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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Living with limited resources

It takes practice to get used to living with few resources. It’s too easy to use resources without even thinking about it. Flick a light switch. Use the bathroom. Get something out of the refrigerator. Drive to the store. Do the laundry. Check e-mail and social media. All these things use energy.

We use energy without even doing anything. AC or heat keeps us comfortable. Water is kept hot and food kept cold -just in case we’ll want to use it. Everything from TVs to cell phone chargers constantly use power, even when the devices themselves are turned off.

Think of all the connections to your house. Most people are connected to the electrical grid. Many still have land line phones. Plenty of us have fiber optic connections for Internet and/or TV. Quite a few places have natural gas service. Just about all city dwellers have municipal water service. All those connections delivery energy and resources of one sort or another.

Cut off all those supply systems and see how well you do.

I’ve found that few things beat a small sailboat for experiencing life with limited resources. There are no utilities connected to a boat sailing in the ocean.

We had to make good use of our fresh water. We used it for drinking and cooking, Most washing of clothes and ourselves was done with salt water, with just a bit of fresh for rinsing. (that fresh water rinse felt extravagant.)

My electrical needs were satisfied with a 30 watt solar panel, which is very small, but our needs were small. We ran navigation and anchor lights, a cabin light, and charged radios, a cell phone and batteries.

Our first week on the boat, we used 2.5 gallons of gas for the outboard. I thought that was excessive. The next 4 day trip we went on, we used a quart of gas. We got better.

I cooked using a one burner Whisperlite International backpacking stove. Cooking used up about 1.5 quarts of fuel per week. At first, I used regular Coleman fuel. When that ran out the stove ran just fine on the same gasoline that we had for the outboard. Since then I’ve added a Backcountry boiler from Boilerwerks. It does a fine job boiling water using sticks and twigs.

Refrigeration? Nice when you have it, but not necessary. Our little cooler would only last about 3 days. After that, we did just fine with canned, dehydrated, or dry foods. Some fruits and veggies lasted just fine without refrigeration. There was always the option of fresh sea food too.

You don’t need to live on a sailboat to strip life down to its essentials. Live in a tent for a week -not in a campground, but out in the backcountry. Backpackers are quite familiar with paring down one’s resources to the essentials.

Picture yourself living in your house, but without all the connections that bring energy and resources in. How well could you live? Could you live? Would the house get too hot or too cold? Do you have water storage or alternative supplies? Will all your food spoil? Can you find a way to cook it?

You get the idea.

When resources are not being constantly piped into your shelter, be it a sailboat, cabin in the woods, tent, or even your suburban house, how well can you do? How long will you last?

Will you be having any fun? Remember, those times we spent in a sailboat, back packing or tenting, we were out having a good time. The better we could use limited resources, the longer the fun could continue.



  1. Excellent post!
    So many people have no idea how to survive without grid power and should that day come and it will, it will get very ugly, very quickly. Those of us like yourself and readers will do OK but the rest of the people?????

  2. Very good post. Living in an area that is prone to hurricane hits, we have been able to stay well, sufficiently fed, fairly comfortable. When Ike came through we were without power for weeks.

  3. Sorting through things in the shed today, I came across our camping gear. Good to know where it is in case it's needed. This afternoon, driving home from Crystal River in a torrential downpour & high winds, I thought about those supplies. Called ahead & asked Sweetie how the weather was there. "Just a drizzle," he said. By the time I got home the drizzle was a downpour. After unloading the car, I ran to the shed for two large plastic totes. Sweetie thought it a bit too much but I felt better knowing it was sitting in our screened porch just in case. Then I realized, we sold ALL our generators in Michigan! With a freezer full of meat & veggies we have an investment to preserve. Tomorrow, it's generator shopping time. Not that we expect to constantly run it during any storm, but there will be a call for it. Thankfully, our stock of canned meats, etc. and dried beans, pasta, rice, is plentiful.

  4. In my home I actually do have backup systems in place for each of my utilities, several have already been tested. Each, not all: if I lose electricity, natural gas, and water at the same time, then I will have quite a struggle. I do have some capacity to burn wood and probably have a 1 to 3 days supply, depending on whether I needed it for heat or just cooking. After that I would be traipsing into the woods up the hill to do some cutting, by hand.

  5. With our recent 3 day boil order on the town water, I was happy to have had the camping experience I did. Although I complained, it really was easier to have known how to handle the water and it made it fairly smooth. Although I trust town water even less now...