November 2011 UpdateWe've been living this experiment now for nearly eight years. Below, you can read the original description that I posted back in 2004 at the start of the experiment, plus an update from 2009. A few things have changed since then:
August 2009 UpdateWe've been living this experiment now for nearly five years. Below, you can read the original description that I posted back in 2004 at the start of the experiment. A few things have changed since then:
Our Simple LifestyleOur life right now is an experiment: how much can we trim our spending, consumption, and ecological footprint while still surviving in relative comfort. Each day, we trim a bit more. Here is what we have done so far:
Our locationAfter searching across the US for a suitable location, we picked Potsdam, NY---it was the only town that met all of our criteria:
In my opinion, Potsdam is heaven: a small town with friendly people and quite a bit of culture. The surrounding countryside is home to lots of people who have "gone off the rails" of mainstream US life: we have friends here who live off the grid, grow their own food, or do not drive cars. We fit in here. In fact, compared to some locals, our lifestyle borders on conventional.
Our ShelterAfter living in Potsdam for a year and searching for a house, we finally settled on one in June of 2004. Our house is relatively small: a single story with one bedroom, plus an office. Though it was built in 1950, our house has many nice passive-solar features. Our yard consists of a double-lot with a fence surrounding the back yard---a perfect spot for an orchard and a garden.
Our TransportationWe live car-free. We use our garage to store our bikes. I ride a BikeE recumbent, and I use a custom-built (out of scrap wood) trailer to haul our weekly groceries. I ride my bike year-round, even in -10F. My spouse and baby ride a WizWheelz recumbent trike. We bought our trike used, though it is in very good condition: we do not plan on riding it in the winter. Our house is about a half mile from downtown Potsdam, so we can easily walk everywhere we need to go, though we often ride our cycles in good weather to save time. Details aside, living car-free saves us a lot of money: no insurance, no maintenance, and no gasoline.
Our FoodWe buy all of our food at the Co-op and at the local farmer's market. About 95% of the food that we eat is either organically grown or local. We do not buy food in disposable packaging, but then again, we do not need to: we buy only fruits, vegetables, and raw bulk ingredients (we bring reusable containers to the Co-op for these). We do volunteer work at the Co-op for two hours per month, and this gives us a 10% discount on all of our groceries.
We recently turned off our refrigerator---this was relatively easy, since we are now on a vegan diet, but I am surprised each day by how little I miss this "necessary" appliance. We started canning for the first time this year. So far, we have put up cans of local tomatoes, corn, and plums.
Because we bought our house in mid-June, we got a late start on our garden this year. However, we did manage to plant and harvest tomatoes, lettuce, and peas. We have started preparing our beds for next year's garden, which should be much bigger. We are planting 120 cloves of garlic this fall, which should produce 120 heads of garlic by next summer. We have purchased seven fruit trees which we will be planting this fall.
The dream is to grow much of our own food, but this is a completely impractical dream, especially on our meager half-acre lot.
Our budgetWe have set our yearly budget at about $9,756. Town, village, and school property taxes eat up about $1500 of this per year. After that, we have a budget of about $688 per month. We have devoted $200 of this to utilities (water, electric, and amortized heat), and $65 to telephone and Internet. You might be laughing: "No fridge, but you have DSL, huh?" Remember, I am a computer programmer. After all of these expenses, we are left with about $423 per month, which must cover food and other purchases.
Our food budget is currently rather tight, but we expect it to become looser as we start to grow more of our own food.