Many people start dreaming about homesteading when they’re living in the city in an apartment. That’s actually how I got started! I was living in a shared flat in downtown Toronto, dreaming of a more self-sufficient life.
The good news is that you don’t need acreage of farmland to get started. Apartment homesteading is a viable option, and a great way to get started right where you are.
What is Apartment Homesteading?
The best way to answer this is that it’s a small-scale version of homesteader life. It’s being as self-sufficient as possible while working with what you have available to you.
When most people envision homesteaders, they likely think of cabins plopped on huge, rolling parcels of land. There may be chickens or cows running around, wide fields of crops, maybe a blacksmith’s forge or pottery studio nearby.
So how does that vision translate to apartment living? How can a person possibly be a homesteader if they’re in a 700 square foot apartment?
It’s possible! The key is to focus on what you really want to do and take advantage of what you have to work with.
What Does Homesteading Mean to You?
This is the most important question you can ask yourself right now. Self-sufficiency can mean different things to different people, not to mention various aspects taking different priority levels.
For example, one person’s idea of homesteading may involve growing and preserving as much of their own food as possible. They might dream about gathering fresh eggs from their hens in the morning, spending the days making cheeses from their goats’ milk, and canning produce every weekend.
For someone else, it might mean making heirloom quilts, baking bread from scratch, making herbal medicine, and wood carving.
Make a List of Things You Want to Do, and What You Have to Work With
Grab your journal, a pen, and a tasty beverage. Then sit down somewhere comfortable and write down all the things you dream of doing as a homesteader. Next, place them in order of priority: not just what you think would be the most important things to do, but what you would love to do the most.
Now that you’ve jotted down all the lovely things you dream of doing, it’s time to take note of what you can work with. Apartment homesteading might be small-scale, but you can still do a lot with it.
Spend time observing your entire apartment over the course of a few days. Make sketches if you can, with notes about the areas that get the most light. Knowing where the light falls can give you a solid idea of the types of edible plants you can grow and where.
Next, write down areas you’d like to improve upon. For example, do you want to eliminate as much plastic from your home as possible? Maybe replace those items with handmade, long-lasting pieces made from natural materials? Make a triage list of the things you can replace immediately versus those that will need a bit more time to take care of.
How about outdoor space? Does your apartment have a balcony or patio? See if there’s a rooftop area that you’d be allowed to work with. Maybe talk to your landlord to see what options are regarding communal use of outdoor space.
What about time and budget? If you work from home, you’ll have more time available to you for tending plants and animals. As for budget, can you afford to fill your space with lots of organic soil and organic fabric? What can you afford?
Make a Second List of Ingredients and Supplies You Can Buy or Trade For
Let’s say that you dream of making homemade cheese, but you can’t fit a cow or goats into your studio apartment. Is there a farmer’s market or organic health food store nearby? See if they carry the kind of milk you’d like to transform into cheesy deliciousness. That’s one way to become more self-sufficient with the means you have available to you.
Does your downstairs neighbor have yard space that they don’t use? Ask them if you can use it to grow edibles, and share the harvest with them in exchange for using the space. That way, you both benefit: you’ll have more outdoor space to play with, and they get free veggies and herbs.
Do you want to start knitting or sewing your own clothes and household items? Check out some trading sites and groups online and see what you can exchange. You might be able to get bags of fabric or yarn in exchange for some skincare products or a few jars of canned tomatoes.
Create a Venn Diagram from Those Lists
Now that you’ve placed your dream projects in order of priority, create a handy Venn diagram from the info you’ve corralled above. You can use this to determine which projects you can do that entail the following:
- The homesteading projects you really want to do
- Space and resources available to make them happen
By doing this, you’ll be able to narrow down your many (many) options to those that are actually feasible.
Choose a Few Apartment Homesteading Projects to Start With
Now that you have a solid list of projects you really want to do and have the means to do, pick two or three of them. Most people want to dive in and get started on this stuff immediately, but that can be overwhelming. It’s easy to bite off more than you can chew.
When this happens, instead of feeling empowered and proud of the work you’re doing, you’ll be exhausted and resentful.
Nip that in the bud by choosing just a few for now. Even better, try to pick a few that can complement one another. Here are a few combinations you might want to try:
- Grow dye plants, dye home-spun yarn, knit or weave with said yarn
- Cultivate healing herbs, make herbed soaps from scratch, create a variety of medicines
- Grow some heirloom tomatoes and herbs, make/preserve homemade salsa, sauce, etc.
- Raise some angora rabbits, spin their fiber, knit items with the yarn
- Replace plastic containers with glass/metal/wood, carve your own utensils
Or any other combination that you like! This is meant to inspire you to take the steps you need towards self-sufficiency in your own space. You might be amazed to discover just how much you can do with apartment homesteading. This is true even if you live in a tiny studio flat!
Take Full Advantage of Every Space Available
When I got started, I only had a small patio and some sunny windows to work with (and most of them overlooked a parking lot). I put some small tables in front of the sunniest windows and grew vegetables on them. I made macrame hangers for containers, filled them with herbs, and grew them in every room in the house.
There are a lot of vegetables and herbs that thrive in partial sun or shade. Create hanging baskets of lettuce, lemon balm, etc., and hang them all over the place. Create a living herb wall from an old palette and put that up in the living room. Scour social media for free glass jars and store all your dry goods, herbs, spices, etc., in them.
Work with what you have, and expand your projects from that bit by bit. You can achieve more than you can imagine, and each small step will take you further towards your homesteading dreams.
Most importantly, have fun!