The following is an interview with LaMar Alexander who runs the website SimpleSolarHomesteading.com and is well-known for his 14×14′ home that he built for under $2k. He’s written several books on living off the grid and living a minimalist lifestyle. He also has a large collection of homesteading YouTube videos – some garnering over 1 million views.
Have you always lived so frugally/minimally? What was your life before living in a 14×14 cabin?
I had two very different lifestyles before building the cabin. My folks were born in the Great Depression 20s and raised 9 kids through 3 wars. I was the youngest. My folks never had much money but they learned to homestead from their folks and we gardened, raised animals, fished and hunted for most of our food. People probably thought we was poor but we never went without anything and our clothes and house was always clean. That is how I learned to build and do for myself because it was expected. Money was for saving for an emergency and you made do and kept things running until they couldn’t be fixed anymore.
Then I went away to college and earned a Masters degree in Health Ed. and an assoc. in architectural drafting. I was not interested in making money and hated working for other people and had been working full time since I was 15 so I wanted to start a small business. I ended up marrying a woman with two kids and that changed the plans with all the bills and she was used to a different lifestyle so we had to have a new car and a big house and all the stuff that goes with it. That always ate at me and I felt like I was a slave to the system and started resenting my job and all the stuff that kept me tied down and broke. Eventually that cost me my marriage.
It was after that I took a long hard look at myself and what I wanted in life and all I wanted was a simple homestead and a small business and a sustainable lifestyle with minimal stress. That is how I come to build the cabin, simplify my life and start writing and pursuing my business ideas.
Many people have spouses and/or kids. How do you think people with large households could manage such a small space?
I have a girlfriend and she has her own place in town. We get together on weekends and travel a lot. She has stayed with me many times and likes the cabin but she is tied to her place and bills. My son used to stay with me each summer and helped me in my business and he still loves to come visit and stay at the cabin because it is peaceful here. I think families actual do better in smaller houses because it makes them more considerate and young children like to be close to their family and they are more involved with each other. My folks raised 9 kids and never had more than a 3 bedroom house. They just spread us out so when the older kids were moving out the younger kids were being born.
Not everyone will be able to sustain themselves through writing books or via a website (as you have done so well at). Do you have ideas for how others might be able to “live off the grid” and still meet their financial obligations?
I talk a lot in my book and videos about having multiple streams of income and that way if one stream dries up you still have money coming in while you get something else going. I always suggest people start with their talents as a way to start a business. For me I had the teaching experience and had managed a business for other people so my books and videos are just an extension of that talent. I teach people as I am learning.
I also had a local pest control business until I hurt my back and I have a music CD published and I am just getting into game design. If you are creative or artistic there is lots of room on the web for new businesses but the real work is in developing a following of people that not only want your product but actually care about you because you care about them.
The internet has really opened up opportunities for people to be independent and run a business and there are also lots of opportunities for selling stuff you make or grow from your homestead or there are always people needing handymen, painters, landscapers. One of the fastest areas is in home care for the elderly so a nursing certificate would get you started and rural areas really need caring people to help the elderly stay in their homes.
Are their any states and areas that are particularly friendly to “off-griders” such as yourself and are more loose on building codes?
It has changed recently and CA used to be very friendly to off-gridders but now it wants that tax revenue from bigger houses. I would say Colorado, Arkansas, Wyoming, Alaska, Washington and Oklahoma are probably more tolerant and it really depends on the county. Counties want people to move there to increase their tax base so rural counties without many people are more likely to allow off-grid homes and have fewer building codes and enforcement.
If I may – how much are your utility bills per month? (summer/winter)
I am not hooked to the grid for power and produce my own electricity but for a small furnace and stove I use propane and that price all depends on what is going on in the country. I average about $60 a month in coldest part of winter but that drops to less than $10 a month for about 9 months out of the year. I can reduce that by using my wood stove but if I am away from the cabin I use the furnace so the stuff in the cabin doesn’t freeze.
The cabin is really well insulated and in the day time the furnace never kicks on. We may get -20 here in winter. The heat rises so my bedroom is upstairs where it is warmer and the dogs sleep downstairs where it stays cooler.
What’s your biggest challenge to living in a smaller space and being “off the grid”?
The biggest challenge was water at first. I hand drilled a well but it was not enough for everything so I made a deal with a brother to tap into his well. Without water you can’t raise a garden or animals and won’t make it. You can harvest rain water if it rains and I am very conservative with water and I recycle gray water for my garden and fruit trees.
The only other challenge has been from outsiders and Government getting in my business and the oil companies trying to take over the whole area. I have been fighting them all along. I like the smallness of the cabin and it is easier to clean, cheap to heat and cool and hardly costs anything for taxes so no complaints about that.
Do you have any advice for folks wanting to live a similar lifestyle as you but are afraid to make the leap?
I think it is easier for a single person or young couple with maybe young kids to get started although retired people also love homesteading and off-grid living. If the kids are raised in a small house they are very comfortable but transitioning to a small house from a big house is more stressful as some of your stuff is going to have to go away.
You do not have to live like a pauper in a small house. I have internet, cellphone, TV, electricity, heat just like everyone else, I just don’t have a house payment and monthly utility bills and that allows me to keep more of the money I make and not need as much money and I can afford to take vacations, buy better stuff, help my family and I have a secure retirement with a sustainable lifestyle and I have freedom. Freedom from stress over losing a job. Freedom to choose what I want to do and when I want to do it and freedom to pursue my dreams!
Would you live in a 14×14′ house?