How to Homestead – (Not Quite) Like Grandma Used to Do

Learn how to start a homestead from scratch, building the skills you need to live a more sustainable lifestyle. While the days of earning free land are long gone, we can still enjoy the benefits of homesteading skills.

dream homestead with gardens, pond, greenhouse, and chicken coop

How to Start a Homestead

Homesteading means living a self sufficient lifestyle, which starts with providing for our basic needs. These include:

  • Food and Water
  • Shelter and Hygiene
  • Clothing

Money is tight for many and the economic is uncertain. Saving money can be as good or better than simply busting your backside to try and earn more money. (The IRS is not taxing garden produce, chickens and homemade clothing – yet.)

My grandparents got along pretty well when the Great Depression hit compared to many. Why? Because they were able to provide for many of their own needs right on their small homestead farm.

Read “5 Lessons from Great Depression Life that Still Make Sense Today“.

Start your homesteading journey thinking strategically:

  • What does my family use every single day?
  • How is our budget spent?
  • What activities would most improve our quality of life?

You don’t need to do everything at once! Just pick one project or idea to focus on first. Work on it until you’re happy with the results, and then move on to the next.

Let’s get planning your dream homestead!

#1 – Make Sure You Have Access to Clean Water

Safe water and having enough water have become serious issues around the globe. Drought and contaminated municipal water supplies are two examples from the U.S..

Without safe water, nothing else matters. You can’t provide for your family, grow a vegetable garden or have livestock without water.

Grandma and grandpa found this out during the Dust Bowl Years. They had to get creative with feeding the cows. They had a hand pump for the well, and their biggest concern was whether or not it might run dry. Things have gotten a little more complicated since then.

We get our water tested annually through our local land conservation office. If you have never had your water tested, I highly recommend it, just to be on the safe side.

There are a number of different filtration options to ensure water is safe to use. Every household should have water storage on site for emergency use.

For water storage and filtration tips, and rainwater collection guides, see:

old hand pump with water basin

#2 – Grow Your Own Food

Gardening and growing your own food is an important part of homesteading life and living off the land. Both sets of grandparents had big garden beds and did a ton of canning and preserving.

Mom’s mom had a big poppy patch for bread seed poppies, to use in kolache, tea rings and rolache. We had fruit trees on the family farm for apples and plums.

Dad’s mom loved strawberries better than the birds. She’d pick them half green and ripen them in the window so she get as many berries as she could.

Even apartment dwellers may be able to have some containers in a sunny window or on a patio. You can also use a hydroponic kit or mini garden with built in lighting. Community garden plots may also be an option.

If you own land , consider using permaculture principles to develop a sustainable food forest. Even small lots can include edible landscaping, and maybe a small chicken coop.


onions and leaf lettuce
Onions and lettuce make good garden companions

Homestead Livestock

Chickens and rabbits are good animals to start with on your homestead. They don’t require lots of room, and are easier to care for than larger animals. Rabbits manure can be added straight to the garden without burning plants. (This is not true with most animal manures.)

For fresh milk and cheese, dairy goats are a good starter animal. If you have more room, a family cow may be a good fit.

Some of most helpful for beginners include:

fresh picked eggs

#3 – Preserve Your Own Food

Food storage allows you to preserve your garden produce to enjoy year round. You can also stock up excess for lean years. (Anyone with gardening experience can tell you that some years are much more productive than others.)

I have a big crock that was passed down from my grandmother for making sauerkraut, brine pickles and wine. We also have some glass gallon jugs that used to store blackberry and dandelion wines.

If you don’t have a garden of your own, you can buy in bulk from farmers markets or local growers. Even urban homesteaders can take advantage of seasonal sales at the grocery store can help save money.

A well stocked pantry is useful every day. It’s a real blessing when you can’t get to the grocery due to bad weather, or you can’t afford to do much grocery shopping because of job loss or other budget constraints.

Unlike grandma, we don’t have to rely solely on the root cellar, food on the hoof or water batch canning. We can also use freezing, dehydrating, pressure canning, freeze drying – whatever fits our time, space and budget.

Food Storage Resources

To get started building your food storage, check out:

mason jars with different levels of canning headspace

#4 – Make Your Home More Sustainable

Many people associate homesteading with “getting back to the land” or being completely disconnected from public utilities. Some homesteaders do this, but you don’t need to be off grid to live more sustainably.

Both sets of grandparents used wood heat, which any wood stove user will tell you “heats you up twice”. You warm up once when you cut it, and once when you burn it.

I worked in the solar industry for several years before becoming a full time homesteader. I want to tell you straight up that your quickest return on investment (in most cases) is in energy conservation.

Solar panels and windmills may be trendy, but they usually come with a hefty price tag. Contrast this with a project like replacing leaking windows. This will reduce both heating and cooling bills and may pay back the investment in a season or two.

I have a great list of ways to cut your energy use in the Homesteading 101 ebook (free for subscribers). “9 Tips Everyone Should Know for Keeping Your House Cool” can help cut those summer cooling bills.

installing solar electric panels

Alternative Energy Resources

If you are ready to make a bigger investment in producing your own heat and electricity, take a look at:

Choose Simple Living

Save money by buying used and repurposing items instead of tossing them in the trash.

We are bombarded with ads telling us to get the latest and greatest electronic gadget or new clothes. I’m sure someone is buying that junk. It’s just not me, and I’m guessing that if you’ve gotten this far in the article, it’s not you, either.

Through the magic of YouTube, you can find instructions on how to repair almost anything that can be repaired. It’s awesome! You can also find tons of ideas for recycling and upcycling. Use your imagination!

Making your own home goods and cleaning products allows you to reduce toxic chemical exposure and save money. Some ideas for simple projects:

lotion bars

#5 – Learn Homesteading Skills

My sewing skills consist mostly of mending, which, while useful, is rarely beautiful. Mending is a lot cheaper than replacing an entire garment (or piece of furniture).

Mom used to keep a scrap bag of completely worn out clothes to patch other clothes. I do the same thing. Grandma made many of their clothes from scratch, including flour sack dresses for my mom.

I have friends who do beautiful work with yarn and fabrics, plus there are other local artisans who show at craft fairs and some small local stores.

While more expensive up front, quality handmade goods will generally outlast and outperform their cheaper retail counterparts. If you make items yourself, you can enjoy the quality for the cost of your time and materials.

If you’re not up to tackling more projects, shopping for used clothing can stretch your budget. Sometimes find some real gems, too. Older clothing was often better made than some of the current see through, poorly made junk now available.

Other useful skills for starting a homestead include small engine repair, wood working, herbalism, wildcrafting, bee keeping, construction, sharpening tools, and bartering. You may want to start a small group of like minded people to help each other on projects.

knitting socks

Benefits of the Homesteading Lifestyle

Living the homesteading lifestyle can help you break free of the rat race. If you to provide for more of your own needs instead of buying things, you need less income.

When you work with the seasons, you become more aware of the changes and the pulse of natural rhythms. This applies to gardening, raising animals or using solar energy.

It’s a beautiful thing to step out into the morning sun and listen to the birds singing and wander over to your garden to enjoy some fresh picked berries, still wet with morning dew.

Homesteading also helps fight Couch Potato Syndrome and Cell Phone Neck. Keeping busy with projects around the homestead keeps you active and breaks up screen time – without an expensive gym membership.

Homesteading builds a sense of community as you get to know those with related interests, like beekeeping or gardening clubs. It’s also a great way to get to know your neighbors and start bartering goods and services.

If you’d like more ideas on how to homestead, sign up for the newsletter and get a free copy of “7 Steps to Become More Self-Reliant”. You can also check out my favorite homesteading books right here.

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Do you consider yourself a homesteader? I’d love to read your suggestions/lessons learned that you’re willing to share with new homesteaders.

Every homesteading journey is unique, and building community is one of my favorite parts of homesteading.

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