I have some hesitancy sharing I live off the grid. I have a lot of thoughts, which is why this is in two (threeish) lengthy parts. Because I will continue living my entire life until death in a minimalistic and self sufficient way, which includes off grid, there’s no need to feel anything but good vibes.
However, I must still acknowledge I fear being judged and misunderstood for my decision. Truly there’s no shame in living sustainably, especially given how much I love it! It’s not a traditional path taken by immigrants, non whites, and people with a college education by choice. I am all of the above.
It’s also seen as a bit of a trend these days and I don’t want to look like a thoughtless follower. If I was doing it because it’s a trend, this would be one of the better ones I followed in my life. It’s one to be proud of.
Where’s the shame in not relying on the government for food, water, and electricity? Where’s the shame in preferring the sounds of the forest over the highway? Where’s the shame in wanting to create a life you don’t need a vacation from? There is none. And when I lay out like that for myself, I feel much more at ease talking about how much peace and joy this lifestyle has brought me.
If there are certain things I gotta do in the world, like say have a job, my goal has to be bigger than doing it while still tangled up to the entire system my whole life. The system does work for some, but it seems the majority is struggling to keep up with the demands as seen by the crisis of the not so minimum wage, faulty government assistances, debt, etc. Why shouldn’t I desire to go beyond such ties? I don’t mean go get more education as it comes with more debt and more loss of time to work for a house I’ll barely live in, a car I drive primarily to work, bills I hardly use, and living for the weekend and vacation days.
LET. ME. JUST. NOT.
If you’ve never lived or experienced living off the grid, you probably have all sorts of ideas about it. We had a visitor recently who reminded me how off the grid we really are. We’ve been living on the Big Island, Hawai’i for about 6 months and our day to day has become so normal, I only think about how “deviant” it is when someone wants to visit us. Our visitor had some ideas about off grid living before coming, but he was surprised about certain adjustments like us turning off the electricity at night (not the lights, silly). His desire to document his trip reminded me I don’t share much about living off grid, mostly because I’m too busy living my life to think it’s interesting enough to share as well as the aforementioned fear/shame combo.
However, this is not my first experience living off grid. I lived in a van with my partner some 2.5 years ago for about 10 months. My fascination with tiny homes and living in a small space was just beginning at the time he brought a van. I didn’t want to live in it at first. It wasn’t a fancy van like you see in the YouTube videos. We had a basic plank for a bed (that I couldn’t lay on comfortably for weeks), it didn’t have a built in bathroom, and we didn’t have somewhere private we could park. Twice someone called the cops because they thought we were living in the van outside their HOA community. No hard feelings, I suppose, given they pay to not be around people who lived like me.
Then there were the reasons regarding what my family and friends would say. I was happy to bring up van life to strangers. I talked about it often at my job at the time. I felt safe and free discussing it. Nonetheless, I always mentioned we lived in a van by choice to get around being embarrassed about what they’d think or say before they hear the details.
People had come to know me a certain way, I suppose. I have my undergrad degree and was talking about how I got into grad school a few months before moving into van. All my jobs so far were about helping marginalized people. My future looked like one filled with some kind of social work, not one where I looked like I needed housing aid. Choosing to live in a van seemed like something I would only do if I lost my mind. My closest friends were not so surprised, but I was mildly astonished yet grateful how they responded. I remember feeling so good that they knew I had such an alternative side.
Some of my family were understandably not very happy about my decision as I also decided not to go to grad school. They thought I was just following some boy. In a sense I was, but I was already curious. Looking back, I backed myself into a corner subconsciously. I had a strong desire for leaving behind the pre-carved path, but I was too afraid to take the leap.
When I peered into my future, I saw the remaining years of 20’s in grad school were spent in deep stress. I saw my minimum incoming $50,000 in loans and my burning out by 40 with a midlife crisis in tow as clear as I saw my hands before my eyes. I couldn’t make myself go if I tried.
And I tried.
You could also say I’ve technically experienced some off the grid living before van life. I lived in Jamaica, a “third world” or “developing” country (I have these words in quotes for a reason, but that’s for another post). We had electricity and running water, but not all the time. Our main use of electricity was the fridge, TV, and the lights at night. We had no other major appliances and our stove was gas. We had an outside shower and bathroom, too. Before I left Jamaica, my mom added an inside bathroom to the back of the house. I remember wondering where the toilet water went all the time. We had a sink that only spat out the usual cold or cool water. The shower didn’t work and I was fascinated about plumping.
When I visited a few years ago, my mother added another inside shower and toilet (no hot water here). The outside toilet and shower officially retired. Awhile back they got a washer (we hand washed clothes back then) and I haven’t asked if they got a dryer. The weather is plenty warm enough to dry clothes outside. We had no AC or heater, an unnecessary addition given the weather is almost always perfect. We even had a dish for cable for as long as I can remember. And of course I will plug reading Jamaican Accent as it chronicles the simplicity of my life back then.
In my heart, I knew all along I wanted to recreate living simplistically. I was swept up in feeling I had to have a lot of stuff to adult right in America. But, given how I lived in Jamaica, I knew there was a way “third” and “first” world could meet…
Find out how I live now. Part two will be available in a few days.