Simple Living in the Southwest

We're discovering the simple living in the Southwest and the wonders of solar power, desert gardening and living on less.

| June/July 2007

I never thought I’d be asking my children this question, but there it was: “Would you rather have a house with land or indoor plumbing?” My children, ages 9, 11 and 13, didn’t hesitate: “Land,” they said. That settled it.

After months of combing the Internet for houses in northern New Mexico, I finally found one with everything we’d said we wanted. It was near the mountains; it had trees; it was only 30 minutes from Taos; and even though it sat on five acres, it was still within my meager budget. The house was also located in a gorgeous spot, with one set of mountains looming large to the east, and a charming valley stretching away to the west, bordered by ethereal mountain ranges beyond.

On the other hand, it was a 500-square-foot, one-room cabin. The only electricity was from one solar panel that pumped just enough juice to draw water from the cistern and run a low-wattage light. In lieu of a bathroom, it had an outhouse and a shower enclosure in one corner of the cabin, with a camper’s shower bag hanging over it. It had a woodstove for heat, a propane stove for cooking and no refrigerator.

The cabin was a radical departure from our little farmhouse in Kansas City, Mo., where nature was harnessed into manicured lawns and tidy hedges. But for me, the cabin was a dream come true. While living in Kansas City, I’d been working to live more simply: I started a little garden, stopped using air conditioning and learned to rely on a woodstove for heat. But moving to this cabin would really test the convictions I’d been spouting for years.

My kids, who are far more game than most children I’ve met, kept expecting me to get over this fantasy — like the time I wanted to get a nose ring — but I didn’t. I bought the little cabin and we moved in.

Low-Impact Living

Our cabin is a straw bale octagon that was built by a woman and her adolescent son. They built it out of beautiful stripped logs and straw bales plastered with cement stucco, which makes it feel unbelievably cozy, quiet and sturdy.

5/11/2011 8:31:34 PM

I too enjoyed your article and would love an update. I live some 'green' but really want to become more so. My setback is money. I would be interested in knowing more from Gloria_1 also. To know what profession she was preparing for. I prepared to be a carpenter. And I am one. But I forgot there are still prejudice against women in America. No one will hire me because I'm a woman. And now, even though I'm a good office worker. They won't hire me because I worked 10 years as a carpenter. Good for you Susan Lahey!! Your kids are a testiment to you as a mom too.

Betty L
5/11/2011 1:30:21 PM

To sksteward_1: My family and I lived with an outdoor toilet for many years when I was young and CPS never came to see us! That's just the way it was and for many others. And my Dad did not believe in the inside pot unless we were ill, confined to bed and could not go outside and down the path quite a ways away from the house. Got a bathroom when I was in Jr. High School. Then after I got married at 18 my husband went to work on a dairy farm and the tenant house we lived in only had an outhouse, a pump outside the kitchen door several feet away. We had a small old laundry stove in the kitchen where I heated water for laundry, etc., in colder weather. I did have a wringer washer on the back porch as we did have electric, and I dried my laundry in the very small rooms upstairs in the winter. It was a very small house and I had many Sunday dinners for both sides of our families with home made yeast rolls, and all the other trimmings. Since we got milk from the dairy and I didn't like whole milk, I always skimmed it and then churned butter from the cream in a Mason jar to top my rolls. I always had refrigator dough in my frig and my husband (at the time) also had hot rolls for breakfast because they milked early and I then would make up the rolls that we needed for breakfast. I remember some were surpised that a bride of 18 could do that.Of course I realize I am 76 now and I would hate to go to that right now. I live in a city now as I have for many years.

Suzanne Horvath
5/11/2011 12:37:36 PM

Since this story is 4 yrs old, it would be nice to have an update with photos. I'm assuming that they are not still living exactly the same way as when they first moved there. Solar power has changed for the better in recent years. Sites like Lehman's have lots of "off the grid" appliances and gadgets. I'm compiling a large online notebook for when I can start my adventure in the Southwest. I'm leaning towards hyperadobe, but if I find something already built (like Susan's property) that can be customized, then I'll rethink the plans. And the older I get, the sooner I need to do this :-} I will be so glad to get away from the sound of lawn mowers, leaf blowers, weed whackers etc. Even on a Sunday morning, it's impossible to sit outside and enjoy a cup of coffee and relax. Someone will fire up some piece of equipment and off we go! Peace and quiet is something I long for.

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