What is modern homesteading?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Question: What do you visualize when you hear the phrase homesteading, self-sufficient, or self-reliance?

I’m willing to bet you may visualize a natural setting. Perhaps a loving family working hard together. Something between Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons, for those of you old enough to know those television shows. We often picture a family living off the land, tending to crops and animals while being…well…self-sufficient.

Some may even picture the rustic family from DirecTV’s “The Settlers” commercial. After all, even their agency seems to view homesteaders that way.

When we think of homesteading and living self-sufficiently, many positive notions come to mind. Being close to nature, family members working the garden together, the feeling of independence and freedom. Birds serenading as we sip our morning coffee. A family snuggling next to a wood stove as the snow falls.

But, as the DirecTV ad suggests, many people look down on the notion of homesteading. They relegate homesteaders alongside cavemen and imagine a life of poverty, excruciating work, isolation, and sacrifice. Even suffering.

What does all that imagery have in common?

It depicts an ancient lifestyle that in no way resembles the modern life we all enjoy.

To a certain extent, that’s okay, since basic aspects of survival haven’t changed much. The need for nutritious food, clean water, warmth, safety, and shelter is as important as ever–maybe more so. But so much else has changed, making a return to the 1800’s definition of self-sufficiency undesirable for most people.

The unmistakable fact is that we inherit 21st Century bodies. So we should aspire to become modern homesteaders.

True, we descended from those who were by-and-large self-sufficient. But we all grew up in a system that was designed to push us away from that heritage. Our system rewards dependency and penalizes independence.

  • Today we’re skilled at shopping for food, not growing food.
  • We can build a website, but we can’t build a fire.
  • We can locate wi-fi anywhere, but we can’t locate something to eat in the woods.
  • We can kill time online, but we can’t kill a chicken for dinner.

In other words, we’re disconnected from the natural world in which our species evolved.

It’s the same path we’ve taken farm animals down with CAFOs and industrial farming. They too used to be wild, able to live contentedly on their own. Now they’re concentrated and compartmentalized, dependent on infrastructure for survival. If you take modern livestock and put them back on pasture, most of them will die without antibiotics and human support. Believe me, I know, as I wrote in The Accidental Farmers.

We built concrete jungles to live and work in ourselves, then figured farm animals should have the same. So we’ve all grown up in a modern society with conveniences (and dependencies) that would have amazed and horrified “The Settlers.” We physically cross oceans in hours, and we can digitally traverse the globe in nanoseconds.

So it’s safe to say that Charles Ingles would find our world unrecognizable. Why, then, should we aspire to return to his?

But that’s the case, for amidst all our “progress” a growing number of people are drawn to leave all that behind and go live in a cabin, deep in the wilderness. “I want to be a hermit,” they claim.

Would you really want to live deep in the woods, virtually alone, with no medical help within reach? Most people really wouldn’t, and couldn’t tolerate the mosquitoes for more than a day or two anyway.

I suspect you may wish you had fewer distractions from Facebook and the digital dragon. But do you really want to abstain from all online communication and the global knowledge at your fingertips? Really?

I don’t. Because if I left all that behind, I couldn’t connect with you here and now, and learning would be more difficult and time-consuming. I’m not interested in returning to 1850. I just want to enjoy life as a modern homesteader.

What is modern homesteading?

There’s no listing for “modern homesteading” in Wikipedia or the dictionary, so I’ll put forth my own.

A modern homesteader enjoys, but is not dependent on, modern conveniences. They produce rather than purchase much of what they need to survive.” — Tim Young

I arrived at that definition for modern homesteading because it sums up the life we aspire to live. Indeed, the life my family does live. But before I dive into our lifestyle, let me recap how it all began.

What I was searching for when I abruptly jettisoned the boardroom for the barnyard was three things:

  • more freedom,
  • more security, and
  • more privacy.

What I think most folks interested in self-reliance aspire for is really more freedom.

Which brings up an interesting question: what is freedom, anyway?

What I mean by freedom

My meaning of freedom centers on control of my time. The ability to do what I want, when I want and be where I want. And to have the security that I’ll be able to continue having that ability. The notion of “security” is an important one that I’ll expand on in a moment.

For instance, my family may want to take a two-month RV trip without notice. I couldn’t do that if I was tied to a physical job location. That would impede my freedom to take the trip. So, in order to be free from a self-sufficient income perspective, I must have either passive income streams or the ability to work from anywhere. Including a mobile RV.

Another way I think of freedom is having unlimited family time.

I’m in love with my family. I’m not in love with a career or anything else. So I want the ability to not only be with them at all times but for our lives to be fully integrated. That means me having work that they can participate in, and them not having activities that exclude me.

So, we homeschool our daughter in the room next to the office where I’m writing this. When it’s not my day to teach her, I can hear both her and my wife in the adjoining room. When she creates a new craft and bursts into my office with four-year-old unbridled enthusiasm, it’s not an interruption. It’s a delight.

I’d miss that moment if I were in a physical job somewhere, and I’d be sacrificing my freedom. I’m not willing to do that, so I choose to sacrifice other things to have this freedom.

Then again, I have friends who want the same aspects of freedom as I do. But they claim they can do what they want, when they want, and be where they want by being self-employed. So they run their own businesses and make a lot of money. And fight traffic, fly around the world, and shoulder suffocating stress.

That approach doesn’t appeal to me because, in my view, they’re taking a BIG security risk and don’t even know it. They’re choosing to be completely dependent on infrastructure for food, water, sewage, energy, and more. Everything’s great for them as long as “the machine” keeps humming. They just trade money for stuff and believe they enjoy the same freedom as a modern homesteader, only without the headaches.

I disagree.

Tending livestock, knowing how to grow food in all conditions, repairing equipment and other “headaches” they refer to are actually skills.

No, real freedom comes also from having everything you need and the confidence that you’ll continue to have it. And what a modern homesteader needs is:

  • the skills and resources to feed and care for her family,
  • access to a dependable source of clean water,
  • secure shelter in a lower population density area,
  • the ability to protect her family and possessions, and
  • the ability to earn a self-sufficient income to enjoy selected modern luxuries.

It doesn’t require 50 acres of land to achieve this. There are plenty of people micro-homesteading on less than an acre, or urban homesteading in apartments. They’re growing, hunting, and storing food, planting gardens, and practicing critical self-reliant skills. Day by day they’re becoming more self-sufficient. As a result, they’re one step closer to real freedom each day.

Modern homesteading comes at a cost

We each face choices in life.

We fail to notice the small choices we make each day. But over time they layer upon one another, forming the mountain of our lives.

Many folks work long hours and make eye-popping incomes, but sacrifice family time in exchange for wealth. Some people buy a new car every two or three years. Others desire the latest iDevice as soon as it comes out, or exotic travel.

I’m guilty of having once had some of those values. But ever since we committed ourselves to modern homesteading, we sacrifice all of those things in exchange for freedom.

We get many of our clothes from Goodwill. My “new” truck has 273,000 miles on it.

We haven’t purchased meat from a grocery store in over a decade. We know how to raise it for free since cows produce calves for free and they only require grass to eat, which is also free. And there are plenty of deer in the woods.

Then again, we don’t wash our clothes in the creek. We use a washing machine, just like you. One that costs money, sometimes needs repairs, and uses electricity.

We focus on earning enough money to meet our needs, but no more. Occasionally I’m asked to speak at an event. I always politely decline since it would take me away from the homestead and my family. I only desire to work from home, mainly writing and doing my best to inspire others to muster the courage to pursue a more self-sufficient lifestyle.

The point I’m trying to make is that, to me, modern homesteading equals freedom AND security. As a modern homesteader, my passion is working closely with my family to produce our own food, medicines, and supplies while living in harmony with nature. Self-sufficient homesteading afford that lifestyle better than any “career” could ever hope to.

To a certain extent, we each have the opportunity to make choices that either take us a step closer toward modern self-sufficiency or further away.

Too often, people see it as being too big a leap to jump from their life to that of a modern homesteader. It’s not important to make a big leap. It’s important to start walking and take a series of small steps.


Well, even (especially) if you’re stuck in the city, you can take steps toward self-sufficiency. Can some food. Plant some herbs. Take a butchering class. Learn to cook from scratch. Buy a soap-making kit or cheese-making kit and practice in your kitchen. Participate in (or start) a community garden.

What I’d like to see is for more people to take a step, even if just a baby step, toward this life. Because the freedom and security afforded by modern homesteading is blissful.