My Tiny House in the Woods: Choosing to Live Without Electricity

Reader Contribution by Jo Devries
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Full-sized lemons and limes grew indoors, on plants shown.

In 1996, I purchased a piece of bush land in Eastern Ontario, Canada. I wanted to raise my son, Jordan (then 4 ½), away from the things of man. I wanted to live a simple, down-to-earth life, filled with the wonderful happenings that occur when one lives surrounded by nature and positive energy. I wanted to teach him independence from the world.

I knew I didn’t want hydro lines on my property. Electricity was only invented a short time ago. My parents didn’t have electricity on the farm in Holland. I’m the first generation that was raised with electricity. Everyone who lived before me, lived without electricity, and I keep hearing “I don’t think I could live without it!” That’s scary. I’d like to think I could. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Taking my laundry with me when I go to town, and using public computers (when they existed).

In 1999, I helped a builder construct a simple timber frame on my lot, from logs I had acquired in a trade. I hoped that someday, when and if I ever had any money, I would add on to it. A year later, Jordan and I moved into the shell of our cabin in the woods.

There were no windows yet; only a few open areas in the siding, where the only thing between us and the great outdoors was a thin sheet of Typar®. That let in quite a bit of light, when the sun was shining. The front door had a small window, but it was covered in thick plastic to keep out the draft. Still, we felt fortunate to be in our own place. We counted our many blessings. We were warm, cozy, well fed, playing board games and reading by the light of our own homemade beeswax candles. Although 14-by-18-feet is tiny to most, this was plenty of room for us, as we had been living in our 9-by-9.5 -foot garden shed for the past few summers.

‘Old World’ Look Using Recycled Materials

Putting in a kitchen island a small area might seem to most to be a ridiculous, space-wasting thing to do, but I’m happy I did. I look to commercial buildings for my residential designs. Following the path of a retail establishment gives a room a professional feeling. If I want the best kitchen to work and eat in, why not design it like a quaint restaurant? When I need ingredients, I enjoy shopping in my own kitchen. Everything I need, at my fingertips. Imagine gathering fruits, veggies, herbs and berries in an adjoining greenhouse, overlooking the garden and orchard…

When I look through real estate magazines showing million-dollar homes and kitchens, I shake my head.  Such large, impractical, and cold feeling places. I want to create spaces where everyone immediately feels good.

My kitchen takes you back in time; back to a simpler time.  The warm terra-cotta colours, natural materials and recycled items, give it an old world feel. I will admit having staged the kitchen somewhat for the photo that’s included in this blog; one should not store canned goods near the ceiling — it’s far too warm!

The root cellar was built 10 years after we moved in. I hid the door to the root cellar in the north wall, between the shelves of food. Although the interior of it still needs to be finished, we’ve adored our “walk-in fridge”.

Root cellar door, hidden behind mirror. Guzzler® water pump, secured to post, left of door.

Heating and Cooking with Wood

Our cookstove is an essential part of daily life. It cooks the food, heats the house, heats water for bathing and dishes, and boasts a large oven. A cookstove requires almost constant feeding. It’s not the same as an air-tight woodstove.

If I loaded up the fire-box with too much wood, or too much of certain types of wood, the stove would melt and the place would burn to the ground. Being 20 years old, framed in 6-by-6-foot cedar, completely covered in pine, with oversized baskets hanging from the ceiling, and pounds of beeswax — the place would go up like a torch!

Stove made in southern Ontario by Pioneer Maid®. Brick and tile by the author.

The Loft

The upstairs of the cabin is sleeping quarters, clothes and linens, storage and, since Jordan finished high school and moved out to work in Ottawa, my work-space. I’ve since added an audio recording booth (which looks a lot like a blanket fort).

I have very few personal belongings and clothes, so tiny house living suits me just fine. I’ve had up to three people, as well as my Jo of the Woods greeting card business, occupying this modest space. High ceilings, mirrors and lots of windows are the trick.

A year ago, when I started blogging for Mother Earth News magazine, I decided to make an audio recording of each blog. My friend Eldy Gouthro, who gave me my laptop, is a retired soundman who has traveled the world, recording. Eldy got me in touch with his friend in Ottawa, voice coach Michael Hicks, and he gave me some great tips. After covering my work table with a quilt, and stapling two blankets to the rafters, my sound booth was ready. A small solar panel, power inverter and marine battery, supply power — when the sun is shining.

The table slides back into the closet when not in use.

The Development of a Rural Homestead is Worth the Hard Work

Although a lot of landscaping has been accomplished on my property, this land is still a diamond in the rough. I’m enjoying the journey of polishing it up. It has its roses and it has its thorns.

I’ve seen a large male moose from my bedroom window. A loon once spent an hour calling and diving in the creek, while I watched from 50 feet away. But the ticks are terrible. I’ve suffered chronic pain and limited mobility from flare-ups of Fibromyalgia or Lyme disease (depending on who you talk to, doctors or healers). Also, the humidity in Ontario is very high; bad for arthritis. The cabin is far from finished. Keeping up with things is a full-time job.

Jordan bought a chainsaw last year, and has started clearing trees in an area which was once field. I want the elderberry to make a comeback. This will also require the removal of hundreds of tree roots. I’m happy to say: I just made a deal to buy two pigs next month for that job.

Life in the woods is hard work, but incredibly satisfying. Strenuous physical labour, fresh air, and the feeling of accomplishment, result in a good night’s sleep. I’m usually up and down with the sun, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I thank my heavenly Father every day for the blessings bestowed upon me. I’m surrounded by His amazing creation, and have the opportunity to discover what it means to live close to the heart of our dear Mother Earth. What more could one want?

The couch becomes a bed; the trunk contains bedding.

Jo deVries(Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author ofDoes Your House Know Where South Is?and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect withJo of the Woodsand read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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