I have often wondered at the intensity of what it means to live off grid. It intrigues me, drawing me in on a grand idea of the ultimate sacrifice to live prudently in care of the earth and in an effort to respect the resources we often abuse.
In the name of research, Katrina and I headed west with our families to a little homestead situated in the driftless region of WI. Aryn and her husband Luke invited us to set up camp in their yard and live off grid with them for the weekend. It was an opportunity to see a lifestyle that has seemed impossible to embark on. However, after just a few short 48 hours, I learned so much about the impact we have on the earth and lots of small ways I can create a smaller carbon footprint.
For the first few months of their marriage, Aryn and Luke lived out of a tent set up on their property that runs along Luke’s father’s farm. They discovered the family’s old grainery and after months and months of work, they transformed it into their simple one room home which boasts a very comfy loft. They would later add a smaller front room with a wood burning stove.
The grainery uses old reclaimed barn wood for the interior walls. In the amount of square footage typically reserved for hotel rooms, they have their kitchen, with antique crates as cupboards, a hand crafted butcher block island as their cooking and serving station, a dining room that also hosts their wardrobe closet and dresser. A loft was built as their sleeping quarters, and just this past year, they added an additional front room with a futon that doubles as a couch and bed and a wood burning stove. The home is decorated in gems found at the local thrift store, discovered on the property, or art that Aryn herself created. She finds inspiration from pinterest for creative ways to utilize her tiny space for fun and function.
As soon as our families arrived at the property, the doors flew open and the kids ran and roamed the woods. They explored the ravine, hunted for the perfect fort building spot, discovered trees that were laying on the ground to be used for balance beams and acres of land to play chasing games and hide and seek. (Luke, being the wilderness expert that he is, of course gave the kids a quick rundown of where they were allowed and how to navigate the woods).
As the kids explored, and the grown ups shared a drink and some hors devours, we discussed the intentional life choices they had made and why they felt inspired to live completely off grid. Listening to them talk about how little we actually need to survive had me thoughtful about my own choices. Though it seems daunting, it doesn’t take much research to find alternative food, water and electricity options.
The best moment for me was as we discussed alternative energy sources, the UPS truck drove up and dropped off a package of new socks for Luke and a new tool he had been waiting for. With their generator used only at selective times, they can still power their cell phones and Ipad and computer. Utilizing these modern day conveniences, they are able to occasionally watch movies and TV shows together. It was a moment of being completely off the grid, but realizing how easy it still is to stay connected.
Aryn and Luke use 2 12V batteries that they charge at Luke’s parents home (update: they are now fully converted to solar power!). They take advantage of solar powered yard lights for their property to increase their visibility in the dark winter months.
Their bathroom is a normal toilet seat on top of a wooden box with a garbage can underneath that is accessed from the outside of the house for easy emptying. After you are done conducting business, you simply throw a small scoop of saw dust or coffee bean hulls on top to eliminate the smell. And it truly does work.
Luke spends many hours each summer and fall chopping wood to fuel their high efficiency wood burning stove. With the house being the size it is, it warms up remarkably fast. They also have a propane stove that was taken from a camper and refrigerator that works perfectly on one propane tank. Very minimal costs and yet the house is full of conveniences and absolutely cozy.
As for water, they have a 200 gallon gravity fed water tank that is tucked behind the toilet in the bathroom. It feeds into the kitchen sink, allowing water access. There isn’t pressure, and it’s not hot, but washing dishes is actually quite simple just by warming up a pot of water on the stove. The 5 gallon bucket under the sink gets emptied regularly to water the outdoor plants. Luke fills their water tank from the family farm down the road, but they also boast a rain barrel shower outside in the yard. When the weather doesn’t cooperate, they shower at the Y after a workout, or at the school where Luke works, but there is also always the family farm.
Everywhere you look there is beauty in color with their inventive spirit of reusing materials. They tap into their trees for their own homemade maple syrup, their hops arbor will act as a front fence, raspberries grow along the house, and they boast a large vegetable garden in the clearing that was created by cutting down dying trees to use for their heat source. Nothing is left behind. Everything is resourced off the land. They don’t just consume what the land can offer, but instead they live with the land, respecting its boundaries and offerings.
I loved my time with Aryn and Luke. The conversation always so invigorating and inspired. I went home paying more attention to how many lights I leave on, how long I keep the water running when doing dishes or brushing my teeth. I was inspired to purchase solar outdoor lights instead of using electric. I think if we can all learn a thing or two from each about respecting our limiting resources, we really could make a difference.
If you want to follow Aryn and Luke’s journey, you can check out their blog! Secretly, I hope this becomes an annual trip, or maybe at least we can go when they tap those Maple Trees and I can learn a thing or two!
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