Dreaming of Life off the Grid: How to Get Started
Off-grid living is deeply ingrained in the fabric of the American experience. For the first hundred-plus years of our history, the West was an untouched landscape. Gathering your things and moving to the frontier, while challenging, allowed people to reinvent themselves, giving birth to the American Dream concept.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that this is still an attractive concept today. Plus, it can be all too easy to feel as though we’re missing out on some of the simplest, best pleasures in life with all the pressure of the modern world.
When was the last time you just sat and listened to the wind? Or soaked in the powerful rays of the sun? These joys are always available to us. Yet, our busy lives cause us to ignore them and also generate stress and pain. It is, however, possible to adjust your lifestyle to incorporate this beauty and simplicity.
Off-grid living gives you the chance to make this your whole reality. Like all good things in life, creating this takes time and effort, and it’s often not straightforward. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything you need to do, which often stops us from even trying.
Just remember, this is possible. All you needto do is start. Once the ball is moving in the direction of your dreams, there’s no stopping it.
We wanted to make it easier for you to take this all-important first step, so here are six steps to help you start making your dream of living off the grid a reality:
Step 1: Commit to Living Life Off the Grid
Living life off the grid is liberating and beautiful, but it can be tough. Making the transition from how we live now to living utterly free from the rest of society is a complicated process. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is become firm in your resolve of living off the grid.
For those who are just beginning this journey, this is an opportunity for you to consider if off-grid living is for you. Sometimes we dream about something focusing only on the good things without considering the trade-offs. This will only lead to frustration.
Having a firm conviction that this is what you want will be extremely helpful since it will keep you on track when obstacles inevitably emerge.
One way to do this is to be very familiar with what living “off the grid” exactly means and the many benefits and downsides it brings.
This way, you not only know what to expect from your off-grid life, but when something does come up, you can accept it as merely part of the process.
What Does it Mean to Live Life “Off the Grid?”
It’s essential for those new to this concept to have a clear understanding of what it actually means to live life off the grid.
In general, living “off the grid” means disconnecting from society and living on your own. It is an exercise in self-reliance and self-sufficiency focused on showing that you can survive entirely on your own and live off the land. Typically, this involves the following:
- Living off the land – Being “off the grid” also means no longer depending on the supermarkets for your food. Instead, you will feed yourself by growing your own food, finding it off the land, or hunting/fishing. This also applies to water. Disconnecting from the grid means you will no longer have access to city water supplies. If the land you settle on doesn’t have water, you’ll need to figure out how to collect and purify rainwater.
- Generating power – This is where the term “grid” comes from. Right now, most of us live connected to power grids. Electricity gets generated somewhere else, and then we pay for access to it. When you live off the grid, you disconnect from this system and either live without electricity or find a way to generate it yourself (usually through solar panels, but there are other methods.)
- Build your own shelter – To live off the grid, you will also need to build your own shelter. What you build will be based on your preferences. Some people, for example, choose to live out of a van or car so that they can be mobile. Others build a structure on land they own, but an increasingly popular option is to purchase a used shipping container and convert it into an off-grid home.
Living life in this way fits a more purist definition of living “off the grid.”
In modern times, other definitions of off-grid living are less extreme.
We’ve broken down the different versions into three groups: going green, dropping out, and disappearing. Here’s a bit more information about each:
- Going Green – This type of off-grid living refers more to your dependence on traditional power services. You may be able to do it without even having to move. All you need to do is get an alternative source of power (such as solar), collect rainwater, and grow some of your own food. In this scenario, you get some of the financial and environmental benefits of off-grid living. Still, you miss out on the personal growth available to you when you make a bigger separation between you and society.
- Dropping Out – This takes things a bit further and gets you physically away from the world. In this type of off-grid living, the aim is to be entirely self-sufficient, so you don’t have to depend on anyone or anything for your survival. This is challenging, as it’s a radical change of lifestyle, but it can also be incredibly enriching.
- Disappearing – If you want to go one more step, you can try and “disappear.” This means dropping out but also leaving no trace. People who do this often delete their entire online presence, change their names, and sever ties with everyone they’ve ever known. For some, this could be an exciting way to experience life, but it also sounds like something a fugitive would do. In the end, take whichever path makes sense for you, but you can achieve most of the benefits of off-grid living by simply dropping out. Only take this step if you are genuinely confident it’s what you want.
If you choose “going green,” then your life before and after the transition might not be all that much different. Sure, there is a fair bit of pride in knowing you are free from fossil fuels and other connections to society, but there is a lot more to be gained by taking this further.
As we discuss the benefits of living off the grid, keep in mind that they are likely to be more fully experienced by those who adopt more of a “dropping out” lifestyle than one focused on “going green.”
The Benefits of Living off the Grid
Now that you have a clear idea of what living off the grid means, here are the main benefits of this lifestyle:
- Reduce your dependence on money – We spend so much of our lives earning money just so that we can spend it. Between rent, food, bills, and everything else doesn’t it always seem like there isn’t enough? Doesn’t that feeling drive you just a little bit insane? We all work hard, so why does it seem like it’s so difficult to get ahead? Well, we don’t have those answers, but off-grid living does offer a solution to these problems. You no longer need anywhere as much money as you once did by disconnecting from some of this stuff. Living off-grid can allow you to live rent-free, and depending on how far you go with it; you also don’t need to spend money on food or water. You’ll likely still need some money for when you do venture into the world, but this isn’t always true. Some people make this transition and never touch another dollar again.
- Experience freedom – Once you break free from the need to have things in your life, you’ll be surprised at how different you feel. We spend so much of our lives chasing, yet we are often running after things that are already present in our lives. Switching to off-grid living allows you to tune into this and can be one of the most liberating things you ever do. No longer do you need to spend your day working for another person’s dream. You are in complete control of your life, and what could be more freeing than that?
- Embrace slow living – We live in an extremely fast-paced world; one pushes us to always be doing something, instead of just being. This works for some people but based on how many people in our society struggle with anxiety, depression, excessive stress, and burnout, among other things, fewer of us are likely cut out for this lifestyle than we think. Living off-grid forces you to live differently. Your focus turns to your immediate physical needs, which encourages you to adopt a completely different way of thinking, much slower and more patient. It will take time to make this switch, but you will soon find that it’s a much more rewarding way to live.
- Help the environment – Living off the grid means embracing sustainable technologies, particularly renewable energy. This means your home is no longer being powered by gas, coal, or oil, reducing your dependence on fossil fuels and your carbon footprint. Additionally, by growing your own food, you’re helping to protect the Earth’s precious topsoil, which is rapidly disappearing.
- Connect with nature – One cause of the many ills that plague the world at this time is that we have become disconnected from nature. We are part of the natural world, not above it, and are therefore significantly impacted by the weather, the seasons, the amount of sunlight, and so much more. Switching to off-grid living, a situation in which your very survival depends on your ability to connect with nature helps bring us back to our true selves. What could be better than that?
The Downsides to Off-Grid Living
Based on these points above, it might seem like living off the grid is the solution to all our problems. Perhaps this is true, but off-grid living isn’t for everyone. Before you embark on this journey, know that there are some trade-offs, such as:
- Initial Expenses – While living off the grid is bound to be cheaper than regular living; there is usually a significant initial expense required to make this transition. You need to buy land, a power system, a shelter, and many more supplies so that you can disconnect from the world. For many, it takes decades to prepare for this, especially if you’re not in a position where you can save lots of money over a short period. If you do it right, you can build up the resources and recoup much of this initial expense with the savings that come from living off the grid.
- Less “luxury” – There’s no doubt that your life off the grid is going to be “rougher” than the life you currently live. Running water, indoor plumbing, sugary snacks, booze, and so much more may no longer be available. They can be if you want, but no matter what you do, living off the grid will require you to give up many of the comforts of life we’ve become so used to having. Again, off-gridders will tell you this is the whole point. Yet making such sacrifices is not for everyone, so make sure you’ve thought long and hard what you are willing to give up before you start on this journey.
- Isolation – Depending on your specific arrangement, you may find yourself relatively isolated from the rest of the world. Of course, when dreaming about off-grid living, most people see this as a positive thing, and those who commit to this lifestyle also often see it that way. However, no matter where you go, there you are, and you can never truly run from yourself. Be prepared to go through some intense emotional experiences as you remove the distractions from your current life and take an inner plunge. Over time, you’ll be grateful for this, but there are going to be some growing pains along the way.
- Uncertainty – When you live off the grid, you’re not likely to have an insurance plan, a weekly paycheck, or access to unemployment benefits. It’s just you and your ability to survive. Again, those living this way will tell you this is the best way to live, but this can be a pretty big hurdle to overcome for those new to this lifestyle.
As you can see, you should consider the downsides of off-grid-living as “adjustments” rather than obstacles. Switching to this lifestyle is a big change, but most people have radical transformation as their goal.
If this isn’t your goal and you are instead just looking for simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint or get more in touch with nature, it might be best to go another route or test things out differently.
For example, consider spending a week hiking in the woods or go on an extended camping trip. See how this type of life works for you and if you’re ready to undergo the metamorphosis that off-grid living can produce. If you’ve done this and still feel like this is for you, then go at it with your eyes wide open, fully ready to embrace the challenges that might emerge.
Go it Alone or Join a Community?
Another question you’ll want to answer is whether or not you wish to belong to a community. There are lots of groups living in the United States and other parts of the world focused on helping one another live off the grid.
For many, this is a nice mix, as it allows them to embrace an off-grid lifestyle while also participating in a community.
If this interests you, then do some research to see if there are any groups near to where you are trying to live off-grid. Each one is different and has different things to offer, but if this is your path, you will surely find your people.
Step 2: Find Some Land
Once you’ve committed to living off-the-grid and know which type of off-grid lifestyle you want to have, it’s time to start thinking about the particulars.
Since you’re at the beginning of this journey, these things (steps 2-5) don’t need to happen in the order we’ve presented them. You should be looking into them at the same time to help you make informed decisions. If you want to make your dream of living off the grid a reality, then you’ll need to start making some serious plans about where you’re going to do it.
Living off the grid usually requires you to have your own land. You could rent, sure, but this would make it so that you always had a financial obligation to someone else, which would make it difficult for you to disconnect entirely.
There are some areas where free land can be had, such as Bureau of Land Management Areas (National Forests, National Recreation Areas, National Wildlife Sanctuaries, etc.). Still, there are usually limits on what you can do on these lands.
For example, you can’t build any permanent structures. If you’re looking to be a bit more nomadic, then this might work, but buying land will be the solution for most.
This is one of the initial expenses we talked about earlier, which is why it takes time to transition to off-grid living. You will need to save up to buy some land.
How much you need to save depends entirely on how much land you want and where you want to get it. You should be able to get it relatively cheap since it doesn’t need to be connected to any services, but still expect to pay 100k or more for decent land.
When shopping around for land, things to keep in mind include:
- Access to water – You can’t live without H2O, so don’t buy any land without having a clear plan for how you’ll get water. If you can access it underground, how deep does the well need to be? If not, how often does it rain? Are there any streams nearby you can use to access water? Make sure you have a specific plan for how you’ll get water onto your property before buying anything. Don’t rely on “figuring it out” later.
- Soil condition – To live entirely off the grid, you’ll want to grow your food, which means having access to good soil. Do your research to figure out if you can use the land you’re buying for small-scale farming. There are ways to improve soil quality over time, so you don’t need to buy the most fertile plot ever. Do make sure you can use the ground you’re buying; otherwise, you’ll have a tough time eating.
- Climate – When you’re living off the grid, you will have to come face to face with the elements. Winter in an off-grid house can be rough if you’re not prepared, so don’t buy land in Montana (where it’s cheap and in pretty good shape) if you’re not ready to hunker down in the snow for five months of the year. Of course, warmer climates will fetch higher property prices, but waiting a few more years to be able to afford what you want will be well worth it in the end.
- Hunting and Fishing Restrictions – To complement what you grow, you may want to do some hunting and fishing. Before buying land, find out if this is possible in the area. Look into local restrictions, permit requirements, and any other laws.
- Property taxes – Although the goal of off-grid living is to avoid the nuisances of modern life, if you buy land, you will likely still need to pay property tax. How much will depend on the state in which you choose to live, so make sure to look into this before you purchase so that you can figure out if you have enough to meet your tax obligations for essentially the rest of the time you’re alive.
The land you choose to live on is arguably the most crucial part of this process. As a result, this decision cannot be rushed. Remember, you’re at the beginning of this journey. Take your time, explore different places, and wait for the right opportunity to come. This is a significant change. Rushing it won’t help but being patient will help make sure your dream becomes a reality.
Step 3: Determine Your Power Source (and Learn as Much as You Can)
Next to land, the biggest thing you need to consider is power. Of course, you could try and live without electricity and go old school, but this doesn’t make sense for many people, especially if you’re living in a cold climate.
Most people who live off the grid tell you that the biggest challenges when adapting to this lifestyle revolved around their power systems. After all, unless you’re an electrician, when would you ever work on these systems?
The best thing you can do to get started is to spend some time researching the many different power systems out there (wind, solar, biomass, hydro, etc.), as well as their many components (batteries, generators, converters, etc.) This will help you not only figure out which system is best for you (which will help inform your decision about land), but it will also prepare you for the challenges to come.
Of course, nothing can prepare you for everything, but reading and practicing now can only help. You may even want to see if you can take a few classes. In short, the more information you can gather about this now, the better you will be later on.
Step 4: Figure Out Your Shelter
At this point in the process, you will also need to start thinking about shelter. In general, you have two options: build or buy.
Building a shelter is undoubtedly more “traditional,” but it also requires you to have a lot more skills. If this is the path you want to go, then start thinking about what type of shelter you want to build and do as much research as you can into the process. If you do go this route, then you may find that you want to do this over time.
You may buy your land and build your shelter while you’re still living on the grid, allowing you to take your time with it and address any concerns before you’re living on the property.
Buying a shelter is going to be faster and requires less work. You could buy a prefabricated home, such as a tiny house, already outfitted for off-grid living. Or, you could buy a van and move around. Another option is to buy something like a used shipping container and convert it into a home.
In reality, the sky’s the limit when it comes to shelter at your off-grid living site. However, it’s important you start visualizing it now so that you can take the steps you need to take to make it a reality.
Step 5: Learn About Gardening
Growing food is an integral part of living off the grid. In general, doing this isn’t “hard,” but it does take some practice. You can read and watch all the YouTube videos you want on this, but there’s no replacement for actually doing it yourself.
Therefore, we recommend you just start. Find some space to create a small garden and practice. It’s likely going to be a few years before you can really begin living off-grid, so become familiar with this work as soon as you can. Add to your garden each year, and maybe start setting goals like “this year, I will not buy any tomatoes.” This will help you see the project not just as a hobby but rather as practice for the future you’ve always wanted.
Start Transitioning As Soon as Possible
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into living off the grid. It’s not a change that happens overnight. Most people spend years, if not decades, preparing themselves to make the switch.
This isn’t meant to scare you off. Instead, it’s meant to encourage you because if you want this to be your reality, then all this means is that you have to start now. There are many steps involved, and you will need to learn and unlearn a lot about yourself and the world.
If you remain committed and begin working on the initial things we’ve outlined here as soon as you can, then before you know it, you will have turned your dream of living off the grid into reality.