Perhaps the term hobby farmer would describe what a homesteader was in Australia, and whilst I ponder on it some more with a post coming soon, I realise that as homesteaders, we started homesteading before we called it that.
We’ve now been homesteading for over 15 years. We have learnt a lot, and also not learnt just as much.
Certainly when considering the role of hindsight, there are a lot of things that we didn’t know, or wish we knew better that would’ve made our homesteading life easier.
Perhaps though, we wouldn’t have learnt the same lessons or skills had it been easier, so there is always that concept in the background.
This post is about the 8 things I wish I knew before I started homesteading. Maybe some of these tips will make it easier for you if you are considering transitioning into a homesteading life.
- There is a difference between what is simple and what is easy, and they are not mutually exclusive
- Slow down
- Time management is an essential skill
- Managing inside the homestead is just as important as managing outside the homestead
- Home grown and home raised food
- Forever a student, always learning
- Planning and infrastructure is really important
- Your neighbours are your community
There is a difference between what is simple and what is easy, and they are not mutually exclusive
You’ll often see homesteaders talk about the simple life, and making life simpler when they start homesteading, and then in the same breath you’ll see them say that homesteading is not an easy life.
Both of those statements are true.
A life of homesteading is a life of simplicity. It’s a life where you actively choose to slow down. What that means is that you make active decisions on where you live, what your lifestyle will be, and how it will look day to day.
Let me explain this a little better.
Often homesteaders live rurally and much further away from a major town than those that live in suburbs or the CBD. That is an active choice. That is not a choice made because they cannot afford to live in the suburbs. They make the choice because they want more land, they want more quiet, they want more space for kids and animals, they want to be more self sufficient and their sufficiency goals require the space and peace and quiet.
What that means is that homestead properties may be partially or fully off-grid.
What that means is that homesteading properties may be older, or not be as energy efficient as current properties.
What that means is that homesteading properties may need more work, or renovations in order to get them up to scratch.
It also means as an individual, there is less need or want for materiality, there is an element of minimalism perhaps, there is certainly more involvement in doing things from scratch or using traditional skills and there is more being outside working the land and the animals to achieve homesteading goals.
It is people who actively chose to have a garden, raise livestock for food, and preserve their food.
So while many have romanticized the idea of homestead living – and certainly much like the vanlife movement the curated pictures of country homes decked out in country decor made the rounds on social media – homesteading isn’t easy, but it is a much simpler life.
It’s easy to picture that perfect lifestyle of sitting on a porch in a rocking chair sipping coffee or whiskey or wine! But the reality is that homesteading does take a lot of work, planning and effort and being mindless about the tasks you need to do will not serve you well.
Getting to that point of nirvana, of sitting in the rocking chair and enjoying the fruits of your labour will come after a long hard day working outside.
Homesteading is intentional. It is for people who want to live in the moment and who want to be at every intersection of the process. Think about the activity of raising meat hens or example. The intentional homesteader wants to first obtain the breeding pair, then hatch the fertile eggs, then raise the pullets, then cull the roosters, then develop the breeding flock into more breeders who lay more eggs, who are raised into pullets.
The modern person however, will not go through those efforts when they can go to the shops, buy a cleaned chicken or a carton of eggs and continue on their way.
So it isn’t easy, but as a homesteader, the ideal of the entire activity is what makes it simple. It’s a traditional skill that seems to have been forgotten as commercialization of industries happened throughout the years.
This is where the notion of simple and easy get confused. Because in order to raise those birds to that point, you put in a lot of work, that isn’t easy, and needs to be done regardless of the weather or how you feel or whether you can be bothered doing it. But it is simple in that it is asking you to go back to older skills and older ways of living in order to provide food for your family.
Easy and simple are therefore, not always easy and simple.
I remember when we first moved from Victoria to Queensland, we were annoyed at how slow in general everyone went. Whether it was walking around the shops, or driving down the motorway, people were slow.
Melbourne is one of the largest populated cities in Australia and that is where we are originally from. It’s nothing like the LA and the New York’s of the world, but for Australia, its one of the biggest. It’s renowned for its food culture, its multiculturalism, sporting events and ease of access. Melbourne is a very cosmopolitan city compared to Brisbane as cities go.
And I’m not saying that to bash Brisbane, but Brisbane had this reputation for a long while of being a big country town. Again, in comparison to truly ginormous capital cities around the world Australia does not come close to having those numbers. But for our country population size, they are justified.
We always refer to Queensland being on ‘Fiji time’. If you’ve ever been to Fiji you’ll know that Fijians do not rush for anyone or anything, and that there is a phrase ‘Fiji time’ that means it’ll be done when it’s done.
And the same concept applies for when you make the move to homesteading. As people who are still connected to the broader community whether it be through work commitments or other, often what occurs is a bit of a transitory period where you rush around and feel like every single project needs to be completed yesterday, and that there can be no time spared for any work you need done.
Here’s the thing. Unless you’ve purchased that property with the intention to sell it quickly, then there is no need for such urgency. If you think you will be in this property for some time then prioritise the work that needs to be done that relates specifically to quality of life improvements.
For example, if you have the choice to add an air conditioner and you live in a sub tropical environment like Queensland, or you have the choice to make a vegetable garden, which will be your first priority?
If that was me, I would pick airconditioner any day of the week. You cannot live and survive a Queensland summer without airconditioning. And there is no way you will be spending many days outdoors in the summer sun either. So the airconditioner is certainly the quality of life improvement in this scenario.
What I’m saying is, its easy to feel like you need to rush around in a sense of false urgency to get everything done. When you live in the suburbs you do that. You wake up, rush to get ready for work, rush to work, rush to drink your coffee, rush to eat morning tea, rush to do your work, rush to make it to the doctors/dentist appointment while rushing around to miss traffic, pick up the kids, stop at the grocery store, get the dry cleaning, make dinner, feed the dog, kiss your husband and maybe watch a few shows after you’ve helped the kids with homework, caught up on basic chores and rushed to have a shower again to do it all the next day.
Even writing that paragraph made me tired.
Unless there is an emergency needing medical assistance, you do not need to rush anywhere for anything.
Don’t feel obligated to take on more than you can chew. And especially if you are new to homesteading, don’t feel you need to know the skill perfectly to do it. You’ll make mistakes along the way and frankly, I encourage that. It’s the best way you learn and the best way you simplify your process in the future.
Homesteading is a huge learning curve for many. Surprisingly, not a lot of homesteaders actually come from old farming families, and those that do are absolute true gems if you find them because they know a great deal about a whole bunch.
Slow it right down. Slow your projects down, slow your aspirations down and most importantly, start slowing down yourself. Take out the white noise that has been infiltrating your life for so long you are running on auto pilot. Take out the crap you don’t need to be doing. Take out the obligation. Learn to live with the mess and with the chaos because believe me, when you do, you’d be surprised at how unchaotic it truly is.
Time management is an essential skill
Time management is an essential skill needed for any homesteader. Most of us have had outside jobs prior to being homesteaders and time management was learnt on the job. But it is a fundamental and transferrable skill that is still needed in the homesteading world.
Like with any project or activity, there needs to be a bit of planning involved. If you’re working on a new renovation for example, there is a lot of planning, measuring, research and review before you even start the job.
And as with any type of activity, there is often time constraints or requirements involved that need your attention, whether its to arrive or leave at a certain time, or achieve something specific within an allocated time frame.
When it comes to homesteading projects, planning and time management is imperative. If you know you need to do a huge task, like lets say a garden harvest, then managing that effectively is something you will need to do in order to not be overwhelmed but to achieve what you need to by a specific time.
Splitting up tasks into manageable tasks is a major skill. Especially if its something that flows into another part of the task. We are trying to do more of that, because sometimes I feel we also get that pinpoint view point that we must finish a task to a certain level of completion before we move on.
Think about a simple thing like house cleaning. As busy homesteaders and me, a full-time salaried employee, I need to manage my time effectively. I don’t like cleaning on the weekends nor do I want to, and thankfully now as I am working from home a lot more than I ever was before, I can manage my time much better.
Each morning when making my coffee or tea, I make sure to empty the dishwasher as I wait. It makes the next time needing to use the dishwasher much quicker. As I go through the house from the study to the kitchen , I make sure to pick up and tidy up along the way, whether its something for the laundry or the kitchen. By doing this, I am ‘killing two birds with one stone’ so to speak, and not having to dedicate a fixed amount of time to do that later on. This improves my efficiency and time management.
Simpl changes such as the above can make a huge difference to how you feel at the end of the day. If you schedule your work breaks around a couple of small cleaning tasks, when it comes to doing some of the big ones like laundry or changing bed linen, you won’t feel so overwhelmed.
So when it comes to house cleaning, I have a schedule I run throughout the week to make sure everything gets done by Friday, so my weekends are mine entirely. But more on that in the next section.
Managing inside the homestead is just as important as managing outside the homestead
If your house is not running like a well oiled machine, then you will feel the pressure and unease of low level stress.
As I write this, I am thinking about the vacuuming that needs to be done, the beds that need stripping, the mopping that needs doing and the laundry that needs washing.
The reason it’s on the back of my mind is that we have just recovered from covid, and I am behind on all my chores. I have spent the last couple weeks battling with a cough and low level lethargy and unable to do what I do at the pace I do it at.
I feel disorganised, behind the ball, and like I am under pressure.
If your household isn’t functioning or moving how you need it to, then your outside tasks will suffer. That’s a given. Especially when both partners are required to do different tasks at different times.
We don’t have any of this, woman’s task, men’s task bullshit in our house. It’s the tasks that each enjoy doing or find easiest or their schedule that they do. For example, I’m not the only person to make Moose’s food or get his water trough cleaned. If I need to work, then Serge does those chores for me. Same as if he is busy with something and the house yard needs to be mowed.
Now that many of us can work from home, or are still working from home following the aftermath of the first couple of years of covid, there is greater opportunity to manage house tasks without it interfering on your weekends or other weekend tasks you may have.
As a kid my mum used to have dedicated cleaning Sunday’s where my sister and I were expected to clean with her. And granted she was teaching us about home making and simple things we would need to do and I appreciate that. But there is no chance on this green earth that I will lose an entire day to cleaning, especially if it’s a weekend day.
So I made sure to schedule a different task each day. Some tasks like unloading the dishwasher for example, probably happen every day. But there’s other things like cleaning the bathroom, wiping down benches, vacuuming, mopping, dusting etc that can be done once a week.
So that is what I do. Each day I tick off a task. I dedicate 30-60 minutes of the entire day to a cleaning task. We have a large house and only two of us, but also 3 dogs that are coming in and out, and two humans who could be walking on grass one minute or walking in mud the next. To say we get stuff inside is an understatement, but that’s part of living on a homestead.
Here is a sample of my weekly chores:
- Monday: Bake bread, dishwasher, laundry, toilets
- Tuesday: Co-op groceries, dishwasher, bathrooms
- Wednesday: Strip beds, dishwasher, sweep/vac/mop
- Thursday: Toilets, dusting, dishwasher, laundry, bake bread
- Friday: Weekend meal prep, office, dishwasher
- Saturday: Gardening, poo pick-up
- Sunday: Ride
Making sure your inside space is running on schedule is just as important – if not more important – than managing the outside tasks. It’s the same analogy that your mental and emotional being needs to be healthy so your physical body can serve you.
Home grown and home raised food
Some may argue that its just easier to go to the grocery store to buy food. Sure, it is. I don’t deny that. And I don’t say I’m a saint that doesn’t use the grocery store because I absolutely do.
However, there is a different kind of joy when you have grown or raised your own food sources. There is an increased level of respect and intention when you have done all the work from start to finish to bring that food to the table for your family.
Once you get past the initial cost and time of setting up your homestead, and once it is a well-oiled machine running slowly like the engine of a steam powered train, that’s when you know you’ve hit a certain rhythm and level of ease. Those initial costs in setting up a garden or animal pens on your property if you didn’t have them has now settled, and you are ready to process the meat or vegetables accordingly.
The flavour of home grown, home raised food is like no other. Nothing beats the richness of a home raised duck egg, or the thickness of a pasture raised chicken egg who has been foraging all day. The texture, flavour and colour of home raised meat is nothing like the commercially raised meat we’ve seen even at the cleanest of butchers.
Those huge costs of eating at the most exclusive restaurants is something of yesteryear when you’ve raised your own food and then made a hearty clean meal from your efforts.
Most importantly, you have raised that animal or vegetable with the utmost love, care and respect. I try and barefoot garden, and often go into my garden picking out weeds and listening to music and singing with my plants. Sounds strange, but I get so much enjoyment and happiness from seeing seeds grow into seedlings and then into a gorgeous plant that I keep wanting to do it again and again and again.
The same applies with raising animals for meat. If you apply sincerity, empathy and respect at ever element of their lives, whether you’ve raised it or hunted it, then you deserve the nutrition it gives you.
There is nothing more precious than the circle of life, so being a part of it and contributing to it respectfully gives me great joy.
Forever a student, always learning
You will never know everything and you will never know it all.
But knowing a lot about this and a bit about that and having the attention and energy to learn more will always serve you well.
When we moved to our first homestead, we had no clue about anything. I don’t even think we realised we were not connected to town utilities until we moved in! That is how green we were as homesteaders.
But slowly, we learnt. In this day and age there are so many resources, much more than we ever had before. Not only can we find information in a few seconds, but there are so many people within the broader homesteading community sharing their knowledge and skills.
Out of all the mini communities I’ve intersected with over the years in my life as a human, I’d have to argue that the homesteading community has so far been the most accepting, the most helpful and the most willing to share.
Whether that is knowledge or resources, homesteaders are there for other homesteaders.
So yes, whilst you may have some skills to be able to start homesteading you wont have them all and that is ok. The most important thing is that you have a huge network and community online and locally who can share this knowledge with you. be a sponge learn and soak it all in. And who knows, maybe you will be able to pass that information on to someone else!
Planning and infrastructure is really important
In Australia one of the most important things is to ensure your property has a good water source. Whether that is water storage or natural water, it is imperative to have this. Droughts are no fun.
But water is not the only important thing on a homestead. If you’re a horse person, you need horse facilities like stables, wash bays, tie down bays, an arena, a round yard, and a tack room. If you want to keep or already have goats or chickens or cattle or any other type of livestock, you need the infrastructure to be able to house them, care for them and manage them appropriately.
As important as these out structures are for livestock, you can’t go past things your family needs. You need appropriate fences, sheds, garden spaces, play spaces for the kids, orchard, pet areas etc.
Usually, properties that come with all the mod cons will be more expensive. Sometimes you find bare naked land for cheaper and that is what you are working with. Regardless of which type of property you have, you have the ability to make amendments, create new builds and change your property so suit you best.
One of the things to consider when getting onto a homestead, and particularly if you’re wanting to be a lot more self sufficient is permaculture practises.
Permaculture is best described as follows:
Permaculture integrates land, resources, people and the environment through mutually beneficial synergies – imitating the no waste, closed loop systems seen in diverse natural systems. Permaculture studies and applies holistic solutions that are applicable in rural and urban contexts at any scale. It is a multidisciplinary toolbox including agriculture, water harvesting and hydrology, energy, natural building, forestry, waste management, animal systems, aquaculture, appropriate technology, economics and community development.
Permaculture… is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people — providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order.What is Permaculture ? – The Permaculture Research Institute (permaculturenews.org)
If you are planning on homesteading on that property for some time, then I would highly recommend considering permaculture practices and learning to integrate some into the development of your property. It makes much for ecological sense if your space works seamlessly and passively where possible.
As these types of changes can take a while to fully develop into what they need to be, I wouldn’t recommend doing it somewhere where you are not going to stay long enough to see the fruits of your labour.
An awesome book on permaculture to get you started is Earth Restorer’s Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow from Abundance Farm. But you can find books galore for permaculture on sites like Booktopia, Amazon or World of Books.
You can also check my Resources & Tools page which is updated often with a list of books and useful things for the homestead.
Your neighbours are your community
I’ve said it many times in discussions offline, but your neighbours are sometimes the people closest and furthest from you at the same time. They’re your best spies and property watchers, the people who you call on to come help in an emergency and the people you’ll have beers with over the fence after a long days work.
But it isn’t just neighbours that are important. Getting involved in the local community is an important aspect of keeping connected.
Yes, many of us chose to live this life and are incredibly passionate about self reliance and being self sufficient. But in doing so it doesn’t mean we don’t need connection.
I am a deeply introverted person, but I can still have meaningful interactions with people who I connect with, and this is an important part of homesteading.
One of the reasons I created my Life on Milo’s Farm Instagram profile and everything that followed is that I didn’t have a sense of community with the friends and family I had around me. I was the only person homesteading, and I was the only person passionate about things like permaculture, food security, raising and growing your own food, cooking from scratch, stockpiling, preserving food, etc etc.
When I started delving more into the homesteading community online and growing my profile, I finally felt like I was around like-minded people. I finally had people who enjoyed sharing my pictures on chickens and DIY projects around the farm and loved seeing my excitement over something grown in the garden.
Being with a supportive like-minded community – even an online one – is the perfect answer to developing and connecting to a community.
I underestimated the many lessons I would learn along the way, and most certainly the level of growth and grounding I would achieve when I started homesteading. I feel like homesteading helped me evolve into a much calmer, at peace person with less white noise and more time for what brings me joy.
Perhaps that was the greatest lesson all along.
Until next time.