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What is Homesteading? And 10 Ways To Start

What is Homesteading? And 10 Ways To Start

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Every self-proclaimed homesteader has a moment when they decide that homesteading is the lifestyle they want to pursue. It’s a glorious moment!

But it can also lead to a lot of frustration if you don’t live where traditional outdoor homesteading activities are possible.

Fear not, though – there are many ways to start homesteading before you actually have a homestead!

Keep reading to find out how to prepare mentally for your homesteading lifestyle, in addition to building skills you will need to be more self-sufficient.

Check out our other Homesteading articles:
11 Tips On Getting A Land Loan For Your Homestead
24 DIY Vertical Garden Designs
Lacto-Fermentation For Beginners

What is homesteading?

Homesteading has many different meanings – in fact, my idea of homesteading may very well be different than yours. And that’s okay!

In the most basic sense, homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency with a commitment to scaling back reliance on other people, businesses, systems, and products to survive and enjoy daily life.

Some general examples of homesteading that come to mind are: growing your own food, raising animals for milk, eggs, or meat, making your own clothes, or making homemade cleaners and soap.

Some more specific examples are: using a rain catchment system to collect water, heating your home with a wood stove, using that same stove to cook food or heat water for other purposes, creating herbal supplements out of foraged plants, orienting your house and windows to best utilize solar heat, and installing a composting toilet.

There are many more homesteading activities, but before we get into the nitty-gritty here are some general questions you should ask yourself first.

A large barrel collecting rain water from a gutter in a garden.
Collecting rain water is a great way to be more self-sufficient on a homestead.

Why Do You Want To Homestead?

The answer to this question will direct all decisions you make moving forward in your homesteading journey. Most likely, being more self-sufficient is one reason since that is the basic premise of what homesteading is. However, what are any other more particular reasons you may have?

Maybe you want to homestead to:

  • Know and control where your food comes from
  • Be more proactive in helping the planet/environment
  • Have a getaway from your regular job
  • Be able to quit your job and reclaim your freedom
  • Reduce waste
  • Live simpler

These are just some reasons that immediately come to mind. Your overarching homesteading goals will determine how much of a lifestyle shift you’ll have to make, what skills you should learn, and what kind of property you should look for.

For us, we are getting into homesteading to live a simpler, more fulfilling life in a location that brings us joy and peace.

A major goal of ours is to be as self-sufficient as we possibly can. This means building an off-grid house utilizing reliable systems (such as a wood stove for heat and hot water, composting toilet, etc) that don’t require much maintenance or specialized knowledge to repair.

We intend to nurture and design our land according to the principles of permaculture and forest farming. Our goal is to develop a closed-loop system on our property where no natural resources go to waste, and no additional outside resources need to be brought in for the purposes of growing our food, fertilizing our garden, etc.

Additionally, we’ve realized that noise truly disrupts any and all enjoyment we receive from our time at home (and we spend a lot of time at home), so we want to get as far away from neighbors or other noise-producing sources as possible (unless of course they are natural noises like birds, rustling leaves, and streams!)

If this sounds like you, read up on how to get a land loan here. You’ll certainly need one if you plan to purchase property far away from people!

With those goals in mind, we have not only been dreaming up but actually taking proactive measures to plan our homestead before we even have it. This is why goals are so important to figure out in the beginning.

To What Extent Do You Want To Homestead?

By “extent,” I mean how dependent are your homesteading plans on the landscape, size, or location of your property?

If you are stuck in a house or apartment that simply cannot accommodate outdoor homesteading activities, this is an important question to consider, as it will influence what kind of property you look to move to next.

For example, raising chickens requires less space and resources than raising chickens, goats, and cows. Growing a vegetable garden requires less space, planning, and direction than what is needed to nurture an entire food forest.

Keep in mind that homesteading is possible on as little as a quarter acre of land! So, anything larger than this really opens up the possibilities. Some things to think about when deciding to what “extent” you want to homestead are:

  • It’s easier to scale down than to add property later on.
  • Zoning is important – particularly if you’re looking to stay in/near a city or town. Most municipalities and townships require certain zoning or permits to raise animals, sell excess produce, or build another structure on your property.
  • Off-grid homes may require more land to store certain equipment and resources that are not needed for on-grid homes.
  • Solar panels require specific orientations and access to plentiful sunlight, which certain properties may not provide the conditions for, particularly if you want free-standing panels.

What are your priorities?

After you’ve figured out your overall homesteading motives and goals, it’s time to prioritize. This is key to successfully begin and transition into homesteading while spending the least amount of money possible.

The main thing to remember when prioritizing (as hard as it might be!) is that you can’t do everything at once, and it won’t all get done right away.

With that being said, here are the 5 main considerations to think about when prioritizing your projects, renovations, landscaping, etc.:

1. Importance
Think of this in terms of necessity vs. want. For example, a want would be: your house is livable when you move in, but you’d like to renovate a couple of spaces or systems later on. A necessity might be: an installed and working well, so you either pass over properties that don’t have one or you pay to put one in or find an alternative water source.

2. Cost
Of course this is a big factor for any project, and it will vary depending on your financial situation. My only advice is to avoid going into debt at all costs.

3. Time
How long will each project take?

4. Tools
Do you have all the tools necessary to complete each project? If not, will you need to purchase them? Or can you borrow or rent them? Don’t forget to consider this when outlining project costs.

5. Season
Is there a certain season your projects need to be done? This is most relevant for climates with challenging winters that put most things on hold.

Several white ducks and chickens foraging in a hay stack.

Shift your mindset to focus on self-sufficiency

Shifting your mindset to one focused on self-sufficiency and sustainability is key to succeeding with your homesteading journey. This is a lifelong process that takes a conscious effort to accomplish!

I won’t go into too much detail here, as self-sufficiency is such a big topic that it deserves its own blog post. However, I think it’s important to outline the basics.

In the most primitive sense, self-sufficiency means not relying on outside help to satisfy your basic needs. These needs include food, water, heat, shelter, and electricity. However, the list can (and should) go much deeper than these.

Embracing a mindset of self-sufficiency means living more simply in every way possible. Because most (and by most, I really mean all) “things” we own are produced elsewhere and then purchased, there are ways to cut back in pretty much every facet of life.

This mindset differs substantially from how most of us were raised and from what is popular in the society around us.

The most basic bit of advice I have to start this mindset shift is to ask yourself these questions every time you buy something: Do I actually, truly need this? Am I replacing something that is a necessity, or can I find a workaround without it? The key is to be honest.

Once you start evaluating every single thing you buy, you’ll realize just how much you don’t actually need and how much you can provide for yourself.

For things you determine you do need to purchase from a store, it may be tempting to go for the “sustainable” version. Make sure to watch out for greenwashing and always make informed purchases.

10 Ways To Start Homesteading Right Now

1. Read

Reading is the absolute best way to learn about homesteading. There are tons of books out there about every subject imaginable – from homesteading on less than an acre in suburbia, to managing woodlots tens to hundreds of acres in size, to fermenting, to building your own house and beyond.

We learned everything we know about permaculture and regenerative gardening from reading! (Check out these 5 Best Permaculture Books if you want to read more on the topic.)

Using books to learn and find information doesn’t only sharpen your brain function, but it’s also a great way to grow your self-reliance.

Owning a book means you own that information. It is physical, tangible information that cannot change or go away unless the actual book gets damaged.

Compare this to information on the internet – for example, this blog post. There is a seemingly infinite number of components and layers that must be functioning for you to access this post.

In order to just access the internet, you need electricity to power a functioning modem/router, a working internet connection, plus a functioning device to surf the web. These are just the basics on your end to gain internet access.

Assuming you have all of the above, now you have to access this particular webpage.

My website must be up and running, which relies on many other platforms and storage clouds to be working. There must be a way to find this content, like a search engine search or social media.

Then, if you’re referring back to this page to find information you previously read, this post must still be published and not updated or altered so it still includes the particular information you’re looking for.

I could go on and on, but you get the point! In short, once you own a book, that information is unequivocally yours to read, learn, and refer back to whenever you please.

My favorite places to buy books on homesteading are ThriftBooks and Chelsea Green Publishing.

Here are some of our favorite books to get you started:

2. Preserve Food

Preserving food is arguably the most important skill to master on a homestead, only second to growing food. Without proper preservation techniques, your harvest may spoil or not last long enough to provide food until the next growing season.

It will take time to build up to growing and preserving enough food to last the whole year, so start small. Learn the techniques first, then scale up from there.

Even if you don’t currently have a vegetable garden, you can practice food preservation techniques with store-bought produce.

My only strict word of caution when taking this route is to only use organic food. You don’t want to preserve nasty unknown chemical herb- and pesticides by using non-organic produce. Especially with foods that don’t require peeling!

The most common ways to preserve fresh produce are:

  • fermenting
  • pickling
  • canning
  • freezing
  • dehydrating
  • drying

Fermenting and pickling are the easiest to start with, in my opinion. All you need are some mason jars, vinegar, and salt to get started. Here are 28 Easy Lacto-Fermentation Recipes to try if you’re already familiar with fermentation!

Five open jars of recently fermented vegetables.

3. Start gardening or keeping house plants

Growing food is incredibly important on a homestead, and a huge step in becoming self-sufficient.

It can seem daunting, especially if you’re new to vegetable gardening. However, the best way to improve is with practice and trial/error.

Like I said in the food preservation section, I suggest starting small. Test out a couple of plants of each vegetable you want to grow to see if they work in your soil and current sunlight levels.

Make notes of what worked and what didn’t, and continue to scale up every year. You’ll be an expert in no time with this method.

Don’t have a yard to garden in? Don’t fret, you can grow vegetables inside or on a porch with a raised garden bed! All that’s required is some floor or table space and adequate sunlight.

If you don’t have this, get some shade-tolerant house plants. Although you won’t get a harvest out of them, at least you’ll be building plant care skills.

Remember – if there’s a will, there’s a way.

4. Try some DIY projects

There are hundreds of DIY projects you can try. Not only are they awesome for building homesteading skills, but they can save you money if done correctly.

Here are some to try out along with links to helpful articles:

5. Cut down on waste

We should all be doing this anyway! It is especially important when consciously making an effort to be more self-sufficient. There are many ways to reduce your waste, starting with adjusting your buying habits.

Stop replacing items or appliances just because they are getting old – use them until they no longer function properly. If something breaks, try to fix it before automatically replacing it. Before buying a replacement, ask yourself if you truly need whatever it is, or if it’s just a convenience to have.

Buy less stuff. There are so many things we buy because we can, when we really don’t need them. When you truly need something, buy the highest quality version.

Note: we didn’t say the highest-priced version, though all else equal it usually is a higher cost upfront to buy something that will last. Investing the extra money upfront for the highest-quality version will reduce your waste and give you peace of mind that your purchase was worth it.

We do caution that cheap, meaning little value, can still be an expensively priced product. Sometimes a lower-priced version of a product can still be of high value.

The correct way to think about products you need to purchase is to consider the lifetime cost of ownership. That is, how long will it actually cost you to own a product throughout its usable life, which will save you money in the long run.

For example, let’s say a product costs $100 and lasts 5 years. And another alternative of that same product costs $125 and lasts 10 years.

If you paid 25% more for the more reliable, higher-priced product, you would have actually saved $75 over the lower-cost product TWICE during a 10 year period. That’s not necessarily a lot, but it adds up quickly when you think about all of the things you have to buy!

What we use to cut through the noise when it comes to making quality purchases is Consumer Reports. They are unbiased and independent, so no company can pay to purchase the review for its product. To get full access to all of their content, you do have to pay to be a member, but we find the cost to be very fair and well worth it.

6. Start planning meals

Planning meals is our least favorite “chore,” but we definitely see the value in doing it ahead of time. Deciding what to eat for a week or two at a time saves time, money, and everyday grief of having to decide what to make for dinner.

If you ever plan on trying to grow enough food to sustain you and your family for the entire year, meal planning is an invaluable skill to have. In order to grow enough food, you must know how much food you actually need.

Keeping track of meals, shopping lists, and what food you actually buy each month is a great way to get a head start before you’re at that stage.

7. Compost

Composting is a no-brainer. Everyone has organic food waste that oftentimes gets thrown out in the trash. Instead of throwing it out, start recycling those nutritious scraps into something useful!

Composting is a natural process of recycling organic material such as leaves and vegetable scraps into a rich soil amendment. When added to a garden, it promotes soil microbes that aid plant growth. It’s such an easy way to give your vegetable garden an extra boost of nutrients!

There are many compost bin designs that you can easily make from recycled or inexpensive materials.

Composting is not just limited to outdoors on a big property. You can compost inside your house or apartment by either vermicomposting or aerobic composting. Both bins require little space and can be homemade. Check out this phenomenal, comprehensive guide to find out more about composting indoors.

If you don’t want to make an actual compost bin indoors, it’s still worth collecting food scraps to dispose of somewhere outside, even if it’s not an actual compost pile.

When we didn’t have a compost pile or indoor bin, we collected our vegetable scraps (finely cut up to decompose faster), eggshells, and coffee grounds in a 5-gallon bucket. When it got full, we’d dump it out in a patch of woods near our apartment. If this is an option for you, I’d highly recommend it.

It is a good way to reduce waste in your trash can and, when done properly, it can provide nutrients and fertility to a probably degraded forest, which may allow more plant varieties to grow there.

8. Find ways to enhance the environment you already have

By “enhance,” we mean evaluating and harnessing what beneficial features your yard or living space has. You will need to get creative, but that’s part of the fun.

For example – at our last rental, we had a propane wall-mounted heater in the main living room and electric baseboards throughout the rest of the house. Electric baseboards are notoriously inefficient, expensive to use, and can smell bad when running.

So, after experimenting with our heat settings and analyzing utility bills, we decided to only keep our baseboards on their very lowest temperature so no pipes would freeze. We used a space heater in our bedroom for 1-2 hours when we first went to bed (after that it got cold but it didn’t matter because we were asleep and like it chilly anyway!).

Other than that, we relied mostly on our propane heater during all other times of the day because it was the most efficient heating source available to us, and we barely used rooms that weren’t heated by it.

Instead of complaining and saying “I wish I had this kind of space or this landscape feature,” think critically to come up with creative solutions to make what is available to you more efficient. This goes for both inside and outdoor spaces (if applicable).

9. Embrace frugality

This relates back to the earlier section on self-sufficiency. Frugality is a great complement to a self-sufficient mindset. The less you buy, the less you rely on other people.

The ugly truth of the matter is that we buy too much. We waste money on things we simply don’t need, and we are socially conditioned to always want more.

We’re taught that the solution to any problem can be bought. Not only is this way of thinking unnecessary, but it is detrimental to a resilient mindset.

10. Learn or improve basic skills

You know, the practical skills we were never taught in the standard school curriculum? Construction, cooking, sewing, tools, car mechanics, plumbing, electrical, baking, sketching, journaling, etc.

Any new skill you can learn that does not involve being tied to a computer or phone will benefit you on a homestead. This digital detoxing will also make your life more enjoyable and satisfying!