{a preview of our laundry set up, 3-year-old style}

I was going to share our electricity-free laundry set up, but first I thought I would address a comment that mimics a few other questions I have gotten. This question and others are also addressed eloquently in Surviving Off Off-Grid, by the way.


I enjoy reading your website but am wondering why would you wash clothes by hand? God gave man a creative brain, and using something to make your time more effective for God’s glory is not a bad thing. The time you spend washing clothes by hand could be used to serve others. Do you see every human invention that takes technology as evil? Why don’t you like electricity?

We do not believe that human invention, technology, wealth, or electricity are inherently evil. Nor do we believe that every time one uses an electric washing machine they are sinning. What does concern us is the spiritual, physical, and emotional cost that are inherent in some of these things.

Our goal in learning to live without electricity is not to spend every waking hour in arduous manual labor, but is rather the means to a much more important end.

It facilitates some of our family’s top goals, like…

  1. Not relying on food, goods, or conveniences that can only be had with (artificially) cheap energy.
  2. Living a simple, sustainable agrarian lifestyle, debt-free. (It’s funny how many of the things we have come to rely on in our post-industrial society can only be had if a). you have a good bit of money up front, b). you are willing to go into debt, or c). you are willing to leave your family every single day of your life for 30 years in order to achieve a or b.)
  3. Living in accordance with God’s will and creation.
  4. Having both mama and papa as the primary teachers and caregivers of our children.
  5. Knowing how to actually do things of value so that we can teach them to our children.

That last one is something Chandelle said better than I ever could…

To me, this is the fundamental issue at stake when considering the impending collapse of this global empire. None of us in the homo consumptus species have even the absolute most basic skills of survival. We don’t know how to grow food – and I don’t mean non-native tomatoes in pots, that we use to decorate the arugula we buy from Whole Foods, I mean real food, calorically- and nutrient-dense, enough to keep us from starving. We don’t know how to walk into the hills and find medicine we need to stop infection or dry up diarrhea or prevent a postpartum bleed. We don’t know how to shoot a rabbit, or skin it, how to make something warm from that skin. We don’t know sh$t.

Her post is aptly titled "Diminishing Necessities" – two words that sum up the entire means to our greater end goal.

Next time I will share how we’re learning to wash laundry without an electric washing machine.


27 Responses to How Living Without Electricity is the Means, Not The End

  1. kate o. says:

    i’ve been enjoying your site recently, and you’ve been pushing my thinking…thank you! i’m a mama at home with three kids and while we feel called to live and work in a city (west palm beach), i am feeling a push to move a step further beyond joining our csa (which i love) and growing a few things here and there.

    those first lines of chandelle’s quote bring to mind a book i’m reading, bill bryson’s “at home: a short history of private life.” he talks about how when the romans left britain, those who took over did not adopt any of the advancements the romans brought with them (including building techniques). it took hundreds and hundreds of years before anything near the same quality of buildings (and comfort!) were built again. but how would they if they had never been taught? and i question, indeed, what would/will happen if we are put in the position of having to fend for ourselves in food, clothing, building yet again? chandelle’s last line nails it!

    thank you for your writing and for writing about this gently.


  2. Maria says:

    As much as I want to live without being connected to the Grid…my husband finds it ludicrous to even contemplate. But I am finding out that when you take the time to do your basic needs from scratch, you get a sense of accomplishment but also on living completely in the moment.

    I do mostly things without electricity, I try anyway :) But it is only me, that wants this change. I can not impose it on the rest of my family.

    Thank you for being an inspiration to all of us that read your words and follow your journey.



  3. JoAnne says:

    I must have missed a few posts, but I don’t fully understand how you can be off the grid and blogging about it? Please help me to understand!


    Shannon Reply:

    JoAnne – Right now we are still in a fully electrified home :) . We are moving off-grid at the end of summer so we are spending this summer getting used to doing things without grid electricity – not using lights, washing clothes by hand, etc. When we move we are hoping to have a solar energy system set up for part time work for my husband and I since we both work or blog on the computer. So my blogging and other gigs will be dependent on how well that works.


  4. Kay Pelham says:

    I look forward to the next post. Every time I have an emergency and need to handwash something, I cringe. I hate taking the time, I guess, and I feel like I won’t get it as clean. Then there’s the issue of having to thoroughly clean out the tub or sink before I can stand to do it. Oh yes, I’m a product of this age.

    Your 5 goals are excellent ones. I especially appreciate your emphasis on mom AND dad being home to teach the children. The idea that one has to be away from home daily for 30 years to acquire what they want at home is very sad. Even then, some of these retired folks don’t even know how to relax and enjoy home life. They stay on the go because life at home seems like they’re dying or something. [Not my dad, though. He's 93 and has enjoyed his 30 years of "retirement" immensely. It's just a shame that he had to be away from us daily for 30 + years while mom raised us.]


  5. Chandelle says:

    I love your list of family goals! Well, I’m not religious but otherwise, YES! I rarely write specifically about equally sharing the raising of our children, but I’m so excited to see another person who holds that as a central tenet of their family. Thank you!


  6. hc-dallas says:

    I think it’s awesome what you are doing. Especially when it comes to our children. Teaching them simple values in life, goes a long way. Living simple is a beautiful thing. Love your site! ;-)


  7. Glory says:

    I just want to thank you for this post. My husband and I are quite drawn to the Amish and Mennonite lifestyles (primarily because of their focus on family in all aspects of living, play, and work). When we drive by their homes, we can’t help but notice all their laundry on the lines. I’ve always said that *at least* they should get wash machines! While I’m personally quite resistant to washing clothes by hand, I do see the potential value in doing it (for me, for now, just a couple times, for practice).

    I do love some of the points you made about *why* you do it, including living debt-free, keeping the family together, having mama *and* papa as primary teachers, and teaching children valuable skills. These are all high values for our family, and perhaps I’ll venture into the hand-washing when my 1, 2, and 3 year olds are a bit older. Thank you for finally giving me some reasons!


  8. Susan says:

    Excellent and honest post, Shannon. I concur with you and encourage your readers to pick up a copy of Surviving Off-off Grid, which I believe would answer most, if not all, of their questions, as well as provide a proper foundation to explain your position.

    I have just a couple of comments regarding the reader’s question you included. They write:

    “God gave man a creative brain, and using something to make your time more effective for God’s glory is not a bad thing”.

    It may be beneficial to step back and ask some premise questions like: What does God say in His Word as to what constitutes making my time more effective for Him? How does He prescribe that I show Him I love Him in the Bible? The answers may surprise the reader. Also:

    “The time you spend washing clothes by hand could be used to serve others.”

    Are you not serving others (your family, which is your highest priority) by teaching your children and serving them and your husband? We are also told to “redeem the time because the days are evil” in Ephesians 5:15-16. This time can also be spent on meditation of spiritual things, prayer, listening to audio Bible recordings or sermons, etc. Again, we need to always go back to the Bible and find out how God has instructed us to live and spend our time, not how WE think it should be.

    I say these things humbly in an effort to point people to God’s Word.

    Thank you.


  9. Kay Pelham says:

    This is a reply to Shannon’s comment. The reply button didn’t work for me.

    Shannon, You make excellent points. Also, as has probably been noted other places, when we free up time by advancing technology, often we just fill that time with more wasteful things. The gospel message was getting out and neighbors were being served long ago when we were still using washboards. We created washing machines and dryers and find ourselves doing way more laundry than our ancestors did with their tubs and clotheslines. Faster means of communication (faxes, emails) have created a higher demand to communicate and RIGHT NOW.


  10. Jeanmarie says:

    Well said, Shannon. I like being at least a bit self-sufficient. We are raising chickens and have goats for brush control and pasture maintenance (a doe for milk is a future dream) and make most food from scratch, but we sure are dependent upon the electric company and the gas company. I commend you for learning to go without electricity. Like Chandelle, I fear our society is approaching collapse. I want to do a better job caring for the earth. Bravo for your efforts!


  11. cindy says:

    i really liked this post. just popped over from denise, capturing the days. i agree with all you said, it has never made sense to me to spend more time working away from your family and home than you are with them.

    no one really likes to take a hard look around and see where we as a society are headed. it can’t last forever, no matter how much we borrow to keep sustaining it. being able to live off the grid may be absolutely necessary i think. kuddos to you.


  12. Kay Pelham says:

    Whoops…I meant that my comment was a response to Susan’s that is just above mine. (Don’t know why the Reply button doesn’t work for me. See technology isn’t so wonderful and perfect, right? :)


  13. I just found your blog and I think it’s interesting. Even if you are off-grid with solar, you will have some electricity which means you will probably still be able to use a washing machine! : )

    I’d admire what you are doing and wish we were a little more self-sufficient with animals and a garden. I like what you write when you say:

    “Living a simple, sustainable agrarian lifestyle, debt-free. (It’s funny how many of the things we have come to rely on in our post-industrial society can only be had if a). you have a good bit of money up front, b). you are willing to go into debt, or c). you are willing to leave your family every single day of your life for 30 years in order to achieve a or b.)”

    I have to work right now, and I hate that. We made certain decisions in the past so that we have debt, but we are trying to pay it off and live a different life style. It’s slow going, but your post reminds me that we can make different choices so that we can have our own family values and live up to them!


  14. Sophia Origer says:

    Shannon, I just started reading your blog. I am truly amazed. I am spending the day playing catch up and reading all that has been posted as well as checking out your great recipes. As for the this article, I am inspired to take a look at what I can do around my home to return our lives to a simple state. My daughter and I planted our first garden this year. And so far what we have harvested has given us a sense of accomplishment and great satisfaction. I am so glad that I checked out your site. I look forward to every post.


  15. Rebekah Gambrell says:

    When living abroad the majority of people wash their clothes by hand. We as Americans are the few that have machines. When I spent some time abroad I found that everyone had these great sinks that have a type of washboard built into it. Everything was from scratch and in the country people only had electricity for a few hours a night. They were the people that had the most time for us. Many poor people in other countries that have no machines to do their duties have more time for others than we as Americans do. We believe that machines will help us have more time but in the end we fill it with other things that don’t matter.
    Thank you for all your information as you go into this new experience. I hope that you are able to blog. You may be able to go to a local library and continue. I have lived with and without and now I am somewhere in between.


  16. Stacy says:

    I know for ourselves not being in the corporate world having to wear fancier clothes I don’t have a lot of clothes to wash in the first place. We keep it simple with 4 or 5 loads a week for a family of 4. We have hardworking clothes and sheets that last us a long time. Ironically I found that with the right set-up you can wash clothes by hand better, with less wear on the clothes, and the wringer gets them drier then the spin cycle on a regular washer so hang time is shorter.
    Also that this time spent taking care of my family keeps me in shape(no gym fees or bulky exercise equip.) helps me to focus on my families needs, it can be meditative, and keeps me humble. Not to mention listening to the birds and other wildlife is such a blessing. God says we should glorify Him and enjoy Him forever…. I would say spending time in His creation doing our daily chores and taking care of our families(where He has us right now) counts as just that my dear sisters.


  17. Angel7 says:

    I find it humbling to know that you do not use electric.

    The Amish live without many things that English people take for granted (i.e., electric, gas, etc.).

    I believe that it is far more satisfying and rewarding to do things by hand, then to rely on manmade machines and such, because you and your children will learn to appreciate things more.



  18. Naomi says:

    My family has been living off grid for two months now, although I shamefully admit I have not been doing my laundry by hand, lol. To the laundramat I go once a week, but in all other respects I have come to appreciate the resources we do have all the more. It really is amazing how much you don’t miss when you say goodbye to the grid! At least for odd people like us anyway… :0) I hope you’ll share more about your laundry day more, perhaps you’ll inspire me to be courageous!


  19. gayle says:

    I love you site and read it often, I personally get sick when I think I may need to wash laundry in buckets outside (int the cold!)… summer sounds fine but the long winter in New England sounds terrible.

    I do however get a kick from reading your blog and keeping up with your progress. It did inspire me to grow tomatoes in a topsy turvy… I haven’t killed them yet.

    I will continue to keep up with your family and your journey to off grid living.

    It doesn’t have to be all bad… my nephews grandparents on his dad’s side live on a 50 acre farm total off grid and have for 20 years. They live in a fine house with power galore and finally have installed a septic system (for about 15 years they used a real outhouse… they live in ME and when my nephew was born they added a bathroom to help with the potty training). Oh they built the house and they systems all themselves.

    So I do believe there is a happy medium between full on NSTAR power and now power.

    Good luck in your journey!


  20. Very cool. I am a single mother of seven boys. I have two @ home still that are very excited to learn to live simpler. My goal is to find ways on my limited income, to get off grid. I am going to find out what I can do to cool our Southeastern Texas home in these horrible days, without electric. The heat wipes me out, and a person becomes almost incapacitated because of it. I know now why women here had to be so tough, and died so young. We have a better garden this year. Hope to increase it even better next, enough to share with neighbors. No dishwasher. Dryer used only on rainy days. No large oven. Only medium sized toaster oven. 1 electric skillet. Rarely use stove top. We are attempting to make a home made solar oven from boxes, aluminum foil, etc. Looking into old fashioned washing machine, but smaller. Already our electric bill is MUCH lower. Going to look into Jimmy-rig cheap solar heated water. Making solar screens on outside of windows to cut heat. Planning on researching barriers for roofs. Also looking into selling this house and getting a Yurt type, or small home on land. Planning with another family, maybe more, to raise mini-milk goats. Have chickens and 1 mini pony. Also am hoping the Lord brings me a cart for her, and another pony to travel if we must. Hang on people. Hard times are definitely coming SOON. Prepare your hearts and your minds through G_d’s Word, and prayer. Toughen up your bodies through exercise and hard work at home. Get a water purifier, golden seal, myrrh and garlic. Vitamin C. Vit. D. Find out how to make things. Get out of debt. God bless your blog here and help to other mama’s.


  21. Mary says:

    I have just started to wash clothes by hand in the last couple months. I have found this kit from http://www.bestdryingrack.com that really simplifies it for me.

    The amazing thing is that my clothes seem cleaner than they did when I was using the machine.

    I am sure I will never completely electric free but I sure do like to know that these lifestyle changes that I make can really make a difference and when I share with people like you and the people who read your blog the change can really multiply.

    Thanks for giving us this great forum.


  22. [...] How Living Without Electricity is the Means, Not the End [...]

  23. Jennifer says:

    You are awesome, and a real inspiration to me. Someone who is pregnant and eating the only thing I can stomach right now… flavored potato chips from Wal-Mart! I’m a long way from where I want to be but it is nice to watch you and others lead the way. I have a simple question that may have been addressed elsewhere, so I apologize if thats the case. How will you continue to blog once off grid? Do you have a gas well on your property for some power? My husband and I hope to one day buy land with a gas well.


  24. Casey says:

    You are such an inspiration and motivator. My family and I. I should say my sisters family and I have recently began to prep to live off grid. We are trying to find good farm land to buy. I have bought a food dehydrator so I can learn how to dehydrate food. I also am buying a canner at the end of the month to start canning my own food.i
    I never thought of practicing to wash laundry off grid. that is a fantastic idea. thank u so much


  25. Lauren says:

    I’ve been reading your blog posts these past few weeks as though they were a bestseller. Unless I missed it, I don’t think you ever actually got back around to sharing your laundry setup! I sure would love to read about that. A girl can never have too much information, you know. :)


    Shannon Reply:

    Lauren – That is very kind of you to say. I have not shared my full laundry how-to yet. Partly because I have just recently figured out some tips and tricks and partly because due to time and water constraints I have been washing much of my laundry in town… at the laundromat. I will eventually, Lord willing, probably share the whole process.


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