Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The "Normals" Guide to Shouse Living

It has been brought to my attention that our lifestyle is rather shocking to a large portion of "normal", grid-dependant, house-living, regular folk.  More than once, guests have mentioned that a passport should be required just to drive up our driveway.  Having lived our rather unconventional lifestyle for so long, I often forget what a shock it can be for the uninitiated.  In that vein, I have written The "Normals" Guide to Shouse Living, a primer designed to help "normals" navigate the lesser-known pitfalls of off-grid/shouse living.

1.  Toilet Etiquette:  The toilet is flushed, on a very precise schedule, which has nothing to do with bodily functions, and everything to do with the amount of water currently residing in the pressure tank.  Always ask your host before you flush.

2.  Bathroom Etiquette:  When the bathroom is in use, the curtains are drawn.  However, one must always announce oneself before entering the bathroom, just in case.

3.  Hatchets, Axes & Splitting Malls:  These tools, commonly relegated to outdoor use, are perfectly at home in the kitchen of an off-grid shouse.  When the lady of the shouse shoulders an ax, it is most likely to cut small wood or kindling for the cookstove, thus ensuring a timely and well cooked dinner.  Please, don't automatically assume that the ax-wielding lady of the house intends you any ill-will.  She will most likely continue a lively conversation while splitting firewood on the kitchen floor.

4.  Shoe & Boot Etiquette:  A shouse is meant to be lived in, therefore, removing ones shoes or boots at the door is not required.  To be perfectly honest, removing ones footwear could be a monumental mistake, as a shouse floor, regardless of the season, is not known for its cleanliness.  The lack of baseboards and walls, in combination with an 8' x 16' door opening and an outdoor lifestyle, contribute to the layers upon layers of built up grime and dirt.

5.  Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning:  In a shouse, the heating system consists solely of a wood cookstove.  If the air has a chill to it, simply add a log to the fire.  Remember, although the cookstove is wonderful to nestle up to on a cold winters night, it does contain real fire and will, therefore, not hesitate to burn you.  Ventilation and Air Conditioning are very closely related. They both consist of opening windows or doors, depending on the situation.  In extreme conditions, it may be advisable to open windows and doors, including the roll-up garage door.  During the height of summer, when nighttime temperatures are uncomfortably warm, all doors and windows are opened during the cool of the evening (and even overnight) and closed during the heat of the day, rendering the shouse moderately comfortable.

6.  Laundry:  Laundry is washed on sunny days only (to ensure full utilization of the solar system).  During warm, seasonable weather, the clean laundry is hung to dry on the clothes line in the front yard.  Although your skivvies are on display for the world to see, they return to your drawer unquestionably soft and sweet smelling.  During the colder winter months, the laundry is hung on the clothes horse in the kitchen.  It is essential that no strong smelling foods (such as onions) are cooked on the wood cookstove while the clothes are drying on the horse, or your clothes will retain a pungent, unpleasant scent until they are again laundered.

7.  Spring/Mud Season Etiquette:  During the long mud season (known in some locales as spring), make sure to wear only Wellington style boots.  Before entering the shouse, vigorously wipe your boots in clean patches of snow or swish them in puddles of water to remove as much dirt and mud as possible.  And for heaven's sake, don't take your boots off at the door!  The floors can be easily cleaned, however, your socks are another matter altogether.

8.  Bathroom Etiquette Revisited:  Although in a "normal" home, the bathroom is reserved solely for the purposes of personal hygiene and other, shall we say, more personal matters, the shouse bathroom serves multiple purposes.  Not only does a shouse bathroom house a bathtub and a toilet, it also contains lead acid forklift batteries, power inverters and charge controllers.   It is of utmost importance, when using the facilities in a shouse, that you maintain a calm and unflappable demeanor at all times.  Although rather unsettling at first, the sudden whirring of the charge controller or the cooling fan of the inverters is perfectly normal.  Dropping trow and running, screaming from the bathroom is truly frowned upon.

9.  Insects:  Because shouse living is a very earthy, back-to-the-land experience, you can expect a great variety of insects to share your living quarters.  Spiders are regarded as friendly helpers, as they greatly reduce the fly population and mosquito hawks are welcomed.  In an effort to reduce the ill-effects of the most bothersome pests, fly strips are hung at regular intervals (especially in the kitchen) and mosquito nets shroud every bed.  Remember, the nets are not just romantic, decorative additions, but necessary requirements.

10.  Pest Control:  When living in a shouse, you will be host to many little prairie creatures.  Do your best not to make them welcome.   Keeping a simple trap line (fueled with peanut butter), seems to be the most effective method of rodent control.  When visiting a shouse, it is not the least bit unusual to see a snippet of a rodent body peaking out from under one piece of furniture or another.  Don't panic.  The shouse owner will soon discard the body and re-energize the trap.

As you can see, there are many matters of etiquette that need to be attended while living in or visiting a shouse.  If you find yourself welcomed into a shouse or an off-grid home, you may want to consult this simple primer.  Remember, although no passports are required to visit a shouse, they are highly recommended.


  1. Thank you for the laughs!!! - Maggie

  2. Oh no! I shoulda read this before we visited! :) Honor & I flushed without asking! Whoops...please forgive us city folk?! :) Much love to you and the family! - Jess O

    1. Jess;

      Breaches of etiquette are so easily overlooked when enjoying such wonderful company! Please, give our love to the family.


  3. I love it - I just wonder about the "pampered" folks who come to visit you! My grandparents built a little pine cabin on a lake on the Canadian border in about 1930 - on stilts and uninsulated. My first trip there was post electricity with some baseboard heat. Still - we had a handpump and well in the back yard with drinking water that neighbors from all around would come for. (A tin cup hung on a string on the pump.) The enamaled pail with a dipper and tin cup for drinking were in the screenched porch next to the wash sink. We had a wood cookstove in the kitchen and a fireplace. We had the kitchen sink and a wash sink on the porch with cold gravity fed rain water collected from the roof. The rest of the "bathroom" was the outhouse (a wonderful "two seater"). Bathing involved the lake. The roads were gravel and the cabins along our shore were mostly early 1900's - with big screened porches and a view of the lake. So many of my happiest childhood memories are from there.

    Now the road is paved, there is a paved bike path and many $500,000 year around homes along the shore and in some cases between the old cabins. It is truly sad and with all of the big boats and jet skiis the peace and simplicity is gone.

    I do not go barefoot in my house either - the floor feels icky. I do not require guests to remove shoes. There is dirt, mud and livestock hair that ends up where it shouldn't despite attempts at cleaning it up. My son prefers stocking feet in the house and his socks come to life on their own in about 10 minutes.

    Based on experience I can tell you that mice love chocolate too - and if they get into your stash they will taste each and every candybar in the pack - not just eat one whole one. Twenty-twos are great for chipmunks and other small rodents and air rifles, when pumped properly can be deadly without so much damage when inside.

    Thanks for letting me remember the '60's.


  4. We too live in a working shop/house, in the desert. There are 2 seasons ash and dust. Dust from living in dirt aka desert, dust from wood saws or hubby grinding knives, leather dust. There is no way to dust like in a normal house. No kids but a few cats, dogs and at times chicks hatching...equals more dust. When visiting please don't write in the dust! We have no curtain around the toilet so if visiting guests need to use the toilet they have to speak up and everybody else has to go outside. Funny usually visitors don't ask!? And like in the Focker movie if it's yellow let it mellow if it's brown flush it down. Why waste water for a little pee in the water.
    Trash in remote settings. Most folks don't know what to do with trash. If it burns it goes in the burn barrel. If a chicken or dog can eat scraps place it accordingly. If it can be reused do it. Recycled o.k. otherwise it goes to the dump. When visiting it's nice to pack it in pack it out.

  5. These discussions make me feel oh so urban and sterile, even where I live out at the end of the dirt road.
    Part of me longs for the off-grid rural cabin life; the rest of me recoils from the hard work. Decisions, decisions...
    I am hoping to move in that direction in 1 to 2 years, God willing.

  6. The mental image I had of your place is all wrong-so, it's essentially one big box with curtained off partitions. I could deal without heat almost before I could deal without some form of cooling-at least move some air around. You can get 12 volt fans (or build a window-mounted bank of old computer fans) that move air on surprisingly little current. I have a battery powered backup fan that runs 20+ hours on fully charged NiMh D batteries.
    Try rubbery pieces of bacon in a mousetrap. Very effective. As is .22 ratshot(the crimped kind are better, but leave more crap in the barrel-the kind with the clear blue plastic sabot leave less gunk, but don't seem to be as effective. I've lived in a couple places that were like mouse interstates.
    The places I've lived in could be considered Martha Stewart's idea of Hell. Your place sounds kinda like my grandparent's place, except they had internal walls/doors and grid-provided electricity (but no indoor plumbing, other than a sink).

  7. How about building a nice insulated house on the property? You can still heat with wood..

  8. been there and done that...many times over the years. included a two family redesigned chicken coop with a bathroom to share...I admire your way of living...you make it work for you and that is how it should be.

  9. Enola, mine isn't a shouse, just a very old single-wide trailer. And there is a door on the bathroom, but it's broken and the trailer has settled a lot since originally placed (and we don't have the $1000 plus to get it releveled) so the door doesn't even come close to closing. And when we get $1000 plus, there are a million much more important things on our land to put the money into then releveling our home.

    And there are no screens on the door or windows, so especially in the summer when there are fans in the window, then the bugs believe this is their home too.

    And there are always ants, spiders, and all sorts of lovely bugs, no matter what I do, so of course we just learn to live with them (well, except for the pine beetles--aka stink bugs--that I will never learn to love!).

    Oh, and we have a cistern, so water is always critical (just a very shallow well that trickles water into the cistern) so OF COURSE you don't just flush for yellow water! Heavens, what are people thinking!

    In other words, may I adopt your rules? They so apply to our lifestyle also!

    One of your neighbors (figuratively and literally).

    Judy Ann

  10. My dear Ebola, our drive way was 3 miles long in Montana and our "bathroom " was an outhouse housed in a shed. Running water came from a hose out of a tank we hauled water in. And I actually miss it. Guess what we are coming home. As soon as God provides the provisions for the move. By fall. Yeah.

  11. Sorry to say this but this is not wise living. Just because some decide to have walls and running water does not make them soft or foolish it says they live practical. Your lucky you have supportive family and friends because if you lived like this and one jerk called the authorities you could lose your children. It happens, so why take the chance? Why no walls or doors? Selling one AR would pay for some of the
    supplies. You brag that you children are living in a dirty, cold metal shop...do you think this really creates character? I am all for living debt free and smaller but what your doing is not worth the risk.

    1. Dear anonymous,
      Enola and her family are dear friends of ours and she is far from bragging about living in a cold dirty metal building. She is extremely tidy, just not analog about the reality of dirt. To live as they do takes faith and perseverance. And I for one have known "authorities "who applaud living as they and we do. Its alot harder than the trust in an unseen company to hopefully provide the water and power on time.

    2. @7:16 Let me get this straight - call the authorities for living in a rural area. Jewel was said to live out in the sticks in Alaska and went to the bathroom in an outhouse and think of the people that by no choice of their own live in cars or shelters. Who would call the authorities for living in a house of any structure? Are the children abused, starving, left with drugged out parents or no parents. Are they running the streets at 14, pregnant, in a gang? I could go on forever with different scenarios. Turn on daytime t.v. for a myriad of other situations involving kids and families. But I digress. So say I build a structure of this nature in New York or LA and I am famous and have concrete floors, am like many of the celebrities that are "green" and flush only when needed and my au pair schools our children and eek someone forgot to spray the home defense around the entry way and there are ants or cock roaches or God forbid those massive sized RATS like the have in New York City that 20/20 did a special on that actually drag food out of the cabinet and there are toddlers and babies that live there - would you call the authorities then? Or would you call me "smart" for saving the planet, chic for being so thoughtful as to live one with nature....I get it if I am rich and use recycled tires to build my home with then I am with it and hip but if I live in a metal building with an open concept I could get reported. My oh my what would the makers of those CHIC YURTS now say in their pamphlets?????

    3. Let them say what they want. That just provides entertainment for those of us who either live, or want to live, Enola's lifestyle. If those people have read the blog from the beginning, they would realize Enola's devotion to her family, her devout love for the Lord, and HER LOVE FOR HER COUNTRY!! Kudos, Enola.

      Respectfully yours,