Tips for living alone in a rural cabin for ~6 months?
October 3, 2011 2:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving into a cabin (not too rustic, but pretty rural) in the woods for at least six months to live on my own. I'm looking for general living tips as well as advice on what to do if/when I get lonely.

I'm moving into a cabin on a lake in a rural part of the midwest to spend the winter making some art.

The cabin is not super rustic, i.e. it has running water, heat and a kitchen. But it is pretty far from civilization, and once the midwest winter hits, it won't be really easy to make it to things like grocery stores.

1) Food: I'm planning on stocking up on dried foods, canned foods and as much frozen vegetables/meat as I can fit in the freezer. I'm not a picky eater, but I do like to eat healthily. What sorts of things should I stock up on? What can I do to keep my diet varied and my food tasty? Other than the obvious sorts of things (dried grains, beans, canned things), what am I not thinking of that I might really want or would be really good when I can't make it to a store for several weeks? Any other food suggestions?

2) Life: I'm not really worried about this too much - I like being on my own and I have a lot of projects I'll be working on, and I'll have my cat, but I won't have much contact with the outside world - very limited internet (as in I'd have to make it to a coffee shop a couple hours away to check my email, etc.), limited phone, no television. What can I do if I start feeling like I'm going the way of The Shining or something? I'll have a good book collection and a radio to keep my company, but beyond that? What am I not considering that may help or hurt me in this regard?

3) Any other anecdotes, thoughts or suggestions on living alone in the middle of nowhere through a harsh winter?

Thanks all!
posted by Lutoslawski to Grab Bag (45 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Sadly, my suggestions boil down to a crock pot and a pre-loaded Kindle.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:32 PM on October 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

As soon as you get there reach out to any neighbours and make a habit of dropping by one or two of them each week.

1) It will get you out of the house
2) You'll have local knowledge and resources
3) If you stop showing up for a visit, you'll have someone who will miss you and come looking.

I suggest taking the Foxfire books with you, at least the first couple, on paper. As resources for rustic, remote, self-dependent living they're right up there.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:36 PM on October 3, 2011

Try to maintain a routine, meaning, getting up at the same time, having a morning ritual; having an evening ritual, reading a couple of chapters, and going to bed at the same time.

As part of this route, make a standing weekly or bi-weekly appointment to get out of the house and spend time with other people, even if passively.

It's easy to get lonely and to lose track of time in these types of situations, so the rituals and the trip to the weekly local market, coffee shop or restaurant will help keep you grounded and your clock running normally.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:41 PM on October 3, 2011

Make sure to get outside and go for a walk every day. This will help keep your mind sharp. So make sure you have crazy warm outer layers so you don't have an excuse to stay inside.

Also: bring a cookbook (or two or three) you love but haven't used as much as you like. Check some recipes in advance to make sure you'll have the right ingredients, and while you're there, you can use the recipes to make future shopping lists.

Also, depending on how cold it is, might you be able to keep some frozen veggies outside? As long as they are animal-safe, this might be a way to extend your freezer.

Bring lots of pairs of very warm socks and slippers, as well as fingerless gloves in case your cabin is chilly on cool mornings but you still want to use your hands with your art.

Don't just bring books you've been meaning to read but can't get into. Make sure to bring a few books you are excited about as well.

Bring some blank books for journaling. Try to make sure you journal every day.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:51 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some plants might be nice for you, even simple stuff like catnip for the kitty, small things you can move into the sun in the window and then away to keep warm. I'd get a sprouter and a variety of seeds, too, to give you an easy way to get fresh greens.
posted by lemniskate at 2:55 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I did this to a lesser extent for my first two winters living abroad (nearest town was a 20 minute drive, my only neighbors were an elderly shepherd and his flock of sheep) and my main diversions were:

01. EXERCISE. so much exercise. walking, running, and an old beat-up stairmaster.

02. READ. I read hundreds of random borrowed/traded books.

03. LEARN A THING. I learned the local dialect and the provincial dialect.

04. HANDS-ON PROJECTS. I helped my ancient neighbor fix an equally ancient (endless, terraced) drystone wall over the course of a couple of weeks, for no other reason than it was an interesting thing to do. I built tiny trebuchets to launch pinecones for the dog to chase. I learned that I have absolutely no artistic talent whatsoever.

Definitely find a routine and do your very best to stick to it or days will start to blend together and soon you're shuffling around in your underwear like rain man and talking to the trees.
posted by elizardbits at 2:55 PM on October 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

For some reason, I'm picturing the routine of Desmond on Lost. Begin every morning with a workout and some upbeat music (skip the injections and button pressing).

You could teach yourself to knit.
posted by mimo at 2:57 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take a copy of True North, and Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison. You'll thank me for this.
posted by timsteil at 3:01 PM on October 3, 2011

what am I not thinking of that I might really want or would be really good when I can't make it to a store for several weeks?

A classic suggestion is to bring a wide variety of spices and dried herbs. This will help stave off monotony even if the underlying food remains the same. For example, beans can be prepared numerous different ways (e.g. Italian, Indian, chili) with the right spices.

Consider buying a pre-seeded mushroom growing kit. Most of them will happily grow at the kind of temperature your cabin will likely be at, they don't care about winter light levels, and it'll give you a source of fresh food and something to do.

What can I do if I start feeling like I'm going the way of The Shining or something?

Bring some seeds for a hardy little plant that you can raise. I recommend something flowering, fragrant, edible, or some combination thereof. Tending the plant will give you something to do, and a growing thing is always pleasant in the winter.

Make a small "pick me up" package: favorite candy, some happy, sunny photos, that kind of thing. This should be something special you can crack open if you are snowed in and starting to go a little stir crazy.

Will you have access to regular mail? Bring some stamps and stationery and maintain correspondence that way. Pretend you're in a Ken Burns documentary and write at least one faux-pioneer letter (e.g. "My dearest Clara, times are hard here in the wilderness...").
posted by jedicus at 3:16 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're bringing a cat? My suggestions all revolve around the cat...although, of course, you'll get better suggestions if there is a picture of said kitty.

Make sure kitty is up to date with shots.

Is he/she an indoor kitty? Make sure he/she has plenty to do...and can't get out/get lost/get sad. Is kitty declawed? If so, DEFINITELY keep him/her indoors. If you're in the woods and your declawed kitty gets out, they can't really defend themselves against what they might encounter.

If he/she is an outdoor kitty...well, people that have had outdoor cats might have better ideas than me. The only thing I can think of is that kitty might be confused by the new surroundings...or excited. Who knows what cats think!
posted by Elly Vortex at 3:19 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you lay hands on some snowshoes or cross-country skis? That would help with the exercise bit and the avoiding cabin fever thing.

For food: if you have some time before your move, and can bring food (as opposed to buying it once you get there), you could always make batches of soups, chilis, veggie lasagnas, etc. ahead of time and package them in individual freezer containers, then just take them with you. I find them to be healthier than Lean Cuisines and the like, and then you'd have a nice variety plus control over the ingredients.

In addition to eating healthy, think about bringing some small luxury things like jedicus describes. A tiny bit of good dark chocolate and a glass of nice wine in a tub can go a long way as a rewarding break in routine.
posted by stellaluna at 3:28 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

If it snows big where you're going to be, cross-country skis or snowshoes are a must for recreation. A good walk/hike/ski every day, unless it's, like, blizzarding out, is essential for Vit. D and mental health. Make friends with winter, even at 30 below.

Will the lake freeze over? I recommend on very very cold nights/days, going out and lying on the ice and listening to it zing and sing. It's the coolest thing ever. I'm not a fisherperson, but have you considered ice fishing?

And yeah, I'd visit that café hours away once every two weeks or so, just so you have to have those banal conversations that keep you from going wiggy. Plus you can score yourself some fresh veggies.

I have an outdoor kitty, whether I like it or not. Recognize that rural areas are full of coyotes/foxes that will eat your kitty if you let it run wild out of doors.
posted by RedEmma at 3:35 PM on October 3, 2011

Also, is there a fireplace? Learning to chop your own wood (carefully now! don't chop your shin in half!) is a great exercise routine, and invigorating in winter.
posted by RedEmma at 3:39 PM on October 3, 2011

Put the bulk dried food in small metal trash cans. Ikea has them. Just in case there's vermin.

Frozen and tinned vegetables are a godsend. Especially veges you can use straight out of the can in sandwiches and salads - here in Oz that'd be beetroot, but also artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, olives, dill pickles, etc.

Meat, buy primal cuts, but butcher and bag before they go in the freezer. Otherwise defrosting is a pain.

Lots of warm clothing and warm sleeping gear in case your heating fails.

Firewood inside before the wood freezes.

Load up a hard drive with music ebooks and movies, and then ration them. Too easy to go on binges and use them all up.

Wet weather gear for beginning end of season when everything is mud. Wellington boots.
posted by Ahab at 3:40 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Write letters! Send postcards!

Fireplaces are terribly inefficient in the cold, if the house has a woodstove use it.

Is there a library anywhere nearby?
posted by mareli at 3:43 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You've probably got this stuff covered, but just in case...

Be prepared for power outages. Check periodically to make sure the batteries in your flashlight and radio aren't dead.

If your heat source is a woodstove and you've never used it before, you will learn to love warm blankets, wool socks, slippers, flannel shirts, and hot tea when the cold weather hits. Make sure you have a good supply of seasoned firewood (and a decent axe); you may be surprised how much you go through.

Alcohol does not keep you warm. That is a myth.

Do you know what to do if the pipes freeze?
posted by twirlip at 3:43 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, if you don't use it already, be sure to include dry milk in your pantry stores. You may never adjust to the taste, but it's so handy for cooking, especially in a situation like this.
posted by lemniskate at 3:52 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would be sure to include some frozen or canned fruit in your stores (frozen is so much better but freezer space may be at a premium); something like blackberry crisp in the dead of winter will be a real treat and nutritious as well.

Come to think of it, will you have a stand alone freezer or just the little one in the fridge? If the latter, you might consider bringing some dried veg and fruit; a lot less space and weight than canned and useful for lots of dishes. Also not so overprocessed and salty.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:10 PM on October 3, 2011

I asked a somewhat similar question a couple months ago. Loads of good ideas in there.
posted by ian1977 at 4:21 PM on October 3, 2011

I have never done this (and it sounds great, maybe I will!), but I would make sure to have first aid supplies (band aids, gauze, immodium, benadryl, kitty first aid?. Basically treat this as extended camping trip or trip to a less developed country) and things like headlamp, battery powered radio, battery powered weather radio, batteries for such things.
posted by teragram at 4:24 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Alcohol does not keep you warm. That is a myth.

It absolutely doesn't, but as long as you're keeping that woodstove full so the cabin is a safe temperature having some mulled wine sure is delightful. Especially with your Kindle.
posted by InsanePenguin at 4:34 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I second getting some socializing going from US mail, if you'll be able to send and receive it. You can participate in the mefi secret santa, and send fancy postcards to friends and family, and maybe they'll even write you back. If you want to memail me your address, I'll wait a few weeks or a month and send you a postcard. I bet some other mefites would be into that too.
posted by Secretariat at 4:57 PM on October 3, 2011

I have done this. Home made bread, plenty of marijuana, drawing, painting on a computer. Cabin fever is very real and very dangerous. You should have a back up plan for heat, Ideally a wood stove, a chainsaw and a sledge. A used snowmobile for recreation and emergency exit. The bark of the birch tree has so much oil it can be used as a fire starter.
posted by JohnR at 5:25 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds like a great chance to make some of your own food from scratch. this book is full of great recipes - ways to make a ton of different things from a core set of basic ingredients.
posted by fixer at 5:28 PM on October 3, 2011

I am repeating what several people said in that:

1. Have a backup heating source. If you are going to chop wood, learn to do it properly and safely BEFORE you are isolated and hours away from medical help

2. Have a backup escape plan. Either a snow machine, snowshoes, or Xcountry skis.

3. Get out of the house every day if you can. Getting out in the light and getting some exercise will really cut down on cabin fever.

4. Get high-quality warm clothing. One thing that can get to me over the winter is having to wear tons of clothing all the time. Your cabin might be chilly and having to wear lots of layers is a drag.

5. Find something that you can obsess over for long periods of time while it is dark and cold out. For me it is, get ready for it, gluing minute bits of paper it elaborate mosaic patterns.

6. A friend of mine beats his winter blues by doing a lot of night photography. I find walking the dog on clear winter nights to be a real joy. Embrace the dark and get comfortable with it and it won't feel like a prison. Get a couple good headlamps. They will be your constant companions.

7. Follow the above advice and develop a routine, especially one including some regular human interaction. Perhaps you could eat breakfast at a local joint in town two times a week, especially one with a counter and stool setup. It really aids in making friends. Plus, the waitstaff will grow to expect you and will worry about you if you don't show... especially if you are a good tipper.

(Can I just say I am jealous? I think you will really enjoy this!)
posted by Foam Pants at 5:39 PM on October 3, 2011

If you play a musical instrument, be sure to bring it with you. If you don't currently play one, 6 months of isolation would be a great time to learn to play a musical instrument!
posted by Lynsey at 6:00 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Shelf-stable soy milk (or parmalat, if the idea of shel stable dairy doesn't weird you out). And don't forget dessert ingredients.

Learn to bake bread (no-knead bread is about as easy as it gets). Fresh bread is such a pleasure.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:27 PM on October 3, 2011

Having been snowed in for an entire winter in northern Montana--do you have flares or other emergency equipment? Limited phone is one thing, but if you cut yourself or have a medical emergency, you need to be able to contact help very quickly. If your power goes out, do you have an emergency generator? I'm not a doom-and-gloom person, but being snowed in, 40 miles from town, can be a chancy situation if you're not prepared for it.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:40 PM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Consider 1-2 solar chargers that can connect to a battery that you can use to charge and power electronic devices. These would be devices such as a Kindle, iPod, stereo, etc. Music in particular will help keep you sane.

Also, and I can't emphasize this enough...have a back-up plan. While it is important to have the solitude, it is also important to stay alive. Having a regular touch-base at scheduled intervals with someone, either via phone, email, whatever, is going to be very important.

Oh, and make sure you watch Into the Wild first.
posted by Elminster24 at 8:05 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

can you say where in the Midwest? I've traveled trough large sections of it and might have site specific suggestions, and it will also give an indication of how severe a winter we are talking about. Southern Wisconsin, eh. UP Michigan or Minnesota, prepare for planet Hoth conditions.

Winter --- snowshoes, skis, wood chopping, reading, writing, depending on the lake skating may be an option as well. A small radio with good reception. You might have a local/regional public radio station that you will grow to love.

If you are doing this as part of a residency make sure to keep in touch with the organizers and tap them for ideas and information

if you can, set up a dedicated, non flaky, section of friends to write and receive snail mail from.
posted by edgeways at 9:47 PM on October 3, 2011

(that should be "Northern" Minnesota)
posted by edgeways at 9:53 PM on October 3, 2011

Jigsaw puzzles go well with radio-listening and books-on-tape.

Does this cabin come with a washing machine? And if no dryer, a drying rack?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:53 PM on October 3, 2011

This is when you can practice things you avoided practicing in front of people: learning an instrument, singing, dancing, nudism, transvestism, anything you maybe avoided because it would have driven your family and friends crazy or just embarrassed you. Return to civilization dancing the cha cha in a dress you made yourself.
posted by pracowity at 12:47 AM on October 4, 2011

I'm going to be my usual 34-year-old-in-a-74-year-old's body for a second and ask: what kind of radio are you bringing? Because if you can find yourself access to a half[1]-decent[2] shortwave[3] radio[[4], you'll be far enough away from civilization to get some AMAZING STUFF from other countries. I grew up in the rural Midwest, and my nights were flooded with voices from Prague, Lagos, Auckland, Istanbul, Cairo, Tehran, Sofia ... Well, I could go on, but I'd be playing to type too strongly. Anyway, yeah. I recommend it. Your nights will be 1,000x more romantic, I guarantee you. And the cat will appreciate the lap availability. They have crank/solar-powered ones with emergency lights if you want to get multi-functional, although they won't be GREAT as radios.
posted by mykescipark at 3:02 AM on October 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Knitting! It's useful, it's fun, it's perfect for cuddling up in a chair with kitty, and once you get a good rhythm going, it is very meditative and will let your mind wander all over the place.
posted by at 6:23 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

2 to 3 hot water bottles and their soft covers.

I am -always- cold and these are wonderful to warm up a bed on a cold winter night. I usually place one near my feet (with the bedcovers firmly tucked in so it won't fall out the end), one just off to the side, and I often end up hugging the third while I sleep.
posted by DisreputableDog at 6:50 AM on October 4, 2011

I know you said you had books, but you really must read Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. And of course Thoreau.
posted by desjardins at 9:28 AM on October 4, 2011

I was going to come and suggest knitting (or crocheting, or even sewing by hand), but beat me to it. All of these will occupy your hands and time and create warm products for you to use when you are done. For example, a warm afghan, or hats, mittens, scarf, or sew a quilt. They don't require electricity; they create useful products, so your time will not be wasted, and they are great time-fillers.
posted by patheral at 2:07 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are fantastic suggestions. Thank you everyone!

Getting a shortwave radio is a great suggestion - I'm going to do that.

For reference, it will be in the smack middle of Minnesota. I grew up in the Midwest, and I'm prepared for the winter with gear, wood chopping, etc.

I will be getting a mailbox installed, so writing is a great suggestion, as is knitting.

I think I'll get a pair of snow shoes as well.

I'll be bringing several instruments, which I plan on spending a lot of time with.

There is one bar/restaurant accessible, and I will try to get out there for breakfast on a regular basis.

I do basically know what to do if the pipes freeze.

There isn't a library, but I'm bringing a lot of books - a mix of heavy stuff as well as some fluff. And Desjardins - Desert Solitaire and Thoreau are among my favorite books. I'm bringing some Thoreau with my for a re-read.

Thanks again everyone, these are all great. Please keep them coming!
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:39 PM on October 4, 2011

Learn how to cook in a Dutch Oven. It'll give you good food, keep you warm in the winter, and teach you a new skill!
posted by Deflagro at 10:16 PM on October 4, 2011

So... somewhere close to Brainerd/Wadena?

Weather in that area can be pretty chilly, but not as bad as up north. As I'm sure you know January is going to be the roughest month, both in terms of light and temperature.

If you end up taking road trips other than to the Twin Cities I live in Duluth and would be willing to socialize/show you around in a low key way if need be.
posted by edgeways at 10:47 PM on October 4, 2011

Looks like we are in for a snowier winter than average. I would suggest a good hat, good boots and a shovel.

Also you are getting the rare opportunity of time to focus on your art. I would suggest you do just that. Treat it as your job. Dig into it with all your time and energy. I would leave behind as many distractions as you can.

Also have you ever been ice fishing? Perfect place and time to try it out.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 1:57 PM on October 5, 2011

Do you wear eyeglasses? Make sure you have a back-up pair.

Make sure your vehicle is winterized.

Make sure that whatever back-up plans you have include the kitty!

So jealous!
posted by deborah at 2:29 AM on October 6, 2011

Will you have access to the USPS, a p.o. box perhaps?
posted by gypseefire at 12:35 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Consider pen pals, letter writing is a wonderful way to communicate and then you'd have outside treats coming thru the postal service and those could go far in helping you feel connected.

I'm not sure if this is your thing but were it me; I would bring a pipe and some nice tabackie, some wonderful wine and a delicious bottle of congnac as well a goodly supply of maryjane would help with creativity, sleeping as well as mood enhancement.

Anticipate any medical needs ahead of time, perhaps let your doctor know you are going and get some antibiotics in case you get an infection (say sinus, if you are prone to them) stomach medicine, cough medicine, antacids etc...

bring some hardy plant if you can, something that can handle chilly weather besides the cat green is good for the soul.

I'm envious and excited for you. Enjoy what is sure to be a life altering experience!
posted by gypseefire at 3:03 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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