Off the Grid

IMG_5454I have written extensively about the desire to live simply, intentionally, in the moment. Minimalist, anti-materialist living is kind of an aspiration of mine (a lofty one I will never truly realize). Taken far enough, one enters into conversations about living off the grid. It is one thing to fantasize about such an extreme existence while maintaining a much more mainstream lifestyle. It is quite another to actually go for it when the opportunity presents itself. This is the situation we found our family in this summer. For two years we have rented a lovely house just outside of Plattsburgh. My only complaint has been that it is too much house. Too much empty space to clean and heat and look conspicuously spartan.

The homeowner, our landlord, surprised us with the news she wanted to move back into her own house. We are vehemently opposed to buying a house in the near future, preferring the relative freedom of renting. But it comes at a cost. Like being kicked to the curb in an area with little to no family rentals. Rather than stress about committing to a new lease under pressure we started thinking about how we could live month by month. With limited options we came to an exciting conclusion: let’s camp! After all, summer in the North Country is idyllic. And our kids are finally old enough for camping to be more fun than frustrating (barely).

We moved everything we own into a one car garage sized storage unit and we pitched a tent for a week at Au Sable Point while pursuing the few leads we had on new housing. The leads fell through. Camping, on the other hand, was a success. In fact, we liked it so much we started having those off the grid conversations. But this wasn’t a couple hipsters soap-boxing at a cafe with exorbitantly priced coffee. This was for real.

Turns out it’s not so easy to not have an address. Or electricity. Or space. But for many people these things are debilitating realities. So we have no right to complain about a voluntary, temporary change of lifestyle. After a couple weeks of decision making and marathon errands and obsessive organizing our new way of life started to take shape. Tenting worked out great when it conincided with our homeschool co-op’s camp week. I had moral support and built in entertainment for the girls. But once we committed to the idea of living in the woods for a couple months, sleeping on the ground and having everything get rained on every few days wasn’t so appealing.

The obvious solution was to start hunting for a used camper. A cheap camper. A vintage camper. My dream tiny house on wheels. After only a few days I went to look at a travel trailer I’d heard about at a rural intersection outside of town. As soon as I set eyes on it I knew we had to have it. I laid the money down and by nightfall we were making up beds in it. It was the only camper I had seen that was built before 1980. Its previous owner claimed it after finding it in the woods so it’s kind of a mutt. No papers. No marks indicative of its make. Though a quick Google search leads us to believe it is a Trotwood manufactured sometime in the 40s. Vague vintage is good enough for me. It’s identical to a Trotwood featured on Tiny House Blog.

Plus, my daughter recently reminded me of a member of the Muppet band Electric Mayhem so I figure we’re crunchy enough to go bohemian:


For many families, self-sustainability is a key value taught in the home. Whether through farming or gardening or learning other life skills. It does not simply mean shedding all possessions or living like a hermit. It means prioritizing values; structuring a life where physical belongings and modern living are not all consuming pursuits. Choosing to live in a camper affords us time to find a new house. Of course it wasn’t the only option. But we saw it as a family experiment. A time to truly demonstrate to our daughters that security and shelter doesn’t look the same for everyone. To live out our belief that family and home are about togetherness. To prove to the girls that people can live with less stuff, less distractions. We still have bills and responsibilities. But we also have fewer constraints than ever. This is a unique time in our life; a daily adventure. Summer just got a lot more fun.


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