There's a growing interest in how to homestead and become more self-reliant. While the days of earning free land by farming it for a period of years is long gone, there are still many ways that most of us can incorporate homesteading principles into our daily lives. (Note – Although it sounds romantic and adventurous, “free land” often came at a high cost to those original homesteaders.) My great-grandparents were part of the original homesteading movement out west, and I remember my mom telling me a story passed down through her family about a young boy of 11 who was left to hold a homestead claim on his own for a year so his family could have more land. The boy survived, but the loneliness changed him and he was never quite right after the experience. The “good old days” weren't always good.
How to Homestead – Covering the Basics
In this post we'll take a look at the fundamentals of homesteading and self-reliance, which include providing for our basic needs such as:
- Food and Water
- Shelter and Hygiene
With money being tight for many and economic uncertainty, saving money by doing more for yourself can be as good or better than simply busting your backside to try and earn more money. (The IRS is not taxing garden produce, chickens and homemade clothing – yet.) My grandparents got along pretty well when the Great Depression hit compared to many because they were able to provide for many of their own needs right on the farm.
Go into the homesteading mindset thinking strategically:
- What does my family use every single day?
- How is our budget spent?
- What activities would most improve our quality of life?
Don't think you need to do everything at once! Just pick one project/idea to focus on, work on it until you're happy with the results, and then move on to the next.
Let's get planning!
#1 – Make Sure You Have Access to Good Water
Safe water and having enough water have become serious issues around the globe. The southern California drought and contamination of municipal water supplies such as the lead in Flint, Michigan are two examples that are currently making the news in the U.S.. Without safe water, nothing else matters. You can't provide for your family, grow a garden or have critters. Grandma and grandpa found this out when their pasture dried up during the Dust Bowl Years and they had to get creative with feeding the cows. They had a hand pump for the well, and their biggest concern was whether or not it might run dry. Things have gotten a little more complicated since then.
We get our water tested annually through our local land conservation office. If you have never had your water tested, I highly recommend it, just to be on the safe side. There are a number of different filtration options to ensure water is safe to use, and every household should have water storage on site for emergency use.
Specific recommendations for water storage and filtration, as well as homestead water management, can be found at:
- Water Storage and Filtration – What You Need to Know
- How to Build a Rain Barrel, Plus Care and Maintenance
- Sustainable Methods for Dealing with Drought
#2 – Grow Your Own Food
Gardening and growing your own food is a great way to start your journey to being more self-reliant. Both sets of grandparents always had big gardens and did a ton of canning and preserving. I remember mom's mom having a big poppy patch for breadseed poppies, to use in kolache, tea rings and rolache. Dad's mom loved strawberries better than the birds. She'd pick them half green and ripen them in the window so she get as many berries as she could.
Even apartment dwellers may be able to have some containers in a sunny window or on a patio, or use a hydroponic kit or mini garden with built in lighting. Community garden plots may also be an option. Those who own land may want to consider permaculture principles to develop a sustainable food forest that will produce food for years to come.
For those who are new to gardening, we have over 40 posts listed the gardening page covering a wide variety of gardening topics. Some of most helpful for beginners include:
- New to Gardening – Start Here – 10 Tips for Beginning Gardeners
- Small Space Gardening: 10 Tips Everyone Should Know
- Companion Planting in the Garden
#3 – Preserve Your Own Food
Food storage allows you to preserve your garden produce to enjoy year round, or to preserve an excess for lean years. (Anyone with gardening experience can tell you that some years are much more productive than others.) I still have a big crock that was passed down from my grandmother to my mother for making sauerkraut, brine pickles and wine, as well as some glass gallon jugs that used to store blackberry and dandelion wines.
If you don't have a garden of your own, you can still buy in bulk from farmers markets or direct from local growers, or simply take advantage of seasonal sales at the grocery store and stock up. A well stocked pantry is an everyday convenience, and it can be a real blessing when you can't get to the grocery due to bad weather, or you can't afford to do much grocery shopping due to job loss or other budget constraints. Unlike grandma, we don't have to rely solely on the root cellar, food on the hoof of water batch canning. We can also use freezing, dehydrating, pressure canning, freeze drying – whatever fits our time, space and budget.
Food Storage Resources
To get started building your food storage, check out:
- New to Food Preserving – Start Here
- Getting Started With Home Canning
- Getting Started with Home Food Drying
- Home Freeze Drying – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
- Root Cellars 101 – How to Store Over 30 Fruits and Vegetables Without Electricity
- Prepping Food Storage – Top 10 Foods to Stockpile and Store
Raising animals for meat, milk and eggs is another great food production option for the modern homesteader with a little more space. Chickens have been referred to as “the gateway” animal, as they are some of the easiest critters to care for and don't require a lot of room. Rabbits are also good for small spaces, and their manure can be added straight to the garden without burning plants. (This is not true with most animal manures.) Dairy goats are also very popular for fresh milk and cheese, and family cows have also seen more interest in recent years.
Homestead Livestock Resources
You can see our full listing of Animal Husbandry posts here. Some of the top posts to get you started with critters include:
- Chickenpalooza! An Awesome List of Homestead Chicken Resources
- Getting Started with Homestead Goats – choosing the right breed, basic goat care (food, water, shelter and fencing), additional goat resources
- Homestead Rabbits – Getting Started and Finding the Right Breed
#4 – Make Your Home More Sustainable
Many people associate homesteading with off grid living, i.e., “getting back to the land” or being completely disconnected from public utilities. There are certainly some homesteaders who do this, but for many of us, we can add elements to our homes or change our daily habits to reduce our reliance on the grid. Both sets of grandparents used wood heat, which any wood stove user will tell you “heats you up twice” – once when you cut it, once when you burn it.
I worked in the solar industry for several years before becoming a full time homesteader, and I want to tell you straight up that your quickest return on investment (in most cases) is in energy conservation. Solar panels and windmills may be sexy, but they usually come with a hefty price tag. Contrast this with a project like replacing leaking windows. This will reduce both heating and cooling bills and may pay back the investment in a season or two. I have a great list of potential ways to cut your energy use in the Homesteading 101 ebook (free for subscribers). “9 Tips Everyone Should Know for Keeping Your House Cool” is also a solid resource for cutting those summer cooling bills.
Alternative Energy Resources
If you are ready to make a bigger investment in producing your own heat and electricity, take a look at:
- Solar Water Heating Basics
- Passive Solar Heating Basics
- Solar Electric Basics
- 8 Things You Need to Know About Rocket Mass Heaters
- 5 Things You Need to Know Before You Buy a Wood Burning Stove
Money can also be saved by reducing your consumption of material goods, buying used and repurposing items instead of tossing them in the trash. I know it's become trendy to have the latest and greatest electronic gadget or new clothes or – no, honestly, I don't know, because I don't keep up on shopping trends. But with all the ads I'm bombarded with, I'm sure someone is buying that junk. It's just not me, and I'm guessing that if you've gotten this far in the article, it's not you, either.
Through the magic of youtube, you can find instructions on how to repair almost anything that can be repaired. It's awesome! You can also find tons of ideas for recycling and upcycling. Use your imagination!
Making your own home goods and cleaning products allows you to reduce toxic chemical exposure and save money. Some ideas for simple projects:
- Easy, Non-toxic Homemade Deodorant
- Super Easy Hard Lotion Bar Recipe
- Do It Yourself Laundry and Household Cleaners
#5 – Learn Useful Skills, Like Sewing and Mending
I confess I have very little knowledge of fiber arts like sewing or crocheting. My sewing skills consist mostly of mending, which, while useful, is rarely beautiful. Still, I've come to appreciate the wide array of patch kits now available for leather, seam mending and a variety of fabrics. Very handy, and a lot cheaper than replacing an entire garment (or piece of furniture). Mom used to keep a scrap bag of completely worn out clothes to patch other clothes – I do the same thing. Grandma made many of their clothes from scratch, including flour sack dresses for my mom made out of 50 pound flour sacks from the dry goods store.
I have many friends who do beautiful work with yarn and fabrics, plus there are other local artisans who show at craft fairs, some small local stores, and farmers markets. While more expensive up front, quality handmade goods will generally outlast and outperform their cheaper retail counterparts. If you learn how to make items yourself, you can enjoy the quality for just the cost of your time and materials.
- Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time
- Crochet for Beginners: How to Learn to Crochet in a Few Hours
- How to Tan Animal Hides and How to Make High Quality Buckskin Clothing
If you're not up to tackling more projects, shopping for used clothing can stretch your budget. Sometimes find some real gems, too. Older clothing was often better made than some of the current see through, poorly made junk now available.
Benefits of the Homesteading Lifestyle
Living the homesteading lifestyle can help you break free of the rat race. If you to provide for more of your own needs instead of buying things, you need less income . When you work with the seasons – either via gardening, raising animals or using solar energy – you become more aware of the changes and the pulse of natural rhythms. It's a beautiful thing to step out into the morning sun and listen to the birds singing and wander over to your garden to enjoy some fresh picked berries, still wet with morning dew.
Homesteading also helps fight Couch Potato Syndrome and Cell Phone Neck. Keeping busy with projects around the homestead keeps you active and breaks up screen time – without an expensive gym membership.
Homesteading builds a sense of community as you get to know those with related interests, like beekeeping or gardening clubs. It's also a great way to get to know your neighbors and start bartering goods and services.
If you'd like more ideas on how to homestead, visit the Getting Started Homesteading page, and/or sign up for the newsletter and get a free copy of my ebook, “Common Sense Home 101: 7 Steps to Become More Self-Reliant”.
Do you consider yourself a homesteader? I'd love to read your suggestions/lessons learned that you're willing to share with new homesteaders. Every journey is unique, and building community is one of my favorite parts of homesteading.
Recommended Homesteading Resources:
- The Encyclopedia of Country Living, 40th Anniversary Edition: The Original Manual of Living Off the Land & Doing It Yourself
- The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre!
- Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre
- The Urban Homestead: You guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City
- The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach