One year ago we moved from our suburbany townhome into an 1800’s Victorian smack dab in the middle of town. As many of you know, we had originally wanted to purchase a house, but the stars wouldn’t align. So we made the financially right decision to delay home-buying and took action to at least get closer to the life we want. Andrew wanted to be closer to bars, restaurants, and shops. I wanted to be in walking or biking distance of my office. We broke our lease and moved into town.
Just because we didn’t buy a house doesn’t mean we gave up on homesteading. It’s just a different approach, one that I’ve been exploring and have found both exciting and frustrating. I got a lot of positive feedback on the last ‘Homesteading in Small Spaces’ post I did that talked about creative gardening solutions. Today I am continuing that series and discussing the value of the ‘homestead mindset’ – something that takes no space whatsoever.
I jumped into homesteading head first, no idea what I was doing, eager and excited about alternative living. I started growing a little food and it gave me a high, so I just kept going without thinking twice about what I was doing or why I was doing it. I was inefficient at best, and often found myself frustrated, overworked, and down on the whole lifestyle. I have found in my journey that a little mental work goes a long way to building the productive homestead of your dreams. Here are a few ideas.
Define Your Goals. Truly, this is where everything begins. Give yourself space to think about what you are trying to achieve. Ask yourself why you want to homestead in the first place. My answers to to these questions are pretty broad. I want to provide my family a higher quality of life. I want to live closer to nature and in better harmony with my environment. I want to be less reliant on ‘the system’ and be able to care for my family in times of crisis.
Once you have an idea of why you want to live this life in the first place, you can start teasing apart those vague goals. Ask yourself – what does this goal mean to me and how can I apply it in my life? To me, a higher quality of life means living healthier – physically and spiritually. Go further. What does physical health look like to me? Eating a whole foods vegetarian diet. Exercising daily. Resting well and enough.
Now ask yourself, how can I achieve this for myself, in my own home? I don’t mean literally inside your home, I mean in your space. Since we are talking about homesteading in small spaces, some things may be unattainable. For example, it’s important to me to eat food that is grown sustainably and locally. I can’t grow all or even most of my vegetables in my space. Is there another step I could take to get closer to that goal? For us, we decided to invest in a 40-week CSA. This allows us access to the organic, locally grown produce and simultaneously supports a local farm. Supporting local business is something we think contributes to a higher quality of life for not just us, but for our community too. So this decision is a win on all fronts!
Here’s another example: I can use my home space to exercise! I practice yoga daily at home, and all that takes is a mat and some open floor space. Our apartment is so small I actually have to rearrange a bit so I can make room to practice. Here’s the distinction: I could leave my home everyday to go to a gym that costs me $50/ month for membership. But instead, I make my home space work for me.
I like that example because it’s not what we traditionally think of when we think ‘homesteading.’ Homesteading brings to mind livestock and huge gardens and root cellars, which are all awesome – but I really believe homesteading is more about the DIY-ethos and harnessing that in all aspects of your life, not just to provide the bare essentials. Homesteading is about relying on yourself (a home exercise practice) instead of relying on outside forces (the gym) for your happiness and well-being.
Everyone’s homestead is different, and the reality is – nobody can do it all. Taking time to meditate on what’s important to you, identifying what plays to your natural talents, and then finding small ways to implement these lifelong changes/ habits is where it all begins.
Maximize efficiency. IMHO, efficiency is the core underlying value of the homestead mindset. Efficiency saves time and money, and creates space for what’s truly important.
First, find efficiency in your space, no matter how small. We downsized big time when we moved to our current home and this forced us to declutter and get rid of things we weren’t actually using. I found that we had a lot of random crap taking up valuable space that could be used for a homesteading project. For example, we donated or gave away to friends the 20 extra pint glasses that were taking up space on a shelf. Now, we have a free shelf where we set up a grow-light system to raise seedlings and grow micro-greens in the winter. Perhaps cleaning out a closet of ‘seasonal’ clothing could turn the space into a pantry for storing extra canned goods or brewing equipment.
Efficiency also means maximizing what you already have. Homesteaders are crafty and frugal by nature, so there’s no need to get rid of things that could be repurposed for another use. We just learned that we can roast coffee beans in our stove-top popcorn popper – can’t wait to try this! I’m the queen of scrap wood and find many uses for it (my stash is in a closet). I save most plastic containers food comes in – clamshells can be used indefinitely as flats to germinate seeds, and greek yogurt containers make great seedling pots. Talenti containers are my absolute favorite storage containers for situations where I don’t want to use glass, like bathroom items (homemade toothpaste, homemade facewash, hair rinse). The internet is a treasure trove for creative reuses of common household items – just google what you have with the word ‘upcycle.’ They key is to not keep things you don’t need, or things you can’t use.
Maximize what you already have in terms of yourself, too. Take stock of your talents and interests. If you can’t keep plants alive, then don’t waste tons of energy trying to garden! Perhaps you are a gifted seamstress, or you brew the best damn beer you’ve ever had. This past autumn, I traded beer for someone else’s electrical skills. I could have spent a lot of time teaching myself how to run wire, but that would have been so inefficient (and probably dangerous)! Like I said above – nobody can do it all. Take the time to experiment, find what you’re good at and what you love, and go for that. Trade your skills and goods!
Finally, to be efficient you must be organized. In our home, everything has a place, especially food and goods. Staying organized ensures we always use everything (waste not) and that we don’t run out of items and have to make impulse purchases. Also, be organized in your thoughts and projects. I constantly ask myself – is there a more efficient way to do this? I used to spend a lot of time (and stress) cooking complicated meals. Now I take the extra time to find simple recipes, and I gather all my supplies before I begin cooking. I know this sounds like a small, silly thing, but the stress and hours of cooking that I’ve cut out of my life have opened up more time for me to focus on learning herbalism, working on my yard, and hanging out with my partner.
Create a space (and life) you love. This is the kicker. I found out pretty quickly (two years in) that if I didn’t find a way to relish in and enjoy this lifestyle, I was never going to stick with it. A lot of my stress came from poor planning and trying to do it all. But a lot of my unhappiness came from never stopping to smell the roses! I had become obsessed with doing, and spent little time enjoying the fruits of my labor.
For me, this is a constant practice. Every day, I try to take time to write down a few things I accomplished on the homestead front. I force myself to chew slowly. I put time on my to-do list (seriously) to simply sit and admire my home and garden. Just tonight, I was taking a shower and realized for the first time that there were no store-bought products in my shower! Just homemade rosemary shampoo, a bar of goat’s milk soap a coworker’s daughter made, and homemade miracle grains facewash. Just taking a moment to realize that brought me so much joy!
All of these ideas take hard work. It’s not as easy as opening a book and following a recipe. The mental work takes creativity and introspection, but it certainly has brought me a lot closer to my homesteading dreams!