FAQ for my Off the Grid Tiny House Life

Outside view of Robin Greenfield's cabin, with
ActivismAlternative HomesConsciousnessEnvironmentForget Money / Demonetize LifeFreedomHealthy, Happy LivingIntentional LivingOff the GridPersonalSan DiegoSimple LivingSustainable LivingTiny Home Living

Hi everyone,

If you are here it’s probably because you have a question about my life at my off the grid tiny house in San Diego.

Here you’ll find answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Make sure you watch my latest video because this covers most of the basics. Also, subscribe to my Youtube page and my newsletter so you know when I put out more writing and videos!

Whose land am I living on, and how did I find it?
When I first decided to simplify my life and drastically reduce my impact on the Earth, I posted a blog with my intentions. It was called “Looking for a Home for my Tiny Home” and stated that I was looking for a simple backyard where I could set up a sustainable homestead. The idea was to find someone who had unused space that I could improve as I lived there. I also wanted to find someone who is interested in living more sustainably and could benefit from me being around. I had quite a few responses since there is so much unused space all over the United States and since so many people want to learn to decrease their impact as well as do something greater than just the daily grind. So the land I am settled on is owned by a nice dude named Jim who runs a solar panel company and wants to learn to live more simply. We’ve got a good thing going on.

Do I pay rent?
No. Instead of paying rent with money I am exchanging my services. The agreement is that I can stay here for a year or two. When I leave he’ll have a killer backyards, a rainwater harvesting system, garden, fire pit, etc. I know this might be hard to believe for some but there are a lot of people out there who do things that don’t revolve around or need money.

Where do I shower?
This was accidentally left out of the video because I don’t have a shower at my house. It’s been over 2 years since my last “shower.” I just swim in the ocean which is a short walk or bike ride from my house. If I don’t feel like doing that I can heat up a half gallon of water in the tea kettle and use a wash clothe to clean myself off. The average US American uses 10-20 gallons of water per day just showering and I am able to save that much water each day by using the ocean instead. Check out Lessons Learned for a Year Without Showering for more information on this.
I do plan to build a solar heated shower that will run off my rainwater collection and run into the garden to water the plants.

How am I off the grid?/ What is off the grid?
My life at home is off the grid for sure. I am off the water grid and the electricity grid. I harvest rainwater instead of using the municipal water (what you get when you turn on a faucet in a city) and I have solar panels to charge my stuff. The definition of off the grid is “not dependent on public utilities, especially the supply of electricity.” That’s me, spot on.

I am talking about my life AT HOME though. My entire life is not off the grid. I’m not going to turn into a hermit and hide from society. When I go to my friend’s house and they have a flush toilet I am going to use a flush toilet. I go out to eat sometimes. I do a lot of the “normal” things that everybody else does. At home I am off the grid, elsewhere I am just extremely conscious of my resource consumption. And that is the bottom line of my entire message here. Use our resources wisely.

How am I off the grid but have Facebook and YouTube?
I am off the grid at home. When I choose to use the internet I go to the library, a cafe, or a friends house to use the internet. I could get internet at my house but I want my place to be a place where I can connect more deeply with my surroundings and disconnect from many of the stresses of our hectic modern life.

It’s really about balance. I think that technology has many wonderful things to offer us but I think one of the greatest dilemmas of our generation is our dependence and addiction to our phones and computers. I struggle with this problem myself.

Can you compost human waste safely?
Absolutely! It’s called Humanure. For most of my entire life, I would have thought otherwise but I’ve done substantial research and it’s extremely safe.

“Humanure (human manure) is human fecal material and urine recycled for agricultural purposes via thermophilic composting. Humanure contains valuable soil nutrients that enhance plant growth. For these reasons, humanure should be recycled whenever possible. Human excrement can be a major source of environmental pollution around the world. It also can be a source of disease organisms. When discarded into the environment as a waste material (“human waste”), it creates pollution and threatens public health. When recycled by composting, the pollution and health threats can be eliminated.”

If you are going to start taking care of your own waste rather than having someone else do it for you I highly suggest you deeply inform yourself by reading The Humanure Handbook Handbook

Do I have a job?
I own a marketing company, The Greenfield Group, and was successful over the last years so I have some money saved. I basically retired the company though and turned it into a non-profit. I have vowed to a life of simplicity and living on very little money. You can see all of my financial vows here. I decided that I am no longer working for money but instead working to make a positive impact in the world. I am paid back with cleaner air, fresher water, safer animals, and happier healthier people. I have vowed to make no more than $15,000 per year and to donate 90% of everything I make off media (which is something that I do that you could consider a job if you want) to non-profits that are making the world a better place. As of 01/23/2016 I have raised over $30,000 for nonprofits through my appearance in media and haven’t kept a penny for myself.

Am I rich?
Absolutely! I am rich in experiences, friendship, knowledge, love, and passion. If you are talking about money though I am not rich. I have around $7,000 to my name but not a single bill and not a single debt.

Do I live off my parents?
No. I grew up quite poor actually. I grew up with my mom and my 3 siblings in a 2 bedroom duplex in Ashland, Wisconsin (population 8,620). My mom worked (and still works) at the school and back then she made around $12,000 per year to support herself and 4 kids. None of the fathers of my siblings and I helped much but we got a lot of support from my aunt, grandpa, and government programs like food stamps. Since graduating high school I think it’s safe to say I have given far more financially to my parents than they have given to me.

What about city codes?
The city of San Diego makes it very tough to live in a tiny house here as do many places around the country. I’m following my ethics and morals though, harming no one, and living in the service of many. Most of what I’m doing is completely within code including the rainwater, composting, gardening, and even building code. Since my home is technically a trailer I don’t have to abide by any building codes. The only thing that I believe I am doing against code is that you can’t live in a vehicle or trailer in San Diego. If the city wants to come get me for this then I’ll deal with them then. So far no problems at all and I welcome them to visit me if they want to. I think it is a human right to build a little nest.

What about the climate of where I live?
San Diego is very moderate which makes this much easier here than say New York or Canada. However, each place has its challenges and there are millions of people living similar low impact lifestyles in every climate around the world. My biggest challenge is not having enough water, but I’m learning and conquering that problem. My suggestion to anyone in a different area than me is to take what you can from my example and adapt it to the situation you are in. I consider resourcefulness and adaptability to be some of the greatest characteristics for success in life. It’s very easy to pick out little things that I’m doing, say that you can’t do that, so you can’t do any of it. But again the idea is to take what you can to be better to the earth and to live for the benefit of the earth, your community, and yourself.

What about doing this in a cold climate?
Of course, my system doesn’t work everywhere, it’s a diverse world and we’ve each got to adapt to where we live. I am just one example of what can be done to live more simply, be less dependent on money, and to decrease our impact on the environment. Many people quickly jump to saying this can’t be done in a cold climate. Most of what I am doing can be done just about anywhere- rainwater harvesting, compost toilets, solar panels, growing food during growing season. My house is not right for many climates but I’d recommend an Earth Home for cold or hot climates. It’s all about doing what we can, where we are. My life is just an example of what can be done in my current situation. You’ve got to be resourceful and adaptable to live like this! San Diego is a mild climate so I have set up for a mild climate of course.

Often people say this can only be done in California with the climate that I live in. Billions of people around the world live in a climate similar to California. Much of the world can live like this.

Mark Boyle is an incredible example of someone who has lived without money in the UK. I hear people say it’s not possible there but he’s a shining example of what can be done. I strongly encourage reading both The Moneyless Man and The Moneyless Manifesto if you are inspired and want to learn how to do something similar to what I’m doing has done this for years in the UK. 

What do I do when it’s raining?
It doesn’t rain too much here but when it does it’s very exciting for me. Rain doesn’t harm me of course. I can cook in the rain, I can sit on the toilet in the rain, I can walk and run in the rain. It’s all good. I have a rain jacket for when it is cold rain. When you get connected to the earth and the variation of weather that lays before you, well you adjust and you appreciate it all.

Who’s house am I harvesting rainwater off of?
My neighbors. I aim to live for the benefit of others and to get more people sharing their resources rather than all of us needing our own. I’m building a nice system for them which I’ll use while I’m here and when I leave (which I will) then they’ll have it to use for themselves to water the garden!

And yes you can harvest 1,000’s of gallons of water off one roof, even in drought-stricken Southern California.

Where do I do my laundry?
At this point, I do my laundry at the laundromat. I’d like to start doing my laundry at home so that all the water can then be used to grow food but I just haven’t made that a priority yet. This way of life is new to me. I just moved in January 2015 and it’s all a work in progress. The washing machines I use are efficient Energy Star washers which use 14 gallons per wash. I have very few clothes and do my laundry only once or twice a month. So my laundry needs take 14-28 gallons per month. This 14-28 gallons was originally included in my 2 gallons of water usage per day but my water usage has gone up now. It’s very safe to say that my total water usage is less than 5 gallons of water per day both at home and when I’m out and about. My message is to conserve water and use only what we need. The average US American uses 80-100 gallons per day and that is absurd if you compare it to the average European (50 gallons per day) and the average African (2-5 gallons per day).

Here’s my guide to earth friendly laundry.

Update: Here’s how I do my laundry at home using rain water.

Do I have a girlfriend?
Yes and we are very much in love! She spends a few days per week at the house with me and I go to her house too of course. We love spending time in the tiny home and in the yard together. She has been such a great part of this lifestyle and yes it tests her preconceived notions of life, just like it tests mine, but she’s grateful for her eyes being opened to these things. It’s pretty absurd for anything to think that no girls would like this. Every single girl who comes over to my place freaking loves it. Women and men alike are waking up to a different way of living! You can follow Cheryl on Facebook. Also, read her blog on her experience spending time at my place: The Girlfriend Perspective.
Robin Greenfield and Cheryl Davies

This place is too small to raise a family. What are you going to do about that?
I’m not going to have children so that’s not something I have to worry about. I think having children is a beautiful thing to do but it’s just not what I’m going to do with my life. Instead, I intend to educate children all over the United States and help them to live happy, healthy, and free. I don’t need to have my own children to live a complete life or leave a legacy. The world is full of neglected children and I’d simply rather spend my time with them than have my own. You should absolutely not take offense to this if you have kids or want kids. You have them, I won’t. It’s all good.

Is harvesting rain water against the law?
Not here in San Diego. Quite the opposite actually. The city of San Diego wants us to collect rainwater as does pretty much all of California. They even give rebates for building rainwater harvesting systems to make it free for us to do so! Here’s the San Diego Residential Rainwater Harvesting Rebate Program. Check your local situation and see if the city will reimburse you for setting up a system.

How about the toxins on the roof and in the rainwater?
I run the water through a Berkey filter. Here’s a sentence from their website. “Through diligent testing and research, we have proven that Berkey water filters remove viruses to purification standards, pathogenic bacteria, cysts and parasites to nondetectable levels, and harmful or unwanted chemicals to below detectable levels.”
The water I drink is far cleaner and more healthy than most municipal water and bottled water anywhere in the country.

How much did this entire set up cost me?
Including the house, solar panels, stove, kitchen sink, cabinet, and all the simple stuff that I built about, $2,500

Do I have health insurance?
No, I wrote this blog: On Health Insurance, Age and Death for those that are interested in my thoughts on that.

What kind of personal hygiene items do I use?

Questions about the solar panels:

Questions about living near zero waste:

Aren’t I afraid of the government finding me?
I’ve done stories with half the news channels in San Diego and dozens of stories with other outlets and publications. I’m not worried in the slightest. Even if they did raise an issue with me I’d embrace the situation and use it as an opportunity to raise awareness about off-grid living!

What is my refrigerator?
My refrigerator is simply a Rubbermaid shed. I called it a fridge in one of the videos but I was joking around.

What kind of cleaning products do I use?
I use Dr. Bronners organic soap, essential oils, and a basic organic spray from my local bulk refill soap shop. I use very little though compared to most as I think we really overuse cleaning products

What’s my backup plan?
I don’t need a backup plan. I live in the service of others and surround myself with good people. I believe by dedication myself to the betterment of humanity I am far more secure than if I stored away piles of money and possessions.

Where Can I get more advice on off the grid and simple living?
Check out Off Grid World and Living Off the Grid and this guide to living off the grid.
And lastly a simple message to all! I’m not perfect and I’m not trying to be. I am working really hard to be good to the earth, cause less destruction to the environment and other creatures we share the earth with, as well as be an example for those who want to get out of the rat race. Today I am living off the grid in a tiny house but not that long ago I’d have thought that to be completely crazy. I wanted a huge house and millions of dollars and was not planning on giving up things like seemingly infinite water and electricity. Things changed when I realized the destruction my life was causing. And boy has it been a rewarding (and challenging) transition into the lifestyle of today. I am still in transition though and much of this off the grid, tiny house living is still new to me.

I’ve documented many of the small changes and the bigger ones too at From Drunk Dude to Dude Making a Difference. If you want to simplify your life, take what you can and start one little change, one day at a time. Keep that up and you’ll be living the life that you dared to chase! That’s exactly what I did to get to where I am today. I would have thought most of this stuff to be absurd not that long ago.

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