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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

The 80/20 Rule of Homesteading

The plan for my free time these past few days was to keep working on the chisels so I can start constructing the raised beds for the garden this weekend.

However, we got over 4 inches of heavy, wet snow. And it keeps fluttering down. Which means I’ve been shoveling instead sharpening.

My loyal readers (are there three of you now?) will recall why I’m clearing the driveway by hand:

1. The ATV with plow is down for the count. I haven’t been able to repair it yet. 

2. I’m not paying to have someone work on the ATV because it runs counter this whole idea of self-sufficiency.mattkelly2 

Or as my father likes to put it: “There you go making things hard for yourself again.”

Instead of letting this become a full-on gripe about getting behind on my to-do list or a refutation of the paternal perspective, let me simply wax philosophic for a moment.

This current situation is a perfect example of the 80/20 rule of homesteading: 80 percent of your time, energy and effort is spent on maintenance; 20 percent on progress towards the dream.

A majority of your time homesteading is spent covered in chicken poop, squashing potato bugs, figuring out why gas isn’t getting to the carburetor in the ATV and shoveling snow after dark by headlamp.

Especially for the first few years, when it’s doing all of this against the steep grade of the learning curve.

Maybe I missed the article in Mother Earth News that highlighted these dirty-work realities as part of the homesteading deal. Or maybe my lightbulb is just flickering on to what all good homesteaders already knew before they got started. Or maybe my father is right (always possible if not probable).

Whatever the case, it’s these realities that can be so discouraging for folks trying to move from the modern American life to a truly self-sufficient one. We’re all in it for the glossy-photo-ideal, right? Free range chickens in the verdant grass, bees buzzing between their hives and the organic garden, neatly stacked rows of cord wood waiting to warm your rustic home in the stove, and jars of tomatoes stored in the hand-crafted wood cabinets.

The trick is to remember the 80/20 rule. Most of the time you’re going to be focused on the behind-the-scenes dirty work that makes your own homesteading photo-ops a reality. Like I’ve said about composting, successful homesteading requires a completely different view of progress and achievement: the long view.

What may be even more important is making sure you really have the 20 percent moments. If you’re not taking the time to walk the newly-cleared woodlot in solitude, or watching the chickens bob through the garden in pursuit of bugs, or running your hand over the workbench you just built… if you’re not able to recognize the progress you have made and are making… then you are doing something wrong.

What the hell is hard work without reward?

It’s on these grounds (literally) that I dispute the notion that I’m just making things harder for myself. I’m doing the work appropriate for the rewards I want.

The snow has stopped. Time to glove up.

I’ve got 48 minutes of snow removal and 12 minutes of feeding the chickadees by hand ahead of me.

Photo by Matt Kelly

jack bauer
3/24/2013 12:19:09 PM

In order to become ready for mostly anything, you have to be a bit stubborn when it comes to the "hard way". Its late enough in the year that the snow will likely melt before it becomes a major problem. However, Your new found skills may get you out of a worse jam in the future.

matt kelly
3/22/2013 12:41:57 PM

Was just out shoveling again. Happy I didn't have 3 miles to dig out. Hope you get the tractor squared away today. I'm rootin' for you.

matt kelly
3/22/2013 2:05:07 AM

As soon as I finished writing this post, I made a note: "Self-sufficiency does not mean going it alone." Totally agree with all of you. The ATV just happens to be one of the things I'm keeping for myself.

ed essex
3/21/2013 9:36:17 PM

Nicely put. My tractor is up on blocks and the snow has been coming down and I have 3 miles of road to clear. New parts coming today. Daylight ahead. There is for you too!

k.c. compton
3/21/2013 4:49:32 PM

I really enjoyed this. I agree it's best to find help when you can -- and there's no shame in doing so. But sometimes you can't and you just have to buckle down and do the work. Good for you for hanging in there and caring enough to keep going.

robin theobald
3/21/2013 4:18:45 PM

I agree with Arthur. Even in pioneering days, neighbors helped neighbors. There are just some lessons that we have to build up to. In the meantime, get the help needed. I appreciate your 80/20 comment though. Sometimes we do focus on how much we are not getting done, how slowly our "picture" is developing. Recognizing that you have to maintain or lose progress is a great lesson to remember. Thanks for an enlightening article!

arthur weiler
3/21/2013 1:06:15 PM

Being self sufficient doesn't mean dying by trying to do everything yourself. Find someone to fix your ATV and barter with them for their time. Part of Homesteading is fitting in to a community for mutual support.