2017 was the year we jumped into this adventure with both feet. We’re doing it. We’re living in our cabin and making our home here. We have had lots of changes and have learned a lot. This time last year we were packing up our house in town, preparing to be in a friend’s wedding, attending many family Christmases—all around the same time! We’re so happy to have a year under our belts pursuing something that was only an idea a year ago.
THINGS WE CREATED THIS YEAR
A big part of why we wanted to move to a small rustic cabin out in the country is that we wanted to do more creating and less consuming. One of the things we want to create is our own home, but there are lots of other things we have been creating as well.
Some things we created for our home are:
- a tool shed (mostly completed)
- a woodshed
- a clearing for an electric line
- a kitchen island
- a garden
- firewood for heating our home
- other small things
Some things we created that weren’t for our home are:
- two blogs
- an LLC for selling Bailey’s art
- lots of food (including pressure canning for the first time)
- storage shelves
- other small things
Some improvements we made:
- painted the walls
- installed a front door with a window
- painted the wood stove
- installed cabinet knobs
- painted the ceiling
- installed ceiling fans and light fixtures
- painted and installed a mailbox
- installed blinds
- replaced old propane tank with two new ones
- installed a new gasket on the wood stove
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE YEAR
- getting cats (first two and then kittens made seven)
- launching our blogs
- getting electricity and a refrigerator
- making a home of our cabin in the country (or at least beginning to)
We got two cats from some friends of ours who wanted to get rid of them because they were pooping in the chicken coop. We figured since we didn’t have chickens yet this wouldn’t be a problem for us. Our friends warned us that the female cat might be pregnant and as it turns out she was. In a fitting coincidence she became a mother on Mother’s Day. I had never owned a cat until this year and suddenly I had seven. It was fun watching the kittens grow and going on walks with a tribe of seven cats following us. (We gave away two and lost four, but we won’t talk about that here since we are discussing the highlights).
Early this spring, Bailey launched her book blog and early this fall we finally launched this blog (launching just before getting electricity is not the best way to tell a story about living without electricity, but that’s really just the first chapter anyway). It wasn’t until earlier this winter that we really got into a rhythm with blogging, something Bailey wrote a little bit about later in this post.
After considering our options, we decided not to stay off the grid and spent a lot of time and effort getting our paperwork in order and our land ready for a buried electric line. The parts that were technically difficult were completed by the power company and an electrician. After nearly 10 months without electricity, it was great to be able to flip on a light switch again and an even bigger deal to have a refrigerator.
A Home in the Country:
Before we decided to purchase our cabin we had vague plans of moving from the house we were living sometime in the future. We had done a few things to improve our house in town, but those improvements didn’t feel quite worth it knowing someone else would enjoy the fruits of our labors when we moved. It’s been motivating to work on projects that we plan to enjoy for many years to come (of course we know all homes here on earth are temporary, but Lord willing this one will be long term temporary). I like the idea of working to make our home better more than I liked the idea of improving the resale value of a building.
WHAT WORKED AND WHAT DIDN’T
Some things that we set out to do this year went really smoothly, others not so much. As we looked back on the year, we realized that any goals we met were a result of a method that worked. Likewise, any goals we didn’t reach were a result of an approach that didn’t work.
Goals We Didn’t Meet:
- drill a well
- install a septic system
- have running water
- build a bathroom addition
- improve the driveway
- finish building a shed
We didn’t accomplish many of these goals because we got hung up on one thing and had decided on a certain linear order in which we wanted to do everything. A lot of it also goes back to trying to do too much ourselves. We made some mistakes, but we are learning from them.
Another factor in not accomplishing all of our goals is that we were very ambitious in goal making and might have bit off more than we could chew in one year.
Goals We Met:
- plant trees
- start a garden
- get electricity
- cut enough firewood for winter
- write for our blogs more and consistently
We used various methods to meet these goals, but they all pretty much boil down to making them a priority. It was easy to make planting trees a priority because once you purchase them they will die if you don’t plant them and this urgency turns them into a priority. Starting a garden was a priority because it is something that I really wanted to do. It might not have yielded much for produce, but I found time to plant things because I really wanted to. Getting Electricity was a priority because it was the first on the list of big projects, which, as we mentioned before, was a linear process in our minds; therefore, this was prioritized at the expense of the other goals. Cutting enough firewood for the winter was mostly just a byproduct of getting electricity since clearing a right-of-way for the power lines involved cutting down many trees. Writing for our blog more and consistently is something we didn’t accomplish until near the end of the year and this is something we consciously prioritized.
Creating more and consuming less is hard.
The kind of life we wanted, and ultimately the reason for moving here, was a life of more creating and less consuming. We’re both makers and there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of having worked with your hands and mind to make something useful, needed or beautiful. We wanted a lifestyle that had more of this, we just didn’t realize how difficult it would be to not only change our habits, but also work with the space we now lived in. For example, Mark enjoys woodworking and being able to make things himself, but without a garage he had no place to work much less store his tools and materials. Not to mention the lack of electricity for operating some of those tools. We learned we could not embark upon our life of creating to the degree we imagined it…at least not immediately. It has taken much time, research, planning, shopping, and organizing to make our space (including our land) more usable for our purposes. When we started this, we did not account for the time needed to set up and prepare.
Beyond the physical obstacles, it’s very difficult to change your mindset from something easy and comfortable to something involving much more work, energy, and input. Consuming is easy and incredibly comfortable while creating takes planning, thinking, dedicated time, and hard work. We have found this transition to be particularly difficult. Entertainment and social media, though they can be used for good, have often been distractions for us. We had thought that by not having easy access to electricity and the internet we would escape the distractions of Netflix, Youtube social media and automatically create more and consume less, but it didn’t work out that way. Our natural tendency was to just replace those things with another form of consumption like rented movies (on a laptop sometimes powered by a generator). We learned that it was not enough to change our circumstances; there also needed to be an active shift in our thinking from a consumption mentality to a creation mentality.
We are capable of more than we realized.
After I graduated college and got a career job, if you would have told me that my future involved moving into a small home without electricity, running water, or a bathroom I would have seriously questioned the person I was turning into. Perhaps I would’ve clung to my comfortable ways of what I knew best. Perhaps I wouldn’t have come this direction. But when an idea comes upon you slowly and builds traction over time you don’t notice how strange it looks. You don’t notice how weird or how uncomfortable or how tricky it might be. By the time you are there making the decision, the idea is so firmly rooted in your mind that it’s a part of you and something you would never consider turning back from. So it was with this adventure. I’m so glad we did this. I had many doubts about how I would handle this kind of life, but I can say now that I am so incredibly glad we took the plunge. I learned that I could live in a new and challenging way and be okay. Such a lesson makes me less afraid of the future and more certain that with the Lord at the heart, taking it a day at a time, any kind of life can be lived and I will be okay.
We can’t do it all ourselves.
Yes, we are capable of much; however, the other side of that coin is the lesson that we can’t do everything on our own. We have done a lot on our land and in our home by ourselves and that is our natural way of doing things. I think we like doing the research and trying things out. I think we like the independence—the sheer liberty to do things on our own, testing our limits, and trying our strengths…and discovering our weaknesses. In this approach we found that we had the tendency to be unbalanced by taking on too much without relying on enough support from other people, whether they were simply an extra set of hands helping in the labor or someone sharing their skills and knowledge. Hopefully our experiences with putting in electricity this year will help us in knowing when to DIY, when to hire a professional, and when to call in the friends and family.
Big goals won’t happen unless you make small goals to reach them.
This has been a HUGE lesson of the year: the only way to get to where you want to go is by taking small steps. Blogging is a prime example of this lesson. In the past year we have launched two blogs (this one and a book blog) and I have struggled to write on them. I set deadlines again and again only to watch them go by again and again. I put it on the to-do list for the day and end up moving it until I had copied the task over to every day of the week…for weeks. Why couldn’t I do it? Why couldn’t I “just write” as all writers advise? I am a goal driven person who derives pleasure from checking off boxes. Having blogs and wanting to write on them more was not enough. I needed small goals, small check boxes. I needed to see the small steps I needed to take in order to reach the big lofty goal. So we created one editorial calendar for both blogs. We picked the days we wanted to post each week and then selected a topic that we were going to write about for each one. This way, there was no question about what I should be working on. If it was on the calendar that we were writing about getting electricity, then I was working on taking and editing pictures and writing that post. By using an editorial calendar, indecision was removed as a barrier between us and our big goal of writing more/creating content. So far this system has worked well for us.
Nearly every endeavor takes more time that you think it will.
I think we knew this concept beforehand; we simply put it to the test and proved it to be true—with almost every endeavor we pursued this year. Getting electricity was the biggest evidence. What we thought would be done and accomplished in May was actually finished in September. Mark spent all summer and nearly all of his spare time at home working to clear the land needed for the power line to be installed. I will say that though this lesson can demoralize you and discourage your drive, the completion is so much sweeter—whenever you do finally reach it!
Although we still have a long way to go in order to create more and consume less we think that we have made progress to that end this year.
We look forward to 2018. It’s another year to try again, trust again, and create our home and life together.
“Let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” – Ephesians 4:28b