Monday, March 11, 2013

Homesteading is not Simple

Last week I shared some thoughts on Doing Less by Doing More.  It was one of those posts that gets written because I'm thinking through something and reflecting on our own homesteading journey.  As people began responding and sharing their own comments, I was struck by a wonderful point: modern homesteading may be all about simple living, but there really is nothing simple about it.


If I wanted to live a simple life, I would buy frozen dinners all the time or pick up take out, I would have someone else wash my clothes, I would hire someone to care for my children, and I would not keep animals.  Think of how much simpler my life would be if I simply bought my own bread instead of baking it.  Just as the commenter pointed out, simple living is all about a big picture, simple mindset, but it is not about putting your feet up all day.  Simple living refers to taking joy in the simple things, and cutting out the noise in our lives that are extras.  I often wonder what a homesteader 300 years ago would say if I told them they were living a 'simple' life.

Homesteading is hard work.  There are animals to care for: everyday: all year.  There are weeds to pull and crops to harvest.  There are repairs to be made and hard physical labor.  And there are always new skills to learn.  Unlike in years past, most of us do not rely solely on our homestead for survival and have the option of running to the store for an extra loaf of bread when our baking fails, but for many homesteaders, that may mean a longer trip to buy fresh baked bread instead of a trip to the local grocery store (still not very simple). To live a homesteading life you have to take pleasure in the simple joys while working your tail off.


As individuals, homesteading is not simple, but how about for a community or culture?  When we take the 'simple' way of simply purchasing something instead of making it for ourselves, it may be simpler for us, but somewhere along the line, other people are working hard. Think about the process of making cheese.  If I plan to make my own cheese from start to finish, I need some sort of dairy animal, which means I need shed/barn, I need food and water, I need to milk the animal everyday, etc.  I then need to process the milk, add ingredients (let's not even get into making your own rennet!) and let the cheese age.  Wow, that is one expensive, hard earned, time consuming, and exhausting piece of cheese.

When we compare the process of making our own cheese to a commercial cheese making production as I imagine it: a farmer still needs to care for lots of dairy animals, the milk needs to be pasteurized, then transported to a cheese making facility.  The ingredients still need to be added and the cheese aged.  Then the cheese is packaged, transported to a store, shelved, purchased (with money earned at a job), transported, and finally makes it's way to you.  I'm not sure how the whole process adds up, but either way, getting cheese into your home is no simpler when made commercially; it's just simpler for you.  The cheese in the grocery story may not have been simple to make, but making cheese for yourself costs more money and is more work; so why do it?


To only reason to make your own cheese instead of buying your own cheese is because you find enough value in the process to outweigh the added cost and work.  It is the value you place on the work, the value you place on the piece of mind, and the value you place on the process. 

Homesteading is not simple: it is hard work in every way possible.  The idea of simple living may lead you to choose to homestead, but the day to day realities of homesteading are not simple. The only thing simple is the choice: choosing to value the work, the process and the product. 


12 comments:

  1. Good post, Gretchen. Simple living (for me) isn't necessarily about making things simple for me, it's about choosing what is all-around more simple in process. I don't always choose the simplest process, but understanding that it's the goal goes a long way in knowing what direction I'm heading as a homesteader. :)

    ~Kristi@Let This Mind Be in You

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  2. I couldn't have said it any better! I wonder why I do it sometimes, usually when I am overwhelmed, standing in the rain, in the dark, trying to round up escaped animals or standing guard against predators, or when I loose an animal despite my best efforts to save it. . It definitely isn't "simple". It is worth it though, and I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to do it. It is always nice to hear that I am not alone! And that behind all of those happy perfect blog posts, everyone has those moments where it doesn't just work out perfectly and look like a home and garden magazine picture all of the time.

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  3. Very true! It takes a lot more work, but is so gratifying. Homesteading is a process and there is always a new skill to learn and perfect!

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  4. Well said!! I'm not married and work a full time job to support myself. Yet, I'm keeping a very large backyard garden (14 beds currently...about to become 15...and 4 fruit trees so far). I'm also in the process of building a rain catching system with the next project being a chicken coop. After a 10 hour work day, I'm out in the garden weeding or planting or watering. I often make my own bread (moving to doing it 100% of the time), and usually do my own baking. I can even say I've now tried my hand at canning & dehydrating my own harvest. I also read a LOT about homesteading because I'm a Yankee suburbanite learning how to be self-sufficient in the south. It's a ton of work!!!! Especially on top of a full time job! But would I trade it?? Heavens, no!!! My homestead is my peace, my refuge, my sanctuary. I love it!

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  5. I guess the way I look at it, we are living a more down-to-earth life. You get to be very close to life (and death) and mother nature - the natural cycles and orders of things. And as you so eloquently put it...there's nothing easy about all the effort required to do things for yourself! But it is very gratifying knowing where your food comes from, or exactly what ingredients are in your food. Coworkers have asked why I go to all the trouble to make jam when I could just go to the store and buy it? But there's no way I can explain to someone who would ask that question, so that they'd understand that there is real satisfaction in being able to make it for myself, not to mention because it tastes incredible! I'm not 100% positive, but I think it's in the intro to John Seymour's "The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It", it talks about how living a simpler life is not about going backwards and a lower standard of living, but is in fact, a much higher standard of living.

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  6. I really enjoyed this thoughtful article. I've been trying to articulate the lure of homesteading for years and the best I can do is explain that there is a feeling of security in producing your own food. I can't speak for anyone else, but I grew up with exhaustingly high expectations about what my role in the world should be. It wasn't my parents so much as the cultural "chatter" in the 1970s ... a woman could (and should) "have it all".

    I don't want it all. I want to be the "Food Bearing Monkey" to a host of animals, I want to earn enough money to pay the mortgage without abandoning my home and I want that home to be a refuge. Meaningful work is important to a person's well being and homesteading work is hard, but I really see it pay off.

    Bonnie
    www.HungryChickenHomestead.com

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  7. perfect timing! I was just thinking about all of this last night before going to bed as I thought about what I had to feed my 3 year old the next day. so I soaked some beans for a bean dip and then told myself i'd make crackers from scratch the next day. oh wow so much work just so my kid can eat crackers and dip!! in the end, the hard work for me is so I know exactly where my food comes from, how is was made and then how my family consumed it. I sadly dont trust the modern factory or large scale farms, I dont enjoy paying for an organic vegetable to fly its way over to me (we live in the Canadian mountains- winter half the year!) yet I do it so I feel secure in our food choices, reduced environmental impact, so I know animals werent mistreated, or so I know for sure there weren't any chemicals added to my family's lifestyle and food choices. food prices are also going up, and crazy weather patterns threaten the increase in food prices. in the end, the hard work is totally worth it, although I have to say I havent ventured into cheese making and milking my own cow yet!

    keep up the great work, I am so glad I came across your site :)

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  8. Thanks so much for this, it comes at just the right time;). We are still getting into this lifestyle, but it is a TON of work, although very fulfilling, to be sure.

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  9. Overall I really like this post. A lot. But I do take issue with your "If I wanted a simple life...I would hire someone to care for my children" comment. There's absolutely nothing "simple" about working full-time outside the home, not because I choose to but because as a single parent I HAVE to, then coming home to manage my house, make as much food as possible from scratch, care for my animals, care for my garden, and be a quality parent to my daughter. It's very, very much not simple.

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    1. Very true - the comment about having someone care for your children was not meant for someone working outside the home. I also spent part of my parenting time working outside the home, and wow - that is NOT simple! It was meant as an example of someone else doing all the things I do everyday so I could do nothing :) I wasn't meant as someone else doing something so I could be MORE productive - I was thinking more along the lines of someone doing my work so I could drink coffee, put up my feet and eat bonbons (now that would be simple). People who work full time and live a so called simple life are incredibly committed and hard working. Thanks for your comment!

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    2. Thanks Gretchen. As I read my comment back I realize that it doesn't really come across as I meant it to. I figured you probably weren't insulting those of us who work outside the home and I should have made that clearer. Thanks so much for responding, and for your amazing blog. I look forward to each and every post and have learned so much from you!

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  10. I really like this post especially the picture of you shearing your goat! I am sure we all sometimes step back and wonder why we do all that we do. We are not only living this lifestyle now, but teaching a future generation, life skills that will serve them well in the days ahead. But some days it would be nice if it was simple.

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