There have been a lot of questions about our decision to live in tents, and I thought I would take some time to answer them. Some answers are easy, others are a little more involved and deserve a more detailed explanation.
Before I start, I thought I would share a video from one of our TV shows, Parks and Recreation. This episode scene was about camping. Not as a lifestyle choice like we’ve decided, but I think it gives a funny representation of what different people think of when they get a chance to go camping:
Camping conjures many images to the mind. Some are fascinated by our decision to live in tents, while others say, “Yeah, but why?” As they smirk unsupportively.
I’ve compiled a list of questions that were asked of us over the last six months from family and friends.
1. What’s the point in living in a tent? Did I miss something?
This question is the most obvious but deserves the most attention. There are a few reasons we chose to live this way. Our number one reason…it’s the most economical. It seems like that should be the first thing that people think of when they ask the question, but for whatever reason, it’s not the solution they would come up with. Economically it makes financial sense to not be tied to a massive mortgage! We didn’t want to make a commitment to a bank to spend 30+ years of our lives paying for an overpriced house and land AND that doesn’t even include the interest we would be paying. No. That wasn’t for us. We made the decision to live in a remote rural area where it takes an hour or more to get to a supermarket. There is no major industry in our local area, and to try and get a mortgage requires one of us to have steady 40 hour per week work that is consistent day after day and year after year.
That wasn’t for us. We already went the route of owning a house and land with a big mortgage and it required Dom to work two jobs. His commute time was 40 minutes each way, and when he was done with his main job, he went right to his second job. On the weekends, if he wasn’t on the schedule to be at work, he was digging ditches, doing earthworks, digging garden beds, and laying our farm infrastructure. This is NOT sustainable. He was burning out and exhausted. We live on one income. Our daughter is disabled and very early in her life we made the decision that I would be the primary caretaker during the day. I know that sounds strange since most families with disabled children still work multiple jobs, but due to her food allergies and her neurological disorder, she was most safe at home with us.
Living on land we own in tents while we build our farm infrastructure AND emerging coffee company makes good financial sense. It is a sacrifice of sorts, but not much. We still have a building on the property that contains electricity, running water, and a bathroom, but even if we didn’t have that we were planning on building one from scratch. Having access to the current structure affords us the ability to jump in quickly and be fluid with our coffee company. That was important to us. If we didn’t have the building to work from, we just would have made it happen from a tent. Not a big deal at all.
The second reason for living in a tent is that is completely free of all electricity, the tent can breathe, and it is by far the healthiest environment that we’ve ever slept in. Conventional housing contains some pretty nasty environmental toxins. If there was a leaky roof or water damage and the owner did not address the issue, I suffer. Most (almost ALL) landlords are quick to claim that they have never had a water damaged building. Oh no, they would say, our building is clean! Until I start losing my hair, my breathing becomes labored, and I have an autoimmune flareup. Mold always triggers an autoimmune flare up. Hair dye also triggers an autoimmune flareup, but I haven’t dyed my hair in years. I know my triggers.
Our tents are not moldy, they breathe and provide the best living experience for us to date.
2. Aren’t you cold at night?
It’s chilly right now. We all have different thoughts about what we can handle when it comes to the cold. Living in a regular home with heat, we became accustomed to having the heat set at night to about 70 degrees. However, when we lived in our little place in Reserve, Dom and I didn’t have the heat on at night. We did have a little electric heater for Simmi in her room, but that was set low. Usually, the nightly temperature in our house was about 30 degrees in the winter after the fire died down in the wood stove. We did have propane heaters as well, but we didn’t use them because the odor from the propane bothered us. That sort of prepared us for the cold nights. Until we moved into our tents, that is…
The first night we slept in our tent, the temperature got down to 22 degrees. We were snuggled under the covers (we have a heavy down comforter) and Simmi sleeps under six blankets all year long. Yes, even in the summer. It’s weird, I know. Anyway, while 22 degrees is pretty cold, we were very warm, and sleeping in the crisp cutting cold air was actually refreshing. I never would have thought that especially since most of my life my body temperature has always been low. I freeze even in the summer. I can wear a sweater all year and still be chilly.
The thing that happens when you live outside most of the day, is that you become acclimated to the cold. We as a society are used to being in 70-72 degrees year round. During the winter thermostats are set to 65-70 and during the summer, air conditioning is set to 70-75 degrees. That’s a lot of money wasted via electricity or gas to keep you warm or cool.
We have wood stoves for our tents but we haven’t set them up. It’s spring and it won’t drop below 20 degrees. We can handle that. This year in the fall, we will set up our wood stoves but we don’t intend to feed the fire through the night. It’s not necessary.
The biggest takeaway living in tents during the cold seasons is to make sure you’re properly dressed and that you have warm bedding. That’s about it. If you’re comfortable (not shivering) there’s no need to worry about the cold. I worried a bit about Simmi being able to handle the cold, but she’s proven herself to be far more robust than I gave her credit for. We were prepared to set up a special propane heater (doesn’t give off the propane smell) in her tent at night if she got upset about the cold…but she didn’t. She falls right to sleep in the crisp air and wakes up refreshed and ready for the day. No complaints. Wanna know when the complaints start? When we’re in the business hub starting a fire in the wood stove in the morning. We fire it up while we’re making breakfast, and she sits there like she’s freezing to death while the stove is generating heat. Why does she do that? Well, that’s exactly what she did when we lived in the little adobe in Reserve. Every morning she would sit in front of the wood stove complaining about how cold she was. This was why I worried about her not having heat in the tent in the first place. It turns out, it’s just a habit of hers. She likes to complain about being cold while she’s getting warm. Go figure!
3. Don’t you miss modern technology?
We have all the creature comforts of electricity, internet, phone, heat, bathroom facilities, and running water. We lack for nothing. We live in two worlds currently. Our business hub which is being rehabbed contains all the creature comforts we have been accustomed to. We aren’t interested in living without those amenities, we just want them to be separate from our living space, aka, our camp.
I LOVE technology. Never forget that for a moment. If I could still have an active cell phone in my possession, I would! I am a technology whore. I would do anything for it. It also lead to me becoming electro-hypersensitive (EHS). No more blue tooth devices, streaming wirelessly, cell phones, or wifi. I used to LOVE wifi! No wires or cords anywhere. That was my favorite. But do you want to know what I love more than wireless capability? The fact that our daughter’s learning disabilities are dissolving. Since being in this place without any wifi signals and no cell coverage, Simmi is now reading and comprehending. She used to HATE to try and read, and now she can’t wait to read us a story. That is a huge win, and it wasn’t a coincidence.
4. How do you light your tent up without electricity?
This was a big question. I guess when we’re all used to having technology we never think of alternatives. We currently use taper candles which give off the greatest light and when you combine it with the beauty of the off-white canvas tents, the glow of the candles becomes magical in the tent and from the outside. I love how our tents seem to glow at night. We’ve found that two taper candles light our tent well, three taper candles make it quite bright. We do also have oil lamps, but Simmi and I can’t handle the odor they give off, especially in a confined space. If we’re outside at night, oil lamps work great, but while in our tents or if we’re in the hub after dark, we use candles. Yes, even in the hub we use alternative light source at night if we’re not at camp.
However, one thing that has changed in our habits is that we try to head down to camp at sunset or before. There have been times during these two weeks that we were in the hub after dark, but we’ve made a point to change.
We know all too well what happens with farm life. Before you know it, it takes over. There are so many projects, too many things on the list that still need to be done, that our personal lives start to disappear. It happened to us when we previously had a CSA. We would be up till all hours of the night trying to get personal things done because all our time during the day until night was spent on outdoor projects.
I’m more interested in balance these days.
The funny thing about candles is that nowadays candles are used for “romance.” No one thinks of using them instead of light bulbs. But that’s why we’re called Firelight Farm. We do have a flashlight, but we need to get a red filter on it. Artificial light after dark is really bad for our circadian rhythm. Artificial light at night turns off the body’s ability to use melatonin which helps us go to sleep at night. Also, melatonin is very important in the regulation of female hormones. I wouldn’t be surprised if women who have problems regulating their hormones or go into early menopause do so because of the habitual use of technology and artificial lights after dark. If you’re up all night and can’t sleep, shut off all your devices (unplug and power them down), turn off all lights and use candles instead. Shut down the electric where you sleep and above all shut off the wifi! It raises blood pressure, blood sugar, cortisol levels, and causes all kinds of physical problems.
We are only awake for a little while after we get to camp. So far we have used a total of 4 taper candles in two weeks.
5. You’ve mentioned that you were going to have an outdoor kitchen and full bathroom, but I haven’t seen that yet and I’m so curious? Please post pics!
We are planning on building two outdoor kitchens. The first one is our personal camp kitchen not open to the public. The second is our farm to table outdoor kitchen for events we are planning. We are hoping to start our personal camp kitchen by mid-May after we finish rehabbing the business hub. We currently have composting toilets down at camp, but when we build our full freestanding bathroom at camp, it will be complete with flush toilet. We don’t have a date for when the bathroom will be started.
6. Will you plan on living in tents for the rest of your life?
That would be a resounding no, although, we are well on our way to becoming feral. Our plan is to continue building our coffee business, our farm infrastructure, then build a coffee roastery and commercial kitchen. After that, we will turn our attention to building our house and Sara’s house. Our intent is to build all our structures from the materials on our land or obtained locally and/or repurposed.
7. Are you afraid of wild animals and bugs?
Yes and no. Wild animals are here in the Gila Wilderness. We live in an area that has snakes, bears, mountain lions, skunks, wolves, coyotes, eagles, hawks, scorpions, poisonous spiders, fire ants, and more. Our plans are to build a perimeter around our tents to guard against any dangerous animals, but it has been a low priority. If we start to hear coyotes, foxes, and wolves at night, we’ll step up our game and add fencing.
One of the more pleasant things about camping in fall, winter, and early spring is the lack of bugs…other than flies. When there are farm animals there always seems to be flies. We’re in growing zone 7B which means the winter months don’t get too cold and during the day it warms up nicely here. No need for more than a light jacket during the day in winter. This will be our first summer here, so I’m not sure what kinds of bugs will be active and desperately trying to get into our tents. Haha, We will us diatomaceous earth in the nooks and crannies of our tents as well outside around the base of the tent, but other than that, we don’t use bug spray or other types of chemicals.
Those are the majority of the reoccurring questions we get about our current lifestyle. And make no mistake, this is a lifestyle choice.
Many who have been camping might wonder how we could ever do this. We have our very comfortable beds and bed frames, area rug, and our special chairs, and clothes in our tent. All the comforts we would have had in our past bedroom are in our tent. Simmi has her very comfy mattress, dresser, all her favorite blankets, clothes. What more does one keep in their bedroom? How much room do you need? We spend 7-9 hours per night in our bedrooms. That is a long time each day. That is the same every day of the year, and it’s the same in a tent. I don’t think I would be happy sleeping in a sleeping bag on the hard floor or even on a cot. I wouldn’t be happy waking up and putting my feet down on shifty tarp that’s hard to clean or keep clean. I know that I wouldn’t be happy in a thin vinyl tent that feels like a hobo motel!
That is not my idea of camping full time for the next few years. We live very well here. Anyone that will come to stay with us for the week (family or friends) will stay in a tent like ours, with a comfortable bed, warm blankets, and clean sheets. They won’t be sleeping in a vinyl tent and sleeping bag on the ground. If they visit in the winter, they’ll have heat from a wood stove that they will have the option of using through the night.
Any other questions? Leave a comment, I would be happy to answer them…if I have the answer.