Reflections from a Novice Homesteader: Craigslist Will Provide

The time involved to repurpose materials is definitely an investment. It gets us outside, creating and using our energy in ways that we find fulfilling.

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Ashley Torres Kritz
Old fence boards form these garden beds.

One of my previous posts, Biting off More than I Could Chew ended with the Rolling Stones and their advice that “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”  As I continue to mull over these lyrics, new mantras have begun their repetition: how can I make use of what I already have?… and Craigslist will provide.

Sometimes the projects and the chores feel really urgent. I must build that composting unit now. I must plant immediately if I ever expect to get a harvest. I must…now. This is a hard habit for me to break, but the pandemic seemed to help begin to break it for me. 

My own dance with the luxury of getting what I wanted, when I wanted it, often led to the instant gratification of hiring out or loading up and heading to the nearest hardware store or home-do-it center. However, if the recent pandemic has taught me anything, it is that supply and demand are fickle friends. The thing I want after so many years of it being only a drive or a click away, might not be there anymore. It’s not just toilet paper. For anyone who has checked the recent price of lumber, or tried to buy a wet suit in the past couple of years, it’s clear that the pandemic has placed a burden on the supply chain and a halt on certain conveniences. 

And so, it happened. I began to let go of old patterns and expectations. The duck enclosure didn’t need to be perfect. The brooder didn’t need to be pretty. Functionality and affordability very quickly began to rank higher than aesthetics on our homestead. It was almost eerie the way once we decided we were looking for something used, there it was, either low cost or no cost. First, it was the infrared sauna and the wood chipper, then came the perfect dog and futon. Later, it was the water storage tanks, the incubator that was only used once, and the pavers for our next project. I began to purge my own excess, knowing it might serve another instead of taking up room in the closet for that one day, when maybe, I might need it.

Even now, as my family begins to move more freely, passing through our own front door and onto the stoops of friends, neighbors, and stores, I have tried not to reinstate those old expectations. I have continued to comb my own property for creative reuses. I scour the free ads on the reg. I barter and trade whenever I can. This new philosophy of turning waste into a wonderland has left me wondering what took me so long. 

Out with the New and in with the Old

“It’s perfect,” I told my husband. “We’ve got that old door we took out of the house.” While my husband is truthfully better at navigating the reduce and reuse chain than I am, I could sense the skepticism butting up against my delighted certainty that we already had a perfectly fine door for the duck enclosure. There was no need to fabricate or buy another. 

The property we tend, a perpetual slope, in a tiny crevice of a canyon, is a never ending testament to human power. Being too poor for a tractor of our own, the day to day chores and projects require a little more energy to get done. So while my husband was away one day, I propped that door atop of my head like a longboard on its way to the water and hiked the hill to the spot where the ducks would now reside.

Next step was figuring out the hinges. Turns out we had those, too, and with a little alteration, they were perfect for the job.

Like most things on our homestead at the moment, the duck’s space is not finished. Ultimately, we envision a much larger run for during the day and wish to enclose the entire pen with a roof that catches water, but for now the ducks can be locked up at night and they have a home. Until then, I scour the property, roadsides, and Craigslist for the resources to complete this unfinished business. 

Repurposing by Trading Time for Money

Pallets and old fence boards are free lumber. With a little imagination, and a lot of work, this seemingly unlimited resource has already provided this fledgling homestead with an array of re-envisioned utility. Pallets sided with wire fencing became walls for our new duck enclosure. Pallets made a quick and easy composting unit for our new front yard garden. Pallets formed our temporary brooder. In fact, those pallets came complete with plywood siding and made perfect, chick proof walls. Old fence boards were ripped down to help frame our chicken tractors, side our chicken coop, and make planting boxes and trellises for the garden. 

These projects didn’t come cheap. It’s true they didn’t cost any money (or very little), but the time involved to repurpose such materials is definitely an investment. Yet, this investment does more than fill our bank accounts. It gets us outside, moving, creating, using our energy in ways that we find more fulfilling.

Old pallets and fence boards are deserving of new homes. They can do more than feed bonfires or fill up the dump. However, I’ve also discovered that not all free resources are equal. Resisting the urge to take everything free and developing a discerning, resourceful eye is a skill I eventually acquired. It just took a few times of learning the hard way, thinking I was scoring the jackpot, only finding later that I had relieved someone else of their burden and a dump fee. 

What’s Quickest or Easiest Isn’t Always Best

Initially, when purchasing our homestead and daydreaming about its progress, we envisioned taking out loans to solve all our problems. When we, thankfully, realized that route wasn’t going to solve anything, we began to develop our take it as it comes and all in good time approach. 

As if another testament to the Rolling Stones’ lyrics, we began to understand that our homestead would develop best with time, not immediacy and instant gratification. Had we qualified for those loans, we might have trapped ourselves into day job slaves. What we thought we wanted, where we thought we wanted it, and how we wanted to spend our days all changed in the matter of a few short years. Had we paid other people to do our work while we went off to do someone else’s chores,  or forked out the dough we didn’t have for brand new everything, the satisfaction of resiliency and self-sufficiency, of reducing and reusing, would not be igniting our hearts at the moment. With an infusion of cash, our home and homestead might be more aesthetically pleasing, more polished, but it wouldn’t be finished, and we understand now that it will never be finished because this is the journey. This is the reconnection, the remembering, that stirs our souls. We will continue to learn and continue to strive, all the while knowing that Craigslist (and Mother Nature) will provide.

Ashley Torres Kritz is a former high school teacher who now spends her time being with the land and her family on their small homestead. Read all of Ashley’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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