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5 things I wish I knew before I started homesteading- looking back at lessons learned

Interested in a homesteading lifestyle? Here are 5 things I wish I knew before getting started and the top lessons I've learned.

After a solid week of daily back-and-forths between Santa Rosa and Sacramento, then a few weeks of getting adjusted and unpacking, I think I’m at a point to say that life is ‘back to normal’. Well, at least as close as I can get now that I’m in the middle of a city, in a new house and without a garden.

As I get adjusted, I’m starting to think about my next landscape and homestead design. I’ve also done lots of reflecting about my past projects and my homesteading journey. If you are new to homesteading, or if you are thinking about starting your urban homesteading journey, here are some of the important lessons I learned along the way.
Interested in a homesteading lifestyle? Here are 5 things I wish I knew before getting started and the top lessons I've learned.

5 Lessons Learned from Homesteading

You Don’t Need As Much Space as You Think

When we bought our Santa Rosa home, I was enamored that I had a half acre. And before I started building and digging and planting, I even thought I needed more space. But in reality, I didn’t need more. More yard means it’s more expensive and it takes more time to keep up. If you have rural acreage, have wildland might be nice, but in a city lot, it just looks unkept and neglected.

chickens like the open space, but not needing so much property was one lesson learned

The chickens enjoyed the big property, and I loved my home and garden, but in all honesty, my half-acre in Santa Rosa was too large of a space for me and my small family.

After almost 4 years of working on my Santa Rosa homestead, I know now that I did not need that much space. If your goal is to live simply and only with what you need, don’t forget that yard size also applies. It’s like the tiny-house movement or the minimalism movement- you live with only what is necessary. This is one of the reasons why we chose to buy a home in Sacramento on an average city-sized lot. Large enough to grow some food, but not more than I actually need.

The Sink is the Most Important Kitchen Homesteading Tool

I’m sure people will argue with me on this one, but hands down, I state that a decent sink is the most important feature of a homestead kitchen. If you are trying to live a sustainable lifestyle, you are going to be cooking from scratch, which means washing dishes, and you need a good sink. You need a high faucet to be able to put big pots under. You need it deep and wide enough to fit cutting boards and big bowls in. With sinks, bigger is always better and it makes kitchen life so much easier.

Having a great kitchen sink was an important lesson learned in my experience as an urban homesteader.

My Santa Rosa sink was my most cherished kitchen possession. If you have the option to remodel a homestead kitchen, the sink should be the highest priority.

This is something I learned quickly after moving into our Sacramento home. Our new sink sucks. I knew my Santa Rosa sink was amazing, but I took it for granted. I hate my new one so much I actually dread making dinner. So if you ever remodel or design a homestead kitchen, prioritize an amazing sink. You can manage with shitty cabinets. You won’t manage without a great sink.

Your House is No Longer Just a Place to Live. And It Will Always Be a Mess.

Prior to learning to cook and gardening, I kept a clean house. Floors were always mopped and swept, shelves always dusted. Everything was put away when I was done using it. These tasks quickly fell to the wayside when my lifestyle shifted to one that prioritized sustainability, cooking from scratch, and being close to nature. If you live a homesteading lifestyle, the home and the kitchen becomes more than just a place to live and make dinner. It becomes a workshop, a place to brood chicks, raise butterflies, brew beer, ripen fruit, cook food, mend clothes, cure garlic, grow starts, fix things, save seeds, build things, and any of the gazillion other things homesteaders do. Just get used to it. Having so many things happening at once also means that your house will always be a mess and it will be dirty. It took me a while to accept that my home wouldn’t look like a magazine. I wish I accepted that sooner.

one lesson learned is that a house becomes a place for a hundred different activities, not just living

A sunny windowsill in the kitchen becomes a place to dry herbs and infuse oils, just one of the many projects going on at any time.

Unless I had people coming over, and I spent all day cleaning, my homestead always had dirt on the floor (and yes, sometimes even chicken poop), clutter on the counter (fermenting jars, bowls of veggies, tools, etc.), dog hair everywhere, and dirty dishes in the sink. The garden brings in dirt. A homesteading life is messy. If you read a homesteading blog (yes, even this one) and they post perfect pictures of a clean house, know they either pushed all the stuff out of the camera view, or they don’t actually use their space. When you are engaged in a hundred different other tasks, cleaning is the least of the priorities. If you actually manage to do both, then I want whatever super drug you’re on.

You Don’t Have to Preserve ALL OF THE THINGS

When I first growing food and started canning, I felt it was my responsibility to can, dry or freeze everything. I couldn’t let a single thing go to waste. I once picked every green tomato left before a frost and made 8 jars of green tomato chutney, despite the fact I don’t actually eat chutney. I still have peaches in the freezer that I foraged off an abandoned urban tree 2 years ago, despite the fact they are mealy and not good but I didn’t want to pass up free food. Know that it’s OK to let things rot in the compost, or feed to the chickens.

And while we are at it, know you also don’t have to do ALL OF THE THINGS. Don’t like kombucha? That’s ok. You don’t have to make it just because it’s something that’s DIY and everyone else seems to be doing it.

Starting a Homestead from Scratch is Expensive

Several of my friends all purchased our first house around the same time. We would joke that when you’re in high school, things cost $10. College, $100. Homeowners, suddenly $1,000. Sure, we all know that remodeling a kitchen, or replacing a roof, is expensive. But I never considered the cost of doing work out in the garden or the cost of materials that come with it. If you are starting from nothing, you likely need to put in the water systems, trees, coops, fences, soils, etc.

one lesson learned is plants are expensive, and they add up fast!

A single 4″ pot might not seem expensive, but when you start buying lots of them to fill your garden, the cost adds up! Plants are just one thing you might not consider the cost of when starting a homestead from scratch.

Even if you are doing all the work yourself, the materials are expensive. Wood for fences and coops are expensive. Wire is expensive. Pipe is expensive. Compost is expensive. Plants are expensive. It all adds up. And just like the first lesson I mentioned, if you have a big space, it requires more expensive. I felt I had to get everything done right away, in order to make the space what I dreamed of, or I needed to invest money in one aspect so I could get something else done. We put lots of money on the credit cards, and we weren’t able to do much else. My advice to new homesteaders would be to take time to figure out what needs to be done first, to avoid having to ‘redo’ things, and to start small.

What about you? What lessons have you learned homesteading, or what are things you think are important for new homesteaders to know? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Heidi
    February 18, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    Great post! I totally agree about the kitchen sink, and about the house being messy. ☺

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