5 Big Mistakes Homesteaders Make
Homesteading is on the rise around the world. Many people are deciding to go off-grid and embrace the simple life. This sounds wonderful -- it is wonderful -- but there are a lot of things that need to be considered before embarking on an undertaking of this magnitude.
There are a lot of reasons why you might want to build a homestead and live a simpler lifestyle, but there are also plenty of reasons it might not work out. Homesteading is something that requires a huge commitment and an understanding of the realities of the lifestyle. Having a realistic idea of things helps save everyone a lot of stress in the long run. Here are a few common mistakes people make when starting a homestead.
Not Enough Research or Planning
Going back to the land requires a lot of planning -- for everything, not just the big things. Everything requires a plan on a primitive homestead, from how to cook dinner to how to wash clothes to how to take a shower.
Things that need to be planned for are:
- type of toilet
- school (if you have kids)
This is if you are not building a shelter. If you are, the list is much longer. Also, it needs to be taken into consideration how you will get internet if you need it (such as for work or resources and how-to videos), what you will do when you run out of something, what you will do if your power source stops working, how you will combat nature (it's everywhere), how will emergencies be handled, where the hospital is, how close neighbors or an ambulance might be, what happens if there is a fire or flood... And those are just the basics. There will be 50 other things that are unique to your situation, and some of them you won't think of until it's too late. Be flexible, be creative and be adaptable!
And remember: even if you plan extensively, a plan only means you have a place to start looking for a solution when there's a problem.
Underestimating The Cost
Money is a big reason many people decide to go off-grid. Some people don't want to participate in the rat race anymore, and some just can't afford living in our current system. However, it takes money to start a homestead, too, and many times people don't realize how much it costs until they are already there. "Starting a homestead" is really an ongoing process that takes around two years and must be financed almost the entire time.
For instance, you will probably have a land payment. If you need to dig a well or run electricity out to your property, the startup costs start running into the thousands, and if you are also building a traditional home, they run into the tens of thousands -- or more. You will also probably have a vehicle payment, and if you don't, you'll still have to pay for insurance. You'll probably have a cellphone bill, and you may need satellite internet. You will need to buy food to eat until your garden starts producing (or if it doesn't). You'll need to buy feed for your animals. You'll need gas to go to town to buy the things you need, or to get to a part time job, or to run your generator if you have one (and you probably should have one, just in case). If you have a gas-guzzling vehicle, this can be a large drain on limited finances.
Living on an off-grid homestead is amazing, but it still requires money, unfortunately. The goal is to get to where you don't need money eventually, but until you get there, it's still going to cost you.
Underestimating The Amount of Labor Involved
Life on a homestead sounds great to a lot of people. We picture the beautiful greenery, and sitting by a fire, and canning beans and all of the other wonderful things that come with living a simpler life. Those things really are a part of homestead life, but there's another side to living off-grid that is often not fully understood until it's experienced. Most of us are used to modern conveniences, and often we don’t realize how dependent we are on them until we try to do without them. Living a simpler life actually means that many things are more difficult and much more work-oriented. Many people don't realize how much work is involved in running a homestead or when going off-grid. Off-grid means off-grid. There are no convenience stores to run to, or unlimited utilities to plug into. Everything has to be measured, calibrated, rationed and planned for very carefully.
And everything requires a lot of work.
Washing dishes requires hauling water. Doing laundry means lots of cranking, scrubbing, rinsing, hanging... Cooking over a fire is hot, sweaty work that takes a long time and is easy to get wrong. Chopping firewood in the spring and summer when cold weather is still months away can feel very unrewarding. Slaving over a garden that won't grow, tools that won't work or animals that won't produce is all in a day's work on a homestead. You will be frustrated. You will be tired. And then you will wake up and do it all over again.
This is the point where many people give up. They feel that it's too much work for not enough reward, and that's understandable. It is hard work. However, if you go into it understanding how much work is involved, you'll be much more able to tolerate the inevitable frustrations and setbacks that happen as a part of life off-grid. And you do get used to it.
Underestimating The Weather
In modern society, we don't experience the weather the way that we used to. Pioneers had to plan for the weather and attempt to mitigate it as much as possible. We don't really have to do that anymore -- unless we live off-grid. Living on an off-grid homestead requires a completely different mindset regarding the weather. Storms can be disastrous. Heat and drought can be deadly. Cold can be torturous. Each of these things must be planned for as much as possible, because there is no escaping the weather, and there is no truly predicting it.
Depending on where you live, there may be special considerations you need to take regarding the weather as well. If you live in an area that gets a lot of rain, for instance, you'll need to plan for potential flooding. If you live in an area that experiences droughts, you'll need to plan a way to get water to your gardens when none is falling from the sky. If you live in an area where tornadoes or hurricanes are a possibility, you'll need an emergency plan and a safe area you can get to. Tornadoes in particular can destroy your homestead. One destroyed ours. There is no real way to prepare for them, but understanding the risk goes a long way.
If you are moving to a new area to start your homestead, make sure you truly understand the weather. Looking at online data is helpful, but it's not enough. For example, looking at weather reports here in Middle Georgia would tell you that it is 88F outside. July is a hot month, so that makes sense. However, it does not tell you that the heat index is 109F and the humidity is at 85%. The heat is oppressive in late summer months and can even be dangerous to work in. Weather reports cannot tell you that the sun beats down on you like a nine-pound hammer here, making even just walking feel like it requires twice the amount of work. It doesn't tell you that, many times, the forecast predicts rain here but the rain never comes. These are all things you wouldn't find out about any place unless you visited, and they have a huge impact on the success of a homesteading venture.
Our society is very fast-paced. Compared to that, homesteading is boring. There are no flashy neon signs or scrolling marquees. There aren't a lot of new people around. Most of the time, internet service is tiered (ugh) or spotty, so there isn't a lot of online time either. It's easy to see why some people would feel that homesteading can be boring. The key is to remember why we're homesteading in the first place.
Why do we go off-grid? We want to be closer to our families. We want to live a slower, simpler life more connected to nature and less cluttered by modern society. We want to stop participating in an unfair system designed to keep us in debt forever. We want to reconnect with our roots. Whatever the reasons, we feel strongly about them. So strongly, in fact, that we are considering leaving behind everything we've ever known and trying something totally new. Or we have already done it.
The problem is, a lifetime of conditioning is hard to break. It's hard to let go of modern conveniences and instant gratification. We can feel bored, empty and even angry or irritated without these things. It's about training your mind to slow down and calm down. We're used to functioning under a certain amount of stress -- usually a pretty large amount. When that's gone, we often feel bored and hollow. That's not boredom! It's peace! So enjoy it. Living a simpler life is all about learning to slow down and actually live.
If someone does actually get bored on the homestead, there are plenty of things to do to alleviate boredom. Make something, destroy something, learn something or teach something. There is always something new to do if we look for it.
Giving Up Too Easily
Starting a homestead is hard. It requires an ongoing commitment, lots of intense labor and there are often setbacks. Money, weather, illness and countless other things can impact the success of your homestead and can impact your situation dramatically. However, many people don't give themselves time to get used to being off-grid before they give up. They don't realize that it's a process which takes time. A lot of time. They may get discouraged because of problems or the amount of time it can take to feel like they're getting anywhere, and they give up.
Of course if someone finds that they truly dislike living off-grid, they should not continue. It's not for everybody and that's OK. However, frustration and discouragement are normal. It's a dramatic change. It can be scary and difficult. It can be busy and harried. It can even be boring. That doesn't mean someone is not cut out for it, or that they should throw in the towel. If you really want it, keep trying! Commitment and hard work are all it really takes to be successful.
SinDelle runs The Georgia Herb & Egg Co. in Dublin, GA