Invaluable Tips for the Beginning Homesteader

Old man holding wooden crate filled with fresh vegetables
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Are you new to homesteading and wondering how you can make the best of others' experiences by avoiding repeating their mistakes and following their best tips for beginning to homestead?

These tips are just a small sampling of the wisdom of those who have walked this path before you. And they're filtered through my own biases and my own experiences. Your experiences will, of course, vary, and you should always bear in mind that another person's advice is colored by their own successes and failures, which may be particular to their own situation. Not "may be." Of course, they are.

Give Up on Aesthetics

This is important. As a homesteader, you have one goal: self-sufficiency. The hours that you spend making things pretty are hours that you could be doing functional things to further your goal of self-sufficiency.

If you put pressure on yourself to make your homestead look like it belongs in Better Homesteads and Gardens, set unrealistic goals, and then get frustrated and overwhelmed when you don't meet them, you especially need to let go of any remaining attachment to things looking neat and together. It will help you achieve more.

At the same time, if you're chugging along, happily advancing toward your ultimate goal of self-sufficiency, and not stressed, and able to keep things organized and tidy to boot - more power to you. Keep on keepin' on. Nothing wrong with that. Just don't stress it.

Set Realistic Goals

Many people who get frustrated and overwhelmed with homesteading take on more than they can reasonably handle, then feel overwhelmed and stretched too thin. It's better to set your sights on a couple of really solid goals each season than to scatter your efforts across many goals and end up fragmented and frazzled.

Consider using a book like The Weekend Homesteader to tackle projects one weekend at a time instead of biting off more than you can chew.

Know Thyself

Are you really cut out to be a homesteader? Think long and hard before embarking on what is ultimately a labor of love. Be prepared to put in long hours of physical labor, often painful and uncomfortable, for the sheer joy of being able to provide for your own needs. If you've grown up in modern society, like most of us have, this can be a huge adjustment and not one that most people can make easily. Chances are, if you're considering homesteading, you are someone who doesn't mind working long, tough hours just to avoid having to buy groceries, but it's worth a deep checking in before you begin your homesteading adventure.

Plan for Some Income

Although you might initially fantasize that you can provide everything you need for yourself and your family and never spend a penny, that isn't realistic. You will need to consider what expenses you will have in your life that will require cash, especially as you transition to a self-sustaining homestead. It doesn't always happen all at once.

Also, think about how you like to live. Do you enjoy going to restaurants? Out dancing? Taking in culture such as a museum? Travel? What income will you need to bring in to afford the things in life that can't be bartered for or made yourself?

Eschew Debt

Borrowing money goes against every principle that underlies the goal of self-sufficiency. People who want to homestead generally want to be able to disengage from the money economy and work as little as possible in exchange for money. Instead of using money, they grow their own food and perhaps barter for things like clothing and other necessary items (and chosen luxuries as above).

Keep Your Expenses Low

This becomes important when considering your homestead property (most people who homestead want to buy their own land and/or house). Will you buy land with cash and build a house on it yourself with cash as well? Or will you buy a house already built on some acreage? If you are considering taking on a mortgage to buy your homestead property, how will you pay your mortgage? Do you plan to pay it off over a shorter time frame than thirty years?

Also consider how your homestead will be heated and/or cooled and how electricity will be provided. Using sustainable energy sources like solar, wind, or geothermal can reduce your expenses significantly. Many homesteaders refuse to be "on the grid," wanting to provide their own electricity as a critical part of their self-sufficiency goals. You'll need to devote some time to deciding how you will provide for these needs on your own homestead.

Embrace Simplicity

Those luxuries you had to have? Do you really need them? How often? How much money are you willing to devote to them? Homesteading is all about the idea that trading time for money doesn't serve you as well as using your time to provide for your needs directly. Simple living, or living lightly on the earth, means reducing one's possessions and expenditures and learning to be satisfied with just meeting your needs, and letting go of wants and consumption.

Embrace the Time Devoted to Self-sufficiency

Homesteading, as I said above, is a labor of love. If you resent the time spent tending animals, canning food, and chopping wood - run away. Do something else. Consider a hobby farm where your goal is just to enjoy the parts of farming that you don't resent, without self-sufficiency as the ultimate goal. Or maybe a small farm business is the right choice, where your focus is earning money as well as farming.

Divorce time from money in your mind. Sure, you could have worked for maybe $15 an hour, and you just "earned" $5 an hour by raising your own chickens, in terms of how much money you saved by doing it yourself. But that's not the point: the whole point is that you worked for yourself, on your own terms, and that you're building something that runs deeper than trading your time for an hourly wage.

Don't Take Yourself too Seriously

Humor is a good thing. Laugh daily. Don't get on a high horse about homesteading and think you're superior to everyone else. When things go wrong, when the chickens start pooping all over the front steps and foxes start attacking your hens, try to keep perspective.

Be Flexible

Try to take it easy on yourself, and be gentle when you don't reach your goals as quickly as you thought. If needed, sit down and retool your plan to reflect new goals and new timelines. Everything can be adjusted. Learn to roll with the punches, and to enjoy the process of gaining self-sufficiency a little bit at a time.