By Sherry Willis
The concept of Homesteading has always held a particular thrill in American culture. The very word calls forth romantic images of covered wagons creaking slowly across a dusty prairie and the triumphant battle against untamed nature. These homesteaders were a tough self-reliant breed, able to calmly persevere in the face of great odds. And while I’m not so sure the reality of the backbreaking labor and a good deal of deprivation would be as thrilling as the idea of it, I find I quite envy them. Theirs was a life of freedom. Even if it was just the freedom to fail.
The vast expanses of land just waiting for some sturdy soul to claim it for his own are no more. Yet the spirit that inspires one to go out and make a better life still flows through our American veins. We feel instinctively that this life we have built, so dependent on those who have little concern for our welfare beyond the contribution we can make toward their profits, is sorely lacking in both basic security and personal satisfaction. This has led to a new way of homesteading…. Not with hundreds of acres in the middle of the wilderness, but in a small backyard in a quiet suburb, an abandoned lot in a run-down neighborhood, or even the balcony of an apartment. Yet even with these radical differences, the new homesteaders still embody the vital qualities of self-reliance, ingenuity, and hard work.
So you’re dreaming of your own little homestead, but for whatever reasons you can’t just pull up stakes and move to the country. You can get started right now and just where you are. You may even discover that you already have your little slice of heaven and you didn’t even know it. Here are five steps you can take to jump start your journey to self-reliance:
Debt is crippling when it comes to making any kind of choices. Cut up those credit cards, pay off your car, and start paying for the things you need with cash. Learn to budget and save. Even if you never move to a homestead in the country, your life will be better for this step.
Do you ever feel like you are a slave to your stuff? How much time and energy do you spend taking care of it, cleaning it, storing it, and worrying about it? We often believe having material things is a sign of success or happiness. This makes shedding the load a little scary at first, but once you get started, you’ll notice it’s actually a relief. This step will not only give you a sense of freedom, but will allow you to choose a much smaller, hopefully less expensive, home when the time comes to buy your homestead.
There are hundreds of things homesteaders need to learn. Any livestock you choose to have will need shelter, feeding, and veterinary care. Different animals need different additional care depending on their use and type. Gardening not only requires that you learn to grow plants, but also how to preserve the bounty once you’ve harvested it. Think about your homesteading plans and start learning about these things now. Not only will this give you a head start when you actually get to your homestead, but it will help keep your excitement and interest in your homesteading dream alive.
While books and the internet are great resources, hands on experience is pretty hard to top. You can undertake small projects right now to help you gain confidence and learn new skills. What’s more, your inevitable failures won’t seem so dire. Try a garden in the back yard, the balcony, or even your windowsill. Go to the local farmer’s market and learn to cook with and preserve fresh produce. Learn to make cheese. If your situation allows, get a few hens, some meat rabbits, or perhaps a couple of miniature goats and produce your own meat, milk and eggs. Guess what? You’re officially a homesteader!
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to homesteading. Start with what has already worked for others and then adjust from there. Find someone who is willing to share that hands on experience you can’t get yet. Mentors can be found in many places. It may be your neighbor who lived on a farm until she retired. It may be the man who grows and sells the best strawberries at the farmer’s market. Perhaps your mentor will be someone who lives across the country and you spend time with them online. Regardless of their physical location, anyone who is knowledgeable about homesteading and willing to share can make your journey much easier.
Homesteading is a journey, not a destination. With a little thought and effort, you can begin that journey now. Don’t wait until everything is “perfect”. It may never be. Think about what you want your homestead to accomplish, how you want to live, and what you might want to produce. Learn about these things. Be flexible and adapt your ideas to your new knowledge. Most of all, have faith in yourself. You can do this!