I’ve been thinking a lot lately (at least more so than usual) about where my life is going and what it is I want to do with it. While I’m thankful for everything that I have today (a roof over my head, a decent job, etc), it doesn’t feel like I’m really living my life to its full potential. I’m also not the most patient person in the world, and I hate waiting for things to happen. With this in mind, there are three things in particular that I’m aching to do right now. I thought I’d discuss these things here (in three separate entries).
Number Uno: I want to live off-grid.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been wanting to live off-grid for a while – 3 years at least. I initially got the idea when I finished university and started to think about what it is I wanted to do with my life. While I wasn’t sure how to answer this question, I knew what I didn’t want, which was to go the traditional route. And by traditional route I mean getting married, buying a house, having kids, paying off a mortgage, working for the same employer for 30 years, and finally collecting a healthy pension at 60-65. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with this plan, it just never felt like it was meant for me.
The first time I really thought about off grid living, however, was during university when I read about Henry David Thoreau and his life in a small, self-built cabin in the backwoods of Boston. The whole idea of living as self-sufficiently as possible really appealed to me back then and, like many, I started to wonder if Thoreau’s ideas could be applied to today’s world. I figured this meant buying some land in a rural area and building a tiny cabin on it — with a few modern touches, like solar panels and a water system that collects rain. It didn’t seem like it would be that complicated to do – which was a large part of the appeal.
Why do I want to do this?
With the exception of a few friends (maybe two??), most people look at me like I’m crazy when I explain to them that my ideal home would be one made out of cob. They think I’m bat-shit bonkers when I explain that I also don’t want running water or to be hooked up to a power grid. Flushing toilets? No thanks! I can’t say that I blame them for thinking this, but when I think about this plan, I just feel so good. My life compass is definitely pointing in the off-grid direction.
Unless you feel the same way about living this way, you’re probably saying to yourself that I’m just dreaming and that I have no idea how hard off-grid living can actually be — which is kind of true — but then again, one of my favourite things to do is to go on long-distance hiking trips in the backcountry. This isn’t camping with your car – it’s actually roughing it. I’ll hike for days, even weeks, without ever seeing another person (or a shower), carrying everything I need in a 60L backpack. One of my fondest memories is of me sitting in the middle of a forrest somewhere in the woods of Newfoundland. I had just finished setting up my camp and my dinner was cooking on my mini portable burner. Other than the hum coming from my stove, the only thing I could hear was the singular cry of a loon on a nearby lake, which to me, was the very definition of peaceful.
Ok, so I realize off-grid living isn’t exactly like this, but I seem to like making things difficult for myself. I also need nature.
So what’s the problem?
There are a couple problems to be honest. First, land in Canada is insanely expensive. The west coast? Forget about it. Alberta? Same thing. The only places that are remotely affordable (affordable meaning less than $25k per acre) are in Quebec, the Maritimes, and the northern regions of the prairies and Ontario. I haven’t looked at the territories, but I need sunlight to function — because without it I literally (yes literally) go nuts. Consequently the more northern regions aren’t really an option for me, lest I become a snow bird.
The second problem has to do with pesky (more like f*(#$&ing annoying) building codes, which more or less prevent you from doing anything on your own anymore. This is especially true if you want to live anywhere near a city. When I moved to the Ottawa region for example, one of the first things I did was visit a nearby village where wooded lots are plentiful and can be had for pretty cheap. I explained to the guy at the “city” hall what I had in mind and he pretty much laughed in my face. Minimally, he said, I’d need a septic tank (no thanks), a water connection (no thanks), and a power hookup (no thanks). My house would also need to be at least 500 ft² (no thanks) and would need to be approved by an engineer and built by accredited builders (again, no thanks). Obviously my budget of $30k wasn’t going to cut it. I’d honestly be better off (financially speaking) buying a home that was in foreclosure. Don’t get me wrong, I get why they have strict building codes in the city, but when you’re in the middle of the woods – why do they care?
What really discouraged me, however, was when he said that there wasn’t really anywhere in province that he knew of where I’d be legally allowed to do what I described to him. I could probably get away with it, but only if I was really far away and isolated. This was further confirmed to me when I visited a tiny home convention in the summer. It seems that local governments just don’t like us wannabe off-griders.
So what am I going to do?
Right now the maritime provinces are looking like my best bet. Land can be had for pretty cheap there — even homes can be bought for less than $50k in some areas. The downside is that the economy isn’t exactly thriving and there are no big cities except Halifax (which is still pretty small). I obviously don’t want to live IN a city, but being within an hour or two of one wouldn’t hurt. I don’t want to be a complete hermit after fall — and I’ll still need an internet connection of some kind.
But despite the lack of jobs and bigger cities, the maritimes have another advantage which I’ll get into when I post Part II of this mini series next week.
So stay tuned…