In off-the-grid yurt, Montana couple live 'on our own terms'

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According to Mollie Busby, constructing the yurt together was a great marital training exercise. It took months to put their home together by hand, instead of moving into a ready-made home. 

Photos: The Busby's off-the-grid yurt
Mollie and Sean Busby

By Megan Craig

Mollie Busby thought she'd spend her life in the fashion industry, happily putting her degrees in journalism and retail to use as the editor of a women's magazine. 

But then she met Sean -- at the 2010 funeral of a 13-year-old boy named Jesse, the son of one of Mollie's good friends. Jesse had died of complications from type 1 diabetes. Sean Busby, a professional backcountry snowboarder who also has type 1 diabetes, ran a charity called Riding on Insulin that he wanted to kick into high gear after Jesse's death. Mollie decided to make that happen.

They fell in love in the process. And traveled the world. And got married, always keeping Jesse in mind as they pursued bigger and better things for Riding on Insulin, which helps connect people with type 1 diabetes, largely through snowboarding camps. They also sought bigger and better things for themselves.

For them, that meant moving to a small skiing community in northwest Montana, living off the grid in a yurt, a portable, round tent used mostly by nomads in central Asia. They're cataloging their experience on their website, Two Sticks and a Board.

(Click here or on a photo for a slideshow of their yurt home.)

They were inspired to go the yurt route by a TEDx talk. The speakers, called the Minimalists, had been high-powered businessmen making six-figure salaries, "but they felt like they still weren't happy," Mollie Busby says. (See the bottom of this article for the Minimalists' TEDx video.)

So they got rid of all their stuff and filled their lives with experiences instead.

Mollie Busby hauling fresh water about half a mile uphill to the yurt.

"I've never been so inspired to get rid of stuff. I went home and got rid of at least half my closet," Busby says. "And that was the first step of, let's shed the clutter and really start living more from a place of emotional and experiential abundance."

Because they wanted to live simply, the couple knew they wanted some sort of alternative housing, but initially weren't sure exactly what. They bought 10 acres of mountain property overlooking Glacier National Park.

"We'd stayed in small cabins out in Yukon territory, cooking all our food above a wood stove and watching the Northern Lights," Sean Busby says. "It showed us we could live simply and on our own terms, and that's somewhat spearheaded our whole thinking of how we were living."

(Click here or on any a photo for a slideshow.)

They'd both stayed in yurts before – the moveable housing structures are popular in backcountry skiing and snowboarding cultures. During a trip to Kyrgyzstan a few years ago, Sean Busby saw villages where people's sole source of income was building yurts (there, called gers).

"I just remember walking in and being overwhelmed," Busby says. "There's this big openness and this sense of feeling really grounded to the earth."

A nice, spacious yurt was so expensive – tens of thousands of dollars – that they almost put the project on hold. But as luck would have it, a woman nearby was selling a used version of almost the exact model they wanted to buy. That woman had been living in the dwelling full time for a couple of years, and her asking price was in the Busbys' range.

"It was the right place at the right time," Sean Busby says.

(Click here or on any a photo for a slideshow of the yurt, with many more details.)

The Busbys have room to entertain in the yurt.

The woman moved all of her things out, and the Busbys (along with friends) went about dismantling the yurt, transporting it in a truck to their property, and rebuilding it.

All told, the couple has spent about $40,000 (and worked with some of Sean's professional snowboarding sponsors for a couple of key items). The Busby yurt is large, 30 feet across, amounting to about 700 square feet. The money they've spent includes purchase and construction, as well as such upgrades to their yurt as insulation, snow and wind kits, double-pane windows, appliances, a bear fence, the wood stove, solar power, the toilet, trims and all the final touches.

The Busbys did work out a payment plan for their yurt, but they currently own it outright, Sean Busby says. The couple also has a house on another property that they use as rental income that offsets the cost of their loan.

Now, the Busbys are realizing their dream of living simply and have so far remained completely off the grid. Four solar panels provide electricity, they use a composting toilet, and they haul water in from natural spring-fed well about a half-mile from the yurt. Their Internet and other communication comes from a cell phone.

It can be an exhausting way to live, but they love it, Mollie Busby says.

"We can come home, walk up to our yurt, and you can hear the owls, and as you lay in bed, you can hear coyotes and wolves. It's just really grounding," Sean Busby says. "It really allows you to get all that noise out of your head and focus on just being present."

Click here or on a photo for a slideshow of the Busbys' yurt and how they make life work in Montana.

More stories of inspired living on Yahoo Homes:

'There are so many ways to live': Meet the man who quit his job to make an $8,000 van home (29 photos)
Vacationing family stumbles across abandoned French chateau, decides to restore it (55 photos)
These two young artists quit their jobs to build this glass house for $500 (8 photos)
How Edith Macefield's world-famous 'Up'-style house became symbol of defiance (36 photos)


The Minimalists' TEDx talk: