How do you combine your homesteading life with your work life?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Reader Asks…

…How do you combine your homesteading life with your work life?

For most of us living on a suburban lot, but dreaming of a life in the country, a full-time job spent under fluorescent lights and behind ergonomic office furniture is a reality as much as it is a necessity. Our head may be in the corporate world, but our hearts are steadfastly entrenched in gardens and coops and fresh baked bread. This is the way I’ve lived most of my adult life – one foot in the corporate world and the other in the country.

Balancing the two can be a tricky proposition, full of schedules, compromises, hard work and strange looks from co-workers and neighbors alike. But – it can be done and done successfully.

At this point I think it’s fair to say that none of us are perfect, we don’t ALL live an off-grid, in a stick to ourselves kind of life. We are part of our community, with schools and organizations and activities. We are doing what we can, with the resources we have and within the parameters of city or town regulations.

I think it’s also fair to remind everyone (in case you haven’t read About Me) I have a degree in Agriculture, I’ve raised sheep since I was 11-years old, I was married to a farmer, I’m now single and I currently live on a third-acre that is zoned for all livestock except for horses. So, my capabilities for self-sufficiency are different from those who have limited space or stricter regulations.

Having said that – “How Do We Do Both”, and live as much of the homesteading life as we can? First, I think each person must take a hard look at their current lifestyle. What they currently do for fun, work, improving ones self, exercise, etc and then decide what part of the homesteading life or how much homesteading they want to do.

If you work an 80-hour week with frequent business trips you’d be hard pressed to keep a potted plant alive much less grow enough vegetables for your family’s dinner table. Even if this is not your situation, how much time you spend running kids to sports, working out at the gym or even hanging out with friends will affect how involved you can be in your own suburban homestead.

I think too, we have to remember that homesteading isn’t all about growing vegetables and raising livestock. It also includes recycling, conserving energy, and producing energy. The challenge and fun (I think) of suburban homesteading is finding ways to incorporate all five into your daily life.

So – how do I manage both?

Simply put – better on some days than on others. Honestly!

When I first moved here I started off with a grand layout of a smooth running homesteading utopia that would give my daughter and me all the homegrown food we could ever need. We would bounce around town in handmade clothes and in the winter scarves spun from our own sheep’s wool would be wrapped around our necks. Church potlucks would be a showcase for homemade breads and jams. But, as with most overly ambitious plans, reality set in.

My utopia was pared down to a list of small achievable goals, which were scheduled on the family calendar and checked off when finished. Tasks were both inside and outside jobs and included setting up a compost bin, staging recycling bins, putting up a clothes line and collecting waste water from the kitchen. I would work on them after I got home from work, on the weekends and during holidays.

As we became use to the new routines I added more goals and larger projects, like building raised veggie beds or planting the berry patch. With each added goal I made sure to give myself a manageable timetable for completion. The year we built the barn that would house our chickens and rabbits, and DD’s market lambs for the county fair took months of weekends and holidays to complete. During that time we made very few plans for other projects. I didn’t want to get distracted or have multiple unfinished projects.

Once the barn was finished and the livestock happily installed we went back to making our goals list – fruit trees, grape vines, garden irrigation, bread making, canning/freezing, sewing and quilting all went on our list, each to be checked off as completed, or, in some cases learned. Inside projects like learning to quilt or making bread were learned and practiced at night or on the weekends. When you’re doing something that you enjoy it doesn’t seem like work.

When we planted our first garden, it too started out small – four 4’x8’ raised beds, mostly tomatoes, beans, salad greens and squash. When the harvest outpaced what we could eat, it was blanched and put in the freezer. Making spaghetti sauce from summer tomatoes is a perfect rainy day project.

Over the years our suburban homestead has grown, becoming more productive and more efficient. And, we have become more efficient too – we limit our trips to town, errands are run one day a week, usually when DD is at her dad’s house, laundry is broken into a few loads each day instead of all at once and we use our crock-pot quite often in the colder months and during sports seasons.

The basics are the same though. We still have a goals list; we still manage projects on the family calendar and we still work on a project until completed. What has changed is DD’s ability to work independently, especially with her animals, which frees up my time to work on other projects.

I believe you CAN successfully combine a job and a homestead, creating a lifestyle that is easy on the environment, fulfilling and satisfying. By combining the two you can have a challenging, exciting and truly enjoyable life that will bring a sense of accomplishment to you and your family. And, although there is no proof of this I truly believe that people who become more self-sufficient and able to care for themselves are more positive in their outlook on life, the world and their job.

Get excited, keep it simple, take one task at a time, work it into your life – your own backyard could be a very productive piece of dirt.

A reader also asks…

…What does your job schedule versus your homesteading schedule look like?

As with most employees, I work a full week, except for national holidays and vacation days. So how does this single mom with a full-time job and a child in school handle it all? Very carefully. From school to work to sheep shows and garden plantings, all activities go on a master family calendar. I know this sounds a bit restrictive, but actually it is extremely helpful in keeping us on track and life moving along smoothly. Knowing what needs to be done and when gives us plenty of time for fun and spontaneous activities.

A day in our life

I personally hate alarm clocks – really hate them, so most days will find me waking to mornings sun streaming through my bedroom window. It gently brings me out of my deep sleep. I much prefer the sun to the sound of a jolting alarm clock or the wail of a clock radio. Brianne usually beats me out of bed about 6:30am.


6:30 – Fumbling out of bed, Brianne heads to the barn to feed and water lambs, chickens, rabbits and dogs. While she’s outside I turn on the tea pot, throw in a load of laundry and empty the dishwasher, while listening to the radio for the day’s weather forecast and putting dinner in the crock-pot.

7:00 – tea, get ready for work and school, check e-mail

7:20 – pack up for work and school

7:30 – out the door

7:50 – drop Brianne at school, possible stop for another tea before hitting the desk.

8:00 – get to work, and start one of many, many, many grant proposals or fundraising projects


My schedule is pretty flexible. I can take my lunch when ever I think I’m at a break in a project. Plus it doesn’t hurt that I’m the Dept. head.

– head home for lunch, hang laundry on line, take something out for dinner if I didn’t start the crock-pot in the morning, check the animals

– back to the office with tea in hand

3:30 – Brianne gets home from school. Switches laundry, flips on the tunes, starts homework.


5:00 – leave office; crank up cd player, head home

5:15 – pull into driveway, hug my kid, change clothes and take a walk around the place – tea in hand

5:30 – work show lambs, feed lambs and dogs, top off chicken and rabbit feed and water

6:00- finish fixing dinner, fold laundry

6:35 – dinner and chatting about our respective day

7:00 – watch a movie, (last night was Anne of Green Gables), listen to music, read, quilt, gab on the phone, check email, blog

9:30 – shower or bathe, think, worry, plan, hope, dream

10:00 – bed and a book, out cold

Stay tuned for a look at our homesteading year, season-by-season.

Creative Commons License photo credit: m.shimer

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