True Story: 'We Lived Off The Grid' A Young Families Journey

Categories: Life Stories

I think a lot of us fantasize about ‘getting away from it all’ and getting off the grid. No utility bills! No neighbors! Meals from the garden! Today, Chandelle is telling us what it’s really like – loud gas generators, coyotes, and all. FASCINATING.

Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hi, I’m Chandelle! I’m 29, and I live in a small town of 1800 people in Mendocino County, California, with my husband Jeremy and our children Isaiah (age 8) and Willow (age 7). I work full-time in administration at a Waldorf school. In my off-hours, I like to read, write, cook, take pictures, and fantasize of a homesteading life. For two years, I lived off-grid with my family in a 300-square-foot, one-room cabin on a 5000-acre ranch.

For those of us who don’t know, what does it mean to live ‘off the grid’?
For most people I think the central issue is self-sufficiency. In some ways, you are producing your own energy, water, and maybe food. But the definition can be as flexible or rigid as you want it to be. In the loosest of terms, you can be living off-grid even if everything in your house runs on gasoline from a generator, because you’re not “on the grid” and paying a regular bill to PG&E.

On the other hand, a purist might not consider my family’s situation to be “off-grid” because we still used a propane stove. But some measure of self-sufficiency, especially in energy production, is standard.

What are some of the misconceptions about people who do this?
The primary one might be that people who do this must be “survivalists,” stockpiling weapons as well as canned food, full of paranoia and perhaps a religious fervor. My family isn’t religious and we had just one gun while we lived off-grid, mostly for scaring off the bobcat who liked to eat our chickens.

Living in a rural and forward-thinking place, I know many people who live fully or partially off the grid. The off-grid folks I know all have jobs and kids and tend to be motivated more by progressive values, like being less dependent on an extractive, exploitative economy, than fear of the government.

How did you and your family make the decision to do this?
Our primary motivation was a desire to grow our own food and be more self-sufficient. We could grow a small garden in town, but we wanted to grow a majority of our food and raise animals as well.

For a while, we lived and worked on a friend’s farm, which gave us a taste for the potential of that lifestyle, but cohousing was just overwhelming for two highly introverted people. We found this little ramshackle cabin and fell in love immediately. I was inspired by the possibility of living within strict lifestyle limits, and our landlord was very flexible about our gardening and livestock plans.

How did the people in your life react to your decision?
In this community, because it’s low in population and dominated by the cannabis industry, it’s a very accepted and typical thing to live far out in limited circumstances. Some people were even really happy for us and hoped that we’d have a good experience. We had lots of community support.

Our parents were a little concerned, though not surprised because we’re often engaged in these little experiments in living. There were some fears about rattlesnakes and being so far from a hospital (about 45 minutes), and occasionally some snarky comments about human progress and Little House on the Prairie.

Can you tell us about the process of moving from a ‘traditional’ American life to an off-grid life?  
We’d been progressively downsizing for many years and hoping to someday live in a tiny house, so it wasn’t much trouble to shrink down even further. We donated most of our furniture (just thrift store stuff) and most kitchen appliances and sold our television. I loaned my precious, ridiculously expensive Blendtec to a foodie friend because I knew we’d never have enough energy to run something so powerful.

We didn’t want to limit our children too much, so we organized the loft area so they could have their own space and things. We kept our jobs since we were just living a little further away, and our kids stayed in the same Waldorf school they’d been attending. (I wouldn’t homeschool anyway, but especially not in such an isolated environment.)

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