How to Work: The Most Important Self-Reliance Skill Ever

Practical how-to knowledge may not be the most critical expertise you need to reach your self-sufficiency dreams. Learn how to work efficiently with this article’s six basic self-reliance skills to make your dreams into reality.

| February/March 2015

  • Steve Maxwell Home
    The author's family hand-built this handsome stone-and-timber home on their rural Ontario acreage. Knowing how to work, as well as having house-building know-how, was integral to completing the construction process.
    Photo by Steve Maxwell
  • Self-Reliant Homestead
    Steve and Mary Maxwell started out small in 1986 as self-reliant dreamers — but they had big goals.
    Photo by Wayne Maxwell
  • Self-Reliance Skills
    Robert Maxwell learned from his father, Steve, that one of the keys to homestead success is having the right equipment and tools. Here, he applies that knowledge to finish up some maintenance work on the family's Farmall Super H Tractor.
    Photo by Wayne Maxwell
  • Hauling Mulch
    To work from home successfully, you have to be able to be your own boss and keep regular, constructive working hours. The varied nature of homestead skills and tasks will make your work fulfilling and more like serious play than hard labor, even when you're hauling mulch to your garden beds.
    Photo by Joseph Maxwell
  • Long-Term Homestead Goals
    Set long-term homestead goals: It takes several years for a young orchard to bear fruit.
    Photo by Rob Cardillo
  • Homesteading Skills
    Homesteading skills range from knowing how to raise livestock, such as these guinea hogs, to knowing when to relax and enjoy the company of your homestead's critters.
    Photo by Lynn M. Stone
  • Steve Maxwell
    Even when pausing during the day, the author keeps his handy pen and notepad at the ready so he can keep track of any details that come up and mark off his to-do list.
    Photo by Steve Maxwell
  • Using a Lathe
    Steve shows his son Jake how to properly use a lathe in his on-farm workshop.
    Photo by Roger Yip
  • Raspberry Harvests
    Joseph Maxwell shows off a bountiful raspberry harvest from when the family sold berries commercially. Now, the berries are kept for the family's own consumption and the author earns most of his income from digital sources.
    Photo by Steve Maxwell

  • Steve Maxwell Home
  • Self-Reliant Homestead
  • Self-Reliance Skills
  • Hauling Mulch
  • Long-Term Homestead Goals
  • Homesteading Skills
  • Steve Maxwell
  • Using a Lathe
  • Raspberry Harvests

In October of 1986, I cut through a tumbledown wire fence and drove my old pickup truck onto the rural property I’d just bought with my life savings. I was a 23-year-old dreamer back then, with a desire to live in the country by the labor of my own hands. I’m now living that dream and thriving on that same property along with my wife, Mary, and our five kids. We built our own house, and we enjoy food, fuel and beauty from our land. We’re now blessed to see a second generation setting up a homestead of their own, and putting their self-reliance skills to use, on our family acreage.

Few other dreamers I’ve known have managed to fulfill their ambitions. In my experience, most dreams don’t die because of a lack of practical homesteading skills or passion, but rather become casualties of the failure of knowing to work efficiently to get enough of the right kind of work done. Bills pile up, gardens don’t get planted, roofs continue to leak, enthusiasm wanes. The cause of these problems often goes unrecognized until passion is cold, relationships frazzled and finances exhausted. Knowing how to work efficiently on a homestead where you are your own boss requires a specific skill set that contrasts sharply with the skills needed to work a traditional office job. I’ve worked for wages and now I work from home on my own land, and the two experiences are entirely different. If your goal is to be in charge of your own successful modern homestead, you must learn how to work, which is just as important as learning practical skills. Put into practice the following six homesteading habits to help you get the right work done in the right way, and you’ll bring the satisfaction of self-reliant living one big step closer.

1. Learning How to Work: Set Guiding Principles

A homesteader without goals is like a ship without a rudder. You may be sailing, but you won’t end up where you want to go. You need to decide at the outset what kind of lifestyle you want. For us, it came down to three main guiding principles: Earn all family income without leaving the property, raise our kids with us at home, and provide for as many of our basic needs as possible from our own land and labor.

Determine your own principles, and let them be the rudder that guides your voyage toward self-sufficiency. Use them to set long-term goals, broken down by year and month — being specific will help you figure out what you need to accomplish each day in order to achieve those goals and live in line with your principles.



2. Learning How to Work: Follow a Disciplined Schedule with Rest

No boss, no outside schedules, no imposed deadlines — these are some of the attractions of working from home, but they’re also likely to contribute to failure. Not having a boss means your success will depend almost entirely on how well you determine what must get done. When setting your own schedule without imposed deadlines, you’ll thrive only if you fill your day with productive activities. Self-reliant living is really about responsibility.

So why bother with self-reliance if it doesn’t get you out of work? The satisfaction of gaining directly from your own efforts is one reason. This connection between productivity and benefit is one of the things I like most about my modern homestead. Plus, completing many of the wide variety of homestead tasks alongside family and friends makes work more like serious play.

joseph
2/21/2015 5:45:24 PM

This is one of the best articles I Have ever read on Mother Earth News. Your story is truly inspiring and your advice is spot on. Thank you so very much and I wish you and your family continued growth and prosperity.


Bethb4
1/18/2015 6:37:03 PM

We lived and loved the dream for over 20 years but when I was moving out of the Old Homeplace I found one of our daily planning notebooks. We kept lists of what we hoped/ planned to do each day but as MargaretTB points out both opportunities and emergencies kept disrupting out plans. After 20 years there were some items still on the list. I am so thankful for all the time we spent working together AND all the things we learned how to do for ourselves and each other. Definately the Good Old Days


MARGARETB
1/14/2015 7:22:43 AM

You forgot one vital step: Prioritize - the leaky roof trumps a new vanity in the bath kind of thing. Which task is vital to be completed today. Animals must be fed and watered daily. The garden must be planted at the right season. Berries must be picked when ripe. Etc.







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