Wednesday, October 27, 2010

TEOTWAWKI Lifestyle Change

One of the things my family and I have learned being off the grid for the last ten years is that it's all about lifestyle change.

When we used to dream about being off the grid, we would talk about having a 3.5 KW solar array, a 2.5 KW wind turbine, a gravity fed water system and a "backup" 15 KW diesel generator.  We would have so much extra power that we would charge the power company to buy our surplus electricity and we would have such an awesome set-up that, rather than having a plain old standard refrigerator, we would go with a walk in cooler.  We had it all figured out.  And then the lights went out.

The reality of life was that it was life, not a dream.  Our dreams gave way to the cold, hard truth and no longer were we the heroes of our own story.  Rather than Livin' the Dream with our 3.5 KW solar array, 2.5 KW wind turbine, gravity fed water and 15 KW generator, we started out with a 5 KW Generac generator (that lasted roughly a week), a 35 gallon barrel of water with a spigot on the bottom and two Coleman lamps.  Oh, and a camping toilet set up in a corner of our shed.

I would love to tell you that we gracefully accepted our reduced circumstances and turned lemons into lemonade, but sadly, we sucked on some pretty sour lemons before we figured out a crucial component of our post-apocalyptic lifestyle.  We had to change the way we did things.

No longer could we run to Costco and stock up on milk, cheese, eggs and meat.  We had no refrigeration.  We had to learn to go without.  I had to learn to can everything from bacon to cheese to lemon curd.  Things that most people take for granted, like unlimited electricity were highly valued commodities to be used only in rare and specific circumstances.  Water was a treasure.  It had to be used and re-used.  I would heat water on the wood cookstove for dishes and once the wash water was too icky to use any longer I would throw it out and use the rinse water for wash water and only get new rinse water.  The left over bath water could be used to flush the toilet.

We had to completely change the way we treated our clothing.  I did all of the laundry on a galvanized tub on the top of our wood cookstove.  It was impossible for me to keep up with laundry for a family of 5 (now 7) that changed their clothes every day.  We had to change the way we wore our clothes.  Our Sunday best was saved for Sunday.  Only.  We could wear our Sunday best numerous Sundays before they required a trip through the galvanized tub.  The rest of the time we wore our "grubbies".  Unless we tromped through the mud, we could wear the same clothes every day for almost a week.  We had to do things like wash our face, hands and feet before bed so our sheets stayed clean.  We girls would wear aprons so that our clothes didn't get filthy.  The guys wore coveralls over their jeans.  We learned that we couldn't live a 21st Century life in a 19th Century existence.  We had to change our lifestyle.

As Sir Knight and I talk to friends about preparing for uncertain times, one of the common themes we hear is, "We are going to have a 3.5 KW solar array, 2.5 KW wind turbine.......".  And our response is always, "you might want to be thinking about a lifestyle change".

Looking back, there were a few simple things that we could have done that would have eased our transition from "normal" to "off-grid".  We could have spent a number of "lights-out" weekends.  Turning the power off for a few days would have given us a glimpse of what non-electric would have looked like long term.  We would have known what kind of lighting worked best and what to expect with no refrigeration.  We would have known what "pacifiers" we were really dependent on and had the opportunity to wean ourselves.  Hind-sight being 20/20, we would have gotten a James Washer and practiced doing laundry by hand.  We did everything the hard way and really, we could have put more thought into basic necessities and made life far easier on ourselves.

The more planning we do to ready our families for uncertainties the better off we will be, however, the realities of life are that it is impossible to plan for every eventuality.  You have to take a good hard look at how you currently are living your life and be prepared to change just about everything.  TEOTWAWKI is not for the faint of heart.  It will require fortitude, perseverance and a willingness to do what it takes.  It will require you to look at any given situation and change your lifestyle to match your circumstances.  You can make the transition from your "normal life" to your "TEOTWAWKI life" much easier with a little pre-planning, a little thought and a lot of realism.

Enjoy your 21st Century life while planning for your 19th Century existence.  We did everything the hard way.  You don't have to.


  1. Some great insight...thank you for sharing. Until we get some first hand practice/experience, we have to rely on that of others. I'm thinkin my family would freak out if I turned off the power, but maybe its worth a try to see how we'd handle it.

    Thanks again, Nina

  2. Ouch. And thank you.

    Your afternoon tea time has inspired me to do something similar, but in the evening just before bedtime, when my little ones always seem to be hankering for a snack. I'm going to start scouring our thrift stores for some sturdy cups and saucers from which to enjoy some warm vanilla milk and a ginger snap or two. I'm so looking forward to creating a winsome new tradition this autumn, and you are such an inspiration!


  3. This seems very familiar as our family moved off grid w/in the last year. Bucket baths replaced showers -- with a tea kettle of hot water in a 5 gal bucket of cold well water.

    We lived for a while on what we called an 'hour-of-power' where we ran the gen once a day to pump water and do whatever we were going to do w/ electricity.

    Living without refrigeration has been an adjustment, one I could have never seen my family making 10 years ago.

    We've all come away with a renewed understanding of what is necessary vs. luxury.

    It's not the circumstances in which you live which define you, it's your reaction to the circumstances.

    Throughout all, God has been faithful and loving. We have learned so much. As we've moved aside our pride and idolatry it's been replaced by joy and love.

    Praise God.

  4. My clothes washer died last November, so I started doing my laundry by hand, with a wash board and wash tubs. For Christmas my husband bought me a wringer so I could wring the clothes out better. We have now been without a washer for almost a year. My two daughters and I enjoy our weekly wash times. There are only four of us, so it not a daunting task. We hang our clothes out in front of our gas fireplace to dry in the winter and outside in the summer. Someday I will have a wood burning cook stove and a real fire to dry my clothes in front of. I am slowly getting a new mind set for what life can be like without electricity. It is our goal to live off of the grid in the next 2-3 years, hopefully by choice, but possibly without a choice. Thank you for sharing your experiences. They are very enlightening. For another perspective of living off the grid check out the book "Better Off" by Eric Brende. It is a fun book to read and you get a unique perspective as well.

  5. Great post! While we're not off-grid, we are preparing for the what-ifs. You've given a lot to think about. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Your post gives me a lot to think about. We are preparing for some down times and in that preparation we had a drill...48 hours with no electricity. I won't kid you it was difficult! We don't think about all the little things that require electricity. I need to thaw some butter in a hurry but had no microwave. It was difficult. I spent the weekend cooking in cast iron over a grill. My son is home schooled so he had a limited amount of light to work by. It was truly eye opening. I think the thing that was the worst was not having a hot shower. We have an electric water heater so....cold water. I pray that things don't get as bad as some are saying but if they do it is nice to kind know what we'll be looking at for a future. Thanks so much for your insight! :)

  7. You have my admiration. We are working this way slowly, having made several adjustments already, and moving that way in increments. For this place, it is more of a "going back" since rural electric didn't even come through here until the 1930s and I remember many stories from my grandparents, etc. about how they did things prior to that. If they could do it, we can too. It just takes some practice and, as you say, a shifting of paradigms in our own minds.

  8. Very interesting post. Took me back to my younger days when I was part of the "back to the land" "movement." Bought 140 undeveloped wooded acres with 6 friends; no road, no access. Lived there for about 2 years with no electricity and only gravity fed spring water. Actually, we didn't have a building to live in, just a couple of tipis. You are so right about the bottom line being lifestyle. I would have stayed there, except there were too many interpersonal conflicts and since I was on the bottom of the pecking order, I was asked to leave. It was a painful experience, but the Lord used it to reveal Himself to me. My DH and I have 5 acres now and would love to be off-grid, but its very different here. Not nearly so rural, the home is old and already on-grid. Makes it harder to disentangle. Sorry for babbling on. I'll go now. :)

  9. Sniff, sniff....there are some things I will truly miss. On the other hand, there are many things I won't miss. Come what may, we will
    get through it.

    NoCal Gal

  10. A few years ago I had my own TEOTWAWKI situation when my marriage broke up and I ended up living in a tent. Totally off grid, under-the-radar, nor refrigeration, no electric,no running water (except for the creek near my camp site), NOTHING.
    Life style change in extremis!
    You adapt, you compromise, you learn new skills, you figure things out because there is NO other option.
    Strange to say, I treasure the experience of living in a tent, because it taught me so much.
    It made me stronger.
    It made me more adaptable.
    I learned so many things so rapidly!
    Also a bit weird....I sometimes MISS living in my little tent and hearing the creek gurgling away while I went to sleep gazing at the stars.
    I worked my way out of that situation, but if thrown into it again, I know I would be okay.

  11. I haven't seen this mentioned yet, but have you tried contacting (in person, obviously) any Amish farming families to ask if you could observe how they live? I mean, you're describing the life they've been leading, continuously, since they founded their communities. Their knowledge and experience in off-grid living must be tremendous! But I have no idea how to tap into it, or even if the Amish have any interest in teaching us. Maybe if we approach them respectfully, and with a teachable heart, they'll help us.

  12. Thanks for the reminder :)

  13. Thanks for this. I realize you're busy and aren't likely to have the time, but would you please consider posting a quick list of your trials and errors? Things you experienced and learned from? I want to be off-grid in a year and would love any suggestions/pointers/knowledge you could share.

    Many thanks regardless!
    BW (fellow homeschooler and believer)

  14. during my childhood up until the age of 18 when i joined the my family lived off the grid...literally. and so did my neighbors. stories abound about how poor and iliterate those of apalachia are but the truth is yes, we were poor (and still are) but we are not stupid. there are gonna be alot more survivors of when teotwawki comes and i bet my bottom dollar that it will be those who live the lifestyle you describe. God bless you and yours!