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What is Homesteading? and Choose to Start Now (Wherever You Are)
Are you feeling the tug to start homesteading but don’t know where or how to begin? I am here to tell you that it may be much easier than you think. Becoming a homesteader starts with an intention, with a choice.
Choosing to start homesteading was a difficult choice for me to make. I loved the idea of living this lifestyle but I didn’t know where or how to begin. I didn’t really know what it meant to be homesteading. I wasn’t sure what I’d be risking or giving up.
Looking back now, I can see that my heart was telling me that homesteading felt right, but my mind was holding me back from starting down this path. Homesteading felt so different from the mainstream lifestyle. It felt like this huge unknown world that was exciting but also overwhelming, because it seemed like I’d have to figure out or know a lot of new things.
I’d like to share my perspective with you because it might help lighten your emotional and cognitive load around this new big world of homesteading. And if you are already homesteading and know a thing or two, I encourage you to keep reading because there may be a few juicy tidbits for you too.
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Start Homesteading With Nothing
What might hold any of us back from starting homesteading, or making a life change toward becoming the homesteader we really want to be? I thought I needed to own a piece of rural property to homestead. Once I finally began my journey into becoming a homesteader, I learned that needing rural land to become a homesteader wasn’t true. I proved to myself that I could start homestead without owning land and with no income.
Before choosing to be a homesteader, what was I lacking that held me back?
- No land
- No homesteading skills
- No homesteader friends
- Not enough savings
- Not living rurally
- Not enough time
- Not retired yet
- I didn’t grow up in a homesteading family
Eventually the call to live more naturally became so strong for me that I could no longer ignore it. I quit my career, abandoned my income and started volunteering and living on farms and homesteads to immerse myself in this lifestyle and pickup new skills. In that process of immersing myself into homesteading, I embraced the role of the student. I gave myself up to become a complete novice and a student.
In my free time I started picking up my own “extra curricular” homesteading hobbies: herbalism, cooking homestead meals, wildcrafting, permaculture, etc. I wasn’t just helping my mentors on their homesteads, but I was already a homesteader just by choosing to pursue this lifestyle and my own homesteading interests. I realized that I didn’t need my own land or a certain amount of income or savings to start homesteading.
By the time I “graduated” myself from this life of volunteering on homesteads I was carrying with me a homesteading mindset. My homestead attitude, mindset and skills are a part of me in any context, wherever I may be.
Remember that list I shared above? I was identifying all the things I thought I needed before I could start homesteading. They are all versions of “not enough”. Having a “not enough” attitude is part of my cultural conditioning that gave me a binary lens: Either I am homesteading or I am not.
When I looked at my life and the homesteading life I wanted to live, I was comparing myself to what I was not. I was looking at the desire for an external measurement of becoming more resilient and growing my own food. I was looking at all the skills I didn’t have yet.
To be honest, I was actually quite overwhelmed by the sheer amount of homesteading skills and hobbies that I suddenly saw available to pursue.
At that time, I wasn’t even looking at homesteaders on social media. Recently I picked up Instagram after a 7 year social media fast. I see many beautiful homesteaders that are working very hard to prove that they “made it” as a homesteader and selling the dream of homesteading to others. When I look at these messages and compare myself to homesteaders that have something I don’t, there is a part of me that feels not enough.
For me, homesteading starts from deep within. Deep within me is a strong desire to reconnect with the natural world and to reconnect with my heart. That’s where I find the magic waiting.
The desire to connect with the natural world was more or less immediately apparent to me, while the desire to reconnect with my heart took more time to realize. Now I know they are both the same.
How Do I Define “To Homestead”?
I observe that homesteading is defined in many different ways. Everyone that I ask has a different definition of what it means to homestead. Previously I was passively accepting what I thought was the correct definition. Now I am actively embracing this dynamic reality by creating my own definition of what it means to homestead.
When I open myself up to the possibility of a fluid definition that shifts with our culture, interacts with our global brothers and sisters and responds to our modern problems, I see that homesteading has many synonyms, parallels and facets: Permaculture, natural living, organic food, community resilience, herbalism, etc.
For me, homesteading is not a perfect word because it represents so much beyond its origination of claiming a piece of land, in a colonial context, and surviving off of that land. But yet it is perfect because the modern homesteading movement includes so many of my brothers and sisters that are looking to re-connect to their hearts, to the natural world and to our roots as a natural species as part of the ecosystem on earth. With that in mind, homesteading is the best word I have found for who I am trying to be within our modern cultural context.
Homesteading As a Verb
As I am designing my life I like to look at homesteading as a verb instead of a noun. A homestead, implies a specific home and the land it sits on (if its not actively mobile). To me that was limiting when I didn’t have access to a piece of land that seemed homestead worthy. Ironically, I did already have a garden in a suburban environment and I didn’t realize that I could be homesteading already! That’s just one example of many that taught me that my beliefs are powerful. Mine were holding me back from seeing possibilities.
I am choosing to look at the verb “to homestead” when I am evaluating my life because it helps me to see past self imposed limitations. Homesteading as a verb is action oriented and helps me empower myself as someone who is capable of action. Thinking about homesteading can feel big, lofty and overwhelming, but I have come to the conclusion that my favorite way to homestead is to appreciate small things that I was previously overlooking or moving too fast to notice.
I am inviting myself to start my design process at zone zero, as its said in permaculture, and look at my inner being. What are my human qualities and needs?
- Physically this body is my temporary home while I am alive in this world. It needs sustenance and movement.
- Emotionally my being needs to be valued by my immediate community. I need to feel loved. I need to feel connection with other lives around me.
- Intellectually my ego needs to be stimulated, exercised and valued.
- Spiritually I need to feel deeply connected at all levels of my being to something bigger than itself.
Homesteading can nourish me on the physical, emotional, intellectual and even the spiritual level. Homesteading, for me, is a practice that helps me follow my intentions of being nourished on all levels of my being while connecting with the natural world that I am remembering I am a part of. I recognize that homesteading is not the only medium for this kind of personal transformation, but it is the path that calls to me now.
My life used to be compartmentalized into different boxes. Work here with these people, exercise over there with those people, eat with these people, live with another set of people, with a lot of consumerism happening. Homesteading, permaculture, natural living, whatever you want to call it helps me de-compartmentalize my life while finding more meaning and connections. It helps me shift away from being a global consumer to becoming a producer on the hyper local scale (family, community, watershed).
Start Homesteading With What You’ve Got
As I am defining homesteading I am not concerned with specific homesteading skills or activities. Activities that I carry out are a physical expression of how I internalize what it means to be a homesteader. I want to actively recognize my deep physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs in my definition of homesteading.
In the spirit of moving past my “not enough” mindset, scarcity, doubt and fears I empower myself to define homesteading into my life now regardless of what I have and do not have.
If I never gardened or raised animals for meat or dairy I could still purchase vegetables, meat and dairy from a local farmer or homesteader, which creates community resilience by supporting a local food system, which in turn helps me feel more more connection and nourishment to this planet and my community while I eat my food.
If I never intellectually grasped permaculture, I could still design my life in a regenerative way that is nourishing for me. I could still contribute to a more sustainable future by evaluating my daily choices.
If I never built my own home I could still appreciate the natural materials that my survival and comfort depend upon. I could still invite natural materials into my home to nourish my connection to and reliance on nature.
If I never studied herbalism, I could still meet and appreciate plants, whether they were indoors, in a garden, on a walk in the park or in a forest. Without even knowing a plant’s name I could feel more connected to nature, meet new green friends and feel a greater sense of nourishment that I hadn’t known before.
To me all these things and more are homesteading.
Homesteading is more of a mindset and a heartset, rather than any particular skill set or action. Homesteading cannot be sustainable if it is following a template. If I followed a global template for homesteading I would be supporting a monoculture.
My Personal Definition
To homestead is to listen to my heart for guidance on new ways of connecting, co-operating and co-creating with natural communities (human included) while nourishing my physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual being.
My own definition is in constant flux as I learn and evolve. I am inviting in myself the flexibility to continually redefine what it means to homestead. Homesteading is a gradient, not a binary. The door is wide open for us to create our own personal definitions.
No two homesteaders are going to have the same definition but many of us can agree on common aspects or values. I believe that is because we all have the same deep needs for connection and nourishment as humans, a species that belongs to the natural ecosystems.
I encourage you to begin crafting own definition of homesteading. Continue re-crafting your definition as you walk this path. If you are feeling called to it, please share in the comments what homesteading means to you!
Homesteading Starts With A Choice
If I look back now to myself 10 years ago my heart was already calling me to the homesteading path but my mind, fears and social conditioning held me back from giving it a go. Eventually a set of circumstances out of my control cleared the field for me to overcome a fear and take a leap of faith.
I was high on new experiences, following my heart and intuition and feeling aligned with the universe in a way I had never been before.My Journey from Suburbs to Rural Homesteading
That leap opened me to following my heart and intuition through pathways that had been closed off in my tenure as a responsible adult and good citizen.
It all started with a single choice: “I am going to do it. I am going to try following a more natural path and dedicate my life, in this present moment, to it. I am going to try homesteading.”
Where are you now physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually in relation to homesteading? Are the choices you are actively making in alignment with what your heart needs?
Take One Action
Assuming your heart has already called you to become a homesteader and your mind has agreed to support your heart in that calling, the choice must be affirmed by action.
I’ve come up with a list of some practices just about anyone can act on without regard to money, land, family, time or other restrictions.
When I remove restrictions, the only thing that can hold me back from pursing something that lights up my heart is my own thoughts or limiting beliefs.
Look through this list for inspiration and ideas. I invite you to start by picking just one actionable item from this list that calls to you, that excites you. Make it fun and easy for yourself. And then commit to trying it!
Cook more meals from scratch
Cooking meals from scratch helps us slow down enough to become more connected to each ingredient. Through the process of cooking we can learn to infuse our intention into each meal.
Buy food from a local farmer
Buying food from local organic farmers is building community resilience, supporting a slow food movement, nourishing your body with higher levels of nutrition (compared to industrially farmed food), and supporting sustainability.
Remove more processed food from your diet
Remove your family from the processed food epidemic that causes obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many more health problems. We are nourished on the physical level when we remove or reduce processed foods from our meals, snacks and drinks and replace it with whole foods.
Eat more seasonally
Eating food in season is inviting seasonal shifts into our body the way all of our ancestors did naturally, even just 100 years ago and for millennia before that. Give gratitude for the modern convenience of efficient supply lines that minimizes our immediate concern for hunger. And then question whether eating tomatoes and sweet corn in January or lettuce and spinach in July is nourishing our body and spirit. Learn what is growing locally in season each month, embrace seasonal changes and invite more of that into your diet. Whether it is home grown, purchased from local farmers or even from the supermarket, eating seasonally is healthier and brings us closer to the earth.
Bring natural beauty into your home
Bringing natural elements into our home helps us connect with the earth and the seasons. We enjoy time outdoors looking at natural materials through a new lense and then we get to enjoy it a second time in our home. Leaves, sticks, rocks, pine cones, seed pods, branches are all elements that we can feel connected to. When we are done appreciating these natural elements in our home we can place them back outside.
Make a craft with natural materials
Make a simple craft with natural materials helps us connect to the nature around us. We can enjoy playing with leaves, twigs, branches, flower stalks or any number of natural materials around us. It doesn’t have to be complicated or look Instagram perfect. In fact our toddler has reminded us many times in the joy in simple activities. The important thing is enjoying the connection between our hearts and the natural materials while we are making it and then each time we see it afterward.
Make one simple thing in place of a purchase
What can we make for ourselves to stand in for purchasing a new tool, home good, decoration or beauty product? When I can make something that I would have otherwise purchased I am empowering myself, nourishing my creative side and learning how to live more sustainably. A few ideas: Melting bits of used candle wax to make a new candle, carving a toothpick, butter knife, chopsticks or spoon, harvesting flowers for a bouquet, creating a seasonal collage from natural materials, making your own herbal oil or salve.
Make a fire from wood
Making wood fires reconnects us with our basic needs for energy in the form of heat to cook our food and stay warm. Wood fires as a regular ritual or seasonal celebration can bring us closer in alignment with the elemental forces. Please learn safety before working with fire, especially important in regions like ours where the landscape is prone to flammability during the fire season.
Volunteer at a local organic farm
Small scale local farmers are up against almost all odds, including competing with low food prices due to commoditization and big subsidy money. Yet most of them are farming day in and day out because they believe in the importance of good quality, sustainable, local food and a strong community. Yes, small scale organic farmers choose to farm for the health of your family, take them up on it!!! (They’re not doing it for the money, trust me.) Farmers can often use extra labor and many will gladly accept volunteer help. You can contribute a few hours of labor each week or month to help a local farmer and you might even learn a thing or two about growing your own food in the process. If nothing else you may have a better understanding why most organic farmers have so much appreciation and humility for nature.
Visit a community garden
Do you already know if there are any community gardens within commuting distance from your home? Most community gardens welcome visitors, if not for drop ins, then by appointment. Learn to share the joy of the gardener’s heart, gain some new gardener friends and get inspired by different styles of gardening.
Grow one plant
Choosing to tend one plant as it grows will help you appreciate life through a new lens. As we observe the miracle of life unfold before us we can delight in caring for another being. Whether it is in a container, in the ground, inside or outside, tending a plant can nourish our innate ability to interact with the green world.
Visit a local seed or plant swap
Local seed swaps build community and resilience through our own ability as individuals to grow and save seed. Make some new gardener friends while you are at it and revel together in the beauty of the world of plants and seeds!
Spend more time with plants
We owe our lives to plants for oxygen, food, fiber, shade, fuel, drinks, medicine, beauty to name a few. Spending time with plants to honor our dependence on Mother Earth and her green children. Sitting with a plant and breathing with it is a beautiful way of acknowledging our dependence on plants for oxygen while we can gift carbon dioxide back to the plant. Plants are some of the most peaceful, non-judgemental and beautiful beings that we can get to know. We don’t need a garden to start spending time with plants. Just look around you for green.
Get to know a weed
Weeds are the wild ones. Weeds are a reminder that life cannot be controlled. Weeds are resilient. Some of the weeds closest to home have the most medicine for us. Finding respect for weeds is honoring rich, abundant, beautiful life that is happening everywhere around us. Even sidewalks and roads cannot stop weeds from growing in the cracks, on the edges. Go outside an meet a weed. Whether you know its name or not, spend some time with it and learn about life. Dandelion is a great place to start.
Get to know a plant native to your region
Native plants also grow wild, but unlike weeds they have been living in your local ecosystem often for thousands of years. If you live in an urban area, getting to know native plants will take a bit more traveling to meet them in their native environment (such as a local hike). And knowing which plants are native vs imported weeds takes a bit more dedication and research. But its easy enough to learn to recognize just one native plant with the help of a local native nursery, native plant society, university extension office, native plant club, native plant meetup group or native plant landscape designer. Recognizing, spending time with and acknowledging native plants brings us a deeper connection and reverence for our local landscapes.
Join a local plant walk
Whether urban or rural most people will be able to find some local plant walks within a reasonable distance. Plant walks are often themed around weeds, native plants, blooms or food. They are often guided by an expert or someone with wisdom around plants. Sometimes they are free, sometimes they have a low cost. Joining a plant walk can help you gain more knowledge and appreciation for the plants growing around you. Check meetup.com, ask your local librarian, check with the university extension office, local plant social media groups or ask your plant loving friends for word about upcoming plant walks.
Choose one way to slow down
Actually this is a two-for-one because everything in this list ask you to slow down. The important thing is to consciously choose to slow down as a life value. I’ve come to define slowing down not so much as how much I get done or how fast I move, but more a state of my nervous system. Nature has been my best teacher in slowing down (especially when my phone is off or away), so I am choosing to increase my time in the natural world (gardening, walks outside, visiting trees, hiking, etc) and learning how to nourish my parasympathetic nervous system.
What is your relationship as a modern consumer with access to convenience and global supply chains? The link in the title above will help you start to consider this question without shaming yourself into guilt. Start by standing back and observing yourself and your habits as a consumer. Having more awareness is the goal here. Then, if and when it feels right, you can start making small changes toward becoming a more conscious or natural consumer.
Make friends with homesteaders
Surround yourself by like minded folks to help inspire, encourage, invigorate, appreciate teach and support you. If you can’t find an active homesteading community in your area here are some ideas: Find a local permaculture club, make friends with a local organic farmer, ask a librarian about local homesteaders, inquire at a local state university extension office for related groups. Short of that, you can start your own homestead meetup group. Don’t try to homestead in a bubble! Online is great as a compliment to local, in person support. For some extreme cases, online may be the only option to make contact with someone that has a homestead mindset, but for most of us, even in cities and suburbs we can find someone with homesteading values, has been a homesteader or is actively homesteading.
I wouldn’t be homesteading today if I didn’t start by listening to the big dream that my heart dreamed up. If I want my dreams to become a reality I sometimes come face to face with self imposed limitations, such as perceptions of normality, belief system, doubts, imposter syndrome and fear. Getting over some of those initial barriers was painful and extremely clumsy at first. Now I choose to dream big until I cannot help but be carried away by the passion that brews inside me. I let my dreaming lead to choice instead of choosing to dream, so that I am sure it is my heart leading the way and not my mind imposing an agenda.
Set your intentions for homesteading (see link in title above). This is a unique, fun and meaningful activity for any of us whether we are just starting homesteading or have been calling ourselves homesteaders for years. Going through this process of identifying our attractions to homesteading, the feelings we want to feel as we homestead and finally crafting our intentions around homesteading helps us hold a channel with our hearts as we move into designing our homesteading lifestyle.
Define what “To Homestead” means to you
Answer the question posed at the beginning of this article: How Do You Define “To Homestead”? Reread that section now. Remember that there is no wrong answer. Remember that your definition will shift and change with you. Set aside any doubts, and cast away any “not enough’s” that prevent you from connecting with your heart. Focus on what homesteading means to you internally as mindset, feelings and values, rather than externally as actions, places or things. This is your chance to start actively designing your new life as a homesteader. How does that story begin?
Design your life for overflow
The third ethic in permaculture is “fair share of surplus”. When we have surplus we can share it back with our community or fellow humans and back to nature. That surplus can come in many forms including food, materials, energy, love, wisdom, money, etc. We can’t share surplus unless we ourselves have our own needs met first. In our western world many of us have learned to spend much energy toward accumulating physical stuff or wealth while not recognizing deeper needs aren’t being met. When we design our lives for overflow, we are consciously looking for opportunities to meet our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs through conscious design. As you ponder this idea, look for small incremental changes you can start making now for quick wins that will move you in the direction you want to go.
You Are A Homesteader
If you’ve followed along this far you crafted your homestead intentions, you defined what homesteading means to you, you made a choice to be a homesteader and you took an action to affirm that choice.
Congratulations! You are now a homesteader. No, there is no certificate for you to print out that says you made it this far. This accomplishment is not something to brag or gloat about, because connecting with the earth is deeper than that. But do celebrate, do take pride, do take responsibility and do take joy in knowing that you are a homesteader!
We are walking a path that leads to more respect for the visible and invisible life around us, that we have been a part of all along. The reward is walking this path and delighting in discovering new natural beauty every day. The reward is contributing to a more sustainable regenerative future. The reward is deeper connections with our peers and with the natural world that we rely on for everything.
Another way of looking at it is that there is no singular moment that I became a homesteader. It is a path, not a destination. I can call myself a homesteader today, but my definition tomorrow may change. That doesn’t invalidate who I was yesterday.
I am so grateful that we are here together, reminding each other how important our lives are. I am so grateful for everyone on this planet who is looking for ways to connect and re-connect with our Mother Earth. I am so grateful for all of the elders who have walked the path before us and selflessly hand their wisdom down to us so that we can follow in their footsteps. I am so grateful for those who seek peace and love above all else.