By guest contributor Jade Cardy of Yurtigo.
It was early October when my partner and I packed up our one bedroom apartment into the largest u-Haul we could find, picked up our yurt kit, and drove five hours into the mountains, with three kitties voicing their opinions the entire way.
We didn’t have jobs, just a plot of land on a friend’s 40 acres and a dream. We were on our way to starting a whole new chapter in our lives.
A little background info
I endured a back injury in 2012 which never healed itself. It left me in chronic pain, unable to work, and miserable. I lost my sense of self, had no idea who this new me was, and frankly I wasn’t ready to accept or even want to get to know this new me. Depression came for a very long visit, and anxiety decided to drop in on the party somewhere along the way.
Like anyone else, I needed a purpose, and up until the injury, work had been my purpose. Having had that taken away -plus the stress of no income and the constant, insistent pain- I was wasting away.
Since I had no income, we had to come up with clever ways to get by each month, since we couldn’t live off just my partner’s income. The free list on craigslist and bidding wars sites became my shopping mall. I also had to sell my car and my condo. With the way real estate prices were climbing in the city, we knew we wouldn’t be able to afford anything, so we had to think outside the box. And that is when we came up with “The Circle,” or more specifically, yurt living.
The journey to yurt living begins
We had a friend in the North Okanagan with 40 acres of land who invited us to come live on his farm and be apart of the community. We found a local company that manufactured yurts, so we went for a visit to see one set up and fell in love. After placing our order, waited the 8-9 weeks production time, and packed and sold and scrambled to get ready for our life makeover.
Another factor that contributed to choosing yurt living was my experience in nature versus in the city. I suffer extreme insomnia when in the city, yet I noticed that when we would go camping out in the wilderness, I slept much better, and was subsequently happier. With debt piling up around us and happiness seeming just beyond our door, it seemed a no brainer to take the plunge.
The entranceway to our yurt. Home sweet dome!
What an adjusment! The hardest part has been trying to prepare for the obstacles that come our way. First obstacle, the yurt company forgot to include two integral parts of our floor, so construction halted for a week while we waited for the yurt company to send reinforcements. The weather had dropped down to an unexpected minus 12 degrees Celcius, and we were living out of a tent!
Fortunately we had a shipping container holding all of our stuff while we built the yurt, so we rearranged our belongings and set up home in the shipping container, which wasn’t much warmer than the tent to be completely honest. Our water also froze during this freak cold spell, obstacle number two. And, since we moved in October, we didn’t have the spring and summer months to help prepare for winter, so we are behind on fire wood, but we are slowly catching up. There is something meaningful about cutting wood during a big snowfall. It’s a very humbling, yet happy feeling.
What I miss most about city life are my family and friends. I must admit, I also miss the free list on craigslist. Living in a denser population equates to more free, “disposable” items.
But while I thought I would miss the convenience of everything, I realized after I left the city that convenience was what I needed to escape, because the conveniences I had become entagled in were not healthy. They were self-destructive, which did not help my depression, but rather fueled it.
What I don’t miss are the invisible moments with strangers where no one interacts, the busy traffic and rush hour, transit, fast food joints on every corner, people on top of people, the public drug abuse and homelessness crisis, the apathy and negativity, the rainy weather… I could go on, but I’ve moved on from that place.
So has this helped my depression? A resounding yes! It has given me purpose again.
The greatest reward in all of this has been the knowledge acquired. Not just learning about waste management systems, composting systems, solar power, wood stoves and how they work with updraft, but also learning how to be self-sustaining and self-sufficient. All of this has been invaluable. Coming up with creative ways to solve problems with only what’s on hand is very fulfilling. It’s definitely a confidence boost putting your skills and knowledge to the actual test.
Setting up our yurt. Here we have the frame set up and we’re adding the snow and wind kit made of 31 solid pine lodge poles.
So has this helped my depression? A resounding yes! It has given me purpose again.
I am responsible for stoking the fire and keeping our home warm. I am responsible for ensuring there is enough wood to run the wood stove. My responsibilities include small but important tasks that contribute to the household.
The humble fulfillment of living close to the land
There is nothing more gratifying than laying in bed after a long day of preparation work, looking out the toono of the home we built with our bare hands and gazing up at the stars above, while hearing the animals talking back and forth. Or listening to a wind storm whirling around outside, or the rain and snow pelting against our vinyl roof. It’s very satisfying and humbling being so close to Mother Nature.
Lightning seen through the toono, the “skylight” in the roof of the yurt.
This experience has also given me something to write home about, so to speak. I can help others achieve a similar goal by sharing my experiences. Being in a constant state of learning is what does it for me. It’s invigorating and refreshing and the best confidence boost.
Keeping my brain active has been crucial to staving off depression. Usually there is some challenge that we wake up to, whether it’s figuring out how to beat the condensation, or testing the damper on the wood stove to see what setting creates the maximum burn time, or figuring new and inventive ways to create visually appealing storage, since our yurt is only 314 square feet.
My depression still tries to rear its ugly head, especially when a disaster is looming or has occurred, but I’ve accepted that these challenges are positive. So I try to keep my mindset in check by not letting obstacles ruin this experience, and revelling in the feeling of accomplishment when one disaster is averted.
Some advice for anyone looking to try yurt living
– If you are moving somewhere with four seasons, move in the warmer months. Take advantage of the warm weather to prepare for the winter.
– Do not place items up against the wall in a yurt. Yurts need to breathe since they are not airtight. This will help immensely in minimizing condensation.
– Insulate your water reservoirs.
– Get thermometers. You will want to know the temperatures inside the yurt and of the wood stove.
– Have candles and flashlights nearby.
– Keep track of what is in your moving boxes. If you are like us and did not downsize enough prior to the move, you might have a shipping container full of boxes. It makes life ten times easier if you can locate an item without having to open all the boxes first.
– Rocks are your best friend when it comes to dirt roads. Collect large rocks and place them where it gets muddy and rutty. Then lay smaller rocks and gravel overtop. The large rocks provide a base so the gravel doesn’t get swallowed up by the mud. It also helps immensely for gaining traction.
– We opted for the standard, non-glass windows for our yurt. There is no insulation over them, so in the winter cold creeps in fast. Placing wool blankets over the windows, while impeding your view, will keep a lot of the warmth in. The toono provides all the natural light needed, so the windows can be covered up.
– Reliable internet is hard to get outside of major cities. If internet is important to you, research it before you commit to moving to a location. Also, shipping containers act as giant Faraday cages, so don’t expect to get the best reception or connection when inside of one.
– Try to locate your closest cell tower and/or satellite locations prior to placing your yurt or shipping container.
– Look into the Humanure composting toilet system. It is cost-effective, and brilliant, in my humble opinion. Zero smell, even when I add the cats’ business. It truly amazes me.
– Make sure your wood stove is rated to heat at least three times your square footage. We opted for the smallest Jotul wood stove, and it has far exceeded our expectations. In the future we may opt to get the larger Jotul, for the sole reason of not having to stoke it as often. Since I don’t sleep consistently due to my pain, having to stoke our fire every four hours or so throughout the night isn’t too bad. Though I can imagine it might bother others.
– Make sure your chimney cap is vertical. Ours was slanted slightly and it melted all the snow on a nearby tree, which ran right back down the chimney pipe, creating steam (which we originally mistook for smoke and thought our chimney was broken) and a goopy mess.
– Wood ash is an amazing resource. We use it in our composting systems, as well as on icey and snowy walkways. It provides great traction. We even have a bucket of ash in the car in case we get stuck in the snow somewhere.
– Get a good water filtration system. With the Berkey that we chose, we can melt snow on the stove if we needed to and filter it through. If it came down to it, we could even take river or puddle water, run it through the Berkey, and it would be safe to drink.
A typical day in the life…
Wake up with the sun. Our yurt has a toono which acts like a giant skylight. It’s a nice way to wake up and has done wonders getting my Circadian rhythm back in check, which has aided my sleeping habits immensely.
Stoke the fire and scoop the ash. Get it raging to boil water for coffee, tea and bannock. I also have to stoke the wood stove throughout the day and try to keep the temperature inside around 20 degrees Celcius to dry out the condensation that collects around the edges.
Warm water on the stove to clean dirty dishes.
Empty the grey water bucket. Since we don’t have running water, we have a faucet and sink set up with a bucket underneath catching the grey water.
Cut wood. Since we moved here in October, we weren’t ready for winter, so we have to go cut wood to sustain us throughout the colder months. Some of the wood we have to dry out inside, near the wood stove.
Once a week we have to switch out the bucket on our Humanure composting toilet and empty it into the dedicated compost, which in 2 years will become fertilizer for the garden.
Once a week we have to fill the Berkey water filter. We have access to well water and so we run it through the Berkey. Since some of our water has frozen, we have to bring the 5 gallon jugs inside to thaw near the wood stove, then pour them into the Berkey.
Since we don’t have running water, once a week we drive into town to the public swimming pool for a swim, hot tub, sauna and shower. This is one of my favourite days as we get to visit the thrift stores as well.
Once a week we offer our help to the farm and aid in whatever task needs to be done at that time.
There are still tasks that we are doing to help set up our home, such as stuffing insulation under the yurt and building a nice rock wall around the outer edges.
What an awesome article! I’m currently in a big city, that gives me regular panic attacks from the noise, but this year we are starting our search for rural property. I would love to set up a yurt like you did, but my husband isn’t as excited about circle living.
I’d love to know more about yurts in winter. Obviously, they originated in cold climates, but most of the off-grid yurt info I find out there is for warmer, dry climates. Can you insulate them so they have better heat retention?
I totally hear you about the noise and the panic attacks. That’s one reason why we moved out of the city too. The property we live on now is still just off the highway and the traffic noises still give me anxiety and I suffer from panic attacks too so I totally understand. Our ultimate goal is to find a quiet, rural property off of a country side road (preferably a dead end!).
I’m not sure what the options are for insulation… This post was written by a guest contributor so I will pass on questions to her. But I do know she mentioned putting blankets over windows in the window to help insulate them. I’ll see if she might be able to provide a better answer.
All the best and hopefully you’ll be out of the city soon too!
I have never heard of a yurt, so this was interesting!
I had once stayed in yurt when I was travelling but had never considered living in one until Jade shared her story with me. With the whole “tiny house” movement along with more people looking to move off-grid, I think yurt-living might just gather steam too!