How to Be a Homesteader When You Don’t Have a Homestead
Yes, it can be done.
I often hear the lament of folks who yearn for the homesteading lifestyle. “I can’t afford the land“, they exclaim. A valid point. It may take years of saving to afford that sweet piece of land. Meanwhile, you are itching and craving to get started. It is possible: you can be a happy homesteader in the suburbs, spending time honing your skills and making ready.
Homesteading involves incorporating these key elements into your life:
2. Growing Food
3. Close Connection to the earth
1) Self-Sufficiency – This is pretty much what homesteading is about. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be a homesteader without putting self-sufficiency at the top of their priorities. So start now. Start becoming self-sufficient NOW.
It means not spending money unless you have to. This means not buying extraneous stuff and it means having skills: home repairs (including plumbing, electrical, basic carpentry), auto repairs, knowing your local climate, animal care, natural remedies and medicine, cooking, canning and preserving food, sewing, chopping wood, gardening/farming (see #2), plus lots more depending on your homesteading set up. So if you don’t have most of these skills already, you’d better learn them BEFORE you buy the land.
Being self-sufficient takes planning, especially in the area of MONEY. Its essential to be honest about the money. Unless you have some sort of windfall, like a major-league inheritance, if you really want a rural homestead, you have to start saving NOW. And for most people, it will take you at least 10 years to save up enough for land and home. The other thing you will need extra cash for is to sustain yourself for the first few years on the homestead. There will not be enough food produced on your homestead in the first few years to feed you. Once you are on the homestead, you may need to maintain a job for years before you become remotely self-sufficient. So start getting used to money management early on.
2) Growing Food – Even if you only have 1/15th of an acre or a small rented garden plot, this IS possible. There are specific gardening techniques that allow the production of large quantities of food on small plots of land, e.g. vertical gardening and square inch planting. The Dervaes family have been doing it for years. If you don’t know how to grow food, get out and volunteer at a local community farm or garden or help that old-timer up the road (he’s tired of weeding and would love to share his knowledge).
3) Close connection to the earth – When you live in the country connecting to the rhythms of the earth is impossible to avoid. Living in the city, it becomes more difficult. With all the cement, and less of the green stuff, and without a forest or field outside your window, it can be a challenge. If you live in an apartment with no personal green space, grow on the balcony, find a local community garden, a rooftop garden, find something that will allow you time to play in the dirt, plant seeds, and hook up with the lifeblood of this gorgeous green Earth.
If you do live on a suburban plot, you can make it into a natural wonderland. Dig out the grass and create gardens of all kinds: a veggie patch, a fruit tree forest, a butterfly garden, a small wetland or pond, a mini-wildflower field, a shady mushroom haven. This is a great little book for inspiring ideas and how-tos. If your city has (dumb) bylaws against edible front-lawns, there are ways to get around them by creating gardens that are beautiful as well as functional. It takes planning to make a veggie patch into a wonderful design but it can be done.
4) Habits/Lifestyle – recycle, reuse, up cycle, make do.
Surround yourself with like-minded people. Join or start a local group.
It is essential that you live frugally. Extravagant living is impossible as a homesteader. And this may sound like sacrifice at first but it can be a gratifying challenge to see where you can cut corners. It can be a transformational journey to discover that you don’t need as much. Selling extraneous stuff; not buying things if you don’t need them; clearing out physical clutter can help clear the mind, it can all help you focus on what’s really important to you.
Another way to declutter the mind and life is to remove sources of media from your life. Advertising just pulls you right back into the spend-spend-spend must-have-that-shiny-new-thing mindset.
Minimize the amount of trash you bring into your home so that you minimize the amount going out. Country living rarely includes a convenient trash pickup. Think you’re already doing enough? Check out this young lady who only produces 1 Mason Jar of trash every year.
Start to compost, er, learn to compost, then start doing it. You can even do it in an apartment with worm composting.
Get in shape! You must be physically fit to operate a homestead. Period.
5) Attitude – Be bold. If you want to call yourself a HOMESTEADER, you go right ahead and do that. Avoid getting caught up in the consumer society that surrounds you and be tenacious in your values.
Be realistic – you will not be able to live the SAL (Standard American Lifestyle) while you are a homesteader. If you like eating out, going to movies, shopping at the mall, taking golf vacations, driving a new car, wearing beautiful clothes, having perfect nails, a fat bank account, a spotless home, buying lots of electronics….if you like convenience, you will not be happy as a homesteader.
Trying it out before you make the move to the country can be fun. And in the end it will tell you if buying a homestead is right for you and save a lot of disappointment and frustration later (may save some marriages, too). My wish is that trying it out will inspire you to live a greener and more deeply fulfilling life.