5 Tips For Living Off The Grid Part 1: Getting Started

I knew that living in the woods in a cabin would be hard, as pretty much everyone in my life felt the
need to point out frequently. I had a pretty good idea of the challenges I was going to face, having grown up with a love for camping and all the wilderness classes my dad put me into.

It’s not so much that life is harder here; it’s just different without indoor plumbing or reliable electricity. I spend about the same amount of time doing mundane things like the dishes or cleaning. Same vacuum cleaner, though I need to fire up the generator to run it because I’m scared it will melt my rickety electrical connection to the neighbor.

Having learned some of this stuff the hard way, and being a blogger, I figured that I would start sharing some tips for living mostly or completely off the grid. And then someday maybe I’ll combine all the tips and write a really big article or a book.

The steps below are going to start with the basics and gradually get more advanced, but other than that I’m just throwing out random tips for now.

1. Keep Clean

Having trash lying around a cabin or tent is much, much worse than trash lying around your house in the city. Leave some food out for a couple days in your house and you’ll have flies. Do the same at your cabin, and you’ll have mice, rats, flies, raccoons, deer, coyotes, bobcats, etc., and about a million different kinds of insects or small animals in between, all competing in the food chain for your bacon grease.

So, food discipline is a must, but general cleanliness is valuable as well. Being more likely to get an infection and being farther away from medical services in a rural area can be a painful combination.

Hand sanitizer is something I’ve never been a huge fan of, but out here in the woods it’s not always possible or practical to wash my hands, so I keep a small bottle handy.

Make sure though in your quest for cleanliness that you don’t harm the environment. Castille soap is a good choice for most things, and camp soap works too.

2. Keep Organized

My first night here, I cleaned all the pots and pans and put them back on the counter where I had found them when I moved in. My second night here, I heated a can of chili because I didn’t have much food here. I did have cheese, and as I was sprinkling it on the chili, I noticed a few specks of something weird in the chili. Did I forgot to double check the pots were clean? I looked in the other pots and was aghast. After one day, the mice running over the pots had managed to get droppings in almost every single pot!

Everything sitting out in your tent or cabin has the potential to have bugs or rodents crawling on it. Most cans of food keep 5-10 years, and it’s easy to justify letting them sit out. But I won’t be eating those diced tomatoes once enough slugs have crawled over the cans.

Clear plastic bins work very well as a basic barrier to keep living things off your stored food. It keeps out most anything without thumbs, and you can easily see what’s in it. I use them to store cans and kitchen supplies like dish towels and tin foil and such.

Metal file cabinets also work well. Where some larger animals such as raccoon and bears might be able to get into a plastic bin (they’d still need a can opener to get in the cans,) you’d need bolt cutters to get into mine when they are locked. I use the top drawers for valuables like electronics and the bottom drawers as a pantry for produce and bread and such.

Pots and pans are now hung from hooks on the ceiling, European style.

And don’t worry about making mistakes, the mice will point those out to you, which leads to the next item on the list.

Much harder for mice to climb on my pans like this!

3. Kill All The Mice

I’m a pacifist. I don’t even like killing bugs if I don’t have to. Not that I’m morally opposed to it–circle of life and all–I just don’t like it. My first day here, “Ma” said “I don’t want you killing anything you’re not going to eat” which was fine by me. She later clarified to exempt mice from that statement, and I said “I won’t be killing the mice, either” and everyone in the room laughed. Someone said “We’ll see how your tune changes after you’ve been in the cabin for a while…”

Yeah, my tune changed. The place was completely infested, with furry the critters literally crawling all over us while we slept, not that we slept much with being crawled all over. I could hear them in the walls, and I’m pretty sure many of them held permanent residence there, since the cabin had been unoccupied for a couple years.

Resolved not to kill them, I hunted them with a squirt bottle of plain water. Maybe negative reinforcement would train them not to live in the cabin? I didn’t know what to do. Even with good organization and food discipline, there were still mouse feces all over the counter and floors no matter what I did. They were like slob roommates from hell.

One day I saw Smokey, one my Chihuahuas, eating mouse feces off the floor. Then it clicked, The mice had to go. They were a health hazard, and they weren’t going to peacefully co-exist with us. I don’t blame them for being drawn to the humans and human food. I don’t wish them ill at all, but that doesn’t change anything.

After much spirited discussion with my sister who is also a pacifist, I decided to buy both lethal and non-lethal traps, starting with the non-lethal traps first. The two non-lethal traps were catching mice about as fast as I could set the traps, and in mostly rainy weather, I was getting dressed up in full rain gear to set them loose away from the property. It wasn’t working out because in the back of my mind I was always wondering if any of those mice found their way back. Also, the neighbors weren’t too happy to hear that I might be releasing the mice towards their property.

Then it clicked that I had to start using the lethal traps. The catch-and-release traps were just punting the problem, possibly to someone else’s property.

Cats also work, and a few people suggested cats, but being outdoors for long periods of time is fairly dangerous for animals about the size of cats and small dogs like I already have. I thought about bringing my cats here when I moved, but they are much safer at my sister’s house. Not to mention your cat could catch a disease from a feral mouse. The mouser cats in rural areas are considered work animals which are expendable, and cats to me are pets just like dogs.

No, the mice had to all die. I got the extra-velocity traps that claim to be more humane, but who knows. I do apologize to every one I kill, and they all get a proper burial so I don’t create more problems.

Now the traps catch about one mouse a week, which I presume to be scouts. The scout doesn’t come back, and the rest of the mouse clan moves on. Oh, and the traps are outside now. Moving the “battlefield” to the outdoor kitchen has made the cabin mouse-free for a couple months now.

4. Keep A Solid First Aid Kit

There are all manner of things in the woods that bite or sting. Most of them will leave you alone if you reciprocate, but even a bee or wasp can have a very bad day and take it out on you.

Far away from medical services and without reliable phone service, something that would be a trip to the ER and a few stitches in a city could easily become life threatening. I’d like to think they’d get a chopper in here to quickly get me to a hospital–who knows. They certainly wouldn’t afford one of my dogs the same treatment.

The first time I seriously needed a first aid kit in the cabin, my first thought was: I don’t have one. Luckily I remembered that my bug out bag was in the cabin, and it had something resembling a fully stocked trauma kit. I’m still building and fine tuning it, but it’s fine for the basics.

Stocking a first aid kit is an elaborate subject in itself. But clearly there are common injuries and conditions you can prepare yourself for–the low hanging fruit so to speak: bandages, antiseptic, tweezers, scalpel, Tylenol, antihistamines, etc.

5. Keep A Good Fire Extinguisher

Any Neanderthal can come out to the country and start shooting stuff and lighting it on fire. But I came here to make this place better, not worse, and one way I could make it worse is by burning it down. It would be my luck, but at least I’m going to do everything I can do, which is have a few various fire extinguishers.

My sister the prepper survialist had the foresight to put a large household extinguisher here, and I brought mediums and small ones from my old empire.

The original homestead on this property burnt down. The memories were too painful to come back, so they built their next house on a different property. Every other structure on this property has caught fire at least one time–I can see the signs of burnt posts and panels.

So it’s no joke here–fire is a very real danger in this area during the summer months. I tended to focus my efforts on health and well being first, and then work on luxuries like personal comfort. There’s no well being possible without being alive and not on fire.

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