Need Advice with Life Change and Planning
My family and I are looking to make a change to lead a more resilient and fulfilling life. I think I know where to start, but part of me wants some sort of validation or tips from more senior and experienced people here. I’m currently living in the DC suburban sprawl in Virginia with my wife and one child. I’m a software systems engineer working in DoD and have been doing that since I moved down here about 10 years ago. I’m fairly happy with my job and career, but I feel disconnected from the land/food and untrusting of the alien social networks of DC suburbia. We have a small group of friends, some of whom are on the some page with concerns about sustainability of energy and economy. However, I think the majority of the population are living so large that they are blind to these issues, among others. I think this is largely attributable to how transient DC is. Land and housing is incredible expensive here, which isn’t surprising since we all know that money creation is largely focused where either bankers and bureaucrats live and work.
That aside, I think living in the DC area has some benefits. There are a lot of high paying jobs and smart people. In the short term, I think it’s advantageous to be close to the source of the wealth redistribution. Virginia has a pretty diverse, temperate environment from the Appalachians to the Potomac and Chesapeake. There are a lot of smart, entrepreneurial people here. After a collapse, I think it could pay off for job creation. Currently a lot of the smarts are tied up with DoD, but this could certainly change. There could be a mass exodus like Detroit, but I think DC is a little more diverse and unless the government completely collapses, which I don’t think it ever will, I think this area has potential.
My plan is to buy some land close to the Shenandoah Valley in Rappahannock, Fauquier, or Warren counties and buy or build. I would commute an hour or so for my day job (while I can) while my wife quits her part time DoD job to take care of our child and growing family. We’d setup a homestead and learn to live more off the land and provide most of our food. My wife would probably pursue her alternative career and business as a baker. We garden to supplement and cook most of our meals in the burbs, but there’s only so much you can do with a tiny plot of land in the sprawl with neighbors spraying chemicals and complaining to the HoA. I think the next step to resiliency is learning about larger scale agriculture and animal husbandry, building a smarter home (been reading a lot about passive solar and permaculture principles), and using a lot less resources. Hopefully in a few years electric vehicles will be ubiquitous enough that I can purchase and power my own commute vehicle from our own home.
We’ve only ever rented and are currently saving cash to finance a land/house. As much as I hate debt, I don’t see anyway around it. After the bubble burst in 2006 there was some affordability in housing, but anecdotally things are more expensive again due to the demand in this area. This is substantiated by the linear progression of the DC Case-Shiller data. My hope is that there is a correction, but I’m without a clue as to when or how that could come. I was imagining an inflationary period by the Fed due to deflation and stagnation. Rising interest rates would make house financing less viable and purchasing land/house outright more realistic for us. Unfortunately I think the system is so fubar right now I have no idea what to expect.
My questions therefore are whether this is a reasonable plan and if we are wasting time when we could be building experience capital at the expense of more debt. All scenarios for me lead to anxiety and I hope that one day that will all be gone.
So far 394 people have read your request, but no one has replied. Part of that , I think, is that this site traditionally does not advocate one particular strategy. It's very personal, and it's your decision.
But to paraphrase your question, you wanted to discuss the tradeoff between debt and resiliency in the nearby "country" as opposed to solvency and worry about dealing with a crisis closer to DC.
All I can offer is my own experience, and I hope others add theirs: we have a number of longtime members of this community who live in your area. I moved from a career in construction safety engineering in NYC , with long commutes to less-populated (only by NYC standards!) Long Island, NY to a semi-rural area in South Carolina. Back when I was in NY my situation was slightly different than yours: I was divorced, and my children were on their own. But I was trying to pay off all debts and considering saving up to buy a house or land.
I wanted off Long Island. You have to go through NYC (population 8 million) to get off LI (population 3 million) and therefore in a severe crisis I considered it a death trap. The cost of living was staggering, and the long commute–something you are considering–was very wearing and expensive. The debts all got paid off and I had savings. But the real estate market was insanely overpriced (like now!), and having a house would have meant an illiquid asset, so I rented. Another point of commonality: my work was not portable, or so I thought.
I was considering moving to move to the Midwest on my own and looking for suitable work, but I met a man online who was also resiliency-minded and debt free. I quit my job and moved and married him, and worked part time remotely for my old boss. The choice has some drawbacks: for example, we are right on top of Fort Jackson and if there were a shooting war that would get nuked or bombed — but then so would NYC or DC. Many people are not comfortable with the amount of nuclear power in our area, too, but the area grows its own food and is sparsely populated compared to where I was.The positives are that I could concentrate on making this paid-off property resilient for food, power, etc. I made the right choice for me.
It might interest you to know that I've seen others post about a third option, where they stayed in the suburbs, bought land, and worked on a remote homestead on weekends and vacations. They carefully researched their properties (asking for advice here) and slowly developed them, maybe even setting a relative or friend on the property to keep an eye on things. It takes time to grow trees and enrich soil, and to build a home with your own hands, but these people were younger than me and it really seemed to work for them. They told their 'status quo' co-workers and friends it was a hobby and a vacation home, and was for their eventual retirement. There are threads on this topic in the forums and a relocation Group.
A little over a year ago my wife and I made the same choice and went from renting in a suburb or Seattle to owning w/ a mortgage about an hour outside of the city on ~3 acres. Our decision was a little easier as my wife has family and work opportunities where we live now and I work from home so location is unimportant to my job as long as I have high speed internet.
We have found that the learning curve with homesteading is tremendous and we're therefore happy we moved when we did. It remains to be seen if taking on a mortgage was a good decision or not, but had we not been willing to take that risk it would have been decades before we could have gotten started with our new lifestyle. I don't think the world will be a very familiar place in a few decades and we wanted to get started now. My wife was a little hesitant and tepid towards the idea of raising livestock and gardening and all things homesteading, but as it turns out she is the happiest she has ever been. It's a lot of work for both of us, but she has really dug in and takes a lot of pride in what we're doing here.
All that aside, I often wonder if we're truly any more resilient here than we would have been in the suburbs. We have chickens, rabbits, bees, a garden and a small immature orchard. We're planting barter crops and working on alternative/secondary streams of income, but 95% of our food still comes from Costco and the grocery stores. Feeding yourself is a full time job and we're busy people. We keep 3-6 months of stored food on site so hopefully that would give us enough time to get something going at full scale if that ever becomes necessary, but I doubt it will. I think the collapse we all expect will most likely be non-linear and location specific and I'd be surprised if most of us in the first world experience difficulty getting food as a black swan overnight event. Hopefully communities, will have time to come together and provide for themselves when it becomes clear that global systems no longer can. Otherwise as a bunch of autonomous preppers I think we're in trouble. Unless you live in a mountain compound, there will always be someone to take what you have and you have to sleep sometime.
So that brings me to one of two pieces of advise I would like to share. Make sure you understand the vibe of the community you're moving into. In our case we were more interested in land and proximity to family than community and I wish we had put more focus on the latter. We live in a place that is unashamedly redneck. It's not uncommon for big trucks to "coal roll" us just because we're driving a prius. Most of the farms in the area produce hay, GMO corn or Tyson chicken and we haven't had much luck finding a gathering place of like-minded people. We would like to develop community, but frankly we haven't made it enough of a priority. So unless you like building community from scratch, look for a staple of the type of community you want to be a part of and find something near that. Examples for us would have been a natural food co-op or a transition town. Something to indicate that there is a established market serving like-minded people. It's a good place to start engaging your community.
The other advise I would give is to understand your goals going in and focus on finding a place that meets them without too many ancillary projects. We bought a fixer upper and the first year we were here almost all of our money and time went into making it livable. I would have rather spent a bit more for a place that was livable and put the effort into developing the farm side of things. But that is where my passions and interests are and that might be different for you. I have learned since we got here that house projects (painting, flooring, electric, building decks and sheds etc. are not my thing. I'd much rather have my hands in the soil in a greenhouse. So make sure you know what you want and target that in a property. Compromises are fine, but make sure it meets your minimum expectations and be honest about time and cost for fixing shortcomings.
Otherwise, we have been so happy with the choice we made. This lifestyle suits us much better than our old one and it sounds like you are coming from a similar place….I think you and your family will love it too!
We have friends who share your connection to the "Big Machine" in the Virginia/DC stomping grounds. To be reslilience minded in any metropolitan community is a challenge, to be sure. Yours has an added layer to analyze in terms of possible impact in the event of, well, an "event." Take heart in knowing that even those of us who have been preparing for several years for that protective haven and lifestyle may be little to not ahead of you, in spite of our hope that we are. Here is my take; from a family of 2 adults, an elementary-age child and pets.
GET THE FOOD-WATER FIRST. Most importantly, whatever else you are doing or not doing, the realization that you have food and water to take with you or shelter in place is huge. Because your kids get to eat and so do you, whether for a weekend or a week. The old "bug out bag" immediately gives some comfort. We made our own, so that we could decide what was really important and what was just upcharging by the producer. But we also immediately stocked up on some non-perishable food that went beyond the travel bags in case we couldn't get out of town. Pet food, flashlights and batteries, matches and lantern, 5-gallon bucket with waste management capabilities (even puppy training pads would help, with bleach available) the "what would I wish I had if the hurricane hit" helps you zero in on immediate needs.
LOOK FOR YOUR PROPERTY. Regarding the mountain escape, fantastic. We are not in an area anything like DC; a community of 700,000. That said, weekends or a "crisis" can back up the expressways instantly. We have shared 3 prioritized routes to our less-populated property with those who are invited to join us. We realize we may have to walk away from our home and 20 acres close to the city. You rent, so you are freed of this sadness. Drive to potential land purchases escaping traffic as quickly as possible for less traveled routes as soon as you can get off the main roads. This will help you determine the best location. Also, consider which spots would be "best" in the event you had to travel on foot.
KNOW THAT IT'S ALL A GUESS. None of us knows when/how/what will trigger a safety concern. Escaping entirely is so appealing, but often impractical. We say we want to leave our jobs and community just to avoid the onset, but we don't do it. We don't want to pull our daughter away from what she knows and loves unless/until we have to. But it seems foolish that we don't, on the other hand. Chris and his family DID IT. We keep saying we know we'd never look back. And with that, we are starting construction of our secure off-grid home this summer, Lord willing and the creek don't rise. Just keep going with your instincts and do the best you can do. We found great relief that the property we could afford and purchased is only an hour away. It's allowed us to do a lot of work getting it ready for occupancy in the 2-years since, even if we don't have a ton of time. Our family wanted to look 2 hours away, where it's even more remote, but for us, that was not practical and we think we did the right thing.
Good luck and keep us posted. Your plan sounds like just about all of our plans: the best we can do with what we have, right now. And it's far better than no plan at all!
For the advice and encouragement. It means a lot to hear from people with a similar mindset. I've been reading Peak Prosperity for years but only recently joined and decided to post.
I think it's a hard sell to change your way of life and adapt to a new culture. While my wife is generally supportive of homesteading in the "country", she's somewhat apprehensive of being far from friends. But my strategy and hope is to start small and tie in her dreams of running a bakery (she currently bakes wedding cakes on the side) with farm-fresh products (eggs, milk, flour?). There could be a niche there. If it doesn't work out, at least we'll be growing more of our own food and our children can grow up around and learn to respect animals (my 18 month old loooooves farm animals).
I agree that the details are very personal, but hearing a few "success" stories was very reassuring. I think it might be possible to find a good deal on land and economize with a modular dwelling. If my wife can stay at home and make supplementary income it could help alleviate the debt burden. Who knows, maybe we'll be able to pass the property on for generations as it was done in the past.
I am 63 and live in the DC area. I work for the government also, but I work in a support position, so my salary is WAY lower. I grew up on a dairy farm in New Jersey. We had close to 100 acres. We had Rhode Island Red chickens and Holstein cows. We collected the eggs, and sold them at a market every weekend. As far as our cows, they were strictly for milk. We traded our milk for meat with the neighboring farmer. At the age of 13 my mother and step-father moved to Virginia as my dad obtained a job at the Pentagon. We quickly got out of the hard physical work mentality and into the "fast food", easy going lifestyle like so many others. At first I loved it, but soon I missed tasting the meal from what we picked out of our garden. Presently, I sit at a desk all day, I sit on the ride in to work, I sit on the ride home from work, now I'm tired from sitting, so I sit more at home. When you have a farm, or homestead, you are not sitting much. You are outside working in the sunshine. You get your vitamin D naturally. You work hard, so you are hungry, and you eat. But you don't gain weight, because you are so active. By the end of the day, after a good meal, you are ready for bed because it's early to rise again the next day. But you will never feel unfulfilled. The best part is, you will be in tremendous shape and you won't want to just sit any more. It's a healthful lifestyle.. My grandfather owned the farm I grew up on. My grandfather died close to 90 years old and in good health with all his teeth. My grandmother died at 99 almost 100, and was in good general health, able to feed herself and move around. I attribute it to the un-sitting lifestyle they lived for so many years plus the food that came fresh from our garden and the raw milk from our own cows.. I seek to go back to a similar lifestyle to spend my retirement years. I don't want to spend them on a golf course, riding in a golf cart, or going out to eat all the time. It's not normal the way we live now. I can't do it alone though, so I am hoping to buy a place with my children, in hopes to relive the real American dream and to show them what life is really about.
Thanks for your story Karl!
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