Invaluable Tips for the Beginning Homesteader

Taking the Plunge Is a Shift in Mindset

Old man holding wooden crate filled with fresh vegetables
valentinrussanov / Getty Images

Are you new to homesteading or thinking about establishing your own homestead? Learn from others and avoid repeating their mistakes. Take a look at some of expert homesteader best tips for those considering to start a self-sufficient homestead.

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. Set your sights on a couple of really solid goals each season instead of scattering your efforts across many goals. You may 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. Some of the top topics include:

Is It Right for You?

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, tough hours of physical labor, often painful and uncomfortable, for the sheer joy of being able to provide for your own needs. If you have grown up in modern society, as most of us have, this can be a huge adjustment and not one that most people can make easily.

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 is not realistic. You will need to consider that there will be expenses you will have that will require money, especially as you transition to a self-sustaining homestead.

Also, evaluate how you like to live. Do you enjoy going to restaurants or going out dancing? Do you like to travel or attend cultural events? You will need some income to afford the things in life that cannot be bartered 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, homesteaders grow their own food and perhaps barter for things like clothing and other necessary items.

Keep Your Expenses Low

This becomes important when considering your homestead property (most people who homestead want to buy their own land 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 30 years?

Also, consider how your homestead will be heated and 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 will need to devote some time to decide how you will provide for these needs on your own homestead.

Embrace Simplicity and 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," while doing all the things needed in a day to maintain a homestead, it is an unrealistic goal. You are likely to get frustrated and overwhelmed when you do not succeed. Let go of any remaining attachment to things looking neat and together. It will help you achieve more.

At the same time, if you are chugging along, happily advancing toward your ultimate goal of self-sufficiency, and not stressed, and able to keep things organized and tidy to boot, then great. The point is to not stress out over it.

A life of luxury and glamour is not in the cards for a homesteader. Homesteading is all about the idea that trading time for money does not 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.

Time Worked Equals Self-Sufficiency

If you resent the time spent tending animals, canning food, and chopping wood—then homesteading is not for you. Instead, consider a hobby farm where your goal is just to enjoy the parts of farming that you do not resent, without self-sufficiency as the ultimate goal. Or maybe a small farm business is the right choice, where your focus is on earning money as well as farming.

Divorce time from money in your mind. Sure, you could have worked for maybe $15 an hour, but instead, you just worked the equivalent of $5 an hour by raising your own chickens. The whole point is that you worked for yourself, on your own terms, and you are building something that runs deeper than trading your time for an hourly wage.

Roll With the Punches

Humor is a good thing. Laugh daily. Do not get on a high horse about homesteading and think you are 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.

You will need to take it easy on yourself and be OK when you do not 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. Enjoy the process of gaining self-sufficiency a little bit at a time.