There are two big mistakes many new homesteaders make when starting out. I know this… because I made them both! They are:
- Taking on too much and being overwhelmed.
- Taking on too little and wasting time.
If you scour the internet and read posts from experienced homesteaders, you'll find lots of different variations on these two themes. That's because the kind of people who seem to have the courage to start homesteading are often either big dreamers or big doers.
Unfortunately, both of these personality types tend to make homesteading harder than it has to be. Effective homesteading requires a balance of both dreaming and doing. Plus, it needs a lot of self-knowledge.
The Dreamers and The Doers
Dreamers tend to have lots of great ideas and interests. Their Pinterest boards are about to explode with all the things they want to do someday. Some dreamers, in fact, have so many ideas that it often leads to inaction. It's impossible to decide where to start or which approach is best. So, nothing gets done.
Doers tend to dive in before they've figured out what they want from their homesteading experience. A doer will order 50 meat chickens or hundreds of dollars worth of plants before building their coop or preparing their garden. Then, when deliveries arrive, they rush into whichever solutions will get them the quickest results.
I know these personality types well because I happen to be both of them at different times. Sometimes I am impulsive and dive in without planning. Other times I get so lost in great ideas that I can't find my way to action. I've learned, through plenty of failures, that neither of these tendencies leads to the best results on the homestead.
Keep Your Natural Tendencies in Check
The first trick to avoiding these two problems and right-size your homestead is to override whichever of these two tendencies you lean toward. To do that, start by evaluating what it is you want to achieve by homesteading.
How Self-Sufficient Do You Want to Be?
Most of us say we want to homestead to be more self-sufficient. There are considerable variations in definitions of what it means to achieve self-sufficiency. Here are a few examples to help you figure out how self-sufficient you want to be.
– Somewhat Self-Sufficient
Some people want to grow their own food but are content to do that using store-bought fertilizer and compost produced off-homestead. Some people want to raise chickens using kitchen scraps and bagged feed.
– Totally Food Self-Sufficient
Others want to grow all of their food using their own soil amendments and making their own compost. They want to keep their chickens using grain they grew, insects they nurtured, and scraps from their own meat processing.
– Off-Grid Self-Sufficient
Then, there are also all the different areas of self-sufficiency to think about. Many people just associate self-sufficiency with growing food. However, if going off-grid, providing your own energy, building materials, water, medical treatments, etc. are in your plans, then that's a whole different level of self-sufficiency than just growing food.
Solidify Your Goals
Pour yourself a cup of your favorite hot beverage and make a list of what you want from homesteading. Once that list is made, let it sit for a few days. Then, take another look at it to make sure it's comprehensive.
Prioritize Your List
Once you are happy with your list, count up the number of things you have on it. Take your total and divide by five, if you have 20 items on your list, 20 / 5 = 4. Your answer is the number of things on your list that you get to rank # 1 in importance.
So, if your answer is four, rank four items on your list your #1 most important homesteading dreams. Then, rank 4 more items #2 in order of importance. Keep going until you have rated 1/5th of everything on your list as either 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. Now, if you have 100 things on your list, then rank 20 things #1, 20 of them #2, and so on until they are all ranked 1-5.
Viola! You have just made yourself a 5-year homestead priority list. Now before you protest that I couldn't possibly know what's on your list and therefore must be totally wrong about this, consider the following.
– The Dreamer's Homestead List
If you are a dreamer, I am betting your list is about 100 things long and includes a lot of details. You probably have things like building a charming chicken coop, raising particular kinds of heritage breed chickens, making a herb spiral, learning how to make teas, growing cabbage and making sauerkraut, etc. Each one of those things probably has its own bullet on your list.
– The Doer's Homestead List
If you are a doer, your list is probably brief with things like raise chickens, raise pigs, grow a garden, go off-grid, become a herbalist, etc.
Dreamers and Doers Both Get Stuff Done!
Dreamers usually have long lists that are more detailed. Doers normally have a few quick bullets to indicate broad areas. Therefore, 100 things on a dreamers list are often about the same amount of work as ten things on a doers list.
Now, regardless of your list size, know that dreamers can get things done just as well as doers – sometimes better thanks to careful planning. Doers too can become good dreamers when they get down to planning details. Both of these tendencies can be productive or disruptive to your dreams – depending on how you put them to use.
The point of the list is not to disparage or discourage either group. It's to help both get going in the right direction. In reality, it may take more or less than five years to finish your list. Your list will also likely change as you start down the path.
A lot of factors will impact how long it takes you to work the list and arrive at the homestead of your dreams. Still, by prioritizing your most important tasks and tackling them first, you'll make tangible progress sooner rather than later.
Also, many homesteaders agree that it takes about five years to get your homestead where you want it. So, making a 5-year plan is a very reasonable place to start.
The important part is that you now have a tool to keep you on track. As such, you'll be less likely to get carried away taking on too much or become so overwhelmed with options that you don't take action.
Figure out “How”
Now that you have a list to work with, you need to fill in the details. There are a lot of ways to raise chickens, grow a garden, or go off-grid. Before you start working the list, take some time to figure out how you plan to pull off the prioritized items on your list.
Start with priority #1 items. Take each item individually and ask and answer as many “how” questions as you can think of. For example, how do you plan to get skilled on chicken care and coop construction (if you aren't already)?
How many eggs, how much meat, or how much fertilizer do you need to get from your chickens? How do you plan to keep chickens, e.g., 1) in a mobile coop with an electric fence, 2) in a fixed coop and run, or 3) in a fixed coop and run and allow them to free range?
How many chickens can you keep based on your budget for feed, available space and forage, and time to care for them? How much will you spend on infrastructure? How long will it take you to prepare for chickens?
Work on Where and When
After the how questions, work through the other questions like where and when. Where will you place your coop? Where will you store feed? Where will you source your feed, building supplies, fencing materials, etc.? When will you start this project? When should you order chickens?
The more answers you have before you start, the better your results will be when you break ground.
Right-Sizing Right Now
If you take these activities seriously, your homestead plans will go from abstract to concrete pretty fast. As you learn what's involved in the activities you dream of, you'll have a better picture of how much is feasible and how much you aren't ready to take on yet.
I can't tell you exactly how many chickens you should have or how large a garden you need to grow. Only you know your time, skills, tools, space, budget, etc. to be able to make those determinations. However I can tell you that without proper planning, you are very unlikely to end up with the right-size homestead for your needs and goals.
I can also tell you is that by expecting to spend five years developing your homestead and your skills, you have a realistic chance of pulling it off.
Bonus Right-Sizing Homestead Tips
As you make your plans, keep these tips in mind, too.
Tip 1: Allow Time
Assume every project will take you twice as long as you expect at the outset. There are bound to be things you didn't think of, unexpected challenges, delays caused by others, etc. Give yourself a reasonable time frame to work with.
Tip 2: Upsize Infrastructure
When reasonable, upsize your infrastructure. Almost everyone I know who starts with a small coop eventually trades up to a larger one. Standing room coops are easier to clean than chicken-size only coops.
Even if you start with a small garden at first, plan room for expansion as you grow your skills and your fertility methods. Once you master gardening, adding more area only takes a few extra minutes. More garden space means more variety and variety is the spice of life on the homestead!
Keep in mind; this one obviously doesn't apply to things like building a tiny house or apartment homesteading. But I've never heard of a goat keeper wishing for less space in the barn when their winter hay delivery arrives, or new kids are born. Small barns are quickly outgrown in my experience.
Tip 3: Try Before You Buy
If you aren't sure if you want to do something, try it out first. Take over a friend's milking routine for a week or help with a hog slaughter. Coop sit some chickens or offer to turn a neighbor's compost pile. Those are great ways not to get in over your head until you are sure you'll like something.
Tip 4: More is Less
More is not always better. Often, more ends up being less – as in less time, less money, and less happiness for you if you do more work than you need to.
As more and more homesteaders join the club, the opportunities for making money off your extras diminish. For example, in my area, markets are saturated with organic eggs. Flower vendors are as numerous as vegetable vendors because word got out that there was a shortage.
Worry about meeting your own needs first. Then, if you took my advice in Tip 2, you can always add more later once you know there is a real demand and that it's worth your time to do.
Tip 5: Waste Not, Want Not
Another problem with more of anything is that it always leads to more work. More tomatoes mean more canning. More cabbage means more kraut-making. Instead of going bigger on production, get better at using less.
Waste is rampant in our lives today. We throw out food, clothes, scrap materials, and more at unprecedented rates. If you try to homestead by supplying everything you currently buy from the grocery store – you'll fail.
Instead, cut waste and provide only what you need, not what you are used to having.
Homesteading is good for the home, good for the planet, and good for the soul. So, all of us who do it want others to be more successful at it than we were. That's why we share our tips and experience. So, trust me on this.
Instead of doing “too much, too fast” or “not enough, not soon enough” – go for just right, right now and right-size your homestead. With proper planning, prioritizing, and reasonable expectations on what you can do given your dreams and your realities, you can make real progress right now.
P.S. For all you experienced homesteaders reading this, it's never too late to make a list. Sometimes we get so lost in the doing we forget to plan our improvements and priorities. (At least I know I do!)