At the very least, living a sustainable life means simplicity and frugality.
We can’t go out and buy all the stuff advertisers try to cram down our throats.
We don’t need the most powerful car on the block or the fanciest home entertainment center.
And we can’t afford to live paycheck to paycheck and max out on credit cards to get all of it.
The broader concept of sustainability includes attention to the environment. As Thoreau asked, “What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
The homesteading movement
Many people dedicated to keeping the planet tolerable have decided to pursue homesteading.
It’s not a new concept. Governments in the US, Canada, and Australia encouraged people to populate their vast interiors by giving people free land, or homesteads.
In the US, the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration promoted subsistence homesteading to help the urban poor. Families in the program has at least one person with at least a part-time job, but they grew their own food on land given them by the government.
Today, people involved in homesteading don’t welcome help from the government. They intend to be self-sufficient, growing their own food and otherwise supplying their needs with their own effort rather than buying stuff.
Many homesteaders also choose to live off-grid and forego many of the conveniences most of the population depends on. A conventional lifestyle doesn’t fit their idea of living a sustainable life.
Homesteading no longer depends on a large tract of land out in the country. Homesteaders can live in urban and suburban areas. Here’s one homesteader’s definition:
Homesteading is the act of creating a productive home, which can be done no matter the size of the home or the property. While modern culture encourages us to be consumers, we reduce our consumption by growing some of our food (mostly in the front yard!), cooking all of our food from scratch, forming relationships with local farmers and fellow gardeners, and flexing our home economics muscles. All of this on 0.10-acre in suburbia! Breaking free of debt is the best thing we did to jumpstart our homesteading lifestyle.
What skills and knowledge are required for homesteading?
At the very least, homesteaders grow their own herbs and vegetables.
So they need to know how to garden. And how to save seeds for the following year.
To minimize reliance on what’s for sale at garden centers, they need to know how to compost.
In order to eat what they’ve grown, they need to know how to cook, and to can what they don’t eat immediately. I don’t see where modern homesteaders necessarily grow grain and mill their own flour, but they generally bake their own bread.
Homesteaders with large tracts of land need to know how to drive a tractor and keep it in good repair. That is, if they’re willing to use fossil fuels. If not, they have to learn pre-industrial techniques for plowing and harvesting.
Not all homesteaders grow animals, but keeping chickens, goats, bees, etc. requires additional sets of skills, including milking and butchering. Again, on large tracts of land, they need to know how to use guns properly to deal with predators. Or to hunt for wild game. Homesteaders often rely on fishing for some of their protein requirement.
I’m not going to take time to describe sewing, knitting, making cleaning products and home remedies, or any of a number of other alternatives to a more conventional lifestyle. Homesteading is not for the faint of heart! Or for the impulsive. Success in homesteading requires careful planning and accurate understanding of needs and resources.
How much of this is really necessary for living a sustainable life?
Others, unfortunately, have time enough to write about how everyone else should give up as much as they have.
Some even look down their noses at other homesteaders who still rely on conveniences like running water.
The stereotype of pampered hippies lecturing the rest of society on how to live gives environmentalists a bad reputation.
I got to thinking again about this issue when I read one dedicated homesteader’s response to a book called The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s America. She points out that the way it puts pressure on people to give up modern conveniences can only make them cling to them more.
Reading that article reminded me of an earlier book, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process, in which Colin Beaven lived out his liberal guilt for a year in New York City attempting to make no impact on the environment. He couldn’t use the elevator in his apartment complex or public transportation that year, for example, because they used fossil fuels directly or indirectly.
At the end of the year, he and his family returned to using modern-day technology. They made some permanent new habits during that year, but they couldn’t keep it up.
At its most basic, a sustainable lifestyle means practices that can be continued indefinitely without environmental, economic, or social harm. Beavan and many others like him discovered that such drastic lifestyle changes aren’t sustainable. Simply because they and their families couldn’t sustain them.
So here are the basics of a sustainable lifestyle anyone can adopt:
- Read to discover what other people are doing to minimize environmental, economic, or social harm.
- Decide what you can incorporate into your lifestyle.
- Make a few changes at a time until they become new habits.
- Keep at it. Regard living a sustainable lifestyle as a journey, not a destinatilon.
Even if you have no interest in homesteading, adopting some of homesteading’s practices can help with living a sustainable lifestyle.
133 homesteading skills for the modern day homesteader / Riley E. Carson. Homesteading. January 5, 2016
What constitutes sustainability and a simpler life? / Jennifer Jelliff-Russell, Homesteading Misadventures. August 6, 2017
What is homesteading? / Jen Sharpin. The Easy Homestead. October 2014?