that covered my full tuition plus some. My education at OSU was mediocre at best including only a handful of classes that were really challenging and worthwhile. I have lots of regrets about choices I made regarding my college education. Looking back, I wish I would have taken horticulture, soil science, business, computer science, and art classes, but I didn’t. I finished just to get a figurative gold star on my resume, but I’m pretty sure that if I’d had to pay for those three years of classes myself, I never would have graduated.

Henry’s story has some similarities to mine, but he’s always had really clear goals and plans for his life. His dad and stepmom were also really hard workers in their professional lives as custom woodworkers but also in their personal lives, doing home repairs/remodels, gardening, and preparing home-cooked meals for a family of six. Unlike me, Henry worked a lot as a kid. He did chores at home, but by age 8, he was also taking on small jobs for the neighbors. At 12, he was putting in 10 hours a week (30ish in the summer) at a local plant nursery. He started at GTF when he was 16 and (by choice) would regularly work 12 or 13 hour days all summer.

Henry went to OSU on a full scholarship to study agriculture. His sophomore year, he decided to attend the (now defunct) LBCC farrier school. Credit for the 14-week program applied toward his degree at OSU, so he managed to graduate two terms early while working 20-80 hours a week through his college years.

I thought I was doing pretty well for myself by managing (without any financial help from my parents) to graduate from college debt-free and with a few thousand dollars in the bank. By the time Henry turned 22 and graduated from college, however, he had gotten his own farrier business up and running pretty much full time and saved enough money to put a down payment on nine acres of property. Not only did he have money, but he also had skills and motivation to get. things. done. With the help of his dad and brother (who both had a lot of construction experience), he built a one-room bachelor’s cabin on his new land and began scheming about all the things he could make of this place.

At 22 years old, I still didn’t know “what I wanted to be when I grew up”, but the one thing I was sure about was that I wanted to be with Henry. At first, the idea of living in a cabin in the woods seemed quaint, but it didn’t take long for me to see how hard it was going to be and how ill-prepared I was. I had given up any grandios visions of living the high life in the big city years earlier, but this homestead thing was always Henry’s dream not mine. I was just along for the ride.

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About this property…

Henry bought this place in the fall of 2003. He was looking for property that was relatively close to his parents (who lived in Corvallis) and within the service area of his farrier business. At the time, there really wasn’t a whole lot on the market. He visited several bare lots and a few run-down houses, but none seemed to have much potential. This place, though far from ideal, offered a few key perks. It had a well with a decent flow of good water; a passable skid road/driveway; some merchantable timber; good climate, drainage, and aspect for growing; some really nice madrone trees; and (with only a limited amount of heavy equipment work) a small building site for a little bachelor’s cabin. It was also covered in old-growth poison oak, and the terrain was exceptionally steep with fine clay plus cobbles for soil (Ritner, an Entisol).

The lack of electricity (or lack of house more broadly) factored into his purchasing decision a few different ways. No bank would ever lend on a property like this, so any buyer would have to either pay cash outright or make a big down payment and have the seller carry the loan.  Henry ended up putting about $20,000 down and settling with the seller on terms for a ten-year loan (which he actually paid off in just over two years). The property was definitely less expensive than comparable properties with power, but that’s because the startup cost for any “regular” buyer would be much higher.

There were (and still are) six separate buildable lots at the end of the road that don’t have access to power. To get the local power company to run the lines, someone has to pay for it. Sometimes a seller will pay for power to increase a property’s selling price, sometimes a buyer or owner (typically of the land closest to the last lots with power) will buy in, or often a group of owners will split the cost between several parties. If owners choose to run power to their properties, they don’t own the lines. They only get the privilege of paying a monthly power bill.

Last summer, we finally got an official bid for running power from last transformer to our property line (about a half mile). It came in at $50,000 IF they didn’t hit any rock while drilling the ditch, and that quote didn’t include the cost of a transformer or bringing power from the property line to the house plus extra . Well, as we’re very aware of, this whole hill is made of rock, so we’re guessing it would be upwards of $70,000 to electrify. Henry and I agree that it makes a lot more sense to invest thousands (10s of thousands?) of dollars into our own energy infrastructure that we own and could theoretically get some money for if we ever abandoned this place. We also don’t have to pay a monthly power bill.

When Henry bought this place, he was fairly certain that the owners of the other five lots without power (two of which went up for sale around the same time as our place) were pretty unlikely to pay to bring in power and start building regular houses right away, so he felt like he had some time to basically do whatever crazy project he wanted to do out here without bugging any neighbors.

(Interesting side note: A couple years ago, I was out feeding my goats when this big helicopter circled the house and practically landed in our driveway. Two days later, the sheriff showed up to see if we were growing pot in our greenhouse {which for the record, we are not} because it looked suspicious. We invited him to come in and look around, and he turned out to be a super nice guy, so it was no big deal, and they haven’t come back since.)

In the last three years, we’ve been able to buy three of the lots adjacent to our original property, so we’ve pretty much eliminated the risk of ever having close neighbors as well as the opportunity to split the cost of bringing in power. Honestly, I’m not sure if owning four lots at the end of a crappy gravel road with no electricity is a good financial investment, but it gives us piece of mind, and there’s still a lot of potential here.

Henry purchased the first and second properties solely with his personal savings that he’d earned by working since he was 12. The third and fourth properties were bought with a combination of about 60% savings and 40% money that our very generous grandparents had put away to pay for our college educations (which we never used because we both went to a relatively inexpensive college on full scholarships). As of right now, most of our combined wealth is tied up in our property, and our bank accounts are at uncomfortably low levels. I’m not too nervous about that, but it means we’re being extra conscientious about spending money on frivolous things and working a bit more than usual.

We’ve been here almost 10 years now, and there are so many things that still aren’t set up, but considering the fact that we started with essentially nothing, I think we’re doing pretty well. Henry, his dad, and his brother built the original 200 square foot cabin as quickly as possible so that Henry could start living out here within a few months of buying the property. That was a decent plan at the time, but after I moved in, it became clear that we would need to both upgrade and expand. We got a toilet, a bigger kitchen sink, and water pipes that didn’t break when it froze. After I got pregnant, we added a second room to the cabin, built the goat barn, and put up the big greenhouse. Now we have a big barn for covered storage space (that I would never take a photo of for this blog because it’s full of Henry’s junk piles), terraced garden space with soil that Henry basically made from scratch by bringing in dozens of truckloads of organic material (horse manure, compost, shrimp waste, etc.), and a sturdy deer fence to keep the browsers out. Every year, we build something new or make major improvements to the place, often with the help of Henry’s brother or a couple of very capable friends. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m okay with that as long as I know things are still improving.

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Things about this life that are probably better than you imagine:

The outdoor shower is really not that bad. Even in the winter. The water is hot, so the only time that it’s unpleasant is when it’s windy and the wet bits of my skin that aren’t directly under the stream of hot water get blasted with cold air. That and the fact that sometimes on cold nights/days my shampoo and conditioner will freeze solid. And the rare case when the generator will malfunction and leave me wet, soapy, naked, and without water to rinse off in, but that really doesn’t happen often.

Living with small children in a small house with zero privacy is actually fine, arguably ideal. I honestly cannot imagine living in a big house with little kids or cannot imagine it being any better than what we have. I always know where my kids are and more or less what they’re up to. Our lack of space has been the best excuse for dissuading well-meaning friends and family from buying my kids a lot of gifts. It’s also easy to justify to the kids (so far) that they can’t have everything they want because we literally can’t fit anything else in this place. My experience here has reaffirmed my belief that kids really don’t need a whole lot of “stuff” to grow up happy and well rounded. At some point in the future, I’m sure we’d all appreciate a little more privacy, but for now, this is good enough.

I get rid of stuff constantly. Instead of lamenting the lack of storage space, I force myself to systematically go through all the corners and cubbies of my home and pick out what gets to stay because it’s earning its keep and what has to go because it’s not useful, pretty, or sentimental enough. It’s so refreshing to pare the physical objects in my life down to a minimum, and I have to say that I’ve never regretted giving or throwing anything away. I’m pretty sure that’s true for most people.

Internet service is expensive, but it works great. I wrote a little more about that here.

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Things about this life that are probably less pleasant than you imagine:

Having privacy from neighbors is great, but being isolated isn’t so great. When I first moved out here, I had a naive notion that because I had a life partner, I didn’t to try that hard to maintain relationships with my friends. It wasn’t long before I got really lonely and realized that one person wasn’t going to be enough for my social life and mental health. A husband plus a tiny baby was even worse. I’m not naturally much of an outgoing person, so I’ve never had tons of friends, but I need the friends I have more than ever out here. That means that either I have to make an effort to go to town on a regular basis, or I have to convince folks to drive all the way out here to visit. I have to admit that feeling like I’m part of a community online, has greatly lessened my feelings of isolation. Facebook, Etsy, Instagram, and this blog connect me (sometimes too much) to the wider world, and I am so thankful to have those resources.

We have to drive to get anywhere, and biking for recreation or travel is pretty much out of the question because we live at the end of a gravel road on this crazy steep hill. I wrote (complained) about this issue here.

All of our appliances were really expensive. I love our propane stovetop (2-burner KitchenAid), propane on-demand hot water heater, and propane fridge. I have a love-hate relationship with our generator. I despise our washing machine that cost us an arm and a leg (one of my worst purchasing decisions to date). We (mostly I) agonize over each new big purchase, and we (mostly Henry) have to do a ton of research to see what will work best (or at all) in our situation. Because we have such obscure appliances, there aren’t any local professionals willing to work on them when they break (which they inevitably do). Fortunately, Henry’s 84-year-old grandpa is a genius and can generally diagnose and fix most of our machine problems.

Living way out of town in a non-standard, hard-to-figure-out house, owning a bunch of animals, and growing plants that need to stay above freezing in the winter and wet in the summer means that we rarely leave town, at least not as a whole family. Henry’s brother is usually willing to house sit for us, but even someone as familiar with our place as he is will never be able to do things *just right*. I can’t even water Henry’s plants exactly the way he wants me to. On the flip side, I watched him milk my goat a couple times in the days after Charlotte was born, and the way he did it was so irritating that I’ve pretty much banned him from that chore ever since. It’s just not fair or even possible to ask someone else to step into this complicated system, so we end up doing it ourselves, which limits what we are able to do away from home.

We are not connected to the electrical grid, but we are still consumers of fossil fuel-based energy. We have a propane tank that’s bigger than the one at the gas station. We burn through a fair bit of gas driving everywhere. Solar panels power our lights, radio, and very small appliances during most of the year, but we still use a gas generator to run our water pump and washing machine. We also need and want things all the time, and while we’re both pretty good at scoring things secondhand or through bartering, sometimes we buy brand new stuff that’s probably been shipped in from China or Mexico or another part of this country. We are not independent from the world, and that’s not something we can realistically aspire to.

We have nowhere to hide stuff, at least not indoors. In theory, this should motivate me to keep things exceptionally clean and organized, but in reality, it means that our house often looks like a wreak. I do try to tidy up regularly, but it seems like just being in the house with two kids, a dog, and a cat creates chaos. When friends or family are coming over, I have to actually pick everything up and put it in its proper place because I don’t have the option of stuffing it in a closet or shutting the bedroom door to hide the mess.

There are absolutely times when things go wrong, and I cry, and I fantasize about living in a “normal” house in town with actual next door neighbors. A place where I could flip a switch on the wall and instantly have bright lights illuminating a whole room. A place where I could hop on my bike and make a quick trip to the library or the grocery store and arrive home without hardly breaking a sweat. A place where I could go out in the evening and have a couple beers with friends and not have to drive 30 minutes on deer-filled country roads to get home (which I never do now because I’m pretty paranoid about drunk drivers). I lived in Corvallis for almost four years while I was going to college, and I had these experiences, and you know what? I kinda like that lifestyle, but for the most part, I like living out here in the boonies, too, even if it’s not all sunshine and roses.

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For the folks who want advice on how to get started…

1.  Make money and save money (and stay out of debt).

2. Learn necessary skills and work hard.

3. Meet people in your community and build relationships based on mutual respect.

Henry managed to roll this three basic goals into (sort of) one package. He found a trade (horseshoing) that was in demand in a rural community and figured out how to do it well enough and efficiently enough to earn a decent living (more details here). In addition to being from this community (with a dad who is respected here as well), Henry met dozens (hundreds?) of rural folks through work and just driving around the boonies, stopping in at tiny country stores, knocking on doors, and generally bs-ing with anyone willing to talk (including gas station attendants). He also does a lot of people favors and barters constantly.

I have been somewhat less successful than Henry in these three areas. I was born a thrifty person, so saving money has never been that hard, but my savings have never amounted to a large sum because I’ve never had a job that paid very well until starting my Red Onion Woodworks business which does bring in a decent wage, but I can’t (and don’t want to) work on it full-time because of all the other stuff going on in my life. I have a lot of non-specific, non-technical skills that serve us well in maintaining our lives and home (firewood splitting, dishwashing, goat milking, organizing, child rearing, etc.), and I’ve learn lots of small-but-necessary survival skills (how to add gas and oil to the generator, how to fill up a propane tank, how to back down a steep, curvy driveway in the dark, how to tube feed a newborn goat kid, how to build a fire with wet firewood, etc.) but I’m still not a builder, an electrician, a vet, a plumber, or a mechanic.

I grew up in this town. My parents’ house is about 15 minutes away from here. I know a lot of people, but not in the same way that Henry does, partly because I don’t have as many opportunities to meet folks, partly because I’m not as outgoing as he is, and partly because I don’t impress or connect with people as well as he can. I not thrilled that I’m presenting myself here as less skilled, less personable, or less motivated than my husband because it sounds so anti-feminist. I do know (and he agrees with me), however, that if I weren’t here, this place would be an organizational disaster, and my husband would be living on sardines, mandarin oranges, and beer.

If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that at least 70% of the building materials used to construct our house, the goat barn, the big barn, and all the other little outbuildings and chicken coops we have around here are either salvaged/repurposed or made from wood custom milled from trees off our own property. While there are actual stores that sell repurposed materials (like the Habitat for Humanity stores in Corvallis and Portland), most of what we’ve gotten over the years has come from individual friends, clients, and weird three-way bartering deals (made possible by the fact that Henry knows and is respected by so many people in our community). It hasn’t all been free, but it’s made putting up new buildings a whole lot cheaper. That said, building with used and non-standard materials requires more time, more skill, and/or more creativity, and sometimes it’s just a giant pain in the ass.

If you already own a home or are thinking of buying a home, and you’re considering investing in solar panels or other alternative energy sources, my advice to you is don’t do it. There are hundreds of less glamorous ways to live more sustainably, starting with investing in insulation. Upgrade old windows. Buy an on-demand water heater. Install a gray water and/or rainwater catchment system (in accordance with local codes and ordinances, of course). Plant a garden. Bike more. Drive less. Throw away (recycle) your TV. Or…here’s a big one…move into a smaller house. If and when you’ve done everything else, and you still have money in your pocket, go ahead and buy a couple of solar panels.

What we’re doing here cannot and should not be a taken as a complete model for how to live this life. Every situation is going to be different–in terrain, climate, resources available locally, finances, skills and motivation–, and only some of our systems and tricks can be applied elsewhere. The other thing is that we’re definitely not doing everything right. We make mistakes (sometimes expensive ones) all the time and have plenty of regrets about how we could have or should have done things differently. Living the good life takes either more time or more money, and we’ve chosen to invest quite a bit of both, but you might have more of one or the other to spare, and that changes the equation entirely.

If you’ve read through this whole post, and still haven’t found the answers to your burning questions, you can find some more specific info in the “off-grid living” category of this blog, and there are details and tidbits of  advice sprinkled throughout many of my other writings. You are also welcome to leave questions in the comments below, and I will make an effort to answer them.

 

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Dee January 17, 2013 at 10:42 am

I found your blog a few months ago via instagram and have been reading in awe (and admiration) ever since. Thanks for sharing!

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John Duboise January 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Really insightful post. It’s well beyond what I could ever do, but definitely an inspiring way to live. Also, your blog design is very tasteful. This graphic designer likes it.

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Susan Brown (Wren neighbor) January 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

What a fun read this was–thank-you Camille :) maybe (in your spare time) you could share some recipes for cooking on the BBQ. I’ve enjoyed seeing your amazing pictures of the pies and other culinary goodies produced on the BBQ. I was so inspired by one of your pictures, I decided to bake a pizza on mine–it was terrible.

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Camille January 20, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Thanks, Susan. There are quite a few recipes and/or technique descriptions in the cooking/baking category of blog posts.

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Sharon January 17, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Not “long winded” or “scatter brained”. The comment above says it best. It is really insightful. I always look forward to reading your posts. Your regular life is interesting and enviable to those of us who live in suburban tract houses and fight the commute to the office every day, more than you know.

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Kelly Sitton January 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Thank you for taking the time and energy to share.

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Kelly January 17, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Thank you so, so much for writing this. There are so many blogs out there that make this sound so easy, make it look so picturesque. For me when I look at a blog like this, this is what I want to see – the reality of it, not just pretty pictures (although I do enjoy your pretty pictures as well). I think your advice is very sound and I really appreciate you taking the time to write this, and for sharing this with us.

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Camille January 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Yeah, it’s not easy and definitely not picturesque (at least not all the time), but thanks for your kind words.

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Falan January 17, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Thank you! I really enjoyed this : ) I found you through Instagram and look forward to following!

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EcoGrrl January 17, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Great post. Only one suggestion – never apologize for your writing. You’re great.

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Rachel January 17, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Camille, this was very insightful, although I am inclined to think that you are being overly modest about your skills. You write, take photos, do woodworking and run a successful online business, plus raise two kids, keep a home, keep goats, etc., etc. – you do good work.

Another thought: your three pieces of advice for folks who want to know how to get started, well, it seems like good advice for everyone, not just those who want to live off-grid. I will take them to heart. Thank you for taking the time to share this with the wide world.

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Camille January 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm

I DO have skills. I well aware (and happy) about that. The problem is that being a writer or photographer isn’t going to help me much when the generator won’t start or when it comes to evaluating different brands of solar panels.

I thought I was giving out advice for aspiring homesteaders, but since you pointed it out, I guess it is pretty sound advice for pretty much everyone. Thanks

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Kristy January 17, 2013 at 10:00 pm

love it. THankyou :)

We’ve already done the solar but being in Aus maybe things work a bit different (not the science of it, but the $ lol). We have a small system and get a small credit on each bill of not much. Whereas my parents have a big system, small use and get several hundred $ cash/paid to them each month – no bill.

Anyway, I’m hoping I’ll get there eventually. We’ve gone about it all upside down and are starting from further back but fingers crossed. :)

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Camille January 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I guess my point about solar panels is just that there are many ways to lessen your household consumption of energy. Even without putting in any money, a person can make the decision to use less power. Solar panels can be helpful, but there are lower-tech solutions (insulation) that potentially have a greater impact on overall energy consumption.

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Heather January 17, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Thank you so much for giving us such a candid and honest look into your life. I discovered your blog a month or so ago, and I have loved sharing all of your posts and archives, especially from the perspective of a Portlander who is newly commuting to visit a loved one in the Corvallis area. I so appreciate your perspective.

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Kara January 17, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Thanks for taking the time to write that all. So interesting Camille!

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Shoshana January 18, 2013 at 7:42 am

Hi Camille – Though I’m related to you and have known you since before you were born, I never “knew” anything about you. I really appreciate this opportunity to get “meet you” through this blog. When we first moved abroad with our kids we had many people (including family), ask questions similar to those you posted. I found that many stay on one side of the line – saying, “I’ve always wanted to do that….” or “That would be cool…but…” Once we made the decision to move, once we crossed over the line to…”we are leaving Dec. 1999″ our lives changed – and the impact on our kids, now adults, will be foreever the best decision we ever made. The hardest part was just stepping across that line in our heads. So – cheers to you for stepping over the line! See you at the next family gathering I hope!

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Yin January 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Hi Camille,

I recently found your blog via Facebook (Henry and I actually went to school together and I’ve always admired the beautiful pictures he posts of your family and your farm) and I have become one of your many fans. This was a wonderful, insightful post. Thank you for sharing.

All the best to the Storch family!

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Lauren K January 18, 2013 at 5:20 pm

I have been reading your lovely blog for a few months and have been wondering how you and your family got yourselves so nicely set-up in the forest. For desert dwellers such as my husband and I, your life is incredibly inspiring. Once we finish school we would love to move somewhere with water to raise more food and animals than our arid, urban homestead allows (although the desert is a beautiful place where you can grown awesome winter gardens and citrus!). Thanks for showing us that it is possible!
Best,
Lauren K

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Bill Storch January 18, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Wonderfully written, great narrative of your life Camille. You are right, without you, Henry would live on sardines, mandarine oranges and beer! We are so thankful you found each other!

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Joybilee Farm January 18, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Loved reading the story of your homestead and how you got there. It was very encouraging to see you going to college without going into debt, too. Well done.
Chris

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Suzy January 18, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Hi Camille! Yes, we also have chosen the path less traveled and heard so many people say they would choose our lifestyle, and yet…..it’s a nice place to visit (for some hours) and then retreat back to their creature comforts. Or they think we’re crazy.
Bravado to you for living a life of substance.
Yes, our children did not participate in our back to basics lifestyle and had a hard time rectifying their reality with fellow students. They have grown up to be self sufficient adults who know how to work on their own vehicles, Amelia hates tv (that we never had), they know the value of things they purchase, and pretty basically we’re all a lot happier than people who chase after an American Dream that isn’t that rewarding after all. We all do sit on the fence of lifestyle choices. A little less daily work and a little more relaxing time would be nice! But, on the other hand, how fortunate that we have the opportunity to learn how to create a sustainable lifestyle.
Most people will not come close to understanding the freezing shampoo reality! Living off-grid is akin to living and traveling on a sailboat, which we did for four years with our infants. They absolutely adored having their parents 100 percent of the time and learned innumerable lifelong lessons daily. I think (and I hope) there are a lot of people in our community and beyond that live in a self-sufficient reality. It’s better for us as a society and for us as individuals to be responsible for ourselves.
Thank you for sharing your reality, it restores our belief that future generations remember how to simply live and live well.

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diane January 19, 2013 at 6:23 am

Hi Camille,
I’ve been looking forward to this post since you mentioned it was in the making, and I saved it to read until this morning when I could settle in with coffee and really take the time to savor it.
It was worth the wait.
I’ll probably never live off-grid or be as self-sufficient as your family, but I appreciate the window into a bit of your lifestyle that this blog so beautifully and realistically provides. It inspires me to do what I can in my own life to live more sustainably and closer to my ideals.
Thank you!

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kara January 19, 2013 at 9:27 am

That was such a fascinating read! Thank you for sharing so many interesting details!

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Amy January 19, 2013 at 11:30 am

As someone who also lives off-grid and has been asked many of the same questions, it is fun to see the overlaps in our experiences. There might be more work in this lifestyle (being in Alaska adds another unique layer of challenges), but it is also incredibly rewarding. Thanks for sharing!

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Kathy January 19, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Camille,
This was refreshingly honest, but then, you always are. It was good advice. Most all of us can make decisions to live a more conscious life.
I think you might be confusing having a profession with being talented. You have much talent and we see that. It’s why we read. How about putting your writings into book form and formally adopt the profession of writer?

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Camille January 20, 2013 at 3:40 pm

While it’s a nice idea, I’m not really interested in writing a book at this point in my life.

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no worries January 20, 2013 at 6:25 am

I’m fascinated by your blog and your lifestyle.
You do a great job with your pictures illustrating the wonderful art of bee-keeping and natural living.
Thanks for your honest explanation of the good and less easy sides of your life-style.

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Tonia January 21, 2013 at 8:58 am

AHHHHHHH!!! This post is so, so, SO awesome. Can I hug you? Thank you for answering these questions so honestly and thoughtfully. Mike and I get asked these things pretty often, too. Although we’re not fully off-the-grid like you, we do grow and raise almost all our own food (including maple syrup), we are powered by solar, and we are self-employed, making it all happen without The Man providing “security” for us.

I am happy that our somewhat-unusual lifestyle tends to inspire people, but like you I am uncomfortable with the envy-laced remarks that some people make (“Oh you guys bought that beautiful old farm that everyone wanted but no-one could afford?? YOU’RE SO LUCKY!”) The grass is always greener, and a lot of people see what we’re doing as OH-so-romantic. The reality–as you pointed out–is that living like this is a LOT OF WORK. And yes, sometimes awfully romantic/definitely worth the trouble. It’s not for everyone.

It’s funny…you and I have really similar backgrounds–right down to having a brother, fathers in the timber industry (mine’s a forester in Northern WI), and having a life-changing experience at age 17 involving organic farming (mine was that I went to The Mountain School in Vershire, VT. Look it up because your kids might want to go someday! It was amazing…) And maybe most importantly, we both have husbands who are KUNG-FOO-FIGHTERS when it comes to figuring shit out, getting shit done, and being awesome at all the shit. I, too, fell in love with him largely because of his incredible abilities at shit. And I too sometimes feel like I kind of suck at shit in comparison. But then I remember all the shit I rock at, like making really good dinners every night, and I realize that he needs me just as much as I need him.

So, kindred-spirit, I don’t know what else to say except thank you again for this post. You rock.

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pat January 27, 2013 at 12:20 pm

you are awesome girl ! and I love love love your blog; sorry, I rarely comment, a trait that I suspect is quite common, but know that I never miss an entry. And I am envious I didn’t get to lead the life you are leading; and that’s looking back !

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Esther January 29, 2013 at 7:23 am

Camille,

I can’t tell you how delighted I am to have found your writing. I linked to this entry from Reading My Tea Leaves and spent the weekend reading all of your archives and treasuring them like a great book. I recently visited Eugene for the first time and got to experience some of the beauty I had always heard about. Your story is so inspiring and I have truly been wondering if I could build such a lifestyle as being more self sustainable and environmentally friendly sounds awfully appealing to me as the world gets more crazy.

I have family on a large farm so I have spent a lot of time there and learned some of the hard work that is required to operate it. Sometimes I’m just amazed by how much more difficult it all seems and yet there are definitely perks and a certain peace that comes from the land and less distractions.

I so look forward to checking in on the blog for updates and am appreciative for all that you have shared. I looked at all of your boards, they are so beautiful and unique. I can’t wait to make one my own and have my eye out for a maple with markings like your kitchen cabinets!

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denise February 21, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Hello, I have been following you on instagram as i bake on a bbq too, we live on 300 sharec acres and you learn a lot. You posted a fair amount of the same feelings I have as well, we live in a yurt with 2 children and no privacy… We have an outdoor loo and its wild how much similarities there is. I do have to say the company laundry alternative is awesome.I bought a second hand hand crank “wonder washer” and a eletric water extactor, its sooo great, in the winter we just keep washing and drying is by the fire.

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Robert March 11, 2013 at 1:14 pm

In everything there is always a trade-off. I would never say you have less ..or more work than anyone in the conventional world ..but I’ve seen too many people working at jobs away from family, working hard to pay off those quarter of a million (or more) dollar homes and all those fancy things. Working for debt.

What you do have is hard work, family, a home with land, and security. Working for life.

It may not be a dream but those dream lives are rare no matter how fancy your stuff is.

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Blessings! August 26, 2013 at 6:02 am

This is an older entry and you already have a lot of comments and followers, but I stumbeled upon your blog when searching for “homesteading 2013″ and found this to be a fun read. My beloved got his engineering degree from OSU and we both put in some time at LBCC. *smile* I love the farm living idea but spend more time cooking and cleaning than in the garden weeding. *big smile* I also learned that blogging helps me find other likeminded people. I will now got to check out your other posts. Have a lovely Monday. Sincerely, Mommy of two growing blessings & so much more!

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Ana November 9, 2013 at 7:21 am

wow, I thought living as u are was cheap but in fact u are talking about one figures that I dream about, must say the cost of things that u mention is far to much for me, living in a ” house” that is bigger and more modern, I think often to sell and get a cabin but after reading ur post I believe I will never get enough money to do such, still I dream off, I really hope for blessing in this life u have chosen , lots of love

Ana

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Granny Sue December 11, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Reading this sounded so much like my early years on my land. Especially the no-electricity part, and the reality that even a simple lifestyle still relies to some extent on fossil fuels. You tell it as it really is; so many people dream about living the “simple” life, but as I wrote in one blog, the simple life is really complicated and a lot of hard work. We have electricity now (after 15 years without) and a gas well that provides free gas so our life is a lot easier than it once was–but there are times I’m not sure putting in these conveniences was a good idea. I’ll keep reading to see how you are doing. It is good to find someone who is really homesteading, not just playing at it.

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Rami Johnson March 17, 2014 at 11:08 am

I am aspiring to do something similar with my life, but I have a fair amount of debt (student loans). Do you have any recommendations for paying off this debt quickly? Should I be debt free before I try to acquire land?

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martin April 4, 2014 at 10:01 am

Rami;

Sorry to say, but these days (depending on where you live) you will likely have to be somewhat ‘debt-reduced’ before you will be able to acquire land. That being said, think very seriously about why you want to acquire land and what you intend to do with it/on it. Property-ownership can very quickly turn into being ‘owned’ by the property unless (like Camille’s husband, Henry) you have a realistic life-plan.

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JillG May 1, 2014 at 5:13 pm

This website is interesting. But I would hardly call it “off the grid” in the truest sense. I say this because of the many modern inventions that are being utilized to survive. There are better examples online where people that are dead broke and lack family support can still find ways to get off the grid and work hard without using corporate entities to survive.

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Thomas July 16, 2014 at 10:08 am

OMGosh. I found this post absolutely enthralling. I take it back, “simple” would definitely NOT be the appropriate word to describe your life. Still, kudos to you for endeavoring on this journey. I grow a sizable garden and dabble in many crafts…but I take for granted the fact that at the end of the day, I can flip a switch and get electricity. That being said, I’m sure there are plenty of us 9 to 5’ers who would still rather be in your shoes. Maybe at the end of the day, it really isn’t about simplicity but more about self-reliance and doing away with most of the “noise” associated with modern day living.

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