the barefoot budget

unconventional grit for a mindful life

Leaving the Homestead 

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What kind of person are you? Are you a homebody, perfectly content to cozy up in the living room with a great book and a cup of tea? Or do you like to adventure out, always on the go with contantly changing scenery?

Like most, we’re a blend between the two. We love adventures, especially in the great outdoors. We love to travel and take road trips. On the other hand, we love having a home base, a place that’s ours to return to after traveling. We love hanging out at home, and being surrounded by “our stuff” – our pets, our art, our music, out projects. Up until this past year, finding a balance between the two was easy – the hardest part was finding someone to feed our cats while we were away. But now we’re trying to run a homestead, and that requires our presence at home the majority of the time. There’s a lot more that needs tended to nowadays – our garden, our fermentations, our permaculture projects. Leaving for longer than a couple days is tricky.

Two weekends ago, we were away for 4 days, backpacking on Cumberland Island. We made arrangements to have a friend water our plants, and left the cats mountains of food. Yet, when we returned, most of our plants were dead. It is the end of summer, so they were ready to be pulled anyways, but still, I was disheartened and frustrated. It’s not our friends fault – I’m sure he watered once of twice – it’s just a consequence of leaving the homestead. On top of the plants, the pets needed some serious love, the home needed some serious cleaning, and the fridge was seriously empty. The last thing we wanted to do after driving home for 6 hours was to start thinking about meal planning and cooking. But these are our commitments, this is the life we have chosen for ourselves.

It took about two full days to bring the home up to speed – pulling dead plants, replanting seeds, turning the worms, baking bread, making hummus, making toothpaste and shampoo, cleaning the house, tuning the bike, sewing up holes and rips in our clothes from backpacking, cleaning all our backpacking gear and storing it, reracking our beer, buying/ harvesting food, and cooking meals for the week. I felt overwhelmed and coudln’t help but wonder if it was worth it (it was).

With so many chores, I had plenty of time to ponder. This past year has been wild – I’ve changed so much as a person since commiting to my mindfulness practices and started trying to homestead in earnest. I used to make it to the mountains at least once a week for long hikes or overnights, swims in ice cold rivers, and naps on summits. This year, I’ve probably only been 10-15 times. There are days where my heart aches for the mountains, but it’s just not a reality for me anymore. I used to blame the 9-5 job I took up in January, but the more I think about it, it’s not my job that holds me back. It’s my life. Subconsciously, I’ve had to choose – the mountains or the garden?

Like I talked about in my last post, your priorities change. Outdoor adventure used to be a priority in my life, and I look back on it like a past relationship. I yearn for it and I feel sad in its absence. All my memories of the Appalachian mountains play back in my head fondly, as sepia-toned movie reels – I sigh, then get back to whatever my hands are tied with. This is what really sucks about working full time – you have to pick and choose between the things you love in your life, and sometimes you have to give up certain hobbies to balance your time.

I had to consider this matter on a deeper level though. Here are two pastimes that are an integral part of my being – nature and homesteading. It feels silly to even call them hobbies, because truly this is my life’s work. Here’s the problem – these two passions seem incompatible. On one hand, you have travel and adventure – outside of the home, and on the other hand, you have production of goods and experiences – iniside of the home. I experienced the incompatibility first hand when we returned from vacation. In a way, I felt punished for leaving my home – for letting things fall apart. Not fair!

I see this incompatibility a lot in the early retirement community as well. It seems like there are two big schools of thought (and plenty in between too!). Some early retirees build their wealth as fast as possible through investing, with very little equity in material possessions like a home. These folks retire from their day jobs and spend their lives travelling the world, many of them even raising children on the road. They amass a greater fortune upfront, because they don’t have hundreds of thousands tied up in a home. Then, there’s folks who invest in material possessions, like a home or a homestead. They attempt to make purchases that allow them a greater range of self-sustainability – the idea being that the more they can self provision, the less they will need to spend in retirement. These folks don’t necessarily need to amass a large sum of money, because their yearly withdrawal will be low. Obviously, you can’t do both. Each method requires different tactics and spending/ investing habits.

Can I just say, this really sucks?! What if you’re someone like me, who wants a taste of both – homesteading and occasional travel. You can’t just up and leave a homestead though, especially if you have animals. Also, it’s hard to self provision while travelling, unless you are a skilled in foraging and other wilderness survival skills (we like to forage, but we will never be as hardcore as this guy). I feel like I have had to choose one or the other in my life, and it distresses me.

I think there are creative solutions to this issue, for example, hiring help to run your homestead for a year while you travel, or alternatingly practicing each end of the spectrum in multi-year pockets. You can blend the two together, perhaps practicing a low level of self provisioning like preserving foods instead of growing your own. Or travelling in short bursts – a day trip here, a few days there. But I do believe as a whole, you have to pick one or the other.

I’m really struggling with this. While we were riding the ferry home from the island, I told Andrew, I think we’re making a mistake. Maybe we should just sell all our stuff and travel forever. I can absolutely see the appeal of that life. It’s just, I’ve dreamed of running my own homestead for so long …

Luckily, we are very young and very early in our retirement journey, so we have plenty of time to work this out. Right now, developing our homestead is my priority … but there are still days where I’m washing all our dishes by hand and daydreaming about barefooted hikes under hemlocks and blue skies.

11 thoughts on “Leaving the Homestead 

  1. I can see why you are stuck between both worlds. You are still very young, so hold tight and you will figure it out soon enough. Most people eventually figure out what their gut instinct is trying to tell them!

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  2. I’ll say, the two worlds you’re stuck between are good ones. It’s can be hard to decide how to live our lives, we’re human after all and want many things; often conflicting things. I say, stick with your homesteading adventure. You guys seem to be making such great progress and it would be a shame to step away now. If in five years, if your heart is still yearning to travel, then reevaluate. Good luck!

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    • That’s what I’m thinking! Sometimes, having too any options of what to do with your life is overwhelming, but I agree that it’s best to stick with things instead of always abandonning your decisions for the next best thing. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. Seems like there should be some time of the year when the homestead requires less work – not an active growing season – when you can plan more adventures. Just make sure you have a good caregiver for the grandcats!

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    • Yes, for now I am hoping winter will be slower … although Andrew is really ramping up the beer production already … I can tell that will be a mainstay when we’re all cooped up in the house. I’m thinking further down the line, once I get chickens and bees and a dog, hehe. Can’t leave Sox in charge of all them!!!

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  4. Great post! I can definitely empathize with your “plight” although my circumstances are a bit different. I love gardening and love being outside of the city, but this means that I miss out on a connection with the city and really incorporating myself into the culture because I have (at least in the summer) a big giant green “kid” that demands a great deal of my attention. I guess it all comes down to priorities. Ah well. Thanks for sharing and giving my brain some food for thought.

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  6. I think the frustration and tension you’re feeling is totally normal! We’re more in that walking-both-paths camp, of wanting to travel but also wanting to maintain a lot of projects at our home base. (Not quite a homestead because of the trouble we have gardening here, but in every other sense.) I highly recommend reading Twelve By Twelve by William Powers, which I think would jive nicely with your focus on mindfulness and simplifying, and provides a nice model for leaving your homestead for a while. The author stays in another woman’s homestead cabin while taking a sabbatical from his life, and cares for everything in exchange for having a place to stay. I think that model could definitely work for you guys. As you get more connected in the homesteading/permaculture world, I’m sure you’ll find like-minded people in your local area who you’d trust to look after your home while you travel the world. I’m a big believer that you can craft any kind of life you want, and if you don’t want to choose between the two extremes, then make the hybrid approach work for you. 🙂

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