Miles of copper cables above the ground parallel miles of plastic pipe below, forming squares and rectangles that form our utility grid. It is a beautiful testimony to man’s ability to harness power, water, and gas and take it around the nation. So what is the appeal of living off grid? Independence is one. Self-sufficiency is another. Grit and determination come to mind. I can identify with each of these. The utility system is both wonderful and limiting. Once the lines are connected to your house, you receive all sorts of modern benefits along with a bill each month. A bill that will never stop coming.
Living off grid has its challenges. I have never been off grid for power, but our current home, which is in an older residential neighborhood that is still outside of the city limits, relies on a well and a septic system. Over the last 4 years I have paid $200 for water and sewer. At our last home I had to dig up the septic line by hand and replace it where the ground had shifted and caused it to collapse, so there can be additional challenges. For example, if you live without any utility electric, you will have to monitor your electrical usage carefully. Apparently many are willing to pay the price for some inconvenience in order to unplug from the grid.
Among these folks you will find the anti-government types, the apocalyptic types, and the self-sufficient types (I’m sure there are others). The appeal to me lands closest to “self-sufficient”, but maybe it’s not the best description. After all, off-gridders form their own community that often cares for each other, teaches each other skills, passes along useful information, etc… The idea of harnessing resources in order to be self-sufficient strums that chord hidden deep within every man that was made for dominion. I was made to exercise dominion, in the best sense of that word, and there is nothing wrong with the satisfaction that comes from eating the fruit of the tree you planted.
Our world is filled with other types of “grids”. These are developed ecosystems that convey benefits to those who plug into them, but also come with a price. As a family, we have not sat down and discussed how to “unplug”, and yet as I look at the trajectory of our life together we are moving more and more in that direction. Like dear old dad, I have subconsciously walked around my life unplugging various contraptions and now wonder why I ever used them in the first place.
Certain non-essentials come to mind, like the world of entertainment and professional sports. I still listen to music and I still love to play sports, but I lost nothing when those grids crashed due to Covid-19. I use to be an avid NBA fan but lost interest when the individual personalities began to dominate what is supposed to be a team sport. The NFL was my last hold-out, but my wife doesn’t enjoy football and I enjoy her company more than I enjoy football, so apart from an occasional game a canceled NFL season won’t mean much to me. Far less will mean the canceled TV shows or movies, concerts and award programs, and other entertainment type stuff.
A more serious move off-grid is when we decided not to plug into the public education system. This had been brewing in my mind since our eldest was born. She just completed her first year in a Classical Christian school that also has a home schooling component and we are planning on staying in that for the foreseeable future. Unplugging came with a price tag: monthly tuition expenses that are not subsidized by local property taxes. There is the additional energy it takes from my wonderful wife, who has to manage 2 “littles” while teaching the eldest for a portion of the week. As we approach the end of her first year, we are convinced that the benefits outweigh the inconveniences.
Just as advancements in technology and building products are making living off-grid a greater possibility for homeowners, I see the economy providing more opportunities for employees to unplug from corporate jobs. It comes with risk, but we shouldn’t pretend that working for a corporation doesn’t come with risks. I hope to provide means for my children to build something that they own rather that work for someone else.
As you move off-grid, you find that your time and energy gets to be (or sometimes MUST be) devoted to other things. Hopefully those things are more productive and fruitful than what the grid offered. Unplugging from sports and entertainment means doing remodeling projects, writing a blog, and reading more books. Unplugging from the public education system yields a more complex mix of challenges and benefits. Unplugging from a corporate job might entail more work hours, but perhaps those work hours could also incorporate time with family that you would not have had otherwise. Obviously there are a ton of variables here.
I’m not suggesting we all become Amish. But we live in a complex society that tries to convince us that its complexity is necessary and that we couldn’t live without it. Perhaps if we tried we might find that not only is it possible, it’s also productive.