How Becoming an Historical Re-Enactor Helped Me Prepare For Life Without Electricity
It was the second time my power went out in one day. The first time was at 2 in the morning when a nearby fuse or transformer blew, causing a power outage. Other than the backyard solar light glowing, the entire neighborhood was cast into darkness.
A few hours later, our power was restored, and the bedside clock started blinking. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the house soon became alive with overhead lights, bacon on the stove, a hot shower, and the screech of my ironing board as I unfolded it and plugged in the iron.
After my husband left for work, the computer and TV abruptly flickered off on its own, and the room was silent again.
I sat in the dark and wondered at the cause of the outages and why I felt so helpless. For years I had been stocking up on candles, oil lanterns, and imagining life without electricity, and instead of feeling prepared, I was paralyzed and rooted to my couch.
Although I had grown up for a season in a one room cabin without utilities or indoor plumbing, the bulk of my experience was volunteering for several years at an 1800’s living history museum.
Once or twice a week my family would put on our pioneer clothes, load up the car with supplies, and spend the day on the prairie, cooking from a wood stove or open fire, sewing, reading books, and fanning our faces from the front porch.
We learned to appreciate the hard work involved in gardening, collecting firewood, and cooking and cleaning from scratch. With no electricity and running water, it was a sun-up to sun-down type of existence.
By the end of the day, we were anxious to return to the 21st Century. Walking into our modern day home, we were greeted with air conditioning, plush furniture, computers, TV, fast food, the refrigerator, microwave, the faucet, and a toilet that flushed—it was pure luxury.
We endured the primitive lifestyle and 100 degree weather because we knew it was temporary. After an exhausting day on the farm, we’d reward ourselves by stopping off at the convenience store or drive-thru for an ice cold soda pop.
Preparing a quick dinner at home with ease, I was thankful for my generation. But at the same time, the bouncing back and forth into the 19th Century was a nudge to not take my privileges for granted.
Using history to empower the future
I gradually started making some changes at home. I wanted my kitchen to be functional like our ancestor’s had been. This meant no more decorations taking up needed shelf space because it looked cute or placing all my dependency on an electrical cord. A few of the changes I made:
- I replaced the self-cleaning electric range for a gas stove and oven.
- My high efficiency washing machine was traded in for a heavy duty top loader, and I hung a clothes line.
- When my new dishwasher broke, I reverted back to the old fashioned way of washing by hand.
- I exchanged my Teflon skillets for heavy duty cast iron.
- I continued using my automatic coffee machine, but kept the stove top percolator on standby.
- No more reliance on electric can-openers, or noisy food processors.
- Although I loved my electric wheat grinder, I purchased a hand-crank just in case.
Imitating our ancestors who prepared for emergencies and the change of seasons, I, too, took advantage of the seasonal sales at the farmer’s market and grocery stores, stocking up on bulk and dry goods, canning my own soups and meat, and taking advantages of the holiday clearances.
Unplugging from dependency
As I faced my 2nd power outage that morning, I realized my helplessness was due to my dependency.
My entire day was planned by the instant gratification of electricity:
- Flipping a switch for light
- Stuffing the washing machine with dirty laundry
- Checking the bank online to pay bills
- Staying connected with family and friends through the Internet
- Checking my online store
- Vacuuming the floor
- Catching the news on TV
- Running my sewing machine
- Recharging my Kindle Fire
…and now my day was shot.
But more debilitating was the unknown. Like every other power outage, I didn’t know when life would resume to normal.
Although I was inconvenienced that morning, I was equipped and capable of stepping back into the 1800’s.
The thought crossed my mind that if I could still experience helplessness even though I was prepared for the long term, I could only imagine the feelings of hopelessness for those who are inadequately prepared for the short term.
Taking charge in a power outage
What if in a worst case scenario, our power was off long term?
Living by the motto to not focus on the problem but to look for a solution, this is how I would approach my original itinerary.
- Flipping a switch — I would open curtains and use natural light, take most activities outdoors, and after dark, we would use flashlights, candles and oil lanterns. Our ancestors went to bed early, and got up early.
- Stuffing a washing machine — Clothes are easy to clean by soaking in a large bucket and hand scrubbing with a bar of soap. Hang to dry on a clothesline. Our ancestors didn’t own multiple outfits or shoes, nor did they bathe every day.
- Checking bank online and paying bills – Saving cash for emergencies is very important. Depending on how serious the power outage is, banking systems could be down, forcing us to prioritize what gets paid. Some options are to locate Internet access away from home, have a landline telephone as a back-up, or access the Internet through a smart phone. In a worst case scenario, there will be no access to online banks, credit cards, or savings accounts. Ideally, the best plan of action is to always be stocked up on food, water, supplies, and prescriptions for the long term. Our ancestors lived within their means and purchased with barter or cash.
- Connecting with family and friends through Internet —Like many people, my relatives and friends are spread throughout the world. Being thrust into the “dark ages” will end my daily dosage of Facebook, and emails. This is why I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to educate others while I can. It is a great peace of mind to know that my family and friends were listening and prepared, if or when we lose all contact. Our ancestors connected through the mail, telegraph, word of mouth, getting to know their neighbors, and spending time with their family.
- Checking my online store — A long term power shortage would create difficulties for my home based business. I would not be able to correspond online with customers, use my printer, and list merchandise. My best plan of action is to place my store on “vacation mode” if I had temporary access to the Internet. While waiting on power to be restored, I could use my time wisely by building inventory with what I had. Our ancestors took advantage of bad weather and off seasons, by catching up on mending and other demands.
- Vacuuming the floor — I have carpeting, but there’s a plan. A good straw broom can do brisk wonders for a floor. Some of our ancestors had dirt floors.
- Catching the news on TV — I own several solar and battery powered radios, and shortwave. For the holidays, we gave our relatives the wind-up, solar powered radios as gifts. Unless our ancestors had access to the newspaper, they were dependent on word of mouth.
- Running my sewing machine — Although I love my sewing machines, I also enjoy sewing by hand. Unless our ancestors had money, very few owned a treadle sewing machine. A young girl was taught to sew by hand when she was old enough to hold a needle.
- Recharging my Kindle Fire — Although I love reading from my digital book, as well as the instant gratification of purchasing and downloading, I knew early on to stock my book shelves with real books. With a massive power outage and no access to the Internet, it is important for my family to have immediate access to medical, veterinary, dental, gardening, plant identifications, old recipes, prepping, spiritual, and leisure books. Our ancestors spent time together sharing stories, reading together, and playing musical instruments.
When I read about massive power shortages in other places, the long gas lines, and the empty store shelves, I am reminded of how dependent our society has become.
My question is: Are you empowered enough to face a short or long term power shortage, or will you too be left feeling powerless?