Homesteading is no small undertaking. The responsibility for the combination of growing your own food, providing for your own shelter and heat, and living sustainably can take its toll on even those with the stoutest of constitutions. In short, it can be difficult to get it all done.
If you are among those who resolve to achieve more in the coming year and hope to look back with satisfaction at your homesteading accomplishments, here are five ways to frame your resolutions for success.
1. Prioritize. Don’t get caught up in that which is less important. Homesteaders are frequently pulled in so many different directions at once that the tasks which get tended first are apt to be the ones that make the most noise, whether they are the most crucial or not. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so to speak.
Be proactive about defining priorities. Make a solid decision about what aspects of homesteading are most significant to you, and proceed accordingly. If you define yourself as a market gardener who enjoys keeping a few livestock animals on the side, take care not to get so bogged down with dairy goats or breeding sows that your kale and tomatoes suffer.
2. Focus. With all the things on your plate, it is tempting to nibble at one thing and then another, without ever actually finishing any of it.
I follow a famous personal finance expert who advises people to pay off debt by tackling the lowest balance first, no matter what the interest rate. The reason this works, he says, is because success is more about motivation than math.
I have found that my money guy’s wisdom can be applied to other aspects in life, including homesteading. Sometimes it is worth it to clear an afternoon of big projects so you can tidy up some long-overdue small items. Spending 10 minutes to fix a gate latch, another 15 scrubbing out feed buckets, a few more sweeping the cobwebs from the barn windows, and a half hour pulling the weeds from around the raised bed gardens can result in the satisfaction of actually having a few things finished, and can be the shot in the arm you need to move on to other tasks. And when you get to those, focus on each one as you go, even if it means batting away the others like so many pesky mosquitoes — unless a true emergency happens, focus on the one at hand and force the rest to take a number and get in line.
3. Organize. Spend time up front arranging things — tools, food, ideas, paperwork, and so on — in a manner that allows you to locate them easily. In the end, this will save not only time but emotional energy. It is exasperating to embark upon a project only to have to hunt for the right tools and materials first, and even more so to end up having to interrupt your work and run to the store for a new thingamajigget — especially if the old one turns up later! It is also often counterproductive to begin tasks without having a clear well-thought-out plan.
Frantically searching for spare tractor keys or equipment owner’s manuals or your favorite cheese recipe, discovering some much older home-canned goods that got hidden behind the fresher jars, or making do with a too-small paintbrush because the proper sized one cannot be found are never productive ways to spend time.
4. Evaluate. Is what you are doing manageable? Homesteading is like any other occupation or lifestyle in that you need to know when to say when. Small ideas and side projects can explode into all-encompassing compulsions. A few small lambs can become an out-of-control flock of sheep. A few hours of volunteering can end up as an unpaid committee chair position that swallows you whole. Having five different species of livestock with varying housing and fencing needs can steamroll over you.
Making executive decisions is hard, but imperative. Cutbacks need to happen sometimes, even when you hate to let anything go. Remember that you, your family, and your animals will benefit from you doing fewer things but doing them better.
5. Remember. Think about the reason you got started in homesteading in the first place. Are you still headed in that general direction?
Some friends of mine amassed an expensive herd of registered miniature goats and came to the realization that too much of their time and money was tied up in buying, selling, and showing — so much so that there was inadequate room in their lives for their homesteading pursuits. They sold off the entire herd, purchased a few sturdy dairy goats, and realigned their goals.
Another reason to remember why you started is to reset your heart. In the same way that married couples can heal wounds from a fight by recalling what it was that made them fall in love with their spouse in the first place, homesteaders need to fall in love again with the ideals of homesteading every now and then. Both marriage and homesteading are too hard to do without love. Stop, roll back to the very beginning, and remember why you came.
Whether your homestead is a humble off-grid cabin in the woods with just you and a partner and a tiny vegetable patch, or a sprawling farmhouse filled with a big busy family teeming with activities both off and on the farm, you probably want next year to bring about more progress than the last. By shaping your resolutions within these five parameters, you may well set foot on the path that will lead to success in the New Year and beyond.
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