So what exactly changes when you up and walk away from the only way of living you’ve ever known?
When your 4 bedroom 2 bathroom home on 800 square metres (a 5th of an acre) of land is exchanged for a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom cabin on 400,000 square metres (100 acres). When your mortgage gets cut in half and power bills are replaced by solar energy?
When fluoridated and chlorinated water is replaced by spring-water and rainwater, not only for drinking but cooking, showering, washing?
When the air you breathe is no longer filtered by a thousand car exhausts, but rather billions of plants?
When you’re surrounded by most of the resources you’ll ever need like stone, timber, and soil?
When you stop looking at a watch or a calendar, rise when your body wakes you, sleep when your body makes you, eat when you’re hungry, drink when you’re thirsty?
When most of the noise comes from weather and birds? When your closest neighbours are kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats? When the urgent and crippling pressure of how to “make a living” disappears, and your creativity returns? When you have more space and freedom than you’ve ever known?
What changes? Well, you do.
A year ago my wife and I (a couple of thirty-somethings), along with our two young children, abandoned our shiny home in the ‘burbs. A home that ticked all the boxes by society’s standards – except a pool, we never did get that pool.
We then relocated nearly 4,000 kilometres away to a log-veneered cabin in a peaceful valley hidden in the mountains. No mobile phone reception, no power, water, or gas network. Bar satellite internet and a phone line that works some of the time, we are off grid.
Like other off-gridders, the reasons we chose to make such a drastic change to our life are varied and complex. Even within our family some of our reasons differ, though the overall goal is the same, to be happy.
For me, the turning point was realising that I was trying to achieve happiness by sticking to my society’s template. You know the one. Education, career, car, house, furniture, objects, hobbies, holidays, relationships, children. When the template frequently failed to deliver our happiness, I had no choice but to revisit that list.
Like people addicted to a toxic relationship, we tried everything to “make it work.” But in all honesty, life was getting harder the more children we had. The constant pressure of too little support, being penned in by arbitrary rules and little freedom, being crippled by huge debt and the high cost of city living, meant sustainable happiness was a pipe-dream.
The time came late one Sunday night (as I was underway with my third career) to admit that the template hadn’t delivered, and most importantly would never deliver, our happiness. In a moment that was equal parts terrifying and thrilling, we decided to step outside of the template and into the white space. It was time to make a life of our own choosing.
Fast forward 12 months, and you can imagine the past year has been big, our biggest as individuals and as a family. So much has changed in our lives, and in us.
It’s been a bipolar year of contrasts and extremes: we’ve never been so confused, and life has never made so much sense; we’ve never fought so much, and we’ve never got along so well; we’ve never come so close to breaking up, and we’ve never been so certain we’ll stay together; we’ve never been so full of despair, and we’ve never been so full of hope; we’ve never been so frustrated, and we’ve never been so content; we’ve never been so alone, and we’ve never been so connected; we’ve never been so stressed, and we’ve never been so peaceful.
We’ve been very cold; we’ve been very hot; we’ve had an abundance of water, and we’ve also run out; we’ve had an abundance of power, and we’ve run out of that too; we’ve never had so much responsibility and accountability for our own existence, and we’ve never felt so liberated and empowered; we’ve never had so little money, and we’ve never been so wealthy; we’ve never been so vulnerable, and we’ve never been so safe. We know that there is much we miss from the way we lived, and we know we can never go back.
Interestingly, we’ve lost most of our appetite for meat. Profoundly we’ve lost our drive to compete with our fellow humans, and a deep-seated desire to care, connect, and cooperate has filled its place. The world defined by hierarchies, money, obedience, right and wrong, schedules and deadlines has become increasingly meaningless. Personal choice and freedom have become increasingly meaningful.
Without a doubt this past year has seen the best and worst of us.
Yet this past year we’ve never been so happy.
And when we think about our future? Well that just makes us smile.
AUTHOR: Chris Bell is a human doing his best, along with the amazing woman in his life, to create sustainable happiness for their family. He has been an extreme personal growth enthusiast for 10 years, which has led to increasingly radical changes in his personality, appearance and lifestyle. As an integrative psychotherapist with a background in environmental science and psychology, his joy lies in knowing the human animal. Particularly how our lives are fundamentally guided by animalism, and that there is deep meaning in connecting with the nature of our species, including the physical and social environments in which humans evolved. He shares the knowledge his family has accumulated thus far about being human on their socially-funded self-help site howtobehuman.net.