How Living Off-Grid Taught Me To Keep House | Just Plain Living

How Living Off-Grid Taught Me To Keep House

Three years off-grid, no hot water. After a week in town on the grid, here's what I've learned.

Can I tell you a secret? Come closer. I've never been a great housekeeper. I mean, really, there are so many other great things to do. Not even my mom likes cleaning behind the toilet, after all, and you can eat off her floors. Okay, so why would I be telling everyone that I've figured this out? If you're like me, you're struggling with the same issues, right?

Well, it started with two back-to-back storms that stranded me IN TOWN for a week. Why is that significant? Well, we're 100% off-grid and don't have running hot water. Keep reading to find out all the details.

After three years of keeping house without electricity or running water, I spent a week doing housework at a friend's house in town. Here is what I learned about getting the housework done.

Those who read here regularly (or who have read the About page) know that we live partway up an old, low Nova Scotian mountain. We’re off-grid – solar power, wood heat and a propane stove that’s older than I am – and our nearest neighbours are almost five miles away. The nearest power lines are down there with the neighbours.
After three years of keeping house without electricity or running water, I spent a week doing housework at a friend's house in town. Here is what I learned about getting the housework done.

We’ve been here for nearly three years, and we have learned to live quite well.

When we need hot water, we plan ahead and make sure it’s heating on the stove. In the winter, that might mean turning on the water main or bringing in water to thaw. And that also means planning ahead to have dry firewood and a hot fire.

Everything that requires hot water requires a lot of planning and careful timing.


When we need drinking water, we plan ahead and make sure to fill the water storage containers at the community spring. Or, if the water is running in the pipes, we plan ahead and boil water in the kettle, on the stovetop.

If you’re wondering about the toilet – we use a composting toilet. I kind of hate it, a lot, but we’re learning to live with it, and at least it doesn’t require water. That is handy since our pipes invariably freeze in the winter. It does, however, need emptying. Maybe carrying water would be easier.

I confess that I do not try to hand wash clothes inside in the winter. We have a wonderful friend in town who lets us “rent” her washer and dryer until we get a proper wash house built.

Of course when we get that, it will require having a fire going in the wash house so that I can do laundry without freezing! My washing machine is a refurbished Maytag wringer. Yes, they're still available, but unless you have an Amish appliance refurbisher handy, you will likely need to hunt through second hand sites to find one.


More planning ahead, more carrying wood and water.



Even Meals Take Work!

Looking for the beginning of this post? Here it is!

Since we do not have a refrigerator or freezer, meals are also an exercise in planning aheadmaking do and doing without.

I can’t reach into the fridge and pull out leftovers, or take out some frozen fries that I bought a few weeks ago. Our meat is generally pressure canned, unless one of us is in town and brings something fresh home, and meals have to be made from scratch by necessity.

Everything here requires planning, usually hauling something heavy and awkward, and careful timing.

Last night, we were both sick with a head cold and feeling miserable, so we forgot to turn off the water main. Our pipes freeze if the temperature drops below –10C and guess how cold it got last night?

If we don’t plan ahead, bad things happen.
  • Pipes freeze and can burst. (They didn’t burst but I had NO running water at all for three days.)
  • The fire goes out and the wood is fifty feet away in the woodshed. At 5 a.m.
  • Firewood gets buried in snow.
  • Animal feed runs out (hasn’t happened).
  • Children pee in their last clean pyjamas (but that has)
  • People get hungry because scratch cooking takes some time.
  • Propane runs out when the roads are unplowed and the trucks won't come.
  • Dishes are undone because of a lack of hot water.
  • Batteries are depleted, so no electricity.
No, these aren’t regular occurrences, but they are things that we need to worry about. May I point out again that, with all of this, my house is never what you would call clean.

In fact, right now, I can see sawdust around the indoor woodpile, some dirty dishes on the counter, and a pile of clothes that need to get put away.  Walk into my kitchen (we don’t have a proper entry) and you’ll see all of the craziness involved in having six people and multiple animals out here in the boonies.

What, you mean you don’t haul buckets of ice inside to thaw for the animals? 

You don’t have bins of sawdust drying above the stove for the composting toilet? 

Giant chore boots beside the stove? 

Large pots of water heating up for dishes? 

Yes, I have all of that and more, and it all contributes to the mess.

So why in the world would I say I’ve become a better homemaker? Even my mother agrees, so you know it's true.

Getting Stuck In Town ... On-Grid For A Week


As I said, it started when I was in town visiting my sweet young friend who has the washing machine. 

While we were there, a snowstorm hit … and then another … and I was rather trapped in town since the plow didn’t get near our place until Wednesday. In the meantime, my friend was given sulpha drugs for a bad infection – and took an even worse reaction to the medication.

Have you ever had a bad reaction to medication? It can be really bad, and my sweet-tempered, wonderful friend turned cranky, fidgety and irritable. This was so not her that I felt bad and wanted to help out.

And so while she napped, I did the housework and caught up on some things for her. I remember what it's like to be a young mom with a toddler, after all.

An important side note: If you ever step in and help a young, overwhelmed parent catch up on their housework, then please do it with love and kindness and understanding. Even if you were never overwhelmed by housework, you have your own failings, things that you have found difficult at some point. Act and speak with grace and love - or don't bother. Helping someone without grace and love is going to make them feel angry, not loved.

Remember that, for almost three years, I have lived in a backwoods cabin that has minimal electricityfairly dim LED lights in the main rooms (none in the bedrooms and bathroom), cold running water (and none at all in the winter), a composting toilet and no refrigerator.

This wasn’t work. This was a vacation. And that really surprised me because my house is often a complete mess!

Let me make this clear - none of this is an attack on anyone. I promise. Perhaps, if anything, it is a letter to myself twenty years ago. If you have multiple little ones, or do not have a dishwasher, or if you have disabilities or work outside the home .... in other words, all sorts of exceptions ... you are going to have more difficulties and things will take longer.

How do you tackle an overwhelming pile of dishes and laundry while still getting the family fed?

Let me share my game plan with you. Five pages of detailed, step-by-step instructions to get control of that mountain of laundry and dishes while keeping the family fed. An emergency catch-up plan. I've been there and I know exactly what you're going through.

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Just Plain Living: How Living Off-Grid Taught Me To Keep House
How Living Off-Grid Taught Me To Keep House
Three years off-grid, no hot water. After a week in town on the grid, here's what I've learned.
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