Homesteading

I think we’ve done a pretty good job of reorienting our lives over the last ten years or so.  We grow almost all of our food and by selling our surplus we’re able to pay our bills.  And we don’t have many bills to pay these days.  Cherie has done a great job of reducing our household expenses without diminishing our quality of life.  It’s fair to say, I think, that we’ve successfully transitioned to the homesteading lifestyle.

But I can only say that because over the years I’ve adjusted my expectations. Back when this lifestyle was just a dream I imagined plenty of things that have never come to pass.  I planned to produce our own electricity on farm.  I wanted to make our own biodiesel.  I planned to barter much more than we do.  I wanted a root cellar, a milk cow, a passive solar greenhouse and lots of other things that haven’t happened yet and maybe never will.  I planned to acquire many more skills than I’ve actually been able to master.  But after a frantic beginning, I learned to slow down.  I also learned that the reality of homesteading doesn’t necessarily match up with the dreams of it.

Recently a friend introduced me to a Facebook group called “Small Farm, Sustainability and Homestead Living.”  It now dominates my feed.

Some of the folks who post on there are hardcore homesteaders–the kind of people who don’t just kill coyotes on their farm, but tan the hides and eat the coyotes too.  I find myself pretty envious sometimes of their degree of self-reliance (although I hope I’m never hungry enough to eat a coyote).  I have friends like that here too–folks who built their homes with their own hands (using mostly materials they made themselves), who cook on wood stoves, who make their own clothes, etc.  I admire them but I know now that one can live more sustainably and become happily more self-reliant without having to seek to be completely self-sufficient (a virtual impossibility in any event).

There are also folks who post in the group who are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.  They have near zero understanding of country living, gardening, animal husbandry, homesteading skills, etc.  I’ve seen many variations of “Hello everyone.  I want to live off-grid in the wilderness and grow my own food.  I have no land, no money and no skills.  What advice would you give me?”  A day or so ago someone posted something like, “I want to live somewhere where I can grow my own food and earn money by digging for gemstones and precious metals.  Where would you recommend?”

It’s easy to laugh at these people.  Certainly they are naive.  Most of those kinds of posts are more reasonable, but I know most of the people who wrote them are going to be disappointed. In those kinds of posts I can feel their desperation and I feel sorry for them.  They’re people who want to escape a life of work that seems pointless and unfulfilling.  They want to reconnect and live in harmony with the land and with the natural world. I know that feeling well. For most of them though, what they’re hoping for just can’t happen, at least not without many years of planning and saving.  And it’s hard to look that far into the future for relief when you’re so desperate for it now.  I know that feeling too.

I remember back when the internet was still in its childhood and I’d spend hours reading the posts on the homesteadingtoday.com message boards, wishing I had the courage to chuck it all, move out to the country and live off the land.  This Facebook group reminds me of those days and of that online community.  By the way, ninety percent of the posts aren’t like the extremes I described above.  They’re more like sharing thoughts and advice with your neighbors over a virtual fence.  I recommend it if that sounds appealing.

I know from experience the temptation to want to go “all in” immediately. But I also know from experience that one can have a satisfying homesteading lifestyle without having to tan hides or dig for gemstones.  As difficult as it can be, we usually have to be patient.

The truth is that we can all lighten our footprints on the earth and enjoy more a more sustainable lifestyle.  Like all journeys, it will begin with a single step, and those that follow it can be small.  Maybe it’s being diligent about recycling, or improving your diet, or reducing energy consumption.  Once a small thing is mastered and becomes routine then it’s easy to add another one. Then someday you can look back, compare your life to the one you once led, and realize that all those small steps led to some big changes.  That’s what happened with us.

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