This DIY homesteading life we choose to live is one full of passion. It seems the second we get bitten by the homesteading ‘bug' many of us want to jump in with both feet. I get it, I've been there, done that, I tend to be an all or nothing kind of girl myself. Still there's a lot to be said about achieving homesteading goals by doing it in stages, about growing and gaining experience as the years pass by while also saving up the money to take it to the next level.
For many, the money it takes to jump from apartment homesteading to larger tract of land takes some saving. For some of us, homesteading might be a passion but so is the big city we're living in, for others homesteading is the passion but land is expensive in the area we want to live in, and on and on. The great thing about modern homesteading is that it is more a state of mind and activity rather than an actual piece of land.
When Jeff and I first got together, I moved into his bachelor pad with him. It was a 2 room apartment, about 300 square feet total, attached to the garage of our landlord. We started there. Our landlord let us have a small raised garden. We gardened and canned food, we shopped locally, got to know our farmers and other local folks doing-it-themselves, and used those years to do a lot of reading, research, and learning. We also used those years and inexpensive rent to pay down my college loan debt and save money. We took on an aggressively frugal lifestyle at the time, wanting to save money as the main priority.
After two years, we had enough money saved to buy a mobile home on a rented lot. Was it the dream homestead? No. Did it get us to the next, level? Yes. The monthly rent on the mobile home lot was very inexpensive and we kept up with our aggressively frugal lifestyle. We were able to have a bigger garden on that lot as well. Here we started dehydrating, foraging, and vermicomposting. We continued to build up skills, working jobs for other people, and saving money for the homestead we wanted most. We lived and homesteaded that lot for about 6 years. I know 6 years when you're at the beginning seems like a long time, but it passes it so fast and that time is not wasted as growth and learning happen.
When we'd saved enough money for a decent down-payment, we started looking for a homestead to buy. We live in an area where land is pretty expensive. We knew we couldn't afford a huge spread (and we didn't want to take on a mortgage that was a struggle to pay) but we also made the decision to stay here because we love it here and don't want to live anywhere else, frankly. I remember us talking to the realtor explaining that we needed a nice gardening spot, a garage, and a small house, nothing too fancy. We looked at everything we could afford and ended up where we are now. A house on just shy of 1 acre, it was the very definition of a fixer-upper, holes in the walls, junk everywhere, the wiring in the garage was a fire waiting to happen, etc. Still we made it our own, fixed it up with money we had saved and we are quite happy here. We have a garden that's larger than the house, we built a greenhouse eventually, we keep bees, still vermicompost (as well as keep traditional piles), tap our maple trees, forage, make herbal medicine, and so much more here. It'll be 8 years this summer, that we've been on this homestead and I honestly can't imagine ever leaving.
There were points in time (and still are occasionally) when I wish for larger pastures, livestock, a huge woodlot to forage from, etc. I don't want to pretend that I never wish for something different, but those moments are exceedingly rare and always overridden by huge amounts of gratitude for what I have now. The thing is we worked hard at each and every stage and we earned through blood, sweat, tears, and sometimes awful day jobs to get where we are now. We have absolutely no regrets.
I don't share any of that to brag but rather to encourage and uplift. I also share it as back-up for my belief that homesteading in stages is a great way to make all those homesteading dreams come true.
Start Now – No Matter Where You Live
Don't put off homesteading because you think it requires something you don't currently have in your possession. Do what you can with you have – build skills, save money, plan & dream (and plan some more). Work towards whatever the next stage is, the next thing you want. There is never any time wasted in this pursuit, just take small steps and spend some time each and every day working towards the homestead you most desire (I don't know what that is, nor do I think there's a single universal answer – it's deeply personal and should be). Keep great records during this time (and always) they will continue to serve you as you grow and move along.
Experience Breeds Efficiency
Practice does indeed make perfect, but it also makes everything faster and easier. I can roughly 300 jars of food every year now, most of those jars in about 4 months. When I first started on this path that would have been impossible for me. The more you can, the easier and faster it becomes (it also gets neater, meaning clean-up time is much less). That's true for anything. I can't imagine the first garden being 7,000 square feet, I can imagine slowly building up to that size each and every year as experience and soil improves. Starting now, means you can build those necessary skills slowly over time and it also means that it's easier to add new things to the mix. Trying to add everything new at one time will likely mean frustration, some failures that might be quite huge, and burnout.
Build a Safety Net
Nothing is guaranteed in life, we all know that but often we forget – we're human after all. Homesteading in stages allows us to build up savings, tools, and more to have a safety net in place as we move along the journey. A pressure canner is expensive, for instance, save up and buy it now and then continue saving for the down payment on the next place or the next necessary tool (or animal or beehive, etc.). It's so much nicer to be able to look for tools when they're not immediately in need. It's nice to be able to look through Craigslist or the local paper to look for tools and buy them at a good deal rather than be in immediate need and have to pay top dollar.
Adopt an aggressively frugal lifestyle to be able to save, build a safety net, and buy the homestead that is most desired. This is difficult, many of us struggle with deciding between wants and needs, which is obviously personal, but cut back where you can and spend time truly examining those spending habits.
Find Community Support
Assuming that the next stage in the homesteading journey has you living in the same general location, start building the necessary support system. Get to know folks traveling the same path, meet local farmers, find beekeeping groups, take classes, go on a hike with the local herbalist or mushroom foraging group, etc. Doing this now will only help later and be tons of fun now and will likely build friendships and a support network.
Get an Education
Along with community support gather resources and gain that education. Some great places to start include:
- Following the Super Awesome Homesteaders interest list on Facebook. This is list of amazing homesteading bloggers, who share tips, recipes, advice, and so much more. It's awesome to ‘like' their individual pages too but following the interest list lets you see everything in one compact place when time permits.
- The book Your Money or Your Life is directly responsible for how we got here – it's not necessarily homesteading related but it is about voluntary simplicity and making the most of money so that we don't have to work ourselves to death.
- Get a library card, if you don't already have one, and use it often. Read up on how other folks have done things and figure out ways to make it your own. Buy the books you liked best and build a home resource library. I use the Encyclopedia of Country Living at least weekly and probably daily during the gardening season. Canning books are a must, too. If you're raising bees or chickens or cows or doing anything else in a specialized nature find the best resources and keep them close at hand.
I honestly believe this is the number one homesteading skill, as pollyanna as it might seem. Take time each and every day to be grateful for this moment in time. Be grateful for the homestead you have now and grateful for the sometimes excruciatingly hard work that comes with getting to the next stage (or sometimes simply getting the garden in). It can be so easy for us humans, to waste time and energy in wishing for what want instead of expressing thanks for what we have now. Find gratitude in working hard and earning that homestead of your dreams, this will always serve you and your homestead well.
Today and each day, remember to define your homestead or farm as the one you're currently living and build towards the next stage. Achieving those homesteading goals is a worthwhile pursuit and doing it stages makes it easier to enjoy the rewards of all your efforts. It might be a simple life but it is not necessarily an easy one, but I promise there is never any wasted time in pursuing a DIY lifestyle.