This article is for people who want to live a life of freedom and self-reliance in the country. We chose this life 29 years ago, we laid the foundation for 20 years, and realized our dream 8 years ago. We’re still here. You can realize your dream, too.
I’ve known a few people who live in the country and support their families through rural income. Most people who dream of this never reach their goal. They get side tracked in other pursuits that kill their dreams. Those who are successful know a few secrets that helped them achieve their goals of earning income from their passion and living in the country.
1. Live below your means.
This is the most important secret of successful homesteaders. If you don’t have the money in your bank account, don’t buy it. Seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? Credit card debt strangles entrepreneurship and rural living more than any other hindrance. Learn to curtail expenses and save the excess income and you will be on your way to realizing your dream.
Lots of people solve problems by throwing money at them. Successful homesteaders, instead, look for creative solutions to problems. If you really need something to solve a serious problem is there another way to obtain the solution? Bartering? Renting? Borrowing? Re-purposing something else that you own? DIY? More about this skill in another post.
2. Learn something everyday
Successful homesteaders are life long learners. Follow your passions. Visit a public library or spend time online learning about things that interest you. Immerse yourself in your passions until you become an expert.
Learn a new skill every season that will support your passions. If you are a felter, learn to card and process raw fleece. If you are a weaver, learn to spin. Organize a 3 month learning plan for yourself where you can explore the new skill and add it to your passion repertoire. Following this plan will add four new skills every year to your skill set which will increase your passion and your expertise. This is the first step to making a living where ever you want to live.
3. Work Hard
Successful homesteaders invest time and effort into building the skill set that will make them their living. I’m not referring to working hard for an employer — building someone else’s business — but working hard in your non employed time to reach your goals. Too tired after work and just want to veg in front of the tele? Try getting up early and spending an hour or two before you leave for your job, to learn and practice new skills. Or devote an afternoon every week where you can focus on reaching your goals.
Be consistent. To learn a new skill takes practice over several sessions — you need to learn a skill mentally, verbally and physically to own it, so that it becomes a body memory. I learned to spin by spinning for 15 – 30 minutes every morning, after I sent my husband off to work and before the children woke up for breakfast. Now I can spin in my sleep, I can talk about spinning, and I can teach others. Work hard at your chosen skill set and aim to become an expert. You will need it when you realize your dream.
4. Be focused
You need to pare down your life and say “no” to outside commitments that don’t fit in with your dream. If you want to say, “yes”, then find a way to increase your passion skill-set while you commit your time, but place limits on it.
I am president of the our local artisan association. I’m using that time-investment to build relationships in the arts community in our region, to hone my marketing skills and to learn more about website building and internet marketing. It fits in with my goal to improve my opportunities to teach others.
5. Embrace failure
You are going to fail. Get over it. Don’t be afraid of failure and don’t become paralyzed by the fear of failure. When I was learning to downhill ski, my instructor asked me at the end of every day, “Did you fall down?” If I said, “yes”. That was commendable. It meant I learned something. If I didn’t fall down, it meant that I didn’t take any risks or try something outside my comfort zone. Failure is your friend.
As you learn the skills you need to successfully follow your passions, quit your day job and move to the country, you will have failures. Livestock will die. Crops will get hit with hail or drought. Angora goats will get copper deficiencies and you’ll lose the mohair harvest. Angora rabbits will matt before you harvest them. Learn from the failure and plan a strategy to minimize future loss. The only pain in failure is failing to learn from it.
6. Debt is leverage
Some homestead gurus will tell you that you shouldn’t have any debt. I’m not one of them. Debt is leverage, which allows you to own something that will bring you closer to your goals, sooner than if you had to wait until you could save up enough money to buy. On the other hand, a heavy debt load will crush your ability to make your own choices. I recommend getting out of debt as quickly as you can.
Successful homesteaders leverage their income by paying off their highest interests debts first and then using that to begin working on their lower interest debts.
Successful homesteaders use debt only as a means to meet a larger goal.
7. Ownership is optional.
We never actually own anything. Everything we have is loaned to us for as long as we need it. The stuff that you’ve collected is temporary. Once you grasp this truth, it frees you to let go of what you don’t need. It also frees you to spend less on owning things and allows you to borrow or rent what you can, leaving out-right purchases for times when the cost of ownership is less than the cost of rental.
The same is true for land purchases. You don’t need to own your rural property to homestead. Leasing is an option. Living in the forest on national forest land, is an option in some countries as well – check your local laws.
In fact you can begin homesteading right now, even if you live in an apartment in the city or a sailboat on Harrison Lake. The heart of homesteading is learning to grow your own food, becoming self reliant one-step-at-a-time, and doing what you are passionate about. So grow some tomatoes, book a plot in a community garden, weave a wall hanging, paint a watercolour painting, play a fiddle, build a website, start a blog, and you are one step closer. Take one more step every few months and you will reach your goal.
8. The simple life is complicated.
The simple life isn’t about being simplistic. “Simple” in this context means “Single minded” its the same use of the word that occurs in herbal remedies called “Simples”, meaning a medicine with a single ingredient.
Homesteaders live the simple life by being single-minded about providing for their own needs. It is considered a joyful life because there is less distractions and a greater investment in what is important to the homesteader. It is a more healthful way to live. But to truly provide for your own food, clothing and shelter — you need to collect the right tools, learn a lot of skills, and spend time doing it, all the while making a livelihood — whatever that looks like to you. That is much more complicated than buying everything you need at Walmart and living in an apartment in the city.
Successful homesteaders are single minded in their goals, but don’t try to live without the tools and skills necessary to aid their success.
9. Earning income is secondary
You have a set of skills right now. You also have a set of skills that you are developing. There will be some overlap. You will earn your homestead income by using only a portion of your skill set. If you follow your passions and become an expert in your chosen area — you will be able to earn your income through your passions, but it may not look like what you think it will.
When we decided to homestead 29 years ago, we bought an acreage in Mission, BC with an 70 year old fixer upper. We learned to garden, raise rabbits, chickens and goats, as well as fruit, nuts and vegetables. We never sold any food, but used it all for our family and to give away. Our income came from my husband’s teaching position at the university. For 15 years our income was very low, compared to community standards. We struggled financially, learned to live below our means and pay off debts. It wasn’t all austerity. We gave money away, we said “no” to hockey and “yes” to music lessons and art lessons. Then he took a cushy job at a different university and doubled the income and the commute. We made a 5 year plan. We focused on saving enough to buy our current homestead of 140 acres in Southern BC and then quit the day job, cold turkey. Earning money was secondary to realizing our dreams.
10. Be remarkable
Be the best at what you do and improve your skill set. Go beyond people’s expectations and be remarkable. You will be the one people remember. You will stand out in a crowd like a black sheep in a flock of white sheep.
11. Serve others
Build up other people and make them look good. Write thank you notes and say, “Thank you”. Make gifts and give them away to family and friends — this doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. My daughter receive a framed photograph for her grad from her music teacher — she loves it. Remember people’s birthdays. Be nice to those who serve you — smile at the waitress, wave to the flag person, be generous when you tip. Give away 90% of what you know and make a living with the remaining 10%. Be as helpful as possible.
12. Focus on relationships
When we give thoughtful gifts, send cards, remember people’s birthdays we are building relationships. They will be important when you move to your homestead and start your business, too.
When you get an unexpected visitor do you stop what you are doing and talk to them, giving them your undivided attention? I once had a friend who was so focused on her children that when I visited she would talk to them, interrupting her conversation with me. I lived 6 hours away and only saw her once or twice a year. But I stopped driving to see her because in a 30 minute conversation, her children monopolized 25 minutes of the conversation. She gave me the nonverbal message that I wasn’t valued. So don’t neglect the importance of building relationships now, as you work toward your goals. Develop a habit of actively listening and you will learn what other people need from you. This will help you when you are ready to quit your day job. “Collect friendships like flowers,” my friend Karen, wrote to me, once.
Did I miss any of the secrets that successful homesteaders know? What would you add? Tell me in the comments section.