Kristine lost her business during the pandemic and moved from a condo in downtown Toronto to an off-grid tiny home on an Ontario farm, making what was probably the biggest leap of her life.
“I had a wellness clinic downtown Toronto. And when COVID happened, I lost my clinic. It was actually a blessing because living in the city started to be too much. I felt congested. A lot of people were angry, stressed out, and frustrated. And then they put a 5G tower right on top of my condo building, right on top of my head – I was on the top floor. It was physically hurting me.”
“It’s just so interesting how the universe works. I was on Kijiji, and I just happened to see an ad from a farm where they were looking for help.”
“Once I lost the clinic, I thought, you know, what am I doing here? This is just painful for me now. And it’s just so interesting how the universe works. I was on Kijiji, and I just happened to see an ad from a farm where they were looking for help.”
Having always been a city person, Kristine had no previous experience with farming or rural living. However, she felt there was something there that she needed.
“I’ve lived in condos my whole life, just renting, renting, renting. And I had lost everything at this point. I thought, ‘you know what, I’m gonna go check this place out.’ So I did and I fell in love with it.”
Why move from a condo in the sky to a tiny house on the land?
Moving from a condo at the top of a highrise building in Canada’s biggest city to an off-grid tiny house on a farm is probably the most dramatic change that someone can make in Canada.
In Kristine’s case, the transformation went beyond just her work and home. Having lived on the farm for a year and a half, Kristine has made many changes, including ditching her heels, making friends with animals, and learning to love the value of neighbors. She also adjusted to quiet.
“A big adjustment when I first came was that it’s black up there at night. Nothing around, no lights, no sound. No sirens, no honking horns. When you’re used to these sounds your whole life and now there’s absolute silence, it’s challenging actually – but I’ve gotten used to it.”
“When I came to the farm and stepped on the land when I got to know the farmers and the other people working there, I thought, ‘this is what I think I need from an energetic standpoint.’ I felt like before, I was living in the sky and was always floating, and literally, my head was hurting. Now I will be able to ground and connect with the Earth. Get my hands in the dirt.”
“Anybody who knows me will tell you that I used to wear five-inch heels and red lipstick. Now I just wear my rain boots. I don’t wear makeup anymore. I’m really just 100% grounding. And I love it.”
“Now I just wear my rain boots. I don’t wear makeup anymore.”
“In the city, I would keep to myself. You would never know I was your neighbor because you’d never hear a peep from me. But out here, when you’re off-grid, it’s very important to make friends with your neighbors because you have to help each other. You’re all just here in the woods and in case you might need help, it’s a matter of survival.”
“My neighbors are a couple, maybe 2-3 minutes walk away. I can see their house and they can see mine, so we watch out for each other. They’re off-grid too. So, for example, if you go away on a trip even just for a couple of days, and you don’t have sun, your batteries will die. If your battery dies in winter, your house will freeze – pipes, everything. So we help each other by ensuring our batteries don’t run out of charge. I’ve come to learn about how much power it takes to run a house and how long the battery will last you depending on the system you’ve got.”
“I never really cared about animals either, but my neighbors have two dogs and a cat. And out here I’ve learned how important it is to have both. For security, but also for things I never thought about before like mice and snakes.”
“I’ve made friends with the dogs and the cat, so they come and hunt on my land. The dogs watch out for me too, now. So if someone comes down the road, they come running and barking. That’s a piece of security that I have. They’re not my pets but they’ve adopted me as one of their humans.”
You have to monitor everything: the off-grid learning curve
“When you’re in the city, you just take everything for granted. If you want water, you just turn on the tap. You have WiFi and you have unlimited power. Off-grid, it’s very different. You really have to be mindful of what you have, monitoring everything. There’s a lot of things to consider.”
Having had no experience with off-grid living in the past, Kristine jumped in with both feet, learning as she went.
“I think what you see on YouTube and Netflix, it’s really created this romanticized idea of what it is to live tiny and off grid. But they don’t tell you how much work is involved and how hard it is to start.”
It didn’t help that Kristine’s tiny house initially had problems with freezing pipes and incorrectly installed off-grid systems. Dealing with these problems forced her to take on additional costs and even move out of the house for part of the first winter.
“My advice to tiny home buyers is to do your research and hire professionals who specialize in each system, rather than trusting just one builder with everything. Make sure to also hire an independent home inspector.”
Having overcome the obstacles of the first winter, Kristine feels positive about her second one.
“You have to make sure that you’re ready by winter. That you have everything set in case something happens. Then, you’re good. This is my second winter and I definitely feel so much more empowered this time. I’ll be just fine.”
“The first year and a half, up to now, has definitely been a massive learning curve because I didn’t know anything about anything. I’m learning about paying attention to the land that I’m on and observing what happens with the seasons.”
“In the city, I never cared about what the weather would be tomorrow or next week. Now, I actually have a Farmers Almanac and I follow the weather forecast very closely, and have become one with the rising and setting of the sun and all the elements around that.”
“When you have to do it all yourself, you have to use your brain and figure stuff out. I’ve learned how to build things – and I didn’t know how to build anything before. I’ve had to get out there in the dirt with a shovel. It’s hard labour, but looking at your work when it’s finished is really rewarding. You take nothing for granted out here. And it’s such a good feeling. It’s very, very, very peaceful. Just being grounded and quiet in nature.”
Adjusting to living off-grid in a tiny house
“For me, personally, I wasn’t really into tiny homes to begin with. I just really wanted to work here. I wanted to come out here and try this, so it just kind of happened.”
“Living in a tiny house, I feel like I need a little bit more space. Because I work from home and spending basically all day and night in a nine-foot wide space is stifling for me. When I first saw tiny homes, I thought, the multi-functionality of one space was so cool. But sitting in one spot all day and all night to eat, work, and lounge. It doesn’t work for me.”
“So I will be looking to add another room onto the house, I think. Just so I have a little bit more space, a dedicated working area rather than working at the same place I’m supposed to be eating or relaxing.”
One of the challenges of off-grid living is, of course, power. Kristine’s daily lifestyle has never required a lot of power, as even before the tiny house, she was not someone who stayed up late or watched a lot of TV. However, now she is much more aware of the power she uses.
“When it comes to power, if you’re going to go off-grid, you have to know how to tally up. You have to stop and consider how much power your solar system uses and every item in your home that uses power. For example, how much do the fridge and well pump draw? Then all the filtration systems – I have sediment filters, carbon filters, all sorts of stuff.”
“Add them up and then you know what kind of system you’re going to need to be able to live the way you want to live. I don’t think anybody should sacrifice anything.”
One of the effects of this power awareness is that Kristine can rhyme off the power consumption of every single appliance she owns.
“Nobody in the city would stop to think about how many Watts it takes to curl your hair for five minutes. My system inverter is 4000 Watts. So if I have 4000 Watts and I run my kettle, which is 1000 Watts, the microwave and hairdryer, and I do laundry all at the same time, that’s it.”
When it comes to water, that’s another element of awareness and mindfulness for Kristine.
“You would think that a well is like a bowl of water, you just have water in there and it stays. But that’s not how it works. It gives and takes just like the land does. So one day, you could go into the well and it’s full of water and the next day, it’s only half-full.”
“I have an incinerating toilet, so there’s no black water. Grey water goes into a French drain into the land. I’m very environmentally conscious. I don’t use any chemicals or anything like that. I was always aware of the products I put into the water, but now there’s no choice because I want to make sure I’m not seeping things into the earth, especially with my well right there.”
With all the adjustments, challenges, and learning, Kristine is excited for her future on the farm and learning more about the land, organic gardening, and herself.
“I really do love it out here and I will never go back to the city.”
“I really do love it out here and I will never go back to the city. It’s just been amazing. I’ve had some hiccups but overcoming them myself really empowered me. It has been extremely rewarding.”