Will a Pandemic Bring Us Closer to Home(steading)?

Reader Contribution by Carrie Williams Howe
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As we embark another week of staying home during the Pandemic of 2020, I want to ask a question. Not just of you, the reader, but of myself. It’s a question I’ve heard asked in various ways as people explore how it this pandemic has impacted us as individuals and as a global society. 

But I want to ask it of you, a MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader, and me — an aspiring homesteader.

What do you want to take with you from this experience?

Asked differently, what changes have you been forced to make during this challenging time that you actually think might be good for you in the long run? What will your “new normal” look like after restrictions are lifted and you can choose how you want to live your life again?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past few weeks. 

Because we both have jobs outside of the home, my husband and I often dream about what it will be like when we can retire (or partially retire) and spend more time on our 3-acre homestead.  With our work schedules, our kids are either in school or at an after-school program most days, even though we bought this property with dreams and visions of them exploring the woods and fields.  We’re part-time homesteaders and we haven’t figured out a way to change that yet.

Little did we know the opportunity to have that fully at-home experience would come much sooner than we anticipated.

During this pandemic, we are both working from home as best we can. Our school teachers are providing a lot of support for at-home learning, but we’re also engaging our kids in home-based learning of the outdoor, self-reliant variety.  We are home 24-7. And while we haven’t retired, we have cut a lot of things out of our life that otherwise take us away from home. 

And thus the question has become: which of these things that we cut out will we bring back, and which will we eliminate (or greatly reduce) more permanently?

Here are some of the things we’ve been thinking about.

How much Outside Employment do we really need?

I used to have a full-time, professional level job in a field in which I had a PhD.  It was, in some ways, the thing that defined me.  But over the years, I found that it was also the thing that drained me.  I didn’t want to be at that job.  Before this pandemic ever began, I had already started on a new path in a job that is more in line with how I want to spend my time.  It’s creative and serves the common good, and is – frankly – less demanding. 

For a while, I kept thinking I needed to make that part-time job into something full-time in order to meet our financial challenges.  But now I am reconsidering.  Now I am thinking about how we can cut back on our financial demands so that a part-time job will suffice. 

At the same time, I have been exploring how to create income from our homestead, so that the work we do and love here can also support our financial needs.  This pandemic, and the reduction in demands from my “outside” job allowed me to do things like expanding my etsy shop and taking my homesteading blog more seriously. 

This stuff is kinda scary.  The idea of changing from someone defined by their professional life to someone who defines their own profession based on what kind of life they want – that takes some bravery.  This pandemic has allowed me to push past my fear and ask, “Could I really do it?” 

And, gulp, the answer might be “yes.”

How much childcare do we want to hire out?

This one is scary too.  I have never seen myself as a stay-at-home mom, and the idea of homeschooling has always brought a little bit of fear to my heart.  But this pandemic has forced us to be home with our kids all day, every day, and to even take on the role of “teacher” in partnership with our school.  I’ll be honest, the results have surprised me.

Being at home with our kids has not been all puppy dogs and rainbows but we are all learning to do it better.  The kids are having longer spans of self-directed time (without our interference).  They are playing with each other without always breaking out into a fight.  They are wandering in the woods without us having to force them to do so.   Yes, they are fighting, and wanting to spend too much time on tech, and talking back.  But the balance is slowly shifting.

What miracle is occurring here?

It’s kind of simple, really.  We have created space and time that isn’t pre-determined, scheduled, or regimented and our kids are forced to do creative things together because there just aren’t other options.  

Seeing my kids run around outside on our property like a couple of country kids in the 1980s has sparked joy in me like I dreamed it would when we bought this land.

So, when the e-mail came to register for next year’s after school program, we thought twice.  Did we need afterschool care if I wasn’t working as much?  Did our kids need more unsupervised, undirected time at home than they were getting before?  Could we retain some of this shift in the balance? 

I might regret it, but we only signed the kids up for 2 days of afterschool care instead of 4 for this coming fall (baby steps).  We haven’t signed them up for summer camps.  We’re crossing our fingers that this journey toward learning how to “be” without direction will continue to evolve. 

Maybe, just maybe, our kids will learn how to fend for themselves, how to be kind to one and other, how to come up with their own ideas for entertainment, and how to be more patient. 

Do we really need to run that errand or buy that thing?

The effort to stay away from public places has helped us to realize just how many times we went to the grocery store on a weekly basis.  It has made us realize how much shopping we did that, perhaps, wasn’t as necessary as it seemed.  Never before have we gone almost a month between shopping trips.  Never before have we questioned our purchases to the extent that we are doing so now.

And you know what, we’ve been absolutely fine!

When the milk runs out, we drink water.  We make our own bread, yogurt, granola, and chocolate instead of buying it at the store.  We’re doing a better job at using all of the canned goods and frozen bags of veggies we stocked up on last summer.  We’ve saved money on groceries by changing the way we feed our family.   These things aren’t new to us, but the idea of doing them consistently and without the option to just run to the store, that is new. 

Moving forward, it will be hard to reject the convenience of all of the stores that are located within a 10 mile radius of our home.  Other homesteaders only shop once a month because it is an hour trip to the store.  For us, it will be my decision to work less outside of the home that forces us to shop less.  And let’s face it, I’ll be the one who has to fight the temptation most. 

But I have to remember that it will be worth it.  The pandemic has truly taught us that we can shop less, that we don’t need so much stuff, and that by doing so we gain so much back in time and valuable resources that can be applied elsewhere.

Moving Closer to our Dream

While I do not want to romanticize this difficult time, the truth is that this pandemic has taught us that our dream of becoming full-time homesteaders, or at least spending more time at our homestead, does not have to be so far away.  By cutting back on the things that we “outsource” – our income, childcare, groceries, etc. – we can “insource” more. 

We can use the time and space that would otherwise be spent commuting, working, and shopping to provide the things we need ourselves.  And we can redefine what we “need”.  We can focus on the rewards of being here on our homestead instead.  The pleasure of spending a day in the woods.  The satisfaction of harvesting our own food.  The physical rewards of hard work. 

For us, these things bring joy, and this pandemic has taught us how to capture that joy to an extent that we hadn’t been brave enough to explore before.  In short, being home during this pandemic has allowed us to move closer to the homesteading life we desire – closer to home – and we hope we can hold on to some of those changes even when life returns to “normal.”

What will your “new normal” be?

Carrie Williams Howe is a blogger aThe Happy Hive Homestead and Founder of Homestead How-To.  She works at a nonprofit by day, and is a parent and aspiring homesteader on nights and weekends. She lives in Williston, Vt., with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about lifelong learning. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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