Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I love what I do – working from home, growing some of our own food, and connecting with folks around the world who are either just planning or just embarking on their journey towards rural living and/or increased self-reliance.
These are ‘out of the box’ people who live outside the status quo. They don’t take ‘common knowledge’ for granted, and have a definite vision for where they want to be and how they want to live. In a way, big or small, they are being called to a way of life where they have some control over their food supply, of what influences their children are exposed to, and their day to day living. Some work for themselves, some are employed, and some are in transition. But the one thing they have in common is the desire to be more self-reliant, and to live in a way where they are less dependent on the industrial food system and in a whole lot of cases, the consumer culture in general.
Where they get tripped up a lot of the time is this big question:
‘How do I get started?'
I received an email recently from a young woman who dreams about living in the country, but was feeling overwhelmed by all the books, magazines, and websites full of all sorts of opinions and projects she felt like she needed to tackle all at once. She didn’t know where to start, especially as a single person with a young child. Challenging? Absolutely.
For me, ‘starting’ was a very looooooong process. It began back in the late 90s and ended with our eventual move in 2008. Well, ‘ended’ is a relative term – it never really ends. The learning is constant, but that move to a rural property is a HUGE step, and is the culmination of a whole lot of work and study. Even though I didn't have all our ducks in a row right away (or, um, still), it was such a relief. I felt more prepared just by getting some space to grow food.
So the next time I’m asked that question, “Where do I start?” here’s what I would say:
- What do you want your life to look like? Do you have a vision? Do you see yourself working from home? Growing your own vegetables only or all your own food? Are you living in a new house or an older fixer-upper? What does your ideal day look like? This is a powerful exercise I got from one of my business mentors, PJ McClure, and it's a great place to kick off your journey. Without that vision, it's easy to get overwhelmed and sidetracked.
- What’s your biggest priority? Is it having 6 months worth of food stored? Is it working for yourself from home? Maybe having livestock? Going completely 'off-grid'? This is where you'll start...
- Could you live your dream right where you are? Sounds like a goofy question, since we're talking about moving to the country, but think about it - you can grow a LOT of food on a city lot, let alone a suburban lot. Take a look at any permaculture website, SPIN-Farming, or intensive bio-farming websites and you'll see what can be done in a tiny space. Throw regular single-row gardening convention out the window, and it's amazing what you can do. Granted, self-reliance is more challenging when you're connected to city sewer and water systems, but there's a lot that can be done by staying where you are.
- What resources are out there in your community right that you could start drawing from (gardening groups, extension offices, old timers who learned the ropes decades ago…)?
- If you’ve decided that moving to the country is definitely for you, then this opens up a whole new raft of questions to ponder:
- Have you spent any considerable time in the country? Would the quiet or the noises drive you bonkers? How about the smell of farm fertilizers? Do surrounding properties use chemicals on the fields? I'd recommend spending some time on a rural property that has animals, like a farm stay, and see how the reality matches up with your dream. Sometimes it's a pretty rude awakening!
- Is your job portable or would you have to find something within your new community, or develop your own business?
- Do you have any medical conditions that would need to be considered as you start researching possible locations? Medical considerations are often skipped when considering locations - have a look at this article for some background.
- What about schools? Will you be homeschooling or drawing from local educational resources?
- Does the community fit with your lifestyle and personality? I can't tell you how many stories I've read about people moving to the country only to find that the community they've moved into is at complete odds with their own political, spiritual and economic beliefs - to the point where they ended up moving again not long after. Spend some time in your potential new community. Read the local newspaper, sit in on a town council meeting out two, talk to people. It won't take too long before you have a pretty good idea of whether it would be a good fit for your family. Remember, you're preparing to live your dream - make sure all the puzzle pieces fit!
- Once you’ve decided on a relative geographic location, it’s time to look at properties, and with that comes a whole bunch of other stuff to consider:
- I've written a few articles previously that hit on the main things to consider: How to Live on a Rural Property Even if You Can't Afford it, Your Country Home Office: Does Your Dream Homestead Property Have What it Takes?, No Regrets: 10 Key Things to Consider Before Moving to the Country. These should help!
- Create a spreadsheet that will help you visually analyze your prospective properties/communities as to how they fit within your priorities. I've put together one from another article titled Are You Ready for Rural Living - hopefully it's helpful! You can download it here: Are You Ready for Rural Living Checklist
- Consider your budget and look back over your priorities listed in #1 and #2 above. Know that costs living in the country will be different than in the city - not necessarily, more and not necessarily less - that will depend on what investments you'll need to make up front (tools, machinery, the land, renovations, etc.), but from experience, I can tell you your expenses for take-out food, clothing, and 'stuff' that you don't really need will go down considerably, as your opportunities for shopping are significantly reduced.
By now you should have a pretty good picture of where you’d be happiest, what you can afford, what you’ll do for your finances, what you'll do for schooling, etc. Now the key is to find that property!
In order to prepare yourself a bit further, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and have a read through some of our most popular ‘how to get started’ articles.
I know some of these things might seem obvious, but you'd be amazed how many people skip one or more and then regret not doing more preparation. It's an emotional decision in many ways, made more emotional by the seeming disintegration of 'the system' that's currently in play that seems to make the decision that much more urgent. But if you take the time to do the work ahead of time, you won't have any regrets. And we can all do with less of those...
In Part 2, we’ll talk about the most efficient things to do once you get to your new property.
Did we miss anything? Are there other things you think are important in the 'should I or shouldn't I' question? If so, please share them in the comments below!