There are a lot of lessons my husband and I learned the hard way since taking up homesteading in 2007, and there are plenty of things we would do differently if we could transport back in time and start over. But I am proud of the things we got right, too. Here are a few of the things that helped keep us going in the general direction of success:
1. We were on the same page. Unlike the 60s TV sitcom where a New York City couple suddenly lands on a farm in a move that appears to be completely against the wife’s wishes—she loved him, she sang in the opening credits, but would rather have Fifth Avenue—we were in complete agreement about why we wanted to take up homesteading and what standards and practices we would strive for once we got started. Many of the details have morphed over the years, sometimes in the same direction as one another and sometimes not, but we started out in complete consensus and have remained largely thus.
This is probably the most important thing we did, or anyone could do, the right way. Sure, one partner might feel more strongly about the venture, or about particular aspects of it, than the other. But dragging along a reluctant or resentful spouse is not likely to work out long-term.
2. It helped that we were not total greenhorns. We were already accustomed to the outdoors and the natural world, having spent hundreds of hours hiking, backpacking, camping, hunting, fishing and camping before the idea of sustainable living ever struck us. As veteran outdoorspeople who were deeply involved with our local Boy Scout troop and other outdoor groups, we were no strangers to life beyond the pavement.
We started out at our homestead with at least a smattering of already-established skills, as well. Our volunteer work with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club had helped teach us basic forestry, carpentry and chainsaw skills. Our previous home in a village had afforded us the opportunity to run a wood stove, grow ornamentals and a few vegetables, and cook food from scratch. It may not be essential that anyone considering homesteading have advance familiarity with such things, but it can be a great head start.
3. We did a lot of homework before taking the plunge. My husband and I read books, watched videos, attended local living fairs, and visited farms. While it is true that studying something in books and other media is never quite the same as doing it in real life, I believe it made a big difference for us. Not only did we gain a lot of practical knowledge that could be put to use on the homestead, but we also gleaned a lot of philosophy from our reading. During occasional spells of frustration and difficulty over the years, we have found ourselves relying on what we learned beforehand to answer not only the question of how to, but the question of why when it needed to be restated.
4. There were mentors in our lives. We knew people who had first-hand experience at many different aspects of homesteading. There were those who had grown up on a dairy farm, who had raised backyard pigs, who volunteered for the cooperative extension as Master Gardeners, who were expert canners, who had worked on a berry farm, and many more. My husband and I gained more knowledge, practical tips and encouragement from our mentors than we ever could have gotten from anywhere else.
5. We were fit and healthy. Homesteading involves long hours, backbreaking work in all kinds of weather conditions, tedious and repetitive tasks, and often high stress — all of which can take a significant toll on one’s well-being. Starting off with our best feet forward was a real plus.
6. Our positive attitudes served us well. We were excited about possibilities, earnest in our endeavors, and confident. We were passionate about our goals, tried to stay open-minded about inevitable detours, and strove to balance idealism with realism. We didn’t always get it exactly right, but an optimistic outlook can carry most people further than they might get without it.
7. More than anything, the thing we got right from the beginning was this: we up and did it! It really can be just that simple. I cannot tell you how many people visiting our homestead have sighed wistfully and said how lucky we are to be living our dream. There was a time when I would attempt to explain to them that it is not luck, but is instead hard work and dedication and sacrifice. A lot of it was about choice—about ours to live without some things they had and theirs to place other priorities above what we had. I used to try to help them understand that we faced a lot of obstacles on our road to homesteading, too—probably as many as they would. I would point out that living one’s dream involves some degree of intentionality.
Now, though, I just nod and agree. We are indeed blessed to be living our dream. Like ducks skimming along the surface of an idyllic pond, paddling for all we’re worth underwater, we are making our choice of lifestyle work.
When a young relative recently lamented her limited success with her first-year vegetable garden, I encouraged her to focus on the fact that she grew more vegetables than she ever had before, instead of beating herself up over the plants that failed. In the same way, my husband and I try to hang onto our successes. And in the end, in homesteading practices as well as life in general, our mistakes do not define us. Instead, what counts is the fact that we dove in and gave it our all, and that we are still enjoying the journey.
If you’re a homesteader, what did you “get right” from the beginning? What advice would you give newbie homesteaders? Share your tips in the section below: