5 Ways to Homestead Like Great-Grandma Did
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Sure, it’s never going to be the “old days” again, but we can use some of great-grandma’s timeless advice to help out with our modern day homesteading adventures. Here are 5 ways I think we can still homestead like great-grandma once did.
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
1. Use what you have.
Great-grandma was a master at making things last and getting the most out of what she had. She knew how to use leftovers. And talk about creative? She tweaked many things to work for different purposes. Nowadays we have fancy words for that like repurpose and upcycle and DIY. But to great-grandma, it was just the way they did things.
Great-grandma was a builder. A creator. A dreamer. A how can I make this work betterer. A do-it-yourselfer. Let’s face it—if the internet would have existed when great-grandma was homesteading, she would have owned the niche with her blog.
Great-grandma didn’t care much about fads or the newfangled contraptions. She would have lovingly told you that you do not need a brand new heated roosting pole. You do not need a pre-built nesting box. And you sure do not need to buy Mason jars to drink out of—because those should be filled with stuff you’re canning!
So whether you need to learn how to build a round pen from materials you have on hand or what to substitute in a recipe so you don’t have to make the trek to the grocery store, you can homestead like great-grandma by remembering a piece of advice she loved to give: use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.
2. Want to homestead like great-grandma? Do what works for you.
The great thing about the internet is it can provide you with a plethora of information—which is great, because unlike great-grandma, many of us didn’t learn about homesteading from our relatives. Thank God for the interwebs! You can learn about practically anything by searching for a blog post, video, or images.
I mean, I’ll be completely honest with you. The only reason I learned to can spaghetti sauce way back in the day is because I sort of knew how to navigate my way around YouTube.
The bad thing about the internet is that it shows you everything that everyone is doing—which can sometimes makes us feel like those are all things we should be doing, too. Pinterest can be a gold mine of ideas or a breeding ground for feelings of inadequacy.
There are many different ways to homestead; your way will be determined by where you live and what resources you have available to you. You may be an urban homesteader, a small scale farmer, a big time homesteader, or just simply call yourself “farmish”. I personally like the definition of a homesteader as explained by Harold Thornbro of Small Town Homestead. Regardless of what you call yourself, you can homestead like great-grandma by remembering to homestead in the way that works for you.
And maybe great-grandma was lucky she didn’t have to see what homesteaders were doing halfway across the world, complete with instant updates and Instagram filters. But, lucky or not, the truth is Great-grandma wasn’t caught up in this, and she would have told you not to waste your time with it either.
3. Provide for yourself first.
The terms self-sufficiency and self-reliance have something in common: self. And I know that focusing on self seems, well…selfish, but hear me out.
We’ve all seen the inspirational memes about not being able to fill up someone else’s cup if your own is empty. And we know that airlines tell you that in an emergency, you should put on your own oxygen mask before you try to help those around you. Great-grandma knew these things were true. She took care of herself and her family so they could all take care of others.
Great-grandma had a heart of gold. She’d give the shirt off her back to anyone who needed it. But she also knew that in order for her family to help clothe others, they had to be dressed themselves.
It’s great that you want to help all the people. It’s wonderful that you want your homestead to provide for others. But I’m telling you this: if your family has to go to the store to buy their own eggs because you’re selling everything in your barn to customers, you may need to back up and re-evaluate.
If you package stuff to sell at the farmer’s market, but you are so busy doing it that you end up grabbing fast food for supper, you may need to back up and re-evaluate.
Many of us become homesteaders in an effort to be self-sufficient or self-reliant, and then get tangled up in the idea of how much we can provide (sell?) to others. Ask me how I know. We moved to our farm in 2011 and I was completely gung ho about the idea of providing as much as we could for ourselves.
We started off great! But there were a lot of distractions and crazy notions that caused me to veer off that path. Thankfully, we can all slow down and spend some in deep thought, which will hopefully remind us why we wanted to walk the path of self-sufficiency in the first place. With a little redirection and work, we can usually find our way back to what we intended to do.
Homestead like great-grandma by practicing self care. You can best provide for others when your own needs are met. Work on one so you can do the other—and don’t get the order of importance confused.
4. Homestead like great-grandma: pay attention.
I like to try and predict the weather by using some old fashioned tips. Great-grandma would be so proud!
I honestly believe that the fancier our weather prediction technology gets, the less reliable it is. I was recently told by a GPS based weather app that I would be enduring hail for 20 minutes.
Spoiler alert: we didn’t get so much as a drop of rain—not even when the app said the storm was right. on. top. of. us.
The following week we arrived home feeling like it was going to storm and so we did chores early and closed up the barns. The wind picked up and dropped quite a few branches and limbs in our yard, it dropped half a tree on our electric fence surrounding the pasture.
And a full half hour later, after the wind was gone and the sun appeared, our phones alerted us that high winds were approaching our area.
Wow. Thanks for the warning, dudes.
Homestead like great-grandma by paying close attention to the world around you. Watch the trees and the birds and nature. There are lots of old time weather prediction clues to learn about and keep in mind. Then again, sometimes all you need to do to find out if it’s going to rain is look at the sky—I don’t care what color the radar says you’re in.
But that doesn’t just mean pay attention to the weather, pay attention to people. Pay attention to your gut instincts. Pay attention to your family. Pay attention to what needs help and what doesn’t need your interference. Pay attention to how you can do better and then take the steps to make that happen.
5. Don’t create more work than you have time for.
Great-grandma was busy and she wouldn’t have brought something to her homestead just because.
And I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that if there was a faster, easier way to do something, she probably would have done it that way. I have to believe that great-grandma would take advantage of all the homestead tricks and shortcuts she could have and wouldn’t be so caught up in doing things the old-fashioned way that she’d risk saving a few minutes here and there. Great-grandma knew that homesteading overwhelm is a real thing and I’m pretty sure she would have done what she could to alleviate as much crazy as possible.
Sometimes hardcore homesteaders of today who really want to “homestead like great-grandma” can get super caught up in being genuine and true to our homesteading ancestors. And if that’s your game, that’s fine. Go ahead and play it. But I think we sometimes overlook the fact that the reason great-grandma did things the way she did is because that was the only way to do them at the time.
Generally speaking, great-grandma was not opposed to improvements or time-savers and would not have wanted us to be a slave to the simple life. Do you think great-grandma was worried about running a homestead like great-grandma did? In other words, do you think great-grandma would have continued to do something like her great-grandma did, decades before her, just because that’s the way it was done in the olden days?
Nah. I really don’t think so.
Wherever you are on your modern homesteading journey, try to put some of great-grandma’s old fashioned advice to use. She was one smart lady!
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