12.9.12

How to Become a Homesteader


Homesteading:  A weekly account of our journey to becoming off grid homesteaders.  Our path will be long as we are only paying in cash and our funds are very limited.  Mike and I have no idea what we're doing so we'll be learning as we go.  I know we'll make mistakes and that's ok.  It's all part of the process.  

We would love to read about your homesteading experiences, so if you'd like to share your favorite resources, tips, funny stories, recipes, books, website or even just a photo from the week, please leave a link in the comments.


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Last week someone asked this question in the comments, "When your family decided to become homesteaders, besides finding land, what was the first thing you did?  Was it removing all debt?  Begin gathering supplies? Or something else? "  It was such an important question when we first realized we wanted to take this path, and thought others might appreciate a little insight on how we got here, too.

Our path to homesteading didn't begin neatly at the head of the wooded trail.  It was more like finding our way to a clearing after three miles of hiking with tired little ones through an overgrown timber forest.  Around the time Luke was born, we had a pivotal year that completely changed the direction of our lives.  Our oldest son was in public school and we were in constant battle with his teachers and administrators, looking for alternatives to the standard educational process.  We knew it wasn't right for us, but didn't know our options.  That was when I met a new friend at the hospital where I started working part time and she introduced me to homeschooling. (More on this another day or I may get waaaayyy off track!)  It only took one book, Teach Your Own, by John Holt, to know that homeschooling or unschooling was exactly what we'd been looking for but didn't know it was possible or where to begin.  We started reading everything we could get our hands on about the different methods of learning from unschooling to classical school at home.  We loved reading stories from other families and how learning became part of their everyday lives.  Included in many of the stories were families living on small farms, working, living, and learning together.  Our library list evolved to more and more books about homesteading and sustainable living, when I came across a book in the stacks called Better Off-Flipping the Switch on Technology, by Eric Brende.  This was what we wanted.  Living a sustainable life, connected to the earth and each other.  

The first thing we did was to take our oldest son out of school.  Over Christmas break, that winter, we sat down with Jake and explained homeschooling and asked how he felt about extending the holiday break, permanently.  Of course, he was ready.

The next big change we made, I quit my job at the hospital.  Each night, Mike walked in the door and I walked out.  A kiss and hi/bye were pretty much the only conversations we had four nights a week. We were never all home together at the same time and this was not grooving with our plan to live a connected life.  Losing the income was hard, but we cut out extras like the cable television (I'd been wanting to get rid of the t.v. for a long time, anyway!) and eating out.  It didn't take very many nights of eating dinner together to decide the extra income wasn't important.  

Sometime over the next few months, Mike got a call from a friend, who had been temporarily living with his family on a small homestead while their house was being built.  Construction was finished, so the 100 year old log cabin, barns and land were available to rent.  The owner lives in Florida, and the land has been in the family for years, so he's just looking for someone to act as caretaker and pay the property taxes.  Oh, and by the way, it's all modernized, but off grid.  Would we be interested?  Um, YES!  We sat down and worked the numbers.  Mike would have to quit his job, a 180 mile commute was not an option, but we still had some bills that needed to be paid.  After mulling it over all winter, we decided to just jump in head first.  Mike would quit, we'd sell the house, I'd make handmade wares to sell online and we'd just do it.  This was too good an opportunity to pass up and we'd make it work!  We called the owners to tell them we'd like to take the property and to our utter dismay, they'd told us a buyer contacted them out of the blue and made an offer to purchase they couldn't refuse.  The homestead was sold and we were devastated.  Mike went back to work, our days returned to normal, but we truly mourned the loss of our Birchwood cabin for the whole next year.   To heal, we went to the woods.  A lot.  Walking with the trees, singing with the birds, finding the beauty in the rhythm, and relearning the wonders of the changing seasons through the eyes of a child.  

As the earth renewed itself that spring, we also found ourselves revitalized with a new sense of opportunity.  Feeling sorry for ourselves wasn't getting us anywhere, so we sat down one night and came up with a plan.  An outline of what we wanted, what we needed and how to get there.  First thing was to eliminate unnecessary expenses.  We sold the van.  It was an older model, costing us a fortune in repairs, gas, and loan interest.  We ride our bike instead, and when we need to use a car for out of town trips, we drop Mike off at work on the way.  With that payment gone, we were able to make double payments on our car and get that loan paid off very quickly.  We also paid off and canceled a credit card which had a very small balance.  Family members tried to discourage us from canceling the card, to keep it just for emergencies.  However, in five years, I have to say that I have never missed it or needed it once. We only pay in cash, and live by the philosophy of my grandpa's words, "If you can't pay for it when you buy it, you don't need it."  Good words to live by, indeed.  We don't own a cell phone (except for a prepaid emergency phone in the car's glove box) and eat in, cooking whole foods, as often as possible.  Eating out was taking up a huge chunk of our income.  We also became very conscious of our energy usage around the house, turning off lights, drying clothes on the line, using dryer balls in the winter.  All these little things that add up to lots of extra pennies in your pocket. 

With all of the extra expenses and debt gone (except for the mortgage and my student loan), we could start saving money.  We stuck every available penny into a savings account for several years, and in February of this year, we were finally able to purchase our land!  

With our entire savings spent on the actual land, we're now saving for the next major expense, building our home.  The goal is to start laying the foundation in the spring.  For now, though, we're content to spend weekends living on the land, working on small projects, and stopping at estate sales for great finds!  This week we found two wheelbarrows, a post hole digger, and a variety of tools for cement work.  All for $20.  And thanks to "The Mighty Honda" for pulling through for us, again!!

If you have any other questions, I'm happy to answer them in the comments!

6 comments:

  1. Liz,
    Thank you so much for sharing the beginning of "your story".
    It mirrors much of ours, except we did make a bit off a turn off the strict homesteading/off grid when we bought our rustic cottage 3 years ago - for now it is our compromise while we raise the bulk of our children.
    I love the picture of the wheelbarrows on top of the car!! What a terrific find!
    Looking forward to watching your journey from afar.

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  2. You're welcome, Tonya. You and your family have been such an inspiration for us. It makes our dreams feel so much more possible when we can see other families following a similar path. I was thinking of you when we bought the wheelbarrows and how I had just asked you about your cart last week!! Funny how things work out that way. :)

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  3. I really appreciate you answering my questions and sharing your story from where you began to where you are. You are really inspiring me!

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    1. You are so welcome! Thank you for the encouragement. :)

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  4. Great beginnings. I'm somewhere along a similar path. It made me think though. I heard that the highway departments in some states need to demolish houses to build and offer the houses for free if you're able to have them moved. I think it costs around 15-20K but some of the houses are apparently very historic and built of stronger materials than nowadays. Maybe?

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  5. You are an amazing story teller...Have you thought about writing a book (pdf) and selling (self-publish online), perhaps each chapter as you go along on your homestead journey?

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