6 Things I Learned from Living Alone in a Cabin in the Woods for Two Years (And Why I’ll Never Do It Again)

Yes, a picture of the actual cabin.

I got my associate’s degree from a local community college, which meant that I only had to do two and a half years at university to complete my bachelor’s degree. It didn’t sound so bad, and I got into my dream school, so I was pretty excited to go.

Fortunately, my grandparent’s second residence—a log cabin in the woods—was located just shy of an hour south of my dream campus in University Park, Pennsylvania. Being the recluse that I am, I figured I could live there and completely avoid the student population while I did my schoolwork.

It was a great idea in theory. Here’s how it played out and why I’ll never do it again.

1. You Do Actually Need People

I will never forget that feeling when my parents drove away and left me at the cabin for the first time. Yes, I was older than the typical-aged college student. But my love for my parents was no less, and as I watched them drive away, I cried.

I was prepared to not have friends. I’d never been social, didn’t feel the need to be, and I wasn’t counting on making any friends. My boyfriend was going to university in Virginia, about two and a half hours away. My best friend at the time, Stephanie, was going to university in Maryland. I was fully prepared and equipped with my smartphone to stay in touch with them during my time there.

My brother pulling me on a sled in the snow in PA. I am having the time of my life, as you can see.

Turns out, it wasn’t enough. I went days on end without seeing anybody. It’s a feeling I wasn’t used to and one I learned not to like. I felt very isolated despite being on a campus with 40,000 people and missed simple face-to-face interactions with people. I made two friends during my time at Penn State (hey, Dom and Chris!) and their kindness and friendship made me realize just how much people matter in life.

2. You Don’t Actually Want to Build a Log Cabin

I can’t tell you how much I hear people nostalgically talk about cabins. They vacation in cabins. They honeymoon in cabins. They party in cabins. They talk about building cabins because they’re cheap.

I stop these people every time. I’m like, “NO! You do not want to do that!”

Vacationing in a cabin? Fine. Honeymooning in a cabin? Fine. Partying in a cabin? Whatever floats your boat. But for real and serious, you DO NOT want to build a log cabin.

Although this is a gorgeous picture of the Juniata River, which happens to be right in the backyard at the cabin.

The log you see on the inside is the same log that you see on the outside. They do not hold heat well. The animals destroy them. They are a bitch to maintain. You will regret this decision and in a relatively short amount of time, the cabin will not be worth the money that you put in to maintain it.

Trust me, I’ve seen all this firsthand. Go visit a cabin. Do not invest in one. It is not an investment and it’s definitely not comfortable to live in year-round. You can thank me later.

(Update: I was recently informed by a reader that it was presumptuous of me to say that no one would want to live in and/or build a log cabin. This is presumptuous of me, and I apologize. I assure you my advice was well-intentioned when writing this article. As an update, I’ll say: GO BUILD THE CABIN IF YOU WANT TO! YOU HAVE FREE WILL, GIRL!)

3. The Winters Are Cold in Pennsylvania

I’ve been going to that cabin since I was three years old. I KNOW the winters are cold in Pennsylvania. But here’s what I learned from living in that cabin for two winters: the winters are cold in Pennsylvania.

Now, before everyone freaks out and tells me what I wimp I am, yes, I have been to Canada, and no, I do not handle the cold well. I have low blood pressure and am borderline anemic, so I freeze in anything that’s below 70 degrees basically.

I froze my ass off there for two years. My social anxiety kept me from taking any sort of public transportation while on campus, and since I was a commuter, I needed to walk from the school parking lot to my classes every day. So I walked my ass right past the bus station where all the normal commuters got picked up and hoofed it in my Timberland boots 40 minutes to and from class every day.

A heart I drew in the snow for my boyfriend because I was bored.

I’ll never forget the day it was 5 degrees outside and I stole a pair of mittens out of the women’s bathroom and grabbed a sweater out of the lost and found because I was so cold (ok, I’m lying, I didn’t do those things because I was cold, I did those things because I was weird and I wanted to; they also didn’t happen on the same day, which somehow makes it even weirder).

Did I mention Penn State is notorious for not canceling classes because of snow? Classes were not canceled once during my two years there. We had two 2-hour delays and it seemed I was lucky to get even that. I missed a week of classes one winter because I couldn’t get out of my driveway, let alone up the mountain I drove every day to get to campus.

The freezing cold was not fun and I was miserable and I hated it. I’d get home at night when it was cold and dark and soak in the hot tub for a long time while I shuddered at the thought of going outside again.

4. Animals Like Log Cabins

Log cabins are the epitome of nature. The wood that’s there, the fact that no one lives there year-round, its location in the middle of the woods: all these features made it irresistible to animals.

Deer, foxes, squirrels, turkeys, mice, flying squirrels, and rabbits were some of the animals I saw there. The flying squirrels and mice had taken up residence with me in the cabin. I rescued one from the coat closet one evening when I was doing my homework at the dining room table and heard it rummaging around in there. I was scared to death.

A picture of that poor flying squirrel. Don’t worry, I got it off the glue trap safely and released it. I HATE glue traps; my grandparents put them out and I throw them away every time I go up there.

The mice liked to try and eat my food and somehow found their way into my panty drawer (yes, you read that right: panty not pantry) and the silverware drawer. Two of the worst places to find evidence of mice, let me tell you. I washed all that stuff more times than I care to count.

I learned that there’s essentially no separation of nature. You are one with the animals, the forest, the cabin. A good thing? Yes. Sometimes. When you don’t own that building.

5. I Will Never Live in a Log Cabin

Two years and I was DONE with that shit. Don’t get me wrong—I am so, so grateful to my grandparents for letting me stay there. The cabin was beautiful and they maintained it well and I was alone, mostly secure, and able to have my bunnies with me. I could canoe whenever I wanted and got to bike and run in beautiful spots.

A picture of the cabin from the backyard.

But I will never live in a log cabin again.

Summers are gorgeous. Winters are brutal. I’m fine to visit but I will not live there. Thanks, but no thanks. I want a real house next time.

6. I am Actually Scared as Shit

Like I said, I thought I was prepared for the loneliness and isolation I would experience. Turns out, talking to Ian and my parents and my best friend Stephanie every day wasn’t enough. My four adorable, amazing rabbits weren’t even enough.

I still slept with a shotgun next to me.

I still slept with a six-inch knife under my pillow.

I still slept with my cell phone beside my ear just in case someone broke in.

Did I mention the can of wasp spray on my nightstand? Shit sprays 20 feet and your attacker is blinded until they get to a hospital.

Or the cabinet underneath the laundry room sink that I cleared out? Yeah, I fit perfectly in there. I figured if someone broke in I would hide in there while calling the police. No one would look for me in a cabinet!

I spent nights before I fell asleep going over escape routes in my head. What would I do if someone broke in the basement, what would I do if someone broke in the main level, what would I do if a car came in the driveway, what would I do if they were going to hurt my bunnies?

Me and the bunnies at the cabin.

I was scared as shit basically every single night while I was there except for the nights that Ian or my parents or Stephanie were visiting, which wasn’t often. I realized that I’m actually terrified and was completely unprepared for being alone after growing up in a house with four other people and numerous guns. Terrified.

For all of these reasons, although I am grateful for my time in the cabin, I will not live in a cabin again, definitely not alone, and definitely not in central Pennsylvania in the dead of winter. Was my English degree worth it? You tell me.

31 thoughts on “6 Things I Learned from Living Alone in a Cabin in the Woods for Two Years (And Why I’ll Never Do It Again)

  • You’re one impressive person. I stumbled across your blog while preparing for my next move (a cabin). My husband will be living with me but I am still kind of scared about the loneliness. Living in a cabin all alone like you did? Unthinkable. I am pretty independent and traveled a lot on my own but living like you did? That is way too brave for me. I admire your strength, though. Hope you are in a more livable place right now. Thanks for sharing your story!!!

    • Haha, thank you so much, Isabel! I didn’t feel so alone with my bunnies but knew they weren’t going to help me out in case an intruder came. I do not consider myself impressive; I felt like more of a wimp that I couldn’t handle it there 🙂 Today I live with my husband and our six pets (and not in a cabin). Best of luck with your next move! I am interested to hear how you like cabin life so please update me!

    • You belong next to a phone where you can call the police, not in the woods.

      The most helpful portion of the article was when you relate that you live in a building made from the forest, so the forest creatures are living with you, inside the cabin. I never calculated that.
      Thank you.

    • What you’re stating is your experience and opinion on it. I was in the city and suburbs my whole life and I hated it. I’ve been living alone in the woods for almost 3 years and I find it fabulous. Never been healthier and I’m in complete solitude.
      I don’t have a need for human interaction and greatly dislike large crowds.

      Furthermore. A log home doesn’t last only when it’s not build or maintained properly. Log homes retain heat and last for decades before work needs to be done. If they’re built properly. I wouldn’t change my present life of solitude in the woods for anything. I have found my peace.

      It’s not an easy life but a very gratifying one for me. Nothing that comes easy is worthwhile

      I’m sorry you had such a negative experience.

      Learn to adapt.
      Love yourself.
      Plan projects.

      These 3 things keep me busy and moving forward.
      My best times have been when I’m alone, because I’m happy with myself.

      • Thanks for your comment, and I’m so happy to hear you’ve found cabin life fabulous! Everyone is different when it comes to needing human interaction, that’s for sure. And thank you for sharing the things that have helped you, I’m sure others will find them helpful too. I wish you many more years of happiness, peace, and fabulous cabin life!

  • I am alone in my cabin in the woods right now. My children have grown and moved out and my husband has gone on ahead to a new job. I am responsible for getting all the myriad tasks completed to ready the home for sale. It is January 29th and an arctic vortex makes going outside uncomfortable. I have wood for fires, a gun for defense and enough food for good meals. Money has been tight with my husband needing it on his end, so I can’t go out much. I have a dog and a parrot for company, but they don’t understand when I cry. I hope to follow my husband as soon as possible, but finances and the difficulty of moving a parrot overseas are making my wait longer. I have no determined date for flying out of here. I know the noises you speak of. Squirrels are chewing down my house everyday and we have not had money to hire anyone to exterminate them. So I live within the grey boundaries of reality and wake up another day only to wish for sleep at bed time. If I didn’t have my pets, I would have invented a Wilson to keep me company. I have been in life threatening situations, but this is almost as hard as my exploded appendix experience. Thank you for the the article. Good to know that this really is a difficult situation.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Cynthia! It truly is a hard situation and yours somehow sounds more harrowing than mine was (maybe because I knew when I would be leaving?). I’m glad you have your pets; I absolutely feel like they help even if they aren’t human company. Squirrels have pretty much destroyed my grandparents’ cabin (though you can’t see much of the damage). You can actually hear them chewing at the walls when you’re there. I came to feel like it was their home too while I lived there. Even though you don’t know when you’ll be leaving, know that there’s an end that will come to your time at the cabin and I hope you’ll be with your husband sooner than you think. I’m glad I’m not the only one who had this experience and felt like it was so hard, particularly in the winter. I wish you the best of luck and thanks for sharing!

    • I love this story. I still want to live by myself in a cabin.

      • Thank you, Frida! I know lots of people live alone in cabins, it just wasn’t for me. If you do, though, best of luck!

  • First off that isn’t a log cabin that’s a three storey mansion with a wraparound deck and a two door garage.

    “the logs don’t hold heat well”
    WRONG. You’ve obviously never been in a cabin that was actually heated properly. Which would be difficult for said mansion. Your problem was that they suck up all the heat first and until you warm them up they will just keep sucking the heat out of the air. Once they warm up they will radiate it back into the living space after you turn the heat off and you’ll be warmed for a while. Depending on the size of the logs!

    • I beg the differ, it is a log cabin. Though I suppose everyone’s definition of mansion will vary.

      Not sure what size logs we’re talking about here but just from my experience this cabin was difficult to heat and did not hold heat well.

      At any rate, I appreciate your comment and your apparent cabin expertise.

  • I often dream about living in a cabin alone where I can just be my miserable self and not have to put a phony smile on everyday. I told my wife I’m going to look for a small cabin in the mountains to stay when I go fishing but I really just want a place to go and hide. I too have social anxiety. I actually like to be around people but I can tell people feel uncomfortable around me. I know this must sound real pitiful and I’m not sure why I’m writing this. Maybe if I actually experienced it like you have I might feel different. I really enjoyed your story. I think it was brave for you to go it alone.

    • Thank you for your comment, Rich! It does not sound pitiful at all, although it can be tempting to label our perceptions of ourselves. I feel the need to “hide” from the world on a daily basis, and am fortunate that my regular job doesn’t require me to leave the house, although I do love spending time in nature and make sure to get nature time every day, even if it’s only five minutes.

      My social anxiety is pretty bad but I try not to let it define me and instead be accepting of my limitations and that helps me to be more comfortable. Our society can certainly make us feel pressured to seem “happy” all the time even if we aren’t. I’ve stopped trying to appear happy to anyone. It’s my life and I can be miserable if I want (people often say I look angry or unfriendly, that is fine with me) 🙂

      You might really love spending time in a cabin in the woods by yourself from time to time, I enjoy it so much more when I know I don’t have to live there 24/7. I don’t see myself as brave more of just someone who shouldn’t be so scared. But that experience taught me a lot about myself and although I wouldn’t do it again, I’m grateful for the things I learned. If you do find a cabin and experience life there, please come back and update us!

    • If your dream is still alive, I have a 17 acre cabin with attached 2.5 car garage in KY I’m debating selling. Sits on a hilltop with beautiful Appalachian views. Quiet, remote, great neighbor(s), and nature galore.

  • o.my .. it is scary. we are looking for cabin in PA or WV. same reason… fear of society …. it might sound weird.. I see things in my dream before it happens. you dont believe me. I saw all these riots , social unrest in my dream 2016. I saw metropolitan , sub urban communities are looted, rioted , burnt by gangs.. i know it is coming soon into communities.. just being fear of people.. would want to move to woods.. I dont know what danger awaits there.. I feels no place is safe.. moma of 3 teens. we are from india living in US for 22 years.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sathi! I totally believe you–and it is scary! I think I would love to live in the woods again just not in a cabin 🙂 I wish you and your family the best of luck and stay safe out there!

  • Hey Jenn. Did u have to hunt or fish? Did u find it hard to skin the animals and remove their organs? What did u do about food? My fear of living in the woods is always about having enough water to drink and the thought of not being able to take hot showers is very discouraging. I imagine most log cabins are probably off the grid so if there is a water heater it probably runs on oil or propane. But if you don’t have money to buy oil or propane, or if the heater breaks down, you won’t have hot water.

    • Hi Alex, no, I did not have to hunt or fish. If I did I would find it very difficult. I have killed an animal before (with my bare hands) and it was super traumatic and I would not want to do that again, let alone have to skin it and remove its organs for food. The cabin was on the grid so I had electricity, hot water, etc. 🙂 The cabin was oil heated. I definitely feel like I would have trouble surviving if I had to find my own food and water, although finding streams in the woods in that area isn’t difficult. Whether or not the water is clean is a different issue, I guess!

  • It depends on not only WHERE you were raised, but HOW you were raised. You, obviously, are more accustomed to city conveniences. Electricity 24/7, air conditioning, perhaps central heating, a quick pop down to the convenience store for some munchies, reliable high-speed internet, that kind of thing.

    I was raised in the wilderness – the mountains of Western Montana, to specific. -45°F in the winter and 98°F in the summer were common occurrences, as were 90mph winds in any season, rushing out of the mountain passes and down into the valley below.

    I grew up where it wasn’t a matter of IF the electric went out, but WHEN it would go out THIS month, and for how long. Not just in the late 1960s/early 1970s, either. I’m talking the winter of 1999 in Ketchikan, Alaska where I also lived…and had only wood and a pot-bellied stove for heat, and water that was collected from the rain and stored in a cistern, with pipes that froze when the power was out so I had to climb an ice-encrusted ladder, pry open the top hatch, lower a long pole to smash through the ice, then lower a bucket on a rope.

    And then there was the issue of the sewage pipes leading to the septic tank freezing, and having to free the iced over yuck so it could flow again…and let’s not even talk about the seven years I spent living on a 32′ sailboat.

    No, you didn’t live in a cabin. You lived in a log home that was likely your first experience outside of modern luxuries like heat, electricity, wi-fi, and so on.

    You may not ever want to do this again, and that is fine. Not everyone is cut from the same cloth. But to say that NO ONE should is being presumptuous.

    I would know. After all, I’m typing this on my phone in my cabin (12′ x 23′, single story with a small loft attic for storage – honestly, this place is a palace compared to that old yacht!), with no insulation or plumbing (yet), which only has had electricity as of July of this year, in the middle of the woods that are currently dipping down to freezing, 30 miles from the nearest gas or grocery…but I’m not worried…because I was raised this way…even though I just spent the last 11 years in San Francisco.

    My pantry is stocked with months’ worth of canned and dry goods, my home is protected from critters by proper sealing measures, yard maintenance, and my cats, and at least YOU have logs. I only have bare siding between me and the elements…so I bundle up.

    Go back to your city where you are comfortable, and remember the good times you had, not the terror over a mouse. Me? What can I say?

    I’m a mountain man. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to get to baking my pineapple upside-down cake and then watch some anime on my widescreen. May crack open a couple of beers as well…next year will be homebrew!

    Did I mention cabin in the woods? 😉

    • Hi David! Or would you prefer to be called Lord David? 🙂

      I appreciate this comment. I have to agree with you that I am more accustomed to modern conveniences (although I did grow up on a 70-acre working farm and still live on a working farm). I definitely wasn’t raised in the wilderness like you—your experiences definitely trump mine!

      I have to disagree with those that say I didn’t live in a cabin. I did live in a cabin, yes it was more of a modern log home, but still a cabin. And no, it didn’t have internet 🙂 But yes, it did have heat!

      You are right when you say it’s presumptuous of me to say that no one would want to live in a log cabin. I apologize if I offended you or anyone else with the statements I made in this article. It was written from my personal experience only and I didn’t intend to give ill-intentioned advice to anyone.

      I hope you enjoy your cabin life! You are definitely more equipped for it than I am. Me? I’ll be skipping the cabin adventures in the future and enjoying my modern farm life. Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experiences!

      • David (minus the Lord) Watson

        David is fine…and yeah, yikes…can’t believe I typed “Lord” in my name. Was responding to a couple of other emails and I guess it just stuck. Well, yes, I am a Lord, truth be known. I don’t expect others to bow and scrape, however. 😉 Massive flood the other day, but thankfully this old cabin is up on pillars. Still working on getting everything going, but it’s a lot more comfortable now than it was.

  • I loved this blog. It is a lovely log cabin but I can just imagine how lonely you must have felt. I don’t have social anxiety but I do like to keep to myself even though I am happily married. My husband is more outgoing than I am and he understands that I need my space.
    I am not scared to live in a cabin alone, I just need supplies and my dogs and I will be just fine. I enjoyed everything you wrote and yes that English degree suits you just fine. Enjoy that farm life, envious as I write this because I love animals.

  • The person who had you go out of your way for being”presumptuous” wasn’t worth your time to add it to the article. Perhaps we could mail him or her a binky? TBH. I found depression was the worst with living alone. I was in a van for 3 years and ONLY time I dealt with people was to get supplies and park or breathe near them. Sometimes I’d get annoyed when they’d get too close and I’d let a bang out. But people were equal to flies on your favorite pie. The cold was bearable but peaceful. Who’d be out at 2 am When it’s 5 below zero? Nobody. I set up a black & white TV in with a 2 way radio & shortwave radio. I’d listen to signals all over the world. Often misc chit chatters that had no idea somebody is listening. Rest is Christian stations. I REALLY miss it and I’d start all over again. If you barricaded or isolated the heat better. Knew slightly more about cabin living and discomforts. It be a correct assumption. You’d be less traumatized. 😎

    • Thanks for your comment, Melissa! I’ll ask Lord David if he wants a binky 😉 Your time in the van sounds nostalgic. I think I was really unprepared for how I would feel living alone and so far away from people. Now, I feel like I would be better prepared, but I’m not itching to do it again. I loved hearing about your experience. I hope wherever you are now that you’re happy and doing great 🙂

  • Thank you!

  • I believe this should be reworded, I would never as a WOMAN live alone in a cabin, clearly the MEN do not understand the fear and vulnerability women experience being alone, without any real protection other than oneself. I completely agree and relate. It is scary living in the woods, away from the city, where there is no light except for the one on ur front porch, and where animals roam free and people may target you for being a WOMAN who lives alone in a secluded area, because let’s be honest women are definitely not the statistic for rape and violence like MEN are. All these men invalidating ur experience as a woman is very irritating, when they clearly wouldn’t understand. The fear of walking out in the dark scared that someone may be sneaking around the corner, or the thought of someone breaking in and overpowering you, because biologically that is how it naturally is, unless u are superwoman, and the fear that even if you had a gun or weapon you wouldn’t know how to use it. I completely relate and I am only alone on certain nights.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Psily! There’s a lot of truth here, as much as I hate to admit it. I just read a book called Mother Hunger which talks in part about the biological differences between men and women as far as fear goes. I hate that women can be naturally more afraid just because we were biologically designed to carry children and to protect those children. Not a great thing for people like me who are childfree by choice. I agree that men often don’t understand the fear we carry literally every day of being sexually or physically assaulted, and that fear of course was amplified by living alone in the woods. I really appreciate your perspective on this, and hope it helps others understand a little more about what we as women go through!

      I also think there is something to be said here about people just living apart from each other in general. Both Mother Hunger and another book I read called Tribe talk about how people have historically lived in “tribes” or larger households for generations. I think for some of us it just doesn’t feel “natural” or “right” to live so far away from our tribe. For others, of course, the solo life is awesome. Everyone is different and this was just my experience!

      • I live in a cabin in the woods and absolutely love it. I love seeing the wildlife out here, and the peace and quiet. I am surrounded by lakes and creeks, I have great neighbors and everyone looks out for one another. The neighbors are spaced out though and are quiet. After two houses from mine it’s nothing but national forest. So much beauty I get to enjoy each day. I’d never trade living in the city again!

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