Defining Homesteading

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Have you ever wondered about that word “homesteading” that has been going around?

If you know what homesteading was a hundred years ago, you might be even more confused. So what exactly is a homesteader?

Defining homesteading isn't easy. This modern movement with an old-fashioned name has changed over the years

If you stop and think about what it meant in the past, the answer does not seem to fit up with today’s reality. Perhaps you had an ancestor who homesteaded. You know what they did – they cut down trees, built their homes by hand and worked hard to build a life.

The parents homestead, the children farm, and the grandchildren move to town.

The funny thing, though, is that many of the great-grandchildren are redefining an old, almost lost word and calling themselves homesteaders – in a way their great-grandparents might not have recognized.

So first we need to make a distinction between traditional homesteaders and modern homesteaders.

They really have little in common beyond their attitude.

Both modern and traditional homesteaders were willing to work hard for what they believed in – a sense of independence and pride, a feeling of hard work and accomplishment, and, let’s be honest, the knowledge of doing something that most people cannot or will not do.

My mother always said that the surefire way to get me to do something was to say “Marie, you just can’t do that. It’s not possible.” She’s right. It might take me thirty years to figure out, but I’ll do it. (And I’m seeing that same “Oh, yea? Watch me” attitude in my sweet little two year old daughter.)

If you define yourself as a homesteader, you have at least a little bit of that “Oh, yea? Watch me” attitude, too.

The shortest possible definition is that modern Homesteaders are people who are constantly striving to live a life of self-sufficiency. It is a strong desire – and the resulting action necessary – to get off the system that most people take for granted and to learn to reconnect with, and live upon, the land.

Now we personally spent three years living far out in the woods on 24 acres of land, off-grid, with 100% wood heat and solar power. The internet for our cabin comes from satellite, our cell phones rely on a cell phone booster on our roof, and we would have to win the lottery to get a land line or a power line up here. The cabin has no fridge or freezer and only cold running water (except when it freezes in the winter, at which time we “run” to the spring!)

Even by the old definition of hacking out a little farm from scratch, that’s homesteading.

But you don’t have to be doing this in order to homestead. Really and truly, you don’t. (In fact, if you’re crazy enough to want to, come live with us for a year.) And just because we live out here, that doesn’t make me more of a homesteader than someone in an apartment. Moving closer to people wouldn’t make us less homesteaders, either!

A lot of it today is in the attitude, and today’s homesteaders are redefining what it means.

Tweet: No matter WHERE I am, I will take every possible step towards decreasing my reliance on the system. Go ahead – tweet that. 🙂

It sounds like you, doesn’t it?

Nothing in that says that you have to live on a farm or even in a rural community. We started our homesteading journey while living in a dark basement apartment within walking distance of downtown in a large city.

What do modern homesteaders do, then? Because it can’t all be about attitude.

At the heart of homesteading is a desire to grow as much of the household’s food as possible, and to source the rest as close to home and nutritious as possible.

So a homesteader in an apartment might only grow sprouts, but they’ll get eggs and vegetables and meat from farmers with whom they’re building relationships. Homesteaders tend to move away from boxes and cans, too, and work on building new skills in the kitchen. Cooking from scratch often goes hand-in-hand with homesteading ideals.

All homesteaders, as far as I know, do some kind of food preservation. This could involve freezing, canning, drying, pickling, fermenting …. I love knowing, when I’m putting up a canner of meat, that my grandmother was doing the same thing in her kitchen sixty years ago.

Tied into that, you will find homesteaders doing things like fighting for urban chickens. (Because seriously – chickens! They eat insects. And they have other useful traits.)

Many homesteaders sew clothing. Not me. Definitely not my skill set. But that’s just one of the many practical skills that homesteaders are likely to pick up.

These are the skills once known as “handicrafts” – an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands (Thank you, Mr. Webster) Since moving to our homestead, the mister has had to learn carpentry and wiring by necessity, and he’s picking up a bit of plumbing, too. There’s a lot to learn.

Now let’s address one last thing – maybe you’re reading this and thinking “I do a lot of that stuff and I am NOT a homesteader.”

That’s fine.

No one is going to make you take on any definition that you don’t want.  There are actually no homesteading police who will decide if you are a homesteader, a highly skilled homemaker, a farmer or something else altogether.

Defining homesteading isn't easy. This modern movement with an old-fashioned name has changed over the years

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