The modern era offers a plethora of lifestyle options to an increasing number of people.
Centuries ago, only the nobility could walk into a well-lit, clean, and fully furnished room and expected to be served delicious food. Or be presented with a selection of garments and have them adjusted to fit. You had to be truly wealthy to fill your home with items made of silk or porcelain.
While not everyone can enjoy these experiences or possessions, there’s no denying that barriers to access and affordability have been lowered. And with increased socio-economic mobility, many of us can realistically aspire to that sort of lifestyle.
But some people actually strive for the opposite. They want to live off the grid.
A spectrum of minimalism
The concept of living off the grid is probably familiar to most people. There are widely circulated stories of homesteaders and doomsday preppers who might come from different perspectives but believe in the value of knowing how to live off the land.
Others live in an RV as a means of escaping unacceptable housing situations, a nomadic lifestyle depicted in the recent film Nomadland.
However, though the term can instantly evoke an idea of minimalist living, there’s no strict, consensus definition of what it means.
Going by the “off the grid” phrase means simply living without the support of public utilities or infrastructure. This doesn’t mean you have to abandon devices or appliances. You could follow the Amish example, obtaining power through propane supply services, batteries, and generators.
Even by this definition, though, there’s a range of possibilities. Does your disavowal of public infrastructure only cover municipal electricity and water? Or does it include roads, hospitals, and schools?
And in a world where everyone can stay connected through the internet, does going off the grid necessitate taking yourself offline, permanently?
Clearly, there’s an entire spectrum of options when it comes to living off the grid. Those meanings have expanded and evolved over the years and will probably continue to do so in the future. Should you decide to experiment with this lifestyle, you get to choose the degree of minimalism involved.
Defining your goals
Going back to basics, in terms of how you live, actually isn’t an unreasonable proposition. Our species evolved over millions of years to survive in harsh environments. Our societies were founded on the ability to create simple implements and communicate and cooperate.
Rather than question the ‘how’ of going off the grid, you’d best start by pondering your reasons for wanting to do so.
For some, it’s a declaration of sustainability. As the climate change crisis unfolds around us with myriad negative impacts, we see governments and big businesses hesitant to take action. Leaving the grid means withdrawing support from the institutions perceived to be inflicting the most harm on the environment and allows you to take only what you need from nature.
However, that’s not the only reason to take the road less traveled. Nomadism might be preferable for someone with little income or social ties. Those looking for a tech detox or desperate to find refuge from a surveillance society may find it this way.
Mental health issues might be exacerbated by living in society. Withdrawing from it, and finding fellowship in the sporadic contact with other nomads or homesteaders, could be the antidote. At the very least, spending time in natural environments is known to promote both physical and mental well-being.
Giving yourself pause
Unless you’re in a position where financial desperation or personal hardship forces your hand, remember that going off the grid is a major lifestyle choice. It’s possible but difficult. It won’t be for everyone.
You may have already decided that a return to traditional living is worth the tradeoffs. But what about the people in your life?
Getting a partner or kids onboard complicates the decision. Employers might perceive this choice negatively, thinking that you’ll be more difficult to work with. You might have to relinquish the social interactions you’ve come to expect with friends and associates.
If there’s one mistake you want to avoid, it’s getting into this lifestyle for the wrong reasons.
Remind yourself that extreme minimalism isn’t a virtue. The real virtue is being able to focus on and appreciate things that truly matter in life. You can live sustainably and own stuff without becoming a slave to material possessions or a glutton for experiences.
Pause to reflect on what’s calling you to pursue this highly minimalist living. By forfeiting the abundance and consumption of modern lifestyles, are you actually fleeing the challenge of developing self-control and a healthy enjoyment of life?
Confront that issue, and you may arrive at a more moderate lifestyle compromise that still enables you to reach your goals.