Have you ever dreamed of living off the land, but find yourself trapped where you are?
Are you impatient with your journey (homesteading or otherwise)? Do you feel like it's never going to happen because of expense or inopportunity?
Or are you already on a homestead, but feel overwhelmed at what needs to be done or disillusioned because it's not what you expected?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, this post is for you — straight from my heart to yours. Because as we've launched into a new year, I want to help you make 2015 your most contented year yet while embracing your goals, desires, and dreams.
First, a Story.
My husband and I began our married life in a high-rise apartment building in a very urban city. Considering I grew up in the country and had always dreamed of living in the city, it was thrilling.
But one winter day when a power outage coincided with a rare boil-water advisory in our city (read: “your water is contaminated and should not be consumed”), we realized we had no way to create heat, we had no access to food without a grocery store, and no way to feed our six-month-old baby who required formula. (We hadn't yet learned how to make our own homemade infant formula.)
We realized there was something seriously wrong with our life. After all, water, food, and heat are the basics of life, right?
But where could we start making changes and actually make a difference in our life? Just picking up and moving to a piece of land to start being totally self-sufficient was not only completely out of the question for us, but we were naive and overwhelmed at the thought. (Even though I grew up in a situation where my family DID live off the land for a number of years and as an adult I had lived in very rustic conditions for a considerable period of time!)
So, we started with the ideas that most excited us and what we knew we could do.
We took advantage of our 40 square foot balcony and filled it with as many potted vegetables and herbs as we could, some of which thrived and some of which withered away, but gave us the confidence that at least something homegrown graced every meal.
We also started cloth diapering our baby.
I started making homemade personal care products, which interestingly enough, also nearly cleared up the eczema my husband had lived with for 20+ years. I started with yogurt and handmade soap (these were the most exciting to me), then made our shampoo, deodorant, shaving cream, and lip balm.
We felt like kings. We were doing something that mattered. We were making meaningful, intentional decisions that worked for our family. And even though we weren't on land — an official “homestead” — we were on our way and something clicked inside my mind.
Homestead: a New Definition.
In the past, a homestead was a legal definition. At certain points in U.S. history, nearly anyone who was willing to live on a tract of land for at least five years, till it, and build on it would then become the legal owners of the land according to the United States government.
While this definition no longer applies legally, the sense of it still lingers. We equate homesteading with living entirely off the land. Those original homesteaders were hard-working folk who grew all their own food, built their homes from materials on the land, and did whatever was necessary to survive in harsh conditions. And thus, somehow, there's a collective consciousness that declares unless we're entirely self-sufficient as they were, we're not homesteading at all.
Yet, this is what is so dangerous because it considers full self-sufficiency to be the only way to live sustainable, rooted-in-the-land, salt-of-the-earth type lives and create sustainable homes and properties. There is so much we can do to live sustainable lives right where we are — no matter where we are.
Thus, I declare that the new homesteading requires a new definition. Here's my definition — please share YOUR definition in the comments below!
Homesteading (v): the intentional act of creating a sustainable life wherever you may be and celebrating a simple, wholesome, intentional way of life.
By this definition, things like intentionally not buying vegetables that have been shipped from around the globe, growing your own food (be it a kitchen pot of basil or a one-acre garden), purchasing locally produced food, making or using eco-friendly personal care products and household cleaners, canning or fermenting summer bounty, or even choosing to line dry your laundry are all acts of homesteading.
Whether you're on 100 acres in Montana or living in a walk-up in Brooklyn, you're creating a meaningful, intentional way of life right where you are.
And there's another twist to this too: we're talking about HOMEsteading, not HOUSEsteading. Anything you do to make your home warm and welcoming, even if it's a temporary place where you're only living for a few months, helps you feel rooted in that place and makes your home a place of refuge, peace, and hospitality. That's homesteading and that's worth more than the most architecturally sound, eco-friendly house you could build, in my book.
Thriving, Not Just Surviving.
Part of what has driven me to rethink this definition is actually an inside joke my husband and I share.
Once, several years ago, my husband had an epiphany about the word “sustainable.” He said, “Y'know, why do we talk about sustainable living as if it's the best thing we can do? We wouldn't say that about our marriage, would we?”
“Hey, honey. How's your marriage today?”
“Oh, fine, thanks. It's sustainable.”
Goodness, no! We don't want a sustainable marriage, we want a GREAT marriage — a thriving marriage. So why are we willing to settle for lives that are sustainable? Sustainable is only the beginning!
Thus, this new definition of homesteading incorporates this greater sense of intentionality. Of course, you'll notice I still use the phrase “sustainable living”, as that's the common lexicon and still a good goal. The intentionality with which we live makes all the difference.
How to Achieve Your 2015 Homesteading Goals
So, how can you be happy and excited where you are right now, while still keeping a steady eye on your goal, whatever it may be?
Here's a little doodle-style worksheet to help you think through your goals. (Click here for the printable PDF.)
1. Lay out what you long for.
We're talking big picture here — paint with big strokes. For example, I long to be where our children are free to run and explore in a natural setting, where we have a home with enough room to accommodate frequent guests. My husband longs to establish a small-scale intensive farm with a full diet CSA that becomes our lucrative family business.
You don't need to include lots of detail here — this is just laying your heart on paper.
2. Examine anything you're doing that you already consider intentional, meaningful, and joyful.
Here you might list your daily trip to the park with the kids, homeschooling, being a Traditional Cooking School member, being well-stocked for a power outage or a crisis, heating your home with a wood stove or rocket stove (or a high-tech alternative energy source), guerrilla gardening, budgeting, having a few chickens in the backyard, growing lettuce on your balcony — pretty much anything that fits those three categories: intentional, meaningful, or joyful.
It's important to note what's already going well and what you enjoy. It helps to inform priorities, inflame gratitude, and infuse intentionality into each part of life, so don't skip this step. In fact, revel in it. 🙂
3. List out at least ten things that you KNOW you can do (or learn easily) or that you're excited to try.
Be as specific as possible. Instead of writing down “start making personal care products” write down “learn to make tallow balm, deodorant, and lip balm.” The idea here is to just set momentum into gear and get excited about all the many natural, sustainable, and meaningful things you can do right now.
4. Allow yourself to daydream and write down five things that you would like to have accomplished by this time next year.
These can be small or large — whatever is meaningful for you. If you want, this would be an appropriate place to use milestones through the year to help keep yourself on track. This is where contentment in the here and now meshes with the long-term, as you're choosing activities for the immediate future, yet you have your vision for the long-term fresh in your mind.
Please note, there are no timelines in this plan — in fact, that's why I created a doodling page (if you want to use it) to help think in a fresh way. You may wish to add a few potential sketches of when you'd like certain elements to happen, but many goals are not a changing of circumstance (like leaving a job or moving to a different location), but a change of mindset, which is much more gradual. My husband and I didn't set out with any homesteading goal in mind, for example, we just knew we needed to provide for our family in a more meaningful way. Along the way, more specific, tangible, live-off-the-land type goals came into being.
Also, as I mentioned before, “homesteading” no longer requires moving to a piece of property, so your homesteading goals may be more ideal-driven rather than location-driven, such as “get 100% of our diet from local sources” or “know everyone on our street well so that we form a true community that looks after each other”. Building community is an element of homesteading too. SELF-sufficiency is a myth. We require community to be truly sustainable and thrive where we live. But that's another post. 🙂
Where is your journey taking YOU?
So, as for my husband and I, we're still on our journey nearly a decade later. On one hand, we rejoice that each year we're closer to our goals: we're not yet on a piece of property, but that's imminent. My husband left his professional, white collar job three years ago and has now become a certified Permaculture Design Consultant and immersed himself in learning first-hand how to establish and manage an organic farm. Lord willing, we'll be establishing our family's new direct-to-consumer organic market within the year. Traditional foods are no longer an adventure into uncharted territory in our kitchen — they're the way we cook.
But on the other hand, we've learned that finding contentment — no matter where you are — is crucial in order to blossom. In each place we've lived, we've had to think creatively. We've learned so many new skills along the way, which would have crippled us had we had opportunity to work the land before we were well equipped. We may not be on land, as “the old homesteading” would require, but we've made a home wherever we've been (and grown as much of our own food as possible!) and we've been blessed with deep joy because of it.
How about you? Where is your journey taking you? What has helped you to be content and joyful on your homestead?
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