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Three Years Off Grid—The Good, The Bad, The Ugly…and the Blessings?

Three years in an off grid camper

What have we learned in our three + years off grid?

What would we do differently if we could do it over again?

Should YOU live in your camper while building or setting up your off grid homestead?

We will discuss a few lessons we’ve learned, some frustrations, and things to consider if you ever contemplate living off grid and in a camper/RV at the same time, or if you are simply considering the off grid life and what it takes to set it up.

  • First we will deal with our challenges, including what we each have learned.
  • Secondly we will focus on the good that has come out of our three-plus years living off grid in our camper.
  • We will also list a couple of the things we have done, in this interim time, to make life a little easier.

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First of all, there is no way that I will be able to distill three years worth of living into a single post. So, as far as what we’ve learned, I’m going to hit on things that we can/could change, or things that we didn’t anticipate learning.

Does that make sense?

Installing septic lines
Putting in our septic lines

I could not begin to tell you all of the new skills we’ve learned along the way. The ins and out of a generator for power, all the usual things people learn when spending time in a camper/RV. All the gas lines, water systems, and propane appliances—those are beyond the scope of this post.

Excavating
Digging house foundation and water lines

And building skills. You will also have tons of new things to learn, should you decide to go off the grid. But since there are so many ways to do that (I’m on a Facebook group of like half a million people, and they argue a lot about what off grid living looks like), that’ll be another topic you’ll have to learn as you go.

Pouring concrete
Adam helping with concrete

Our Experiences

But I can share some things to be aware of, should you embark on what really is a notch up from Tiny House Living—a more primitive, and much more involved version of it.

Framing house walls
Framing the house walls

A reminder about what we’ve been doing so far at Ridge Haven Homestead.

  • Taming our raw mountainous land of 26 acres
  • Cutting in garden terraces, installing water systems, including rainwater cachement, gravity feed tanks, well, plus installing our solar system.
  • Building our cabin as we have resources, including cutting and milling our own wood for inside and out. 
  • Living in our camper as we work, homeschool, and work on everything.
  • Erecting a green house, raised beds, and trying to get the soil balance right to get our garden productive
Sounds Easy, Right? ?‍
Skid steer
Cutting in our driveway

Easy in principle, a tad more challenging in real life.

To start, let’s just give everyone in the family (well…not Austin, since he’s away at school) a chance to share a few lessons/principles, straight from the horses’ mouths! And my abundant comments follow the bold text.

Building
House building/Homeschool project

Andrew

  1. Can’t use much TP or you’ll have to stir the pot. RV/camper toilets are notorious for clogging. Even though we have ours hooked into the septic, the black tank still tends to cone with toilet paper. We have to do some real TLC for our toilet to keep moving along! Five gallon buckets of water and a stir stick do get used when we need them.
  2. Ration the water. We’ve gotten better at making our water last. It’s a necessity. We all get frustrated if we run out, so we do what we can to make it stretch.
  3. Five minute showers or you’ll get a cold one. Our camper hot water tank holds five gallons. Try washing you hair and body on that. It actually can be done, with water left over. You mix the hot/cold, and work quickly, turning it off unless wetting down or rinsing. We really miss a long, hot shower, and look forward to when we can do contrast showers again, when we are sick. See This post, which explains contrast showers and other health interventions you can do easily at home!
  4. Framed house
    Shop area framed up

Adam:

  1. Keep the generator filled up! Rain or shine!
  2. Don’t run out of propane Done that. It never runs out at a good time.
  3. Keep the water tank filled up. How many times have we had showers interrupted just as we’ve gotten all soaped up?  
  4. Tiny Fridge—can’t store much food, have to shop more often. Think your fridge is crammed full?  Try using a 6 cubit feet fridge, and you’ll see yours as quite large. 
  5. Keep Kobalt batteries charged. If the generator is running, there better be batteries charging! We use Kobalt tools, flashlights, overhead lighting, and phone chargers. So, uncharged batteries are useless. We don’t run power at night at this point, so everyone appreciates a bank of charged batteries to keep our phones, tools, and lights charged.  See my post on Ten Essentials for your Off Grid RV Homestead
  6. Hard to have friends over into a camper. We sometimes have invited friends for a bonfire and meal outside. We will be thankful to get into our cabin!
  7. Laundry issues—trucking clothes into town to wash. We’ve lost things off the back of the truck en route. Imagine your undies flying off the truck out into traffic! ?  Don’t laugh. We’ve lost a lot of socks this way. 
  8. Mom gets more mad than before. OK, I can own that. Being on top of each other, the added challenges of setting up our off grid life, plus the learning curves of having to fill water tanks, collect rainwater, run generators, go get gas and propane, fridges stopping randomly, bucket baths for a year, mold, and lack of storage has pushed me way closer to the edge than I’ve ever been before. So…yep…sometimes that Mad Mom (which really is an overwhelmed Mom) comes out.  Not proud of that. 😞 
  9. Ridge Haven Homestead
    More progress on cabin

Dad (Greg):

  1. We’ve learned to be water wise and ration our water.
  2. We don’t need as much stuff as we thought we needed! Seeing ruined stuff is frustrating, but does teach us lessons.
  3. Ridge Haven Homestead
    Shoveling gravel for driveway

Mom (Laurie/Me):

  1. Not much privacy leads to creativity or real frustration. Space is special. Everyone needs their own! It’s a real challenge to have private conversations, adult moments, and just take a breather when we’re all in the cracker box! But we are making do! I do have a strong need for personal space, so maybe this challenges me more than some people. I like my family, but I also like my privacy. ?‍♀️
  2. Lack of storage for food, clothes, homeschool books, anything can seriously try your patience
  3. I’ve learned to appreciate doing my own laundry—and look forward to getting our washer/dryer installed
  4. We don’t need as much stuff as we thought we did. But we haven’t learned to be minimalists! I wish we’d gotten rid of more to begin with, since we’ve inadvertently lost a lot due to mold, mice, and just realizing that we have way too much junk!
  5. We have learned to: collect and treat rainwater, run water lines ourselves, fix septic pipes, pipe water to holding tanks and to our camper, troubleshoot hot/cold water issues, economize on space, use only our phones for internet, use water wisely, cook in a tiny oven, run a generator, not hoard as much junk, and wash dishes in a sink the size of a hospital wash basin. A few other things too, I suppose.
    Hubby and me
  6. You plan ahead to take a shower. For our first year, we did bucket baths in the camper bathroom, since the hot water heater didn’t work. Yeah. About that. Read more about that here: That Day I Paid $25 for a Shower. Once we got that squared away, we could take regular showers! However, that’s still a process which involves: Filling the RV water tank from our gravity flow system, which takes 15-20 mins. Then, allowing the water heater to heat the water (we don’t leave it on all the time), 15 mins. Make sure the generator has charged the battery, or turn it on to run the water pump if you want any pressure. Take your quick shower. You’ve got 5 minutes of water, but you can stretch that by mixing less hot in and turning it off while you soap up. In other words, for five showers, you’ve got to plan around it. Fill, heat, etc between users.
  7. You can stand more than you thought you could.  In theory, anyway. 😉
  8. Keep everything away from the walls.
  9. Our enclosure and camper canopy were game changers
  10. Mice. We are still at war.
  11. Roof trusses
    Roof trusses
     

The good

Is there anything good about living in cramped quarters, storing your household goods out of reach, and endlessly building?

I feel like we’ve portrayed a pretty accurate picture of the challenges, aka the BAD, but what about the good? Sometimes I struggle to find the good with all of the challenges we’ve listed.

But the good is always there, and God is always with us.

Rose
God always provides

So…the good:

  • God. He is faithful and He walks with us.
  • Nature. We are out in the boonies and we have more of a chance to see natural surroundings, away from the noise of the city.
  • Pink lady’s slipper
  • Quiet. It’s pretty quiet. We recently went camping, and I marveled at how, when trying to fall asleep, I commented that our campground was way more noisy than our property!
  • Learning experiences. You can’t deny that we are learning. And while it’s difficult sometimes, we come out with knowledge and experience. Something we can’t buy for money anywhere.
  • Muscles. Some more than others. 
  • Learning to Improvise! We have ALL learned to make sacrifices, how to do things differently, and how to get creative. Some examples:
    • Making shelves in every possible space: over the tiny table, in each little closet, our in the little lean-to off the RV, and even over bunk beds to use every possible bit of space. The boys have largely done this, and it’s made life easier for everyone.
      Chimney pipe
      Installing tall chimney pipe! With some help!
    • Doing school differently. There just is not room for a ton of resources, so we’ve shifted some classes to online, have begun to read more Kindle books, and have not seen our art supplies for awhile! It’s a challenge to not be able to spread out, but we are kind of learning.
    • We have a tiny ironing board that we use on the table.
    • Go shopping more for fresh stuff. Working on that garden and greenhouse to help with this!!

Nature walk

Three Years in an Off Grid Camper! Our Biggest Lesson?

It’s not always easy! But…if we can do it, so can You!!

If you have questions, we’d be happy to share our experiences.

Living this way had actually started to seem normal, so it’s difficult for me to remember everything along the journey, and how it’s different from conventional.

Yes, we are off grid.

Yes, we started our homestead from scratch.

Yes, we have much to learn, and we can go more fully off-grid/sustainable, but we do it as we can.

Dutch oven cooking
Family meals in the Dutch oven

What else?

Maybe we did bite off more than we could chew right away. It’s not been easy peasey. But, everyone has trials of some sort, and these have been ours.

We still feel like we are pretty close to normal folks. I don’t think we have sprouts sticking out of our ears, and most people looking at us don’t know we are off grid, so I guess we are doing alright.

Installing water lines
Installing water lines/septic

Sometimes people regard us as not like them, similar to some who regard us the same way about homeschooling. They say something like, “Oh, I could never _____________.” Fill in the blank with live off grid/homeschool/eat vegan, etc.

The truth is that you can do whatever you need to do.

  • There aren’t special people who can naturally do those things.
  • There are just people who decide they will try, and the take a step. That’s what we have done.  And we are not special. 
    Planting potatoes
    Planting potatoes

A Few Small Things that made living in our Camper Off Grid more comfortable:

  • We built a canopy over our camper and enclosed a small room for our wood stove on that room. See Homestead Building Update—Camper Canopy & Barn Doors and Homestead Update October 2019. This helped tremendously. It gave us more protection from leaky roofs, gave us shade out front and all around then camper, plus pro iced a dry place for wood storage. The enclosure provided a mud room for shoes, overflow storage, and clothing outside of the camper. It also helped to keep the camper drier in the winter from the wood heat. Propane heat and five people just make so much moisture that leads to mold and dampness. The wood stove also helps to keep us warm and toasty!!

  • Dug a well!  Still working on getting that all worked out, but it’s running now on a solar pump!!  👏🏼
    Tweaking the well pump
  • Dehumidifier. For the above reasons. We use it all through the cold and wet months and it pulls a a TON of water from the air!  

    Wood stove
    Our wood stove in the camper enclosure
  • Ozone Machine—recently, since we are STILL in the camper after three years, we purchased the ozone machine to deal with the air pollutants, including mold. We run it about once a week, and are dealing with the mold that way for now. It’s not permanent, but we also hope our stay in the camper will not be either. It’s a large-enough capacity to run in the house as well, periodically.  Greg went for the Industrial Strength machine, and we bought it from amazon.com

  • We hung a simple rolling clothes rack in the enclosure and built shelves anywhere we could find!  Shelves over the table for produce, shelves (build by the boys) over the benches, inside the cabinets, over their beds, and in the enclosure!  Don’t be afraid to use every tiny bit of space that you have!  
  • The boys moved into their rooms (for sleeping) in the house, even without walls!  This makes it so much easier for them!  
    Bucket truck and cabin
    Installing roofing with help of Greg
  • Installed wood floors in the camper (had to because the other floors just wore out!)
  • Installed a new pull down sink faucet with a sprayer!  We got this one and I love it!!  It is SO nice to be able to spray out my sink and use it for my dishes!  That was a recent change that has made my life so much nicer!  (It was an easy fix-it project that turned bad, and ended up with a new faucet). 


  • We’ve (imperfectly) held on to God’s promises. In times where it’s been the hardest I put together some of them. You can find them with these links  Bible Promises for Homesteaders. Free Printable for You! 
    MORE Bible Promises for Your Homesteader’s Heart

I’m sure we are forgetting many things, but you will get the idea!

Flame azalea
Flame azalea

Where are we now?

  • To briefly update things, we still are living in the camper, with boys sleeping in their rooms in the house.
  • Electric lines are almost finished inside, then we will hook it all up to the solar panels.  
  • Solar panels are up. We have 18 of them, 2 powering the solar well pump 
  • Small greenhouse up, just have ends to cover up this week. 
  • Plumbing don’t except for drainage pipes for septic from house. 
  • Porches going up
  • To see a more complete update, see What’s Up on the Homestead? #1
Solar panels
Our solar panels


I guess the biggest questions for you are:

  • Do you feel the pull towards more sustainability?
  • Would you like to be free from the power grid and all that it entails?
  • Do you want to grow your own, do your own, build your own, or just be your own?
  • Do you trust that God will lead you?

If you answered YES to some of these questions, then you may be feeling the pull towards an off grid life.

Harvesting potatoes
Harvesting potatoes
  • Don’t worry if you can’t do it all.
  • Don’t let fear or ignorance hold you back.
  • Do invest time in researching what you’d like to accomplish
  • Do pray a lot before making a move.
  • Think about small steps you can take today that will help you in the bigger picture.
  • Watermelon
    Big volunteer watermelon!

And move as God leads you!

Once again, 

Living off grid, camper, tent, yurt or house:

If we can do it, you can too!

Our family at Max Patch

Don’t forget to speak up and let me know you stopped in!
Leave a comment below and tell what you think about the off grid life! 

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