"When I got home it was -27c inside my cabin"

With skis strapped to our feet, we set off into the forest. Our destination: Sara Forsström's cabin, a testament to simple living in the upper Kågedalen. "Living off the grid," explains the 35-year-old, "has its perks, especially during the harsh winters. No electricity or water means there's nothing to go wrong when the temperature plummets!"

"I'm actually quite bad at skiing," Sara laughs.

"I'm actually quite bad at skiing," Sara laughs.

Foto: Johanna Sandgren

Engelska2024-03-26 12:47

When I first meet Sara Forsström, she meets me at the roadside. She's walking from her nearest permanent neighbor, where she parks her car. The neighbor lives about a kilometer from Sara's house.

In the days before, I'd had email contact with her. "You probably need skis or snowshoes to get to my house from the road," she writes. The email definitely hinted at the solitude of her home.

The Finnish Lapphund, Tjarvva, isn't just a pet – he's Sara Forsström's companion in her secluded cabin, dispelling any worries about living alone in the woods.

A good fifteen years had likely passed since my last attempt at cross-country skiing. 

Here I stood by the car, wrestling with a borrowed pair of skis. 

Time to ask the big question: why move to the forest? 

The answer, I knew, would be complex.

"I'm actually quite bad at skiing," Sara laughs.
With climbing skins on her skis, Sara moves back and forth between the cabin and the main road.
"Even before I moved here, I've always loved being in the forest. But I wouldn't call myself very sporty," she said.

– Living simply has probably always been a dream of mine but not for romantic reasons. It was actually the most practical choice. I already owned the cabin, and I'd lived there during previous work breaks. So moving in permanently wasn't a huge leap. 

Practical in what way?

– The economics. With no water or electricity, there's less to worry about. Nothing froze or broke during this harsh winter. The cabin just sat there, weathering the storm.


From 100 square meters to 20

Sara used to live in Avaborg outside Burträsk with her boyfriend, but when they broke up, she felt it was time to move.

– I couldn't afford to live there alone. I'm a full-time artist and I can't have too many expenses. I had a good rent, but it was still more than I could manage.

Sara moved into the cottage in the late summer of 2023. The house in Avaborg was about 100 square meters, so she had to gradually filter through her belongings to fit into her new home of about 20 square meters.

– I cheated a bit. My parents have a big barn where I was able to store some things. 

Although her parents' barn offered some storage, Sara initially brought too much to the cabin and had to declutter again.

Despite the small space, she likes having her things around. She calls her style "quasi-minimalism."

Sara's living space went from 100 to 20 square meters with the move.
"Waking up in the morning and starting the fire in the stove, when it can be like two degrees in the cabin... That's tough."
All surfaces serve a multifunctional purpose. Kitchen, living room, office, and hallway all in one! "Living this simply feels like the smartest thing in the world," says Sara.
Sara's artworks adorn the walls.

Sara feels there's a misconception about people who live off-the-grid. 

– People think you have to be a survivalist, totally self-reliant, or be a super-hippie, she laughs. 

– I had those preconceptions too, but you can be normal like me. I just plan ahead a bit.

She enjoys shopping, but mostly for secondhand items.

– Skincare and things can still be nice, even when you live simply!


The kitchen doubles as the office

The residence is practically furnished, and most surfaces are used for more than one purpose.

Just inside the door, you take off your outer clothes and shoes. When it's minus 30 outside, sometimes the boots freeze to the floor.

– Then I kick them to dislodge them!

A meter from the front door is a kitchen counter. A gas stove sits on top of it, with waste sorting bins, water containers, and dish basins underneath. Under the window above the counter is the surface where she uses the basins to wash the dishes.

The table to the right of the front door doubles as a dining table and office. The bed is used as a sleeping and living area.

Under the kitchen counter, there's waste sorting, containers with water, and dirty dishes waiting to be cleaned.
The under-counter area holds a mix of items: recycling bins, water jugs, and dirty dishes.
In the kitchen hangs a toaster for the gas stove, kitchen knives, an axe, and a stove fan.
In addition to the wood stove, Sara also has a gas stove. In the future, she plans to install a wood-fired oven as well.
Sara insists the cabin stays fairly warm due to its small size. "However, nights get chilly, which is when I resort to a scarf for warmth."

Sara's cabin is completely off-the-grid, with no electricity, water, or sewage system. She uses solar panels, wood, gas, and even power banks charged at her neighbor's house (a whole kilometer away!) to meet her energy needs. Of course, some good old-fashioned manual labor comes in handy too.

Instead of a fridge, Sara has a big cooler in the corner. 

– In summer, it stays cool outside. In winter, it works like a freezer. And for warmer weather, I have a battery-powered cooler that charges with the solar panels, she explains.

– I have a wood and a gas stove. I wash small laundry by hand with hot water from the sauna. I take sheets and stuff with me and wash them at others' homes. I have a pump shower that I use in the summer; otherwise, I usually use a tub and scoop in the sauna.

The plot also features a smaller building with storage, a woodshed, and a sauna.
When we arrive at her cabin, Sara leans the skis against the shed wall.
In the shed, a sled stands ready for winter, used by Sara to transport items to and from the cabin.

Down the slope from Sara's cabin, a stream provides her summer bathing spot and dishwater source. 

– I heat the water on the stove and collect dirty dishes in collapsable tubs, Sara explains. 

– Since there's no drain, I simply open the window and pour the water out when the tub gets full. Easy!

Next to the cabin sits a red and wooden building that serves as storage, woodshed, and sauna. It used to have an outhouse attached, but that's now extra storage space.

For bathroom needs in the winter, it's a short ski up a gentle hill to her parents' vacation home a few hundred meters away. But the plan is to eventually build a composting toilet inside the main cabin.

Morning routine takes three hours

Sara wonders why more people don't embrace a simpler life. She thinks many make things harder than they need to be. However, she acknowledges that jobs, families, and modern society can limit options. 

– I understand the pressures of modern life, but I also value spending more time at home. It's cheaper, and while daily tasks take longer, there's almost no stress. My morning routine can take three hours now, but I don't have to rush out the door at 7 am any more, which is a relief.

A trip to the store – without any additional errands – takes about two hours to complete.

What do you do when, for example, you need to shop?

– Shopping trips require planning. Before I leave the cabin, I make a list: Is there anything else I need to do while I'm out? Maybe charge my battery, sort the trash, or refill my water container. Then, it's time to gear up! I go out to the shed, grab my sled with the bag attached, throw on my skis and backpack, and I'm off!

The two-hour odyssey begins: skiing to the road, the car ride to the store, the shopping itself, then the careful packing onto the sled, and finally, unpacking everything back home.

Not just a fairytale

Sara had owned the cabin for three years, enjoying it as a summer and winter getaway. However, she knew the transition to full-time forest life would prove challenging.

– The initial excitement wasn't a case of 'yippee, I'm moving to the forest!' I definitely had moments of wondering how things would actually play out...

Sara's friends have been supportive from the start. 

– They could see, probably earlier than I realized, that this life would suit me.

Her family now also thinks it's great that she lives the way she does, but Sara says they were initially a bit worried.

All along, Sara's friends had known (or felt) that the forest life would suit her best.
While Sara's friends and family have been entirely supportive of her decision, her parents initially harbored concerns about the challenges of living in the forest.
Sara has been living in the cabin full-time since late summer 2023.

– My parents were a bit scared at first, but after a while they got used to the idea.

How were they scared?

– My parents were worried about winter. They imagined me freezing in the dark, feeling lonely and isolated with no road access to the cabin.

The remote location hasn't prevented Sara from staying close to her loved ones.

While Sara seems comfortable with her off-grid lifestyle, her parents weren't entirely wrong about winter's challenges. When she's been away from her home for a while, the cabin gets very cold.

– A while ago, it was minus 27 outside. My thermometers don't show below zero inside, but it was about the same temperature inside the cabin. 

Sara says it takes two to three hours to go from almost minus 30 to around 23 plus in the cabin.

–It's definitely a shock to the system when you first come in, but you just bundle up, light a fire, maybe do some chores to get the blood flowing. After a couple of hours, though, you start to feel that warmth creeping back in.

Isn't it scary in the forest?

– It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, Sara admits.

– But that feeling faded surprisingly quickly. There are still moments, though. Foggy nights with crackling sounds in the woods as I'm about to go out can get a little creepy! But overall, it doesn't scare me.

A few years ago, darkness used to terrify her.

– Last autumn, I was dreading the long nights, she recalls.

– Walking alone in the dark? No, thanks! But to my surprise, it wasn't scary at all. Maybe it's a cliché, but facing your fears head-on really does seem to lessen them.

"The initial excitement wasn't a case of 'yippee, I'm moving to the forest!' I definitely had moments of wondering how things would actually play out..."
"Initially, living here was daunting, especially with my fear of the dark. But surprisingly, that fear and the initial anxieties faded much quicker than I expected."

– I've worked a lot on myself and fear. I like being out and camping and walking, but, not so many years ago, I was really scared of being alone in the forest, even in broad daylight.

Sara's not completely alone, though. She shares her cabin with Tjarvva, her Finnish Lapphund companion.

– Tjarvva loves the freedom she has here. She enjoys living in a small space because she can always be by my side. When we visit my parents who live in a large farmhouse in Västerbotten, she patrols the entire house. There's not much to patrol here!

Tjarvva always stays close to her owner.

"If you can do it, so can I"

When Sara meets people in various contexts – it could be a stranger in the store or someone on social media – there's a lot of interest in her cabin life.

– It's great that people find this way of living exciting. I met a woman who said she would now start taking solo walks in the forest. 'Because if you can live alone there, so can I.' Then I just felt... 'Yes!'

Sara sees financial benefits in living simply, but she also sees a lot of other advantages with the lifestyle.

– Growing up, I was unconsciously shaped by the idea that men are the ones who belong in the wilderness, the ones who can thrive in nature and solitude. It wasn't something anyone explicitly said, but it was the message I received. Now that I've carved out this space for myself, it feels incredibly meaningful to see that message challenged and spread to others.

Sara Forsström

Age: 35 years old.

Occupation: Full-time artist.

Living situation: Lives in a cabin in the upper Kågedalen forests with her dog Tjarvva.

Hobbies: Reading books, fixing up the cabin, shopping at second-hand stores, listening to country music, and exploring the local nature.