Self Sufficient Lifestyles
The Good Life
When I was a kid during the 70s and 80s, I routinely watched a late night English situational comedy from BBC Television called, "Good Neighbors." The show told a hilarious story of a man named Tom Good who was so fed up with his office job and materialistic life that he quit both.
Tom decided after a middle aged revelation to shed the dependencies of the twentieth century. With his wife, Barbara, supportive by his side, the Good’s raised their own food both in the garden and the pen, bartered for wares, made their own clothes, and basically lived as self sufficiently as they could in the middle of an English suburb. The Good’s of course suffered a few mishaps along the way of comic proportions. It is a wonderful show and just the inspiration I needed.
For as long as I can remember, I have held a deep desire to live self sufficiently. I have longed to build my own house, grow my own food, and live free from bills, stress, and materialism. I had been on a 20-year quest to live the Good life.
I knew I didn’t want cable TV, Internet, video games, endless telephone calls from tele-marketers, busy malls, terrible traffic, bright city lights, or all the money it takes to live that way. So, at the age of 34 and with a little financial luck, I purchased an unfinished split-level, timber frame cabin with no electricity, telephone, or water on 5 acres near the town of High Rolls in the beautiful Sacramento Mountains of south central New Mexico. Conveniently located, I could drive 15 miles one way to the high village of Cloudcroft for local fair or 15 miles the other way to the low city of Alamogordo for food and necessities. I found it to be a great place to live.
To reach my cabin by vehicle, I picked my way down a steep rocky hill, crossed a creek that is dry most of the year, and climbed another steep, rocky hill to my driveway. Then, I drove another ¼ mile along a gravel path to my cabin where a fantastic view of Sierra Blanca Peak and a lush carpet of pines and junipers unfolded on the mountains before me.
Since my cabin is off-of-the-grid, I read by the power of Coleman fuel lanterns. There are no telephone land-lines, therefore short, "I’m OK," calls to family and friends were made via a pay-as-you-go cell phone.
I cooked mostly on a wood stove or outdoor campfire, but had a 5-gallon propane gas tank and stove for quick cooking. Likewise, I heated my 768 square foot partially insulated cabin with wood I tediously cut from my land.
Ice, snow, and a Styrofoam cooler I found kept some food items cold but I strived to purchase food that didn’t need refrigerating such as powdered milk and eggs, dry beans, dehydrated fruit, and canned goods. When I could, I harvested and stored as much food as possible from my garden that I sustained with rainwater and homemade compost.
I lived without a bathroom and bathed "naturally" with a solar shower dangling from a tree. If I needed hot water for washing dishes and clothes, cooking, or bathing in the winter, I heated the water in a large pot.
Obtaining water in the Sacramento Mountains was perhaps the greatest challenge I faced. Wells are simply unreliable. I purchased drinking water but used a catchment system I built to harvest rainwater from my roof during the rainy season for washing and other chores. I stored the water in 300 gallon and 2,500 gallon water tanks. I used a generator-powered pump to move water from the 2,500-gallon tank to the 300-gallon tank, which uses gravity to feed water to my kitchen sink. It’s not pretty but it works.
I would have also needed this water to fight a wildfire near the cabin. The threat of fire in this dense area of piñon pine and juniper woodlands kept me busy thinning trees and brush. With the aid of a heavy chainsaw and a lot of manual labor, I made progress.
I didn’t live totally free but with every day that passed I found new ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle so that my expenses were low and obligations small. Very little went to waste. Before I took anything to the landfill, I always asked myself, "What can I reuse this for or who can I give it to?"
Some people would be bored with this lifestyle but there was so much for me to do including finishing my cabin that I really didn’t have time for boredom. When my day was done and I finally went to bed, I knew I had done something worthwhile. At the very least, I had sustained myself for another day. It’s funny how some people think I was crazy for living like I did but what’s really crazy is living like they do.
Although my hands were rough, my lips were chapped, my skin was burned, my back was aching, and my feet were throbbing, I loved it. I would rather feel the pain of a successful hard day’s work than the stress of a high pressure job where very little is done. That’s what truly makes this way of living worthwhile and that’s why I truly believe I had found the Good Life.