In late March, an acquaintance reconnected with us not long after shelter-in-place orders went into effect in the Bay Area. He and his wife are Italian nationals who have been living in the U.S. for many years, and they were acutely aware of the dangers of the coronavirus, having watched the pandemic take its toll on Italy and their family there. They wanted to know if any residences in our quiet neighborhood, far from the urban center of San Francisco, were available. They were exploring options to leave the city center with their brand-new baby, born only a few months before the pandemic struck. Within a week, they vacated their city-dwelling and moved into a home not too far from our own neighborhood, settling into their work-from-home routines, a new baby (who cannot visit his pediatrician in person) and life in the, supposedly safer, suburbs.
Quietly, all around us, friends and acquaintances have left the city center for outlying areas: Napa, Sonoma, St-Helena. Some will stay there temporarily; others may find that living slightly off-the-grid has more long-term benefits. A friend from New York City, who has relocated to The Hamptons at least temporarily, told me he went back to his apartment to gather more supplies and summer clothes. His building was largely empty – everyone who could leave had left, seeking respite in summer havens.
One blogger-couple I have followed with interest lately is @happyhomebodies: a couple and their three dogs who converted a school bus into a tiny home. It generally resembles a recreational vehicle that Joanna Gaines might had decorated with shiplap and layers of muted pillows on blankets with oversize prints. It’s cute and functional and off-the-grid. Francesca and Nicholas, who share their life on Instagram with their 100,000 followers, have now lived in the converted bus for over a year. “Most people thought we were nuts when we told them we were going to live in a school bus with our three dogs. Little did we know it would spark so much joy and inspiration for others,” Francesca said.
Katherine, a mom in New Hampshire, and her family sought a simpler life a year before COVID-19 changed the world. “A year ago, we piled our family of five into an RV seeking a simpler life. We eventually settled on six acres in rural New Hampshire — a decision I am profoundly grateful for every day.”
Once it became apparent that the pandemic was changing everything, it was easy for Katherine and her family to make the most of the situation. “My husband cut a trail through our wooded lot for nature hikes. It provides ample opportunities for educating our three little adventure seekers. And since we were already homeschooling our eldest before the schools were closed, we were prepared.” They are learning to grow vegetables and planning to add chickens to the mix.
“Every time I run on our dirt road – without a soul in sight – I thank the canopy of trees for cleaning our air and keeping us healthy,” Katherine said.
In Maine, at the beginning of the pandemic, several small towns were severely impacted by wind storms that took out the power source for nine days. Those already living off the grid, like Ashley, were better prepared. “We had solar (energy) and propane appliances. Living off the grid during the pandemic is the same as it always (was) – just a little more tiring and a little more rewarding than normal life,” she said. She handwashes clothes by the river, tends to a large garden and works on home improvement projects. Her only bill is for her mobile phone.
Sometimes Ashley thinks, “You’re insane for doing this’, but the pandemic has made me nothing short of grateful for this chosen lifestyle.”
Lindsy, who lives off-the-grid with her partner and four children, doesn’t miss the days of driving hours into town for supplies. “This pause has given us time to be more firmly rooted in our life (off the grid) in the mountains. We’ve had time to build the horse corral, expand the garden, mend the fences and tend to the details of homeschooling four kids.”
Lindsy suspected the pandemic would heavily impact life and the supply chain, so she stocked up on seeds, hens, beans and tons of potatoes. She encourages the kids to be creative with forts, fairy houses and sword fights, paired with reading and listening to educational podcasts.
Life off of the grid isn’t all chickens and washing clothes in the river. Real estate companies like Vivos, which characterizes itself as a global shelter network, have seen sales increase 400%. Vivos, among other services, provides luxurious underground bunkers, stockpiled with food and goods, complete with blast-proof doors, amenities and escape helicopters. Vivos’ underground bunkers in the Black Hills of South Dakota and outlying areas of Indiana are marketed with an end-of-the-world narrative that resounds to affluent buyers enduring the current crisis.
Life going forward certainly looks different – only time will tell how many of us seek alternative living arrangements and whether they’re temporary or permanent.