Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Most people think you begin homesteading by doing a bunch of stuff – planting a vegetable garden, getting livestock, making your own cleaning and beauty products. This can work, but often the rush to get started ends in overload and discouragement. That's because homesteading isn't just a new hobby – like taking up golf or playing the piano. To do it well, you have to rethink the way you do everything.
You are fundamentally re-designing your life to become less dependent on complex supply chains and more dependent on your home environment and local community to meet your basic needs. Transforming a home into a homestead is a long-term process.
As with most major changes, it makes sense to start small and work your way up to the big stuff. Just like in kindergarten, spend some time learning your ABCs and you'll be ready the complex calculus of barn building, lye making, mushroom growing and whatever else you want to do on your homestead in no time.
A is for ‘Asceticism’
To become a good homesteader, you have to renounce the good stuff and lock yourself up in a monastery with no worldly possessions — just kidding! Asceticism doesn't have to be religious or even a hardship. It is simply the act of intentionally minimizing your needs for a higher purpose.
Some people also call this voluntary simplicity, voluntary austerity, or living the good life. Homesteading takes a lot of time, energy, and resources. Unless you miraculously have more of those than you know what to do with, you are going to need to make room for them. That means “redlining” the non-essential activities in your life now.
Our modern lives are so full and hectic that it's hard to know where our time, money, and resources go. Which is why it is important to start with a hard look at your life now and make decisions about how to pare it down to the bare minimum of activities.
As an example, when I started this journey, maintaining my “image” at work was important for my career advancement prospects. I spent a lot of time shopping, caring for my clothing, deciding which outfits to wear, and primping and preening. After I realized that career advancement was not essential to my goal of becoming a homesteader, I scaled back to a few machine-washable, wrinkle-free suits and mascara. This freed up several hours a week.
That small sacrifice seems like such a lame example, but that's where I started. That one change and a few dedicated weekends freed up enough time and money my first 75-square-foot garden. And growing a garden, for me, turned out to be a gateway for much bigger changes.
B is for ‘Borrowing’
Think about the last time you needed something for a project. What did you do? Run out and buy it? It's OK if you did. This is what we've been programmed to do. I lived in a suburb where houses had at most 1/4 of an acre of lawn. One self-propelled, mulching lawnmower would have been more than sufficient to service the neighborhood. Yet, we all felt the compulsion to have our own riding lawnmower taking up parking spaces in our garages.
But this kind of thinking makes us completely dependent on earning lots of money. And money is a resource that comes by way of complex supply chains. Not to mention, the more you buy, the more you have to store and care for, the less time you have for homesteading.
I am not saying you don't need or want money. But it's a good idea to aim to keep your homestead dependence on money to a minimum by changing your mindset from buy to borrow. Need a brooder lamp to raise your chicks? You can spend $15 or you can talk to your neighbor down the street who recently got chickens and ask if you can borrow theirs for a few days.
While you're at it, ask them about their breed choice, their experience with chickens, and where they buy feed. Buying a brooder lamp won't break the bank, but getting comfortable with borrowing will build community, encourage sharing, and reduce waste when you later decide you don't want to store the darn thing because your broody Buff Orpington happily raises chicks for you.
Borrowing and sharing is like “reuse, repurpose, and recycle” on steroids. No new resources are used, no waste is created, and lots of positive side benefits ensue. Do it as much as you can and encourage others to borrow from you as well.
C is for ‘Creative’
My grandma made the best coleslaw, biscuits, ice cream, pickles —and just about everything else. If you asked her how she made it, she'd happily show you how to do it, but she couldn't give you a recipe to follow.
Over the years, I have discovered that a lot of other people’s grandmothers and great-grandmothers also cooked this way. But until I began homesteading, I never understood why whole generations of people would be exceptionally gifted at soul cooking while everyone from my mother's generation onward relied on cookbooks and pre-packaged ingredients.
When I started making raw-milk cheese from my dairy goats, and discovered that milk fat varies by season, it finally hit me: Standardization is what allows reproduction of results and lends itself to things like recipes. If you eat a “fresh” grocery-store tomato in California in summer or one in Wisconsin in winter, they taste about the same.
On a homestead, you most likely only eat them fresh from July to October, and canned after that, and every tomato tastes slightly different depending on rain, sun, organic matter in the soil, time of harvest, etc. Even when you do follow a recipe, you always need to do some tweaking to adjust for variances in taste in your homegrown, non-standardized ingredients.
You often end up with a lot of substitutions because no self-respecting homesteader would run to the store if a recipe calls for green onions when you have winter leeks in the garden. Homesteaders must constantly use their creativity to make what they have available work well for the situation. This means, standardization is out and creativity is in!
As you start this journey or delve deeper into it, plan to rely on and develop your creativity. You don't need to reproduce what you see in a magazine or read on a blog or in a book. Sure, take notes, get inspiration, begin with base ideas, but then deviate, and make your own mark on whatever you are doing.
If you don't have a specific tool (and can't borrow one), use something else. Design your own fence stretcher, cheese press, beehive, bird house, herb dryer — whatever. It also helps to keep asking the question, “Does it have to be this way?” as you approach normal and new tasks.
Standardization has limited our solutions to objects that can be easily shipped, manufactured, and made profitable. These are usually not the best answers to our problems. As a homesteader, you have endless options on how to get things done, so let your creativity run rampant.
Now that you know your ABCs, be on the lookout for DEF in my next post — as in Ducks, Edible Landscapes, and Fodder!
Tasha Greer spent several years “practicing” homesteading in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina where she currently raises pigs, goats, poultry, bees, worms, vegetables, herbs, trees, shrubs, and mushrooms. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. Find Tasha at The Way Back.
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