How to Start Homesteading Wherever You Are
By Contributor Anna Sakawsky of The House and the Homestead
If you’ve ever thought of running away from the rat race and escaping to the country to live a simpler, more self-sufficient life, you’re not alone.
A growing number of people are looking for an alternative to the modern, western lifestyle -a lifestyle rife with consumerism, debt, processed foods, prescription medications, 24/7 connectivity, global unrest, distrust in the government and seemingly endless work trying to keep up with it all.
More and more people are yearning to get back to basics; To live a lifestyle that allows them more freedom, more security, more money in their pockets and more control over their own health and lives. For many of these people, some degree of homesteading -of providing for themselves off their own land- is the answer to this dream. And more and more people are going after that dream.
But for every person who does take action, there are at least a handful of other people who will only ever wish for life to be different. And there they’ll stay: Tired, sick, stressed out, in debt and dependent on the very system that created their dependence in the first place.
But why? Why don’t more people take action to live a better life? Why does living a simpler life seem too complicated to actually pursue?
The simple life doesn’t have to be complicated.
A simpler, more sustainable life is absolutely attainable and within your reach right now, regardless of where you live, how much money you have or who you are. You don’t need to live on acreage or off the grid to be more self-reliant, and in fact, you shouldn’t start there anyway! You can start small, right where you are. That’s exactly what I did.
I began my journey toward a simpler, homesteader lifestyle a few years ago when I lived in a condo in the city. I suffered from debilitating anxiety and depression for years while living an urban lifestyle. The traffic, the stressful job downtown, and the processed convenience food took a toll on my mental and physical health, and I wanted a change.
I knew deep down that my ultimate goal was to move to a rural area and live a simpler, slower, quieter life where I would grow my own healthy, organic food, spend more time with my loved ones and less sitting in traffic, and live a more frugal lifestyle that didn’t require me to work so hard to keep up with it.
We planned our move to the country in no time at all, but we knew we couldn’t make it a reality until I finished my second degree, which at that time was going to be a couple more years. But I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to take control of my life right away and take steps toward the life of my dreams. And so I did.
I started small: I honed my cooking skills, grew an herb garden, preserved summer fruits in our freezer and worked on saving more and spending less money on frivolous things and convenience items.
Fast forward to today, and now I am proud to say that we have made our move out to the country, have a decent sized vegetable garden and a few fruit trees, share a backyard with neighbours who provide us with fresh eggs from their chickens, preserve dozens of jars of home grown and organic local food in the summer and spend infinitely more time together as a family. I’m also happy to say that, while I do still suffer from anxiety, it’s nowhere near as debilitating or as frequent as it was before we started on this journey.
We’re still not where we want to be. In fact, we have a long way to go. But we’re doing what we can where we are, and that in and of itself is enough to make me feel a little more secure, a little less stressed and a lot more satisfied with life.
So, how do you get started on your own homesteading journey?
Here are 7 steps you can take no matter who or where you are to get started living a simpler, more sustainable, more self-sufficient life today.
Cook More From Scratch
One of the easiest, first steps toward taking more control over your life and the food that you and your family eat is to learn how to cook at home, from scratch.
In this day and age of fast food and dining out, the art and comfort of the home-cooked meal seems to be going the way of the dinosaurs. In fact, according to recent studies, Americans now spend more on dining out than they do on groceries!
And when we do buy groceries, we often buy pre-packaged, highly processed “food” with a list 10 miles long of unfamiliar ingredients we can’t pronounce. Even many processed foods that are marketed as healthy are actually anything but. They’re often high in sugar, salt, fat and highly processed ingredients that quite frankly are not fit for human consumption. And collectively, we are growing bigger and sicker because of these food trends every day.
The easiest way by far to take control over the food that you consume is to prepare it yourself. Stock your pantry with basic staples like flour, sugar, rice, oats and spices and stock your fridge and freezer with fruits and veggies, lean meats and whatever dairy products you and your family eat (ie. butter, eggs, milk, cheese).
Cooking with these staple foods allows you to take complete control over what you put on your family’s dinner plates. You will know exactly what’s in your food and can take control over the amount of sugar, fat and salt in your meals.
Cooking from scratch will also help you to save money in the long run, both on food costs and on potential medical bills that can come from illnesses related to an unhealthy diet. Even though it sometimes seems like it costs more up front to eat healthy, you tend to get more meals out of the food that you buy. If you buy pantry staples like flour and sugar in bulk, buy a little less meat and buy fruits and veggies that are in season, then you can really stretch your grocery budget while also eating healthier.
Grow, Hunt and Forage Your Own Food
You don’t need to live on a farm to grow some of your own food at home. Even if all you have is a small balcony, you can still grow an herb garden, a tomato plant or two, some strawberries, pole beans, garlic… I’ve even heard of someone keeping chickens on their balcony! Of course, you need to check into local regulations before doing that, but it’s certainly possible!
And if you don’t even have a balcony? Consider an indoor herb garden or even growing mushrooms in a dark closet.
I once read a book called “Urban Homesteading” by an author named Michelle Catherine Nelson. Nelson did all of the above plus kept meat rabbits right in her living room, and did it all while living in an apartment in the heart of downtown Vancouver.
And if you can’t grow your own food, you can forage for some. There are tons of wild edibles out there just waiting to be plucked from nature. Whether you live in a rural or urban area, it’s worth it to learn about the local flora and fauna where you live.
Common edible plants across North America include dandelions, lamb’s quarters, chickweed, seaweed and stinging nettle (cooked to remove the sting!). Wild berries and mushrooms are also great sources of wild food. Just be sure you know what you’re picking before you eat it as some plants can be poisonous.
If you have your fishing or hunting license, you can also harvest your own meat from the land and water. Of course, if you’re going to be growing, foraging, hunting and fishing for food you should always do so safely, responsibly and sustainably.
Don’t forage near busy roads or polluted waterways for clear health and safety reasons. And never take more from nature than you need. That being said, if you do end up with more than you can eat fresh, you’ll need to learn how to preserve that food so it doesn’t go to waste. Which brings me to the next step…
Preserve Your Own Food
Learning to preserve food is like putting money in the bank. It allows you to enjoy the food that you are growing, foraging and hunting yourself all year long while not letting it go to waste, and it ensures you have food on hand at all times. This allows you to save money as well as be more prepared with food on hand in case of an emergency.
Preserving by canning and dehydrating also helps cut cooking time later on as you can just open a jar of ready-to-eat food that takes very little time to prepare. Most home-canned foods can typically be consumed without having to cook them again too, which is offers security in case the power goes out.
In essence, preserving food is much like saving money; Instead of spending all your money at once or wasting it, you put some aside for a rainy day. Same goes for preserving food. Instead of eating it all fresh and throwing any excess away, preserving it allows you to make sure you have a buffer in case you need it.
Even if a major disaster never hits (and let’s hope it doesn’t!), having food on hand in your pantry and your freezer year-round can be a blessing if something unexpected like a job loss hits someone in your household and you need to cut your grocery budget. Preserving food helps you save money overall as it allows you to become a little more self-reliant and a little less dependent on grocery stores to provide for you.
And there’s nothing like opening up a jar of home-canned green beans, peaches or blueberry pie filling in the dead of winter when those foods aren’t in season and are hard to come by in stores. Plus, jars of home-canned jams and jellies and pickles make excellent Christmas presents which helps to cut down costs at the most expensive time of year.
Even if you don’t grow, forage, fish or hunt any of your own food, you can still learn to preserve food at home. Hit your local farmers market and stock up on seasonal fruits and vegetables and learn how to can them, dehydrate them and freeze them for later.
Buy meat in bulk to save money and use a Food Saver system to freeze portions for future meals. Easily dry your herbs by hanging them upside down in your kitchen and then storing them in your pantry.
You definitely don’t need a lot of space or fancy equipment to start preserving food at home today.
Adopt a Frugal Mindset
There is a famous quote that goes “debt is the slavery of the free.” It’s true. Anyone who has ever carried debt knows it can weigh on you like a ball and chain. It’s pretty much impossible to be truly free and self-reliant when you’re in debt. For this reason, most homesteaders avoid debt like the plague and do whatever they can to stretch their dollars as far as they will go so as to stay out of debt and maintain their freedom.
You can start spending less and saving more right away by adopting a homesteader mindset what it comes to your finances. Aim to get out of debt, stay out of debt, put some money away for emergencies, put some away for long term goals and bigger purchases and cut spending wherever you can.
A good place to start is to read Dave Ramsay’s “Total Money Makeover.” In it, he explains how anybody can go from being in debt to living a life of financial freedom by following his well-outlined steps.
In the meantime, cut spending on unnecessary items. Find more tips on how to save money. When you go grocery shopping, make a list and stick to it and shop on sale whenever possible. Get more ideas on how to save money on groceries here.
Check your bills and subscriptions as well. Is there anything you can cut out? Can you cut your monthly magazine subscriptions and read them online? Can you cut your cable bill and watch Netflix? Can you lower your energy bill by making some upgrades in your home? And when you’ve done all the basics, check out these tips for Saving Even More Money.
Remember, being frugal isn’t about being cheap. Sometimes it’s worth it to invest money in quality products up front that will save you money in the long run and require less maintenance and replacements. Being frugal is about stretching your money as far as it will go and getting the most bang for your buck.
Sit down with your spouse or family and take a real honest look at your finances. Plan a realistic budget and stick to it. Come up with a debt repayment plan as well as a savings plan. Don’t wait.
Learn to DIY
Homesteaders are handmade, DIY folk. Growing food, cooking from scratch and preserving food are just some of the ways homesteaders take hands-on control of their health, exercise their self-reliance and save money in the process.
Of course, some of this is made easier if you have a natural talent for these things (ahem, my husband does all the building around here as I am not technically-minded enough to figure out how to operate machinery and measure two whole times before I cut). But just like gardening, cooking, and canning, this can be learned.
Learn to sew, knit or crochet and a world of possibilities will open before you. The next time you have to fix some drywall or paint a door, try doing it yourself and save some cash on hiring someone else to do the job.
An easy way to start DIY-ing is to start making your own home and body products. Most of these are made in the kitchen, so if you can follow a recipe you can make your own home cleaners, soap, body butters, homemade scrubs, and candles.
Not only will this save you some serious cash, but you will be getting a safer product by using ingredients you can find in your pantry rather than chemicals concocted in a lab.
Make Do and Be Resourceful
Homesteaders are all about resourcefulness. The old adage “make do or do without” is commonly associated with homesteading, and rightfully so.
As homesteaders strive to live a life that is a) frugal, b) self-reliant, and c) sustainable, making do with whatever they already have on hand is the homesteader’s mode of operation.
What does this look like for you? Maybe it means that you sew the seam in those pants before throwing them away. Fix your TV instead of buying new. Shop your fridge and pantry and create meals based on what you have on hand before buying more. Use and repurpose materials you already have at home and on your property to create items you need instead of buying new.
If you absolutely can’t make do with what you have on hand, see if you can barter with a neighbor or friend. Need new clothes for yourself or your kiddos? Host a clothing swap with friends. Need tools for a job? See if you can borrow some. Some communities even have tool-sharing programs. Need a cup of sugar? Maybe trade some home grown food with a neighbor.
When you absolutely do need to buy items, first see if you can buy second-hand. And if you need to buy new, do your research first and make sure that the product you’re buying is worth the money you’re spending. Remember, sometimes it’s worth it to pay a little more for a better quality product.
Make Time for Family First
At the end of the day, one of the major reasons most of us want to live a simpler life is to free up more time for what matters. For many of us, spending more quality time with our families is a driving force for us on our homestead journeys.
It can seem tough to find the time to spend with our loved ones when we are constantly on the go just trying to survive. I will admit it can still be hard to make quality time for family when you are into the homesteader lifestyle and are busy growing and preserving and all the rest. After all, the simple life isn’t necessarily easy. It takes time and hard work. But it’s work that can be done at home, together, as a family.
Living a homestead lifestyle is also a great way to involve your whole family in the chores that need to be done and to let everyone help out and know that their contributions are valued and appreciated. Involving your children in chores like watering the garden and teaching them how to grow food, cook from scratch and create a budget are just some of the ways living a homesteader lifestyle can help set your kids up for success later on.
Through daily chores, children learn the value of hard work. They gain an appreciation for things by repairing them and making do instead of always being handed the latest toy or gadget. They learn about where their food comes from by helping to grow it themselves and they, of course, learn invaluable life skills when they grow up cooking, gardening, building, fixing things, preserving food and working with a budget.
But all of that aside, simply spending time together is perhaps the best part of it all. At the end of a long day, eating a home-cooked meal together around the dinner table allows time to bond and communicate with each other. Time spent in the kitchen or garden together creates lasting memories for young and old alike. And spending a little more time together at home instead of out running that damn rat race is more valuable in the end than any money you’ll make or any material thing you’ll acquire.
So what are you waiting for? Whether you have lofty goals of moving out to the wilderness and living off grid or you’re happy staying right where you’re at, you can start living a simpler, more sustainable, more self-reliant lifestyle today.
Start slow. Start small. Remove yourself from the rat race one toe at a time, and start freeing up time for things that really matter in life. Live with no regrets. And never wait to make your dreams a reality, especially when you can start right here, right now.
My name is Anna and I’m a modern homesteader blogging at The House and the Homestead. I began homesteading a few years ago and it changed my life! I am passionate about growing and preserving food, making as much
as I can with my own two hands, and living a more frugal,
sustainable and self-sufficient life. I love to help and inspire others
to do the same & prove that the simple life doesn’t have to be