How to realize your own dreams
of living simply and self-sufficiently
without most utility costs or a big mortgage
intoxicated with a dream
gives us the passion to bring it into reality!"
WHERE TO START?
We would recommend simplifying your lifestyle where you live now first. You will soon find out if this is really for you and living with less is really what you want. You will also of course be saving money in the process which will help make the transition all the easier when you finally pull up stakes, buy some land, start producing your own energy and building your own home. You may already be doing many of the things listed below, but here are some suggestions:
1 - Replace every incandescent light bulb in your house with a compact fluorescent. The savings on your electric bill will be signifcant, and every watt you save is just that much less air and water pollution from coal fired power plants that would have produced it.
2- Turn off the heat to some of the rooms in your house and try living in less space for awhile. Turn down the thermostat in the Winter and up in the Summer -- more big savings on the power bill(s) and for the environment. A tankless water heater is also a great solution for water heating. They are 98% energy efficient, help reduce energy usage by 50%, and are cheaper than solar water heating systems.
3 - "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" - It is absolutely amazing what people throw away either brand new or very little used -- start haunting thrift stores, garage sales, and salvage yards. We continue to find wonderful bargains including not only clothes but much of the lumber, doors, windows, etc. we have used in building our house. Scout out hand-me-downs and repair what you have. Check close-out sales -- Mindy has been wearing $10 tennies for years... And we have cultivated the high and honorable art of Dumpster Diving, saving ourselves a lot of money and finding some real "treasures".
4 - Perhaps move to a smaller and less expensive house with a smaller mortgage obligation if the time isn't right yet to make the "big leap". The literal meaning of the word mortgage in French is "death pledge" -- think about it!
5 -Install one or two solar electric (PV) panels to supply the power for just one room of your house like the study or perhaps a workshop. We installed two panels on the roof of our travel trailer 16 years ago. We learned a great deal about what to do and also what NOT to do. This knowledge was invaluable when we actually planned and began installing our big PV system for the new place out in the desert in Arizona.
6 - Of course, do as much preliminary research and reading as you can on renewable energy and natural building methods (see Sources). A lot of what we have learned came not only from books and magazines but right off the Internet. Take lots of time to just sit and dream! If you have a significant-other, dream together. Work out your plans together. If there are some compromises to be made, work 'em out now (not out in the middle of the boonies after you've just sold your house). Scout out areas you might want to live and real estate prices and take some trips. In particular, talk to the natives...
7 - And somehow you must endure the reaction of at least some of your neighbors who will think you crazy for doing any or all of the above. This happened for years to us before we actually made the big move, and it was something of an agony to be honest. Thinking of the following quote helped a little...
"Today's mighty oak
is just yesterday's nut that held its ground."
8 - Find like minded souls in your area to get together with and share ideas and plans. Form a "Living Simply Club".
9 - Join one or more of the many discussion groups on the Internet which are devoted to self-sufficiency, renewable energy, or natural building (see the last section below). Also check out The Living Simply Network.
THE BIG LEAP
We highly recommend the following book - it is a gold mine of information and inspiration: "Mortgage Free! Radical Strategies for Home Ownership" by Rob Roy: A Real Goods Solar Living Book, 365 pages, 1998.
Each year for three about 150 people came out from Tucson each October to visit Solar Haven as part of the National Tour of Solar Homes. So many people said they wanted to make the transition to a more self sufficient and simple life style closer to the natural world, but the question came up repeatedly of how to finance such a venture, what to do about working and health insurance, etc. This is where Rob Roy's book is sooooo useful...
In a nut shell, most people can not afford to build their own place and achieve energy independence unless they are willing to live a somewhat Spartan life for a time while they develop their land and energy systems and new home. Examples are a travel trailer or mobile home, an old out-building on their new property that they have "fixed up" a little, or even a Tipi or Yurt. If you a have nice big house to live in during this period, most likely you will have a nice big mortgage on it too which requires you to work full time to pay for it -- and you are right back where you started -- no time to make the Big Leap and develop a new home and life style.
We bought a 21 year old single-wide mobile home in wonderful condition to live in for $10,000, and Mindy worked part time while Jim stayed home full time. There were much less expensive trailers available but they required too many repairs. Gone was the big mortgage we had to pay for in the big city. Many people we know have lived in small travel trailers, sometime for years while buidling their house -- but this CAN get very stressful, however, particularly if you have children! We have watched two marriages almost go on the rocks, but they held on and got through it all.
Once you are not working full time at a regular job to pay for a big, expensive house, you will be in a much lower income bracket which makes you eligible for some kind of State medical assistance. In Arizona, it is called the "Access" program, and it pays all doctors visits, most medications, hospitalizations, and diagnostic tests. Both of us qualified easily.
Depending on how primitive you are willing to live, a very small "grub stake" can get you going -- perhaps as little as $5000 (again see Rob Roy's book for details). Rural land is often VERY INEXPENSIVE when it does not have any utilities. We paid $13,200 for four acres (about a 30 minute drive from Tucson). Land in the very same area with electricity, water, and phone costs $25,000 an acre. Land further from the city can be purchased for much less than we paid. If you are willing to live off the grid and perhaps even rely on rain catchment for your water as we do (wells are very expensive if you have to drill very far), having a big, beautiful chunk of mother earth under your feet which you can call your own becomes possible.
THERE'S LOTS OF HELP
Though spread all over the world in out-of-the- way places, there are a surprisingly large number of folks in the natural building and alternative energy movement. They are a wonderful friendly bunch of people who stick together as a huge global community and help each other out in any way they can. This means answering countless questions on the dozens of discussion groups and newsgroups on the Internet, coming to help at wall raisings and other workshops, talking on the phone for hours, writing letters of support when needed, and donating materials and loaning tools and equipment if they live close by. Solar Haven could not have been built with the "gang". Everyone wants to give back in some way the help that was extended to them when they first started -- this is part of the reason for this big web site and the dozens of calls and e-mails we now answer each month.
In addition to the many discussion groups on Crest-Repp and Yahoo, one of the best ways to keep up with what people are doing throughout the world is to subscribe to Home Power Magazine. The articles are technical, hands-on, here's-how-we-did-it type stuff -- invaluable when you are out there adon' it or planning to! Back articles (now available of several CD-ROMs) add up to a major reference library. It's also the best possible way to keep up on the very latest solar, wind, and micro-hydro products as well as companies that can plan and install systems for you.
Research and plan thoroughly, yes! But then just do it despite the considerable fear and intrepidation you will undoubtedly be feeling (we would be surprised if it were otherwise). It just isn't possible to have all questions answered and everything planned out before starting. Many solutions and sometimes the best ones actually emerge only as you are out there doing it. In the end, the big leap you are taking must be a "leap of faith"...
"When we set foot on our bare land, having sold our house and packed everything away, it was in a psychological state somewhere between excitement and joy and stark terror."
- jim and mindy
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