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By Sarah Schwister
Walden is an American book written by noted transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings published in 1849. It was an experiment where he lived a couple miles from the town and his parents (so not literally in the middle of nowhere) and the experiment would go on for two years and two months (and two days):
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
The book goes on to describe obstacles that he faced, responses to the townsfolk who could not understand why he went out or what he did all day, and a social and philosophical mediation of his time “off the grid.”
He lived the pioneer life, being supported by no one and working with only his hands and the land—growing his own food, producing his own heat, and building his own house(or at least that was his intention). He took trips to town, but more for the trip itself than necessity.
But, as the townsfolk were constantly inquiring, is why? Why would you choice to live off the grid, and how can you live out of society like that?
Thoreau quickly states that his living in nature was purely an experiment and in no way permanent, he does continue to tell that the reasoning for his move is that people lead superficial lives. We all used to lead simpler lives, with gardens in the backyard and walking to school, and his argument is there is still a virtue in that life. Excess possessions not only require more work to purchase them, but oppress us with worry and material constraint.
How often do advertisements depict beautiful people with the product, generally smiling their perfect smiles on their airbrushed faces? They want people to feel that in order to be happy, we have to purchase the depicted item, but rather a void is created with each swipe of plastic at the cashier. Happiness is internal, yet society has come to convince us otherwise.
Thoreau believed that minimizing one’s needs it preferable, saying we only have four necessities: food, shelter, clothing, and fuel. Nature itself provides all these, so the idea is that a person can live off the land with minimal toil: luxury just a hindrance.
Originally, Thoreau’s ideal was just nodded as a quaint idea, but now it has developed as a new lifestyle. Written in the late 1840s, there were barely any conveniences compared to nowadays, with our online shopping, cell phones, and Facebook wiring us the world at any given second of any given day.
A study in 2010 showed that Facebook actually causes moderate to severe depression in 1.2 percent of people from 16 to 50 years of age. Research has also shown that heavy cell phone and computer use causes sleep problems, depressive symptoms, and reports of mental health issues. If Thoreau said people were too materialistic in the 1840s, it makes one wonder what he would say now.
Thoreau isn’t the only one to say that it was too much. Nick Rosen, the author of Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America, said there are 750,000 Americans living off the grid.
Now, off the grid could mean producing their own energy (which is a popular and growing trend with sky rocketing energy bills and repression of non-renewable energy companies). There is another survey that 1.7 billion people world wide live off the grid, but that also includes developing countries who haven’t had the opportunity to get on the grid. Being in society and being dependent on companies isn’t a life or death situation.
According to Mother Nature Network, the trend of Americans going off the grid is increasing. It is a nice idea to get away from the energy industry and go completely green, or to be truly self sufficient, but money is an issue. Living off grid is an investment for sure, but in some cases, it is economically the best option. Sonny and Linda Jobe who live in Doddridge County, W.Va bought a 70-acre piece of land, and when they went to build a house there, it would have cost $70,000 just to get public electricity out there, not including the monthly payments. They bought a small solar energy system with 5 kilowatts with 20 solar panels that powers 40-50 percent of their 1,069 square foot home for the year, which was a one time cost of $25,000-30,000 for the instillation.
CleanTechnica researched the drastic decline in price for solar energy, saying that solar energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels, more reliable, and since it is technology, it will only get cheaper with time. Basically, economically going off grid isn’t as impossible as it is projected, and in fact, it may be the best option.
There are actually websites, such as Off-Grid.net, that assist individuals seeking the secluded life. They include energy, blogs of families living off grid, best locations to go off, how to build your own water cisern system, the list goes on: all working towards the goal of a self sustaining future for a great deal of people.
Thoreau didn’t intend the off grid lifestyle to be monetary reasons, only, even if it was to break free from the materialistic repression. The idea was that moving off grid was to improve happiness and freedom. Although, as times have changed, so did the meaning, “off the grid,” turning from living off four basic needs to breaking free of power companies all the way to becoming self sustaining. However, even if it is just getting solar panels or recycling rainwater any step is a positive step towards that freedom, and towards that possible happiness.
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