The 80/20 Rule of Homesteading

Reader Contribution by Matt Kelly
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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.

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

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

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