We decided to chuck it just as the 2008 market meltdown was in full swing. We had seen enough signs to know that whatever direction our society was headed, we wanted to get off. Some of the signs were big ones that few people missed; 9/11, Waco, TBTF. Others were more subtle; the PC movement, the tattoo thing, the sudden appearance of huge numbers of morbidly obese people everywhere, an increasing number of people with their heads fixed in abject submission to an electronic device, and an overall decline in civility even in places we had known all our lives. If this was the initial trajectory then we weren’t planning on being anywhere near the re-entry and splashdown. Not that we hadn’t fallen for it ourselves with the constant consumption of resources, the enslavement to granite countertops and cable TV, the ever widening gap between what we thought we wanted and what brought us peace. We tried to mitigate our sense of unease by going to church and doing good deeds for others, but this only highlighted the failure to live up to our own potential in all things. When you do something bad or careless or wasteful or selfish you can’t undo it by being nice to a stranger or roasting a turkey for the folks at the nursing home once a year; it only makes it worse because you know you’re trying to hedge your bet. At some point, if you have any sense of honor and decency you have to make a decision to throw in with the rest of the world and go along for the ride, or strike out on your own path and see if maybe there isn’t a better way.
Looking back over the past six years it’s clear that we didn’t really have the first clue about going off grid. We’d watched a lot of youtube videos, read the core curriculum of the alternative lifestyle school and even developed a few essential skills for our new life, but we still had our heads firmly fixed in a time and place that we were leaving behind. If we had to do it all over again there would have been a lot of things we would have changed and a few we would have done better. I am often asked about what motivated us, how we have adjusted, if it was worth it, but rarely how we did it. This is a short course on the five most important considerations of actually saying goodbye to the popular culture of the US and finding a sanctuary wherever you go.
1) Find the right place. This was one that we nailed more by pure luck than by intention. We had looked around the country, visited numerous properties, considered as many possibilities as we could in the two years we spent getting ready to head out including staying put. We made several lists with things that were important to us and things that we wanted to avoid wherever we settled. Primary consideration was given to the neccessities of life; water, energy sources, arable land, a distance from urban areas, but proximity to emergency service like hospitals and fire services. We also wanted seasons to play a part in our life — something we considered extremely important but which others may not. Once we had narrowed it down to that we were able to focus on places that had an aesthetic appeal; mountains, lakes, proximity to a coastline. The final decision was a stroke of pure luck. We had made our final decision on a Sunday and the next morning I sat down at my desk and googled two words that yielded, as the first hit, the property we were to buy one month later. Looking back now it seems as if we were destined to live here, but we had based our choice on specific criteria and stuck with it when it came time pull the switch. A place where you feel at home is one of the most important decisions anyone can ever make. Choose wisely.
2) Do it yourself. Big mistake on my part at the outset. We had saved enough to purchase the property and to stay afloat for several years until we developed both the skills and the markets for our surplus. The basic idea was self sufficiency as much as that is possible in today’s world but when we arrived here we immediately began to recreate the patterns we had left behind by finding specialists to do what we should have done on our own. We hired someone to clear a pasture, we found a new mechanic, we hired a guy to paint the house, etc. Not that there aren’t some things that require a person with experience, like a good dentist, but for the most part we were capable of doing nearly everything we needed to do. We had become so used to the idea that one hires out work to specialists that we missed numerous opportunities to learn new skills and perfect old ones. Once we started to handle things without help we discovered that we were not only preserving precious capital, but building self confidence, developing abilities that seemed difficult but were in fact quite simple and because it was for ourselves doing a far better job in most cases. The idea of fixing a broken timing bar on the tractor — a piece of equipment I’d never owned before — seemed impossible until I took the time to do it and once done gave me the confidence to work on increasingly more difficult tasks with success.
3) Live in the moment. This was the one that jumped out at me more than any other. Most of my life had been lived either planning for the future and making plans for a life I wasn’t living, or looking back on the past and either regretting missed opportunities or dwelling on past successes. When every day requires an effort, the repetition of chores, labor outdoors in every weather, endless corrections and fixes of present problems there remains very little time to live in any time but the present. Daydreams are quickly supplanted by focused thoughts, past problems become immaterial when dealing with life and death issues in the here and now and the future is constantly being altered by the actions of today. Just as putting your full physical, mental and spiritual efforts into a single task fulfills the human life, so too does the very act of being here now. Each dropping leaf, each bawl of a newborn calf, every rock and branch become part of the substance and texture of your life in an intimate and personal way that are impossible to understand when these things are viewed as backdrops to a life lived out of synch with Nature.
4) Embrace the new economy of substinence living. We live in a time when people believe that wealth is summed up in a number, where having a job or earning a degree or building a retirement account are some sort of talisman against the vagaries of the future. People work the majority of their waking hours so they can spend the few that they have to themselves being “entertained”, or take drugs to alter their perceptions and ease their anxieties without ever questioning why they are anxious or what they need to be distracted from. They choose careers in fields that neither interest or excite them, or compel them to sit sedentary for long periods of time so that their bodies and metabolisms change them into doughy, ill, poorly rested souls out of synch with the seasons or even the hours of the day. What we earn in money is offset by what we lose in health and quality of life. What would a person suffering from insomnia give for a truly good night’s rest not brought on by chemicals or alcohol? Or what would someone do to feel physically fit when their lifestyle has rendered them obese from ill use? That entire economies are built on weight loss gimmicks and pharmaceutical adulterants to treat these issues should answer the obvious. By accepting a life with lower income but an immeasureably improved standard of living we offset our need for dollars and replace it with stronger bodies, restful sleep, fulfilling labor, satisfied rest, authentic hunger, and happier days. Before we chose to do this I spent the majority of my waking hours doing something I didn’t like, surrounded by people unrelated to me, in an artificial environment, spending countless funds to offset my own dissatisfaction while my body deteriorated and my mind dwelled on unhealthy thoughts. Now I spend my days and nights with the ones I love, producing things that have value for people who appreciate the effort. My body is healthy, my thoughts are positive, the land we live on is productive, we do for ourselves and for others, and we eat and sleep better than we have at any time in our lives. There is a wealth in this life that cannot be quantified in dollars and cents and it is the result of our decision to stop focusing on earnings and to invest in our well being.
5) Do unto others. Going Galt doesn’t mean going it alone. No one can do everything by themselves no matter how much they may want to. You can’t get everything you need to get done before you die. Taking those things into consideration there is a lot to be said for offering your time and your efforts to people who need it. Working for others without a financial angle has become an alien concept in the current era, but for most of human history it was the framework upon which civilization was built. I am not talking about pure altruism, but rather community building. In much the same way someone contributes to a 401K, providing your labor, using your skills and tools to aid others who do not have them or require them due to their current conditon builds up an account that may or may not be drawn on at some time in the future and perhaps in some way that you cannot imagine. I have described in past essays the way our community treated us after we lost our barn in a fire and that was after three years of living here. Had we been recluses or behaved in a way that isolated us from others I don’t think the experience would have been the same. By being open, by helping people who needed a hand, by simply practicing the act of being good neighbors we had built ourselves a comfortable social account without intent. As much as I resent the current preoccupation of the body politic demanding that everyone be provided for by taking it from those who have something to take without their consent, I look forward to doing for those whom I know on a face to face basis when my help could come in handy.
There are some things we still miss about our life before we chose to ‘Go Galt’ but they pale in comparison to the things we love about the life we live now. We have come closer to living according to the advice of Romans 12:2:
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.