Homesteading is an attractive lifestyle for those looking to move off grid or live simply off the land. Depending on your current situation though, becoming a full-time homesteader might be a vastly different way of spending your time, money, and energy. All new endeavours incur a learning curve and homesteading is no exception. There are many mistakes that can derail your transition, or sink your budget, so we’ve put together a list of common mistakes beginner homesteaders commonly make. Hopefully this will help you avoid them as you tackle the challenges.
1. Taking on Too Much
One mistake many first-time homesteaders make is to take on too much land or too large of a home. Homesteading is about simplicity so start small and grow as you learn new skills. If you take on too much in the beginning you will waste money on crops that fail or food that you can’t readily consume or store. Instead, plant a small garden the first season to get a feel for the time and resources it requires. Add chickens as a first animal to experience the obligation. Later you can add goats and eventually other livestock like sheep, cows, or pigs. Then you can expand your garden to provide more food for your family and your animals.
2. Failing to Find a Community
There is a reason that community gardens and even communes are popular with homesteaders—many hands make light work. Trying to run a homestead by yourself is overwhelming and can feeling isolating. You will have a much better chance of success if you connect with like-minded people in your area. This not only gives you a resource when you have questions, but provides a social outlet too. Plus, there will be projects on your homestead that you need help with so you can offer your skills to others and accept their help when they have a tool or knowledge to offer in exchange. Trying to do everything yourself can be a fatal mistake for a homesteader so locate your community and invest in it.
3. Not Doing Your Research
Idealism can be an Achilles heel. Although you think you know what it will be like to homestead, you don’t—you can’t really, until you experience it first hand. But with the myriad books and information on the internet you can inform yourself of many aspects of homesteading life. If you hope to live off grid you will need to ensure you have the resources you need for electricity and water, with a backup too. Have you thought about the needs of the animals in the form of shelter, food, water sources, and medical care? Then there is the work involved in growing and storing food so you will need to consider canning and freezing options as well as cold storage. These are just a few examples of homesteading activities that require fundamental knowledge before jumping in.
4. Not Having a Clear Plan
Doing research should help you develop a very specific plan for the layout of your homestead as well as the rate of growth. There will always be things you haven’t considered or upgrades to be made along the way so don’t expect your plan to be concrete. For example, the low-budget fence you start with can later be upgraded so expect to build it more than once. Try to envision the daily aspect of each component on your homestead. If your home will be heated by a wood fireplace, you will need to know how much wood to cut and stack during the summer months. If you plan to have cows consider whether you will breed them, calculate how much food they will eat, figure out if you will have adequate room for them to graze, and remember there will be costs for medicine and emergency care. When you figure out their shelter remember that you will also need room to store the hay. Your plan should also include your plan for growth. Are you starting with one cow or two dozen? Will you sell the meat or some of the cows at some point? What will be the financial costs and gains? Cows are just one example of the many answers you will want to find before developing your homestead.
5. Not Setting a Budget
Most beginner homesteaders think that it is an inexpensive way to live, and it is, but not when you start out. It is vital that you carefully calculate costs for each phase of your plan. Remember that your garden may not provide enough food for your family the first year or two. You will also need to invest in fencing and building supplies. You may need tools. You may need to hire someone for services. Fuels, heat sources, and a backup generator are other examples of homesteading costs that could sneak up on you. A well-researched, precise budget is a crucial component of your success.
6. Overconfidence in Your Skillset
Few people are capable of handling every aspect of homesteading so be honest when evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. While you may be a master builder, maybe you don’t know the first thing about electricity. Your green thumb might be the envy of your friends but that doesn’t mean you can successfully sheer a sheep. Of course you will pick up skills along the way, but rely on your community for information, skill sharing, and resources until you develop effective systems for yourself.
7. No Coping Mechanisms
Major change is stressful and homesteading is no exception. You will have bad days. You will be frustrated, feel isolated, and experience loss. Sometimes you will wonder if it is all worth it and other times you will freeze with the feeling of being overwhelmed. With this in mind it’s important to have an outlet for stress. This is another valuable reason to engage with your community. They know how it feels and can offer support. Rely on friends on family to hold down the fort occasionally so you can step away for fresh perspective. Workout, do yoga, walk the property line, take a bath, or meditate if that offers stress release. Through it all remember to enjoy the benefits of your homesteading efforts. Sip your morning coffee overlooking the garden. Partake in a glass of wine as the sun drops over the barn. Remember why you’re doing it and reap the rewards along the way.