Thinking about homesteading? Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, excited and curious are all part of the process. It’s hard knowing even where to begin. Well, fortunately, we are friends with some great, seasoned homesteaders, and they revealed to us their top tips for how to start homesteading.
Below you'll find tips from four homesteaders! These tips are the very first things you should do when thinking about homesteading. Each one has their own speciality. Within their sections you'll find links to a few of their favorite resources, such as DIY items, books and podcasts, all of which are designed to help you find a good place to start homesteading. Whether you are wanting to completely transition and move away from the city, or if you want to stay in the city, we have a whole array of tips for you.
Marissa Mommaerts from transitionus.org gave us some pretty solid tips. She is an amazing woman who lives in a tiny mobile home and lives off of the land. Here are tips directly from her. We love Marissa and are so happy to have her as such a knowledgable friend that we can lean on. Check out her personal blog here.
Get rid of the TV
Get rid of your television. Feel like you don't have enough time to research and make everything yourself? Get rid of your TV and you'll find yourself with extra time and mental clarity. Homesteading is fun, entertaining, and far more rewarding than watching TV. Plus, most projects are interactive learning experiences you can share with your friends and family, passing on your skills and knowledge to others!
Do your research
Read "A Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living" by Wendy Jehanara-Tremayne. She and her partner went from working in NYC to living off-the-grid in New Mexico. She offers lots of practical tips as well as some wonderful philosophy on the price of good health, the cost of having a job, etc.
Take a Permaculture Design Course. This will help you start looking differently at how human settlements interact with nature and give you a great set of skills to help you get started growing food, building with natural materials, capturing and harvesting water, etc.
Shift your worldview
Be willing to shift your worldview. Mainstream society operates on the basis of "convenience." Homesteading takes time and patience, but the results are so fulfilling. When I was working full time, I looked forward to my Friday nights, not so I could go out and party, but so I could work on my homesteading projects! I'm now living for the first time in a cold winter climate with a wood-burning stove. My partner spent weeks harvesting and chopping firewood, and I'm learning how to keep the fire going (a constant task) and use it for cooking.
It's at times frustrating, but at the same time so rewarding to know where the wood came from and that it was harvested sustainably, to see each log catch on fire, to know that we aren't using natural gas to heat our home (we live in "fracking country"), and to cook a whole feast or take a hot shower heated as a by-product of this fire! Similarly, I am a person who loves hot showers. But in the time of year when it's not hot and sunny enough for our passive solar hot water heater to do its job, but not cold enough to use the wood-burning stove to heat our water, I took some ice-cold showers. And wow, did those make me appreciate a hot shower in a way I maybe never have before!
Start making your own stuff
The internet is an invaluable resource. I'm sure you know this already - but you can find D-I-Y guides and how-to videos for pretty much any project you can imagine with a simple Google search. However, that doesn't mean you'll get it right on the first try! Experimentation, practice, adaptation, and patience are key. For example, I've been making a lot of homemade coconut flour as a by-product of homemade coconut milk (we buy shredded coconut in bulk through our local natural food store) but had to learn the hard way - through several failed attempts - that the texture of homemade coconut flour (coarse and very absorbent) does not make it a good direct substitute for other types of flour, but does lend itself beautifully to homemade cornbread, as long as you add a tiny bit more liquid.
Create realistic expectations
It doesn't happen overnight. If you think you can go from living a "normal" life to living 100% off-the-grid and growing all of your own food overnight, you're going to be disappointed! It takes time to learn the skills you need and to transition out of mainstream society, especially since all of our systems are currently set up to work against you. I've been dedicated to making this "transition" to a self-sufficient lifestyle for the last five years, and still have work to do! For example, though I am now living off-the-grid, I would love to be growing more food and using small-scale biofuels instead of fossil fuels to power my transportation. And I will get there, someday.
Invest in good tools
Take your money out of the fragile mainstream financial system and traditional investment portfolios that are most likely making our communities more vulnerable (by increasing the likelihood of economic or ecological shocks). Instead, invest your money in tools and other tangible assets (ex: fruit trees) that will allow you to create more real, tangible value over time. Kitchen appliances (like a good food processor) are invaluable if you're planning to do a lot of cooking "from scratch." We recently spent $300 on a pair of good axes (rather than buying the cheaper options at our local hardware store) that are more durable and lightweight, in order to save my partner time and protect his back while he's out harvesting wood for our wood-burning fire (as a bonus, he loves these axes so much he actually prefers using them to using a chainsaw - cutting down on our fossil fuel consumption!).
Start small and grow by "chunking" (this is a Permaculture principle), or "start with what you have, where you're at." You don't need to be living 100% off-the-grid to begin homesteading! Figure out a few key areas of your life to focus on (like replacing the most toxic or most expensive products in your home with handmade alternatives). For example, my younger sister lives in a condo in a city - which limits her ability to grow food, use renewable energy, etc. - but she makes almost all of her own personal hygiene and cleaning products (face wash, laundry soap, etc.). This is a great way to save money, improve health, and reduce environmental toxins. She's already seen significant improvements to her health as well as financial savings.
For me, food is a big one. We grow what we can and try to buy in bulk and eat simple, healthy food to save money. We use as little fossil fuels as possible for cooking (instead using the solar oven or wood-burning stove), and we recycle all of our food "waste" (for example, making veggie broth, or coconut flour, or feeding the chickens or our compost pile).
Our next set of tips comes from the Permie’s team. They are experts on permaculture, which is a huge component to homesteading. We are fortunate enough to have them as a learning resource. Check them out. Here are their tips for how to start homesteading.
I think with jumping into homesteading, your first thought, with your home and food systems alike, needs to be earthworks - where do you need to move earth to create the systems you'll need to thrive?
Work with the land
Try to work with the landscape that you have, and do a lot of observation before you go and change too much. How are the plants growing in the area as is? Do you need to dig up native varieties to get your staple crops to thrive, or can you work it out so they coexist?
Start with the basics
There are very few people out there that are truly self-sufficient, so try to have realistic expectations for yourself. Start with the most basic parts of the way you live, from the house you live in, to the food you eat, to where your water comes from, and work outwards from there.
Remember the permaculture approach
Also, it's helpful to remember the permaculture approach, which is that generally, nature has it figured out when it comes to these systems, so try not to change too much when you get started. Instead, look at the types of plants that are already growing there, and see if they're edible. What varieties are similar? What types of landscape are they growing across?
I think some of the most crucial things to look into when jumping into homestead living are rotational grazing, polyculture, food forests, natural building, earth bermed houses and greenhouses, rocket mass heaters, and more so than alternative energy sources, simply reducing your energy needs at the source.
Tammy Trayer from Trayer Wilderness offers a ton of wonderful advice, we are so lucky to have her as a friend of ours. Tammy is an author, freelance writer, and a radio show host at Mountain Woman Radio which can be found on iTunes. Tammy and her family live traditionally off-grid and have a passion to help educate others by sharing their experiences of living off the land, dealing with autism, gluten free and dairy free cooking, self reliance, wilderness survival, traditional and primitive skills, and much more. Here is her advice on how to start homesteading!
Many people are seeking a homesteading/ off-grid lifestyle these days. There are many reasons one might be dreaming of such a lifestyle. For my family, it was the simplicity and freedom that came along with the journey. Additionally, we have always felt that we were born 100 years too late and our desire was strong to have the ability to create our own lifestyle in this modern crazy mixed up world.
In 2010, my family and I embarked on a journey from central Pennsylvania to a piece of raw wilderness land with no utilities in northern Idaho where we set up a canvas wall tent that we lived in for 8 1/2 months while starting our adventure building our off-grid homestead.
There is nothing sweeter than taking that first step toward making your dreams a reality.
"The Best Things In Life Happen On The Other Side Of Your Comfort Zone!" ~ Tammy Trayer
My husband and I were both raised on farms and grew up in a traditional way. We had a lot of the skills prior to taking on our adventure, but that should not hold you up or hold you back because we are also learning new skills EVERYDAY!
Don’t let fear hold you back, no one knows everything
Many people second guess themselves or feel they need to be experts in order to embrace such a life, but let me share this tidbit with you, this just isn't so. Fear holds many people back.
There are many useful skills for homesteading and off-griding and the best way to learn them is one skill set at a time to eliminate being overwhelmed. That way you can fully enjoy the beauties of your life because learning new things adds to the adventure.
Homesteading and off-grid living are no different than anything else in life, it is a learning process and just like life, you will be constantly learning if you know what is good for you.
A mind that is constantly learning and looking to improve their skills is a mind that is rich and a spirit that is humble. No one knows everything, there is something new to learn everyday if you are willing!
Learn traditional skills
We live extremely traditionally by choice and feel very strongly that everyone should know many traditional skills, not just homesteaders. These skills are truly life skills as well as life saving skills, such as growing your own food, harvesting wild meats, preserving your meats and foods, multiple methods of cooking such as using the sun to not just power your house, but cook your food, sewing, knitting, blacksmithing, just to name a few.
Your children will adapt
If you have children and are concerned about how they will adapt, trust me when I say they will learn to love the life. Our son is high functioning autistic and absolutely treasures our lifestyle. Our decision to live an off-grid life was the best thing we could have ever done for him. He was given a location that enabled him to find himself, step out of his comfort zone and his autism shell and excel! He has learned so much from helping to build our house and traditional log guest cabin to blacksmithing and making knives to being in the kitchen and learning how to cook and bake. His life is very well rounded and there is not much that he can not do - he views life the way we do, nothing is impossible when you set your mind to it! The more excited you are about your new adventure the more curious they will become. They may rebel dependent on their age, but they will come to appreciate the life, the peace, comforts of their new home and their role in all of it.
Our children need structure, routine and responsibility.
Our son’s responsibilities have changed and progressed as he has aged. While in the tent he was responsible for keeping the fire fed in the tent and the wood chopped as well as helping us build. As we continued to add on to our homestead and added a chickens, goats and a horse, he was responsible for feeding and watering our animals. He wasn’t always real keen on his chores at first, although he learned how his role on our homestead not only helped the animals, but helped us as well and with this his mentality towards his chores has changed. Animals are a wonderful means of natural therapy for both children and adults. They are unique creatures and certainly add a level of humor to any homestead.
My advice to new homesteaders and off-griders is to:
- Take one day at a time
- Don't put too much on your plate at once or embrace too much at one time
- Pace yourself and remember to take time for you and your family
- Leave time in your schedule to have fun (all work and no play is no fun and you will be so much more productive and happier when you do take time away)
- Make a to do list of all the things you would like to accomplish and a separate list of the things you need or would like to learn
- Create a budget and spend within your means
- Your to do list and your budget should go hand in hand - do your projects as you can afford them
- Find valuable and reliable sources to glean your information whether from online or a local farmer or elder
- Consider all the tools you will need for the lifestyle and budget them (hint: yard sales and thrift stores)
- Remember that sometimes it is necessary to make more expensive purchases for quality products that will last you a lifetime and again budget them i.e. generators, food grinders, dehydrators, the Solavore Sport :)
Being frugal minded helps greatly when homesteading or living off the grid. Something as simple as utilizing the sun to cook and bake your food can save you greatly on power as well as keeping your house cooler during those hot summer months.
Cook & bake from scratch
Cooking and baking from scratch is a very important part of our homestead. We initially had to cater to a gluten-free and dairy-free diet for our Mountain Boy to help him with his autism, but through our from scratch journey we have eliminated all GMO’s and processed foods. We have been on this diet for over 12 years and with buying all our raw ingredients in bulk, growing much of the food we consume, foraging what we can from the wild and harvesting our meats from the wild and raising varying animals that we butcher we have saved ourselves a lot of money.
Take the first step
Homesteading and off-grid living can be embraced at many varying levels, but in order to embark on such a journey YOU have to take the first step! I encourage you to check out our website for more details on our life and lifestyle at TrayerWilderness.com. Be sure to check out my book How To Embrace An Off-Grid Lifestyle ~ Our Journey & A Step By Step Look At The Lifestyle in which I share all the aspects of our homesteading off-grid world. My family and I have also started Trayer Wilderness Academy where we will be teaching our homesteading, off-grid, traditional and wilderness survival skills to like minded folks just like you!
Alright, city folks! We haven’t left you out. Jeannine from The Urban Homesteader has given us some great tips on how to start homesteading in the city. We are so thankful for her and her urban expertise.
5 Easy Ways To Start Homesteading In The City
Are your dreams of living off the grid not panning out because you live in a concrete jungle? Not to worry -- you can create a more sustainable footprint with these 5 easy urban homesteading activities, no matter where you live:
1. Grow Your Own Food
You don't need a large plot of land to grow at least some of your own food. With so many cool new garden products available, don't let a shortage of space stop you! Only have a windowsill? Try growing herbs from a can from Back To The Roots. Small balcony? Go vertical with one of these creative ideas! Have a tiny patch of land? Get your green on by planting a fool-proof seed sheet in a raised bed.
2. Preserve Your Bounty
What's more 'homesteady' than a mason jar? Preserving your bounty (or produce that's on sale), is a great way to reduce food costs, especially in the winter. We love Punk Domestics as a DIY food resource with recipes that are out of the ordinary. A little homemade Triple Ginger Pear Chutney will be sure to impress guests at your next dinner party!
3. Make Something Fermented
Fermented foods have made a comeback in recent years, thanks to recent research on their amazing health benefits. Not only are fermented foods a great source of probiotics which aid digestion, they help keep bad bacteria at bay, which can cause disease. Try your hand at making yogurt, kombucha, or kimchi with a DIY kit. Or go for this modern fermentation crock which looks so good you won't even mind leaving it on your kitchen counter.
4. Try a Repair Cafe
Originating in Holland, Repair Cafes are popping up all over the place. The concept is simple -- instead of tossing out that broken item bring it to one of Repair Cafe's weekly repair sessions, where experts help fix items that can range from a bike, sewing machine, to a lamp, or a weed eater. Keep junk out of the landfill -- check out the Repair Cafe's website to find one where you live.
5. Go Solar
Trying out a solar-operated product is now easier than ever. With so many great products on the market you can choose one that fits your lifestyle, and do good for the environment by reducing energy consumption. Here's a list of the top 12 solar powered gadgets, which will get you one step closer to living off the grid.
We hope you found these tips worth while. When learning how to start homesteading, it's important to be gentle with yourself. Not everyone knows everything, and it takes time. One step at a time. Breathe. And now you have a whole bunch of resources to turn to. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or need additional support. Remember, to homestead you don't need to sell everything and move on to 20 acres of land (although you certainly can!), you can do it in the city too. There are so many options to fit the lifestyle that you want.