Starting a tiny off-grid world for the second time is a lot easier. You know what you need, and in which order. First time off-gridders, or off-grid planners, often don't know where to start. And your conventional home won’t be a decent guide for the very different world of off-grid living.
So here’s my list of the first ten things you need to organise when you go off-grid. I’ve broken it up into two sections: The Short Term focuses on your immediate survival needs. These will get you through a season, but they won’t be enough to keep you going indefinitely. The Long Term addresses how you will sustain yourself. While there may be some variation to the order I’ve put things in, trying to solve long term problems before you’ve got the short term covered is going to be stressful and energy devouring. You have limited muscle power and patience. You want to use it well.
The Short Term (Survival)
1. Temporary shelter. You can survive weeks without food, three days without water, but in the wrong climate even a night without decent shelter can kill you. So you need somewhere to sleep while you set up your off-grid world. It will depend on your weather, but I’ve seen tents, campervans/trailers, mobile homes/prefabs, containers, and wooden huts all used as possible shelters.
2. Water. If you haven't bought land yet, don't get a bit without water on. I did survive on Mud Mountain without running water for 2 years, but it was pretty exhausting. In a perfect world you want to have your water sorted out before you even move on. But this isn’t a perfect world, and that often doesn’t happen for any number of reasons. It really should be one of your first priorities though. Having a decent supply will save so much work.
3. Tools. Which tools you buy first will depend on your terrain. But some mixture of the following tools are your basics: Pick, rake, spade, scythe/sickle, machete, hammer, nails, saw, wheelbarrow, secateurs. Your wonderful Black and Decker jigsaw will come in very handy one day, but not on the first. Nor the second. At the outset, you will doubtless be clearing terrain and shifting rocks, building fences and basic structures (see four).
4. Kitchen/Toilet. So, you have a dry, warm bed, you have water, and you have tools. Now you need a space to make food, and another space to crap. Which of those you deem most urgent will depend on when you last ate. The most basic cooking area requires a small hob or fire, a sink of some description, and a place to store food that won’t be ravaged by animals. The simplest and most environmentally friendly toilet option is to build a composting loo like this. Or this.
5. Access for a vehicle. This is arguably a higher priority, but you won't die without a road. It’s just a major inconvenience. A must say, I’m a bit ambivalent about access because the great thing about a lack of road is that it keeps nosy parkers out. But the truth is, unless you're walking and never want to bring anything in, life is very difficult without some sort of track into your land.
6. Somewhere to wash yourself, and wash clothes. You’ll want a basic shower area. It will depend on your climate how you go about that, but anything from a space in the forest, to a bit of bamboo matting hoisted up will provide some cover (if you need it). You’ll also want a floor that drains fast and doesn’t become muddy. If you don’t use polluting detergents, rocks and gravel do the job simply and cheaply. Wooden slats are another shower floor option.
The Long Term (Sustain yourself)
7. Friends and neighbours. Your network is crucial (and bear in mind I'm a hermit). Start getting to know folk asap, because something will go wrong at some point. The easiest and fastest way to build a community is to be helpful and generous with your time and knowledge. And not to start asking for things before you’ve deposited a little into the favour bank. None of us is entitled to friends. They are earned over time. If you are in a country with another language, then you need to learn it, like, yesterday. It changes everything.
8. Veggie patch and homesteading; chickens/goats etc. Trying to start a smallholding before you’ve got your basic needs covered is a bad idea. Animals and plants need care, food, and plenty else. They give back in abundance. But often only after time. So I recommend going a little slow with your homesteading mission. It’s a step by step, long term project. Certainly, it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the tiny, off-grid lifestyle. But it requires consistent dedication and in the first six-to-twelve months you will be busy enough getting your infrastructure up.
9. Power (solar panels/wind power etc). Notice how far down the list this is. Power is nowhere near as crucial as modern Westerners believe. And I actually recommend a while without it. It's beautiful. Solar power is now so cheap and widespread. If you are strapped for cash, you can begin with a small system to meet your basic lighting and laptop needs. I always recommend investing in rechargeable hand tools too, because you can charge their batteries even from a tiny solar system. Normal power tools with cables need a lot of juice in one go, so unless you have a generator, or a substantial solar/wind system, you’ll have trouble.
10. Income. Yeees, this is perhaps the trickiest of your off-grid requirements to realise. You don't need much income, but as I have learned over the past eight years, you do need something coming in. It deserves a post in its own right, so I’ll save that one for later.
So that’s my list. I also put the question to The Mud Home Members Group, many of whom are building off-grid worlds. Here are other things folk added. I think they are all excellent pieces of advice.
“The only thing I would add is, A PLAN! I cant tell you how many clients I’ve worked with who got started without one and how many simple mistakes can be avoided by simply taking a bit of time to plan and prepare. If nothing else it will save you a ton of time going to the store to get things you forgot.” Oliver Goshey, consultant and natural building expert.
“Be realistic about what you can accomplish.” Nicodemus Ford, earthbagging in California.
“I recommend a like-minded mate to share the journey with. They'll get on your last nerve, but you'll come out of it laughing at mysterious things that no one else can really understand. I would add, take a break from time to time. Go and look at something beautiful, or just stay in bed for a day and recharge.” Cath Coffee, earthbag pioneer in the UK and tiny-off-grid-world-builder in Portugal.
“Water! Washing machine! Another decent pair of hands, and plain good energy to share in the awesomeness.” Jehane Rucquoi, earthbag pioneer in Nevada
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