Category Archives: No. Mad.

NM: On-Grid vs Off-Grid

So you’ve decided to make an effort to save the planet – that’s awesome! One of the recent trends of saving the planet is realizing you don’t need a 4,000 sq. foot mansion for just yourself. That’s super impractical and actually pretty selfish, if you think about it. (No offence if you currently live in a mansion)

But before you get too swept away in the Instagram aesthetics of living tiny, you’re gonna have to make some pretty hard decisions. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes, and it’s true. You can’t 360 your lifestyle overnight. Not only is that not practical, but even if you had giant gobs of money to do that with, you would fail miserably because you’re trying to do everything all at once, and that isn’t good for anyone.

There are a lot of things to consider when deciding to take the plunge, and that’s because this is a life changing decision. You’ll want to do as much research as you can before diving all in, because no one wants you to waste your time (or money) or something you aren’t really feeling/are unsure about.

So, first things first: why are you wanting to change your current lifestyle? Figuring out your motivations for changing will be a big tell on what you are and are not willing to change. The next big question: what does your end goal new lifestyle look like?

Do you want to end up full ‘hippie’, living off grid, having your own garden and using as many mason jars as possible? Or are you thinking more of wanting to save the planet, minus the inconvenience?

One of the easiest/smallest changes you can make for yourself right now is to stop using single use plastics: grocery/produce bags, water bottles, straws, etc. They all suck major balls for the ocean, and unless you’d like to swim in garbage, maybe you should stop contributing.

Instead of using the plastic grocery bags, buy (or diy) a tote bag, that you can use again and again for shopping. Think about investing in a reusable (metal!) water bottle, instead of buying the cases of plastic ones every week. Maybe even get yourself a filter so you can drink tap water? (Seriously, growing up in Toronto, I’ve been drinking the tap water every day for years and I’m fine.) I realize not everyone may have the option to drink tap water, but then again, those people most likely also don’t have internet access. You I’m sure could at least try one of the above without exploding, so why not go ahead and try? (I 100% guarantee you won’t explode)

You came here to find out how to save the planet and live more in line with your core values, right? So go ahead. It may seem weird/foreign at first, but trust me, you’ll get used to it.

Okay, now that we’ve spoken about small ways to change your lifestyle, let’s look a little farther down the line: what do you want your life to look like in the future? Your ‘ideal’ life, if you will.

Probably something you wouldn’t be ashamed to post on Instagram, am I right?

All joking aside, if you’re going to be in this for the long haul, you’ll definitely need to think about whether or not you want to continue to live on grid, or explore off grid options. (Especially if you want to become a traveler)

Okay, okay, quit starring at me like I have three heads, I get it, you have no idea what I just said. But that’s okay, you’re here to learn, and I’m here to teach.

So, first things first: what the heck do ‘on grid’ and ‘off grid’ living mean?

On Grid means living ‘plugged in’ to the system: your water comes from the city (or towns’) supply, you’re connected to hydro lines, and you’re connected to sewage. Basically, you’re ‘plugged in’ to the systems used by the city. This is probably the way you’re currently living.

Off Grid means you aren’t connected – you use alternative means to get what you need, and are cut off from the citys’ supply. This could mean you use solar panels for your electricity, have a well for your own private water supply, have a septic tank for your toilet, etc. A much more hands on way of living.

Depending on how far down the saving the planet/hippie rabbit hole you want to go, you’ll have to think about which of these options would be best for your future. One of the greatest advantages of being on grid is since you’re tied into the system, you personally don’t have to worry about your resources, and they’re all pretty immediate and hands off.

One major downside though, is if there’s a black out, you’ll be left without until the issue is fixed. Another downside of on grid living is getting a bill each month for using the services. You also don’t have very much freedom in terms of moving around/leaving. (Unless you get the world’s longest extension cable, or [again] have a massive pile of money somewhere you can use on plane tickets, in which case, why are you reading this?)

Okay, now that we’ve kind of established the pros and cons of on grid living, let’s take a look at off grid:

One of the best advantages of off grid living is not being tied to one spot, and being completely (or mostly) mobile, not having to pay a monthly bill. A downside though is there are usually a lot more up front costs, and the services are more hands on: you’d have to get your own water, chop firewood to keep yourself warm, empty your toilet by hand, etc.

As you can see, both lifestyles have advantages and disadvantages, which is why it’s important to think about the type of life that’s right for you. Maybe the call of travel supersedes the ick factor of having to be hands on with your waste, and that’s awesome! If you think you can do it, I say go for it.

But be realistic.

Figure out what you are and aren’t comfortable with, and see which would be a better fit for you. Even better, figure out what you’d like, and see if it can be adapted to fit either the on or off grid capabilities. If getting a bucket toilet is too gross for you, but you like the idea of being off grid, look into having a black tank for your waste instead. It’s more of a hassle to empty (in my opinion), but maybe you won’t mind having to drive to find the designated dumping grounds.

Another thing to consider when wanting to live off grid: will you have internet access or continue to use your cell phone, or be completely remote? Where will your mail go? The post office can’t deliver to ‘the van in the middle of the forest’. (Though how convenient would that be?) Do you have family that would let you use their address or will you pay for a P.O. Box? What will you do for money while traveling? Will you work on the road, or save up and take a more vacational approach?

I’m sure some of these things you never even thought to consider, but that’s okay! You’re just learning right now, so that you’re prepared when the day comes to make the plunge. It’s much better to figure all this stuff out now before you’re in your van 3 countries away with no idea what to do.

I’m going to list some of the other big things you’ll want to figure out before going too much further. This way you can turn the info over, research, and see what feels right for you.

 

Off Grid options

Electricity:

  • Solar Panels – these are one of the most popular options as it’s a renewable resource, and they’re relatively easy to find/install. The only downside is they can be pretty expensive up front.
  • Wind turbine – another great option using a renewable resource, though wind turbines would be easier to build if you didn’t plan on using a vehicle. I’ve only seen a small number of van lifers using a wind turbine, and the ones who are, are using it in addition to the solar panels

 

Water:

There are many ways in which to get water. You could get water tanks and fill them up so you have a small stash while you’re travelling, or if you’re not planning on being on the road often, you could keep the van/bus water-less and just bring in bottles with you. Though I’d only recommend this option if you were only looking into part time travel, such as excursion weekends.

Or, if you’re not planning on living in a vehicle, you could dig your own well to have water on your property. You will of course also need to think about whether or not you’ll want a water heater so you can have hot water, or if you don’t mind having to boil water using a stove, or will you be able to deal with cold/room temperature water?

While on that note: how are you going to get your water from Point A to Point B? Will you fill up a bucket from your reserve/well and carry it to wherever you need it? Will you have a water pump to push the water wherever you need it, so you can just turn on your tap and have it, or will you consider using a foot pump, to help control the flow of water?

What will happen to the ‘used’ water? Will you get a grey water tank to hold it, or build an elaborate set up to irrigate the used water into your garden/plants? What about rain water collection? (Fun fact: collecting rain water isn’t legal in every province!)

 

Heating:

  • Real Wood Burning Fireplace – will you be able to keep up with the maintenance and needing to go out to chop firewood? Will you have enough clearance for a stove and to store the wood so you don’t accidentally set your curtains (or couch, or anything else) on fire? Do you want to be able to heat your home and cook on the fireplace, or would you rather have a separate stove for cooking?
  • Gas fireplace/stove – do you want to deal with propane on top of everything else you need to take care of? Do you feel safe having propane around, or would you rather not risk the potential explosion? Do you want to feel more like camping, with having to set your stove burners alight using matches, or do you just want to turn it on and have it work, no fuss?
  • Electric – yes there are electric fireplaces (and stoves), though like most other things on the off grid list, they’re a bit more of an up front cost. And, you need to think about whether or not you want to heat your home using your electricity. Will you have a big enough solar panel (or wind turbine) set up to handle a fireplace/stove as well, or would you rather not have your heating pull from another resource?

 

Make sure to check in with yourself, and ask which of these options will fit your lifestyle best or what are you willing to try changing so you can live the life you want?

For example, if you’re someone who takes really long showers, if you want to live off-grid, you may have to try to cut your showering time down to 5-10 minutes, or look into military showers. Also, ask yourself: would you realistically be okay with not showering every day in an effort to conserve water? Or will you need to include water tanks big enough to hold enough water for you to shower everyday?

Will you get your drinking water out of the same reserve as the water you use to shower, (and wash dishes) or will you have a separate system/holding container? Are you the type of person who could walk up to random businesses and ask them if you could refill your reusable bottle/water tank, or are you uncomfortable with that?

Okay, I’ll ease up now. I’m sure that was a lot of info you may not of even thought about, but that’s okay. Take some time to do your research, and keep these questions in mind while you continue to plan to make changes.

Remember: Helping the planet does not have to be an all or nothing! If all you can do is switch to a reusable water bottle, (or some other small change) that’s still 10x better than the guy who’s not doing anything. The planet will thank-you as long as you’re trying. Everyone can always be doing more to help save the planet, but you gotta start somewhere, right?


Like this article? Check out the NEW lifestyle section No. Mad. for more!

No. Mad. Planning

I’m fairly certain I had begun this post in a notebook somewhere, but at the time of writing (20.04.01), I for the life of me just can not find it, so this may not be exactly what I originally intended. Please bear with me.

Okay, so to start a nomadic lifestyle, you can’t just give away most of your possessions over night, pack a bag and leave. I mean, you could technically, but you’d probably not get all the benefits, and wouldn’t feel nearly as free as all the Instagrammers led you to believe. Especially if you start out living in a city, like I am.

You need to make a plan to get yourself from Point A to Destination: Freedom. The plan of buying/converting a bus I have, I had been looking into this way of living (as well as tiny living) for about a year. I’m still continuously looking and learning about this way of life, but I was about a year into things when I started to seriously consider adopting this way of life.

Maybe you have a couple thousand dollars saved up, to which I applaud you, and say this article may not be right for you. But, if you’re a broke adult like me, then please continue.

In my research, I’ve discovered that while each cost of converting a bus is different for everyone, the cheapest I’ve seen is about $20,000. (The most expensive get well up into the $100,000s) Now, to someone who thinks they’re ‘rich’ when they have $50 in their bank account, $20,000 is a lot of fucking money. But, honestly I believe the pay off will be worth it. (… Hopefully)

So, after bringing myself out of the fantasy of ‘the perfect life’ and down to the practicalities, I realized I’d need to carefully plan how to get myself from here to there. And I recommend that no matter where you’re starting out, to do the same. You can plan it out however you want, but just make a plan. That needs to be Step #1 for anyone making a life changing decision.

It may seem like a daunting task right now, and giving yourself a plan of attack can make it seem less impossible, and will break it down into manageable pieces. (Also, who doesn’t feel good/accomplished when checking something off a To Do List?)

The main plan for my attack, is to save up the money. That is one of – if not the most – difficult aspect of changing your life. Unfortunately, money makes the world go ‘round, and you’re going to need at least some of it so you can make your dreams come true. It sucks major balls, but it’s a fact. No one can do anything without some money.

Now, I’m very fortunate (and very grateful) to my mom who is letting me stay in her house (rent free!) while I take the time to pull my life together. It actually gives me anxiety sometimes when I think about it – she’s giving me an amazing opportunity to figure out what I want out of life and giving me the chance to go after it, so part of me worries if I don’t pull it off, I don’t want her to feel like she ‘wasted’ all that time and energy.

I absolutely love her death, even though we don’t agree on every life philosophy, and I really can’t stand to think what I’d do if I let her down. I realize how lucky I am, and I’m grateful everyday for what she’s doing for not only me, but my siblings (I have 3). For someone who has been working since she was 14, I love that she is giving us this opportunity, and I’m really hoping not to f*ck it up.


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She says all the time that she’d rather we take our time so that we ‘don’t get stuck’ living a life we don’t want, because she knows how much it sucks.

… Sorry, I realize I kind of went off topic there. Getting back on track, I’ve put a plan in place to save up the money (hopefully) within the time frame I have (like I said in the Intro, my house is scheduled for demolition). I’ve already got myself a day job (surprised blogging isn’t it? Me too! But I’m working on changing that 😉 ) that I can do from pretty much anywhere, as long as I have an Internet connection. The place I’m working for is awesome because I also get flexible hours, which I’m imagining will come in quite handy once I hit the road.

The only downside is it’s pretty below minimum wage, but like I always say: some money is better than none. (Which was what I was making before)

Due to the low nature of my pay, I can’t put as much as I’d hoped into my savings, but again, $20 every month is better than 0.

Now again, I don’t know your situation, but give your current situation a hard think, and give yourself a payment plan you can realistically stick to. It’s much better to put $5 into your savings every month than $100 once, and then have to take it back out again.

That’s the other trick, too: Once the money is actually in your savings pretend it doesn’t exist. Don’t take it out unless it’s an absolute emergency. Taking $5 out here and there will soon turn into taking it out frequently, and then you’ll just kick yourself later for taking away from your future. (Trust me) Each time you take money out, your goal just got 1 year (or more) further away.

Do yourself a favour and don’t touch it! I know it can be hard, and life sure as hell loves to get in the way, but do your best.

Once you’ve got a financial plan down, start thinking about the other practical aspects of living nomadically. What will you do for money once you’re actually on the road? Will you continue to do the job you have now (if working from home is an option) or will you have to find a new source of income? Will you just save up, leave for 3 months and then come back to your regular life?

The main question you need to ask yourself: What are you looking to get out of this lifestyle?

The end goals will look vastly different for someone who just wants to do this as a vacation apposed to someone who wants to live life on the road 24/7. It’s easy to get lost in the beauty and aesthetic of it without thinking about the practicalities. But, the practicalities are the things that will allow you to sustain the lifestyle.

Now that I’ve (hopefully) got your rational brain awake, here are some more questions I want you to think about, while you begin to make your plan:

  • What things do you have right now that you could do without, without affecting your quality of life? (Everyone has things they’ve collected over the years they don’t really I’ve seen some articles that recommend sorting through all your stuff: if you haven’t used it within the last year, you probably don’t need it)
  • What do you want to get out of this lifestyle?
  • What will you do for work/money when on the road?
  • How will you even hit the road? Get an RV, self-convert a van/bus, or just grab a backpack and hit a trail?
  • How will you get water?
  • How will you go to the bathroom/shower? (Definitely not the most glamorous question, but definitely an important one!)
  • What will you do for food?
  • What’s your contingency plan for when shit hits the fan? (B/c shit always hits the fan sooner or later)
  • What can you change about your current lifestyle today to start transitioning to the lifestyle you want? (For example, if wanting to convert a bus [or van!] you may [definitely will] need to get rid of a lot of your clothes. But the question is, will you be actually be getting rid of/donating them, or will you rent a storage space to house everything you can’t take with you?

I hope these practicality questions will help you really have a good (non-dreamy) think about your future life. I know this isn’t the fun part, but if you don’t do the non-fun work, you’ll never get to be in a position to do what you want.

In the next article (coming in July) we’ll take a look at the differences, pros and cons of Off-Grid vs On-Grid.


Like this article? Check out my NEW lifestyle section: No. Mad.

No. Mad. Intro

This is the intro to a new series/section of my site, as I’ve grown to love/appreciate another way of life: nomadic living.

While I’m currently not living nomadic, I thought it’d be fun to document the process I went through to get from point A to point B. (Also, figured it would help all the other newbs out there who don’t know a damn thing about it)

So, let’s start with the basics:

What the heck is ‘nomadic living’? A ‘nomad’ is a ‘a member of a people having no permanent abode, and who travel from place to place to find fresh pasture for their livestock’. While I don’t have any livestock, I have always wanted to travel and see the world. The one thing that has been stopping me (aside from lack of funds) is the fact I can’t take my house with me. Seriously, I want to travel and see the world, but not leave the comfort of my own home. Maybe that sounds a little ridiculous to some of you – doesn’t that defeat the purpose of travelling? Maybe, but if you aren’t comfortable, then there’s not really a point, is there?

This is why I was super excited to learn of an alternative way to live, called tiny living. The tiny house movement has been picking up steam in recent years as people realize that living in mansions isn’t exactly sustainable. Maybe you’ve even seen some articles or pictures on Instagram about it.

Most people who live tiny reject the social norm of staying in the normal 9-5 grind, and decide instead to live in smaller houses, buses, RV’s or even vans and travel around the globe. It’s essentially the ideal definition of ‘living the dream’ just… smaller.

Since you’ll be living in a smaller space (usually no more than 400sq ft is considered a ‘tiny house’), it will kind of force you into a minimalistic lifestyle, too. And, most tiny lifers are often nomads as well, since their homes are on wheels.

There are so many different Youtube channels/videos dedicated to this way of life, too. Some of my favourites include:

  • Living BIG, In a Tiny House (1st Youtube channel I found about tiny living, Bryce tours absolutely stunning tiny homes all over Australia)
  • Eamon and Bec (one of the most rockin’ couples I’ve ever seen [and would absolutely love to meet in person, one day!] who live out of their van, are from Toronto and vegan! They break down van life into easy to understand videos, and often vlog their travels)
  • Wild by the Mile (solo female vanlifer, who gives some awesome tips/advice on how to stay safe on the road solo)
  • Tiny House Nation (These two guys go around helping people build tiny houses, and make clients dreams come true by going so above and beyond what they initially asked for it’s insane)

There are many amazing tiny house builder companies all over Instagram as well. I follow a lot of them for inspiration, though I already have a floor plan of what I want my tiny to look like. I had first discovered this tiny house movement around this time last year, when I was beginning to think seriously about what I wanted my own home/life to look like.

… I just now realize that up to this point – since this hasn’t been a lifestyle blog – none of you really know who I am. That is in part my fault, as I was told by some trusted colleagues not to disclose things like my age, gender, etc. since I was trying to break into the world of writing. I think I’m established enough now to disclose the truth, so here we go:

Hi, my name’s Ater. I’m a newly 24 year-old (birthday just passed Feb. 15th) woman who is currently still living at home. No you will not get to see pictures of my face. I believe I can both maintain my privacy and share what I want from my life with you. Also, when I get famous for my writing, I don’t want to be swarmed on the sidewalk. (And in case you couldn’t tell, this is partially sarcasm. I’m pretty sarcastic, and no, there’s no font for that) My feelings toward this may change in the future, but as for right now, I hope you can respect my privacy.

The place I’m currently in is scheduled to be knocked down in 2-3 years, so I thought that would be a perfect timeline for moving out on my own. (Since I’ll have to pack up all my stuff anyway)

My ultimate dream is to be able to live off my writing/blogging while I travel the world and live as compassionately as I can. I’ve already begun to take steps to make myself profitable, and align myself with a more compassionate way to live, and I’m hoping to become (one day) self-sufficient in the sense I can grow most (if not all) of my own food, and be 100% off-grid.

My plan right now is to get a 25 foot coach bus to convert and travel in. I’m hoping to get an EV Star as it’s a solar-powered vehicle, and I really don’t want to have to buy gas. At the time of writing, I currently don’t have a full license – in Ontario, we have something called Graduated Licensing – but am working toward it. It would suck major balls if I bought a bus I couldn’t drive.

The title of this section ‘No. Mad’ is a play on the word nomad, as I mentioned above, but I broke it up in the way I did so that it also can be read as ‘no anger’, as in living compassionately. I think this simple title is a great way to encompass everything I want this part of the blog to reflect/be about.

Aaand, I think that’s where I’m gonna leave this intro. We’ll be going into the topics of traveling, tiny living and living off-grid in the articles to come. Don’t worry, there’s a lot of material to cover as I live, grow and learn. And, hopefully by letting you in on my mistakes, I can help some of you from repeating them.

So… yeah. Welcome to No. Mad., ladies and gents!