The term ‘homesteading’ brings up different images for different people. It’s safe to say that most people’s imagination would include growing food, a large spread of land, chopping firewood, and raising and butchering livestock. While this was assuredly how it used to be, the “Modern Homesteader” tends to do things differently. The end results may be the same, but the methods are different. So, if it’s not the land, the methods of farming, or whether or not you raise livestock, what makes a homesteader?
I’ve had people tell me that I’m not a ‘real’ homesteader because my current plot of land is a third of an acre. I’ve had people tell me there’s no such thing as a ‘real’ homesteader anymore. When I ask these people why, the first person replied with “You have to have a ton of land for your garden and animals. There’s no way you can produce everything you need!” The second person’s reply was along the same lines: “Because homesteaders didn’t have dishwashers and washing machines and electricity!” Sound familiar?
It’s kind of like telling someone they aren’t a ‘real hunter’ because they no longer use sticks and rocks like the cavemen did.
So, tossing aside those judgements, let’s dig into the nitty gritty of what ‘makes a homesteader.’ The dictionary definitions paint a picture about as clear as mud, mostly saying that a “homesteader is a person who works a homestead.” (source). Not very helpful and yet, it does give a bit of a path to follow. The function of a homestead is to produce as much of the things you need as possible. You work your own land for food and survival, not head off to work for someone else and buy what you need. Keep in mind that even the pioneers of old had to go to the Trading Post for things like salt and cloth. Even the ‘real’ homesteaders had to get money to buy things they couldn’t make themselves.
A homesteader is a person who desires to provide for themselves and their family through their own efforts. They are more concerned with the pursuit of self reliance and happiness than monetary wealth (generally speaking, of course). Though many out there wish to be rich, those who seek out the homesteading lifestyle tend to wish for the more simple and basic things. They find more joy in tilling the soil than driving a sports car. They take more satisfaction from a project and job well done than their investment portfolios.
Homesteaders look at the world differently than the average person. What one person sees as a pile of trash or ‘junk,’ the homesteader sees raw materials to work with to create what they need. When you decide to start living a homestead life, your mentality begins to shift over. I used to be one of those people who scoffed at yards that had piles of various ‘junk’ in them – even if the piles were neat and tidy. “How can they stand to live like that!?” I would ask. I get it now. I understand that the pile of scrap metal is a treasure trove for a homesteader. The pile of ‘dirt and garbage’ is actually a compost pile making them fertile soil for next year’s crops. They keep all their old sheets, jeans, and towels to make rag rugs out of – or patches, cloth rope, and a million other things.
I learned that the saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” is a mantra that many homesteaders live by. It took me a solid year before I really noticed the mental shift in myself. Now, when something is broken or I need something to make life easier, I ask whether or not I have the resources already on hand. If I don’t, can I get them? If I have to buy them, would it be cheaper to buy the item instead of crafting it myself?
Homesteading is not about how much land you have. It’s much more about how you live. You can be a ‘homesteader’ on a third of an acre, using electricity and modern conveniences. I grow as much of my food as possible and preserve it. I harvest the bounty of where I live in berries, meat, and fish and preserve that, too. We build/craft a lot more of the things we need instead of buying it outright. My little garden shed is a prime example. We could have bought a pre made steel or wood shed and slapped it together. Buying the wood and building it ourselves saved money and we ended up with a shed we actually wanted instead of what was available to choose from. On the mushy side, it’s also something we built together that will last us several years and is a great memory. 🙂
As with most anything, it is your actions and skills, not stuff, that makes us what we really are. Just because someone owns a jet doesn’t make them a pilot. Having a full set of Snap On tools doesn’t make you a mechanic or carpenter. Your skills and actions do. Relying on yourself more than others, making do with what you have or bartering for what you need….these are actions of a homesteader.
Because there is no one “correct” answer to this question, I asked for the help of several fellow homesteaders who also share their experiences, tips, and tricks with those who want to learn. Below is their answer and a link to their site!
“A homesteader is a person with the mind set to make there own, grow their own or raise their own!” – The Petite Plantation
“A homesteader strives for self-sufficiency by growing or raising their own food, making household items, learning about and using alternative medicine and energy, and striving to protect and repair nature.” – Off Grid Homestead Prepper
“A homesteader must have passion and perseverance. You have to love what you do, and never, ever give up just because a day is tough. There are always blessings all around us!” – One Ash Homestead
“A homesteader is someone who strives for freedom through self-sufficiency: freedom for their time, freedom of their energy, and financial freedom.” – Hillsborough Homestead
“Homesteaders are people who take responsibility for their own well-being. They are more interested in producing than consuming.” – Farming My Backyard
BONUS: FarmingMyBackyard.com has a great article about being a homesteader in the city! Click here