Off-the-grid

How we do things off the grid.

When I tell people we live off-the-grid the questions start rolling in! How do you cook, bathe, see…..live? We have no water on site, no septic system, no solar, nothing runs on propane (except our grill) and we have no car. Some of those details will hopefully change over time, but those are the facts right now. The Crow Homestead is located in Northeastern Minnesota in one of the coldest places in the continental US. We live 15 minutes from a small town with a grocery store and hardware store. Having lived off-the-grid for 10 years there are many things I would do differently, but I love our lifestyle and most of the time we are very comfortable and content!


Our wood stove is the heart of our homestead. I had some non-negotiables when I was shopping for our wood stove. It needed to have an oven, a glass door to see the fire, and it couldn’t be too big as we were building a small home and had limited space. Back in 2008 there were not many options that met that criteria. I found the wood stove here and saw it for the first time when it was delivered. All things cooking and baking are done on the wood stove. It serves as our toaster, coffee maker, microwave, oven, cooktop, dehydrator, bread maker, crockpot, and popcorn maker. The wood stove also replaces the water heater. I do regret we did not order the hot water heater but all we need to do is fill up two stock pots and three teapots and we have enough water for a shower or to wash every dish we own. Lastly the wood stove provides us with warmth and light. The biggest disappointment with our wood stove is that the firebox is 12″x 12″. That really restricts how much wood you can cram in there on the cold nights and at best we get 4 hours burn time. In hindsight I would invest the time and money into a mason heater/cook stove. Mason heaters go back hundreds of years and use thermal mass to keep a space warm with only a couple fires a day.

As we do not have water on site we buy water at our local grocery store using refillable 5 gallon containers, and we use an average of 5 gallons a day. We had a well dug and a pump installed when we moved to the property and used to carry in water until the well pump busted 5 years ago. We do plan on fixing the well but keep going back and forth debating if we should fix the pump or install a hand pump….and so we do nothing. We have a kitchen sink and a bathroom sink both with 5 gallon buckets under the drain to catch the water. In our bathroom we have a clawfoot bathtub and a 5 gallon bucket with a showerhead for bathing with a 5 gallon bucket below. The buckets of grey water are poured on the compost. We do our laundry in town at the laundromat. In hindsight I would have invested more time researching gravity water and leech fields, but the permitting process can be difficult so we decided to go with the simple 5 gallon bucket method.

We use candles and battery operated flashlights to illuminate the dark. In our location we have some very long nights as it can get dark as early as 4 pm. We also have a gas powered generator that we will sometimes run to power lights. We purchased solar panels 10 years ago, but became frustrated trying to figure out what other parts we needed and how to hook it all up….and so we did nothing (are you seeing a pattern here?!?!) We have lived 10 years without solar so I think a pretty small system would serve us well. We have a lot of research left to do, but ultimately we just might need to get little help on this project.

We get poor but manageable cell service and we have a hot spot to get internet to our laptop. That is how I’m able to blog and keep our Instagram feed going. Mr. Crow uses it to listen to and record music. We also use it to watch iTunes and DVD’s. Since we have no electricity we are very limited to the amount of time we can spend on our technology as we are always fighting a low battery. I think it creates a nice balance with some access to all technology has to offer, but not enough to allow some of the consequences it can bring. We charge our laptop and phone with the generator, while driving and while out and about in town.The challenge of keeping food changes with the seasons. In wintertime we really cannot leave the house overnight as the house could get so cold it freezes all of our food. This includes all the food we work so hard to put up from the garden from canned goods to root vegetables. The great benefit to winter is our entire property becomes a freezer. We have a dorm size fridge in our kitchen. We freeze ice in the winter and buy ice in the summer to keep it cool like you would for a cooler. It works great. We hope when we move forward with the solar it will run the mini fridge in the summer and we can keep making ice in the winter.

I kept the most difficult topic for the end. What is our toilet situation? I will tell you this is where I lose most people….we have a humanure toilet. Now don’t be scared! This system has exceeded all my expectations! It keeps the smell to a minimum (I believe better than most composting toilets on the market) and is super easy to use. Plus we don’t have to go out in the cold and dark to an outhouse! If you want more info in humanure systems check out this article in Time .

In our 10 years of living off-the-grid we have found the simplest solutions the easiest to maintain. We still have a lot of areas to learn and expand into which is part of the fun! We thrive in harsh and cold conditions while meeting our needs comfortably and with simple tools. Are there any details I missed that you have questions on? Let me know!

3 Comments

  • Aunt Lisa

    Tom and I thought of you two. While cleaning the garage we got rid of a hand crank salad maker and dehydrating racks. Glad you are living your life up there and think of you often. Love you.
    Ps: we got 3 deer in the freezer this year. Now Tom’s making goose jerky and wieners as that’s Andy’s new hobby!

    • Lin

      That is amazing! If I wasn’t 13 hours away I would have snapped up those dehydrating rack and salad maker. Dehydrating has been a challenge for us but we finally got our hot peppers to dry nicely this last year. You must have a lot of meat with both a husband and son that love to hunt! What device are they using to make jerky?

  • Sharon Toth

    I am amazed at your persistence and grit! I’m too spoiled! I admire you both…10 years!!! Here’s to another 10 years!!!!

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