Do’s, Don’ts and Doubts of being a Homesteader

I rarely get sick. It just doesn’t happen. Except it did. Headache, sore throat, shivers and the desire to do nothing but stay in bed for two days. And as I always do when I can’t do anything else that I really need to do, I contemplated my life and what I really want from it. More importantly, I thought about what I don’t want.

Do you know what you really want to get out of life? What makes you content, happy, at peace with yourself and the world? Years ago I read a book that I highly recommend if you haven’t figured it out yet. It’s called Wishcraft by Barbara Sher. You can  still get it or find it at your local library. In the book Ms. Sher provides an outline of what I call “I’d rather.” It led me to pursue college and a career that I loved for many years until such time as my desires and goals changed. I added my own thoughts to it as I realized there were also other areas of importance–namely interaction with people as well as environment.  Recently I went back and reviewed my list of “I’d rather” and it helped me to inform what I want to be and do as a homesteader.

DO-Consider where you want to end up.

Once of the first thing a permaculture designer will ask a client is “where do you see yourself in five years; in 10 years?” Permaculture goes far beyond planting food forests or focusing on nature or the outdoor environment alone, it affects every aspect of a person’s life. This is why permaculture is directly in line with “havensteading.” You have to look at the entire picture of your life. Where do you want to be now, five years from now or 10 years from now?

DON’T-Bite off more than you even want to chew!

I have no desire to be a homesteader out on acres and acres of land. I’m a suburban homesteader. I work and so I don’t have time to devote to a large operation. I have no desire to sit at a farmer’s market and sell my wares. If friends or neighbors want to buy eggs or honey, it’s simple and easy. As noted earlier, when I got waylaid for a few days, it was okay. If I had goats or cows or other livestock, they wouldn’t have cared that I felt like garbage. All they would care about is that they needed feeding and milking. The latter, preferably during the time when I’m getting the best REM sleep. Nope, getting up at 4 a.m to milk is not my idea of a good time. For others, this may sound like their dream life. Then go for it. Just chew on a small bit first before you discover you’ve bitten off way more than you can chew and now want to spit everything out!

DON’T-Disregard your motivation, physical stamina or desire.

It may be interesting to note that the largest growing segment of urban homesteaders are women in the 25 to 45-year-old range. It could be that with economic downturns, people are finding themselves laid off or deciding they want to take charge of growing their own food, having another side income or being able to stay at home with children. Whatever the case, I don’t fall into that group. I’ve hauled yards and yards of mulch. I’ve planted and helped build fence. The list of chores on a homestead never goes away. But it wasn’t until I was shoveling snow that I found myself unable to straighten up and at my chiropractor’s. His statement to me: “The mind is willing, but the body is weak.” I would also say the opposite can hold true. Right now I need to get out and get planting. It’s not really that difficult. But I’ve put it off for the last few weeks. Are you a procrastinator? Not good if you want to be a gardener in a short growing season. Are you okay with hauling barrel after barrel of manure or mulch? This is where you need a committed spouse, a willing–or reluctant if they’re yours–hearty teenager or access to some able-bodied men or women who can do the heavy lifting. Finally, what’s your desire? If you want to grow food, pick your top ten things you like to eat and grow them in pots. You don’t have to go out and start with a 20′ x 30′ garden plot. If you like it you can always do more (i.e. refer back to “bite off more than you can chew.). A homestead will not be your havenstead if you feel pressured, defeated or it makes you physically weaker versus stronger.

DO-What makes you happy and phase out the rest.

What makes you happy? Really. To think that every day will be sunshine and roses isn’t looking at life accurately. But sometimes the littlest things may give you the most pleasure. I have a goal that at some point I want to be able to eat something that I’ve grown every day of the year. When I’ve eaten a tomato that I sun-dried last summer or peaches I canned, it can be the dead of winter, but I “taste” happy. When I watch neglected plants that I have nurtured come back and blossom when they never did before, I “see” happy. When I brush my hands against anise hyssop or mints, I “smell” happy. Is there lots more to get done? Yes. But if I’m constantly focused on my long-term “happy” I neglect the here and now.  What is making you happy today? Enjoy it. What doesn’t make you happy? What would happen if you didn’t do it? Really. Would the sky fall? Is it something that has to be done? Hire, barter or trade with someone else to do it. Start with the things you’re doing because you feel you have to, need to, etc. Make a list and then phase them out. You’ll be much happier. Really.

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