What is a Homesteader?

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What is a homesteader? It might surprise you to know you dont have to own 40 acres and gaggles of farm animals to call yourself a homesteader. 

Have you ever heard someone call themselves a homesteader or talk about how theyre homesteading and you just didnt quite understand what they meant? Maybe someone called themselves a homesteader, and you didnt really agree with their assessment. Whatever the case, there are some signs to look for that will help you answer the question what is a homesteader.

A while back I asked my readers on the Southern Dreams Homestead Facebook and Twitter pages to fill in the blank for, You might be a homesteader if __________. There were some really good answers, but the funniest (and most hopeful) by far was You dream of sustainable bacon.

Sustainable bacon you say? Sign me up!!

All kidding aside, just exactly what is a homesteader? While I believe some of my friends hit on some extremely good points (that well talk about later in the post), there is much more to it. You dont have to have lots of farm animals, a big ol green tractor, and a 40 acre homestead to actually be a homesteader.

Girl standing in a field on the homestead.

What Does “Homesteading” Really Mean?

In order to answer the question what is a homesteader, I think it important that we first define the term homesteading.

The typical person hears the word homesteading and immediately envisions a house on lots of land, a barn, chickens, cows, pigs, huge gardens, tractors, hay bales, and people doing lots of work to tend all those animals and gardens. That may be partially right in some circumstances, but I think homesteading is so much more - or less.

Wikipedia says this about homesteading:

Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of food, and may also involve the small-scale production of textiles, clothing, and craft work for household use or sale.

That makes total sense to me, and it even lends credibility to some urban homestead concepts that people talk about - including apartment homesteading!

What I Think Homesteading Is

In my mind, homesteading is doing things the way they used to be done. Making things for ourselves instead of relying on stores to provide them for us. This also crosses-over into the definition of prepping. If a SHTF event happened and you could make everything you need, you would survive just fine - but thats something we will get into more in depth in another article.

Making what you use is just part of homesteading. Homesteading also covers growing what you eat, reusing everything you can to avoid throwing it away, and generally doing things for yourself so you dont have to depend on someone else as much. Any time you are trying to be more self-sufficient in life, you can consider yourself a homesteader.

What is a Homesteader?

Now that you know what a homesteader is, what are you doing that defines you as a homesteader? Ill tell you some of the things that we do that makes us homesteaders as well as covering a few other things.

squash plant in the sunGardening

Growing your own food is an awesome feeling. Knowing that you can plant some seeds (preferably non-GMO organic heirloom seeds), water them in, and weeks later pull food right off the plant that grows there is very empowering. It also helps you to know where your food is coming from, that it isnt genetically modified, and that there have been no harmful pesticides sprayed on them.

Granted, it can be a lot of work to have a garden of any size, but the feeling you get coupled with the money you save at the grocery store is well worth the labor you put into it. Plus, if you have never grown a garden before, Im here to tell you - its very therapeutic!

Even in an apartment, you can grow herbs and veggies in containers on your patio or balcony!

Use a ledger book to keep track of your budget.Being Frugal

Being frugal is more than just breaking out your coupon book while youre out shopping (even if they attach to the cart like this one). Living a frugal lifestyle is more about knowing the value of things, getting your moneys worth (and then some) out of everything you have, and not wasting anything at all - including your money.

Using a ledger book to budget what money you have will also help keep things in perspective. The one my mom and dad used served them well. I still use the same type to this day, and you can get it on Amazon, so its a win/win!

There are quite a few articles on this site about frugal living that will help you learn more about the topic.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Upcycle

This goes hand in hand with being frugal and getting more than your moneys worth out of what you have. Learning to repurpose things will extend the intended life of the item and keep you from having to buy something else.

For example, reuse old pill bottles for emergency survival kits, cut milk jugs and 2-liter bottles to make planters, and make emergency candles from glass jars.

Citrus peels steeped in vinegar for a homemade cleaning spray.Make Your Own

Make your own what? Make your own everything! If you can make it, make it!

Things like household cleaners, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, and homemade spice mixes are just a few things you can make yourself.

This doesnt just go for stuff inside, either. Use your imagination (and your power tools) outside to make things instead of spending big bucks on them at a big box store.

Homemade canned chicken broth.Food Storage

If you are growing a garden or happen to find a really good deal on produce at the farmers market, you can put up a bulk of fresh fruits and veggies to enjoy year-round. Get yourself a pressure canner (this is the Presto canner we have), a canning accessory set, and some Mason jars, and you can store just about any kind of food. You can even can meat!

If youre not savvy to the taste of canned meat, use a food dehydrator to make it into jerky. You can also dehydrate fruits and veggies and vacuum seal them in plastic bags (or mason jars). If you have a bug-out bag (go bag, 72-hour kit, etc.) you could create little snack packs of dehydrated fruits for your emergency gear.

Of course, everybody has food in their freezer. Buy food in bulk to save money, then use your vacuum sealer (or just some zip top bags) to separate everything to be stored as meal-sized portions. We regularly buy bulk meat deals and separate it out into 1-2 pound portions.

You Might Be a Homesteader If…

So as I said to begin with, I asked my social media followers to fill in the blank, and I got some really great responses. In fact, this post used to be called You Might Be a Homesteader If… but I decided to add onto the value of the responses by fully explaining what I think a homesteader truly is. Before I changed it, though, I had more responses in the comment section answering the question, too. Here are some of the responses:

Homesteading for Beginners - Grow a GardenYou never get a day off.

That sounds about right. You are always busy doing something as a homesteader, especially if you have animals and gardens. Weeding, tilling, sowing, harvesting, feeding, clipping, cleaning - there is always something to do.

But thats part of the fun, right? Knowing that youre doing everything yourself and not relying on others to do it for you. It is very tiring, but just as gratifying, I think.

If you save your bacon grease.

Its always nice to know someone else saves their bacon grease. I use bacon grease to season dishes, sauté veggies in for soups and stews, and soon, I have even made candles with bacon grease (post on that yet to come). My mom had a container kind of like this that strains the particles from the fat. Her container always sat on the kitchen counter next to the stove.

Myself, I just reuse glass jars to hold the grease. I strain it through a mesh strainer lined with a paper coffee filter into a Pyrex measuring cup, then pour it into the jar. I also keep my grease in the fridge so it lasts longer.

You have transported goats in your car.

Small animal hauling trailers are available, but if you cant afford one yet, this would be the next best thing. Having animals in your car does not sound like a very appealing idea. However, if you need to bring your new animals home, using what you have to transport those animals shows great homesteader spirit!

If you choose to live off the land rather than the system.

Wow! What a powerful statement. That pretty much sums up the homesteader spirit if you ask me. Thats great in ideal situations. I would much rather live off the land and be totally self-reliant.

Homegrown berries in the freezer.At least one thing in your deep freeze or pantry comes from your garden.

Most homesteaders I know have a garden of some size. We do container and in-ground gardening here, and Im already planning a small scale aquaponic garden, as well. Those folks that grow so much food they cannot eat it before it goes bad usually save the remainder by canning or freezing. This means home grown food all year long in some cases.

If you havent learned the basics of canning, dehydrating and freezing food yet, A Year Without the Grocery Store: A Step by Step Guide to Acquiring, Organizing, and Cooking Food Storage is a great book to get you started.

Your pockets are empty.

This one really made me think. I know you can have empty pockets and not be a homesteader, but can you be a homesteader and not have empty pockets?

If you grow enough produce, or your cows and goats produce enough milk, I would say yes, you can have money in your pocket. I dont think most hardcore homesteaders care too much about money, though. As long as their bills are paid, theyre happy living off the land.

Some other good responses:

  • chickens think the doggy door is an easy access entryway for treats.
  • …you regularly find pine shavings in your hair and chicken poop on your shoes.
  • …you haul more feed and animals in your vehicles than people.
  • …you make and grow far more than you buy.
  • …your fingernails are more accustomed to dirt than nail polish.
  • …there is a competition in your house for who gets the scraps (chickens, rabbits, pigs, freezer or compost pile).
  • …you never have more than you can use.

In Your Opinion, What is a Homesteader?

I would love to hear from you. What do you think a homesteader is? Go ahead and give me a good You might be a homesteader if line, too. Ill probably add it to the list!

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22 thoughts on “What is a Homesteader?”

  1. You are absolutely correct! I have always thought that homesteading is an idea but the actual practice is so many things. You can be a homesteader on .5ac or 500. You can homestead with one chicken or 100. It’s the idea of being self sufficient that really makes a homesteader

  2. Love this post! I think about this topic a lot as I fit into the homesteading niche, but don’t live on acreage or have chickens (at least not right now). You hit the nail on the head that it’s about being resourceful and self-sufficient. If you think about it, this is how most people have lived throughout human history. Being a homesteader in any way was normal! That’s a really helpful lens for me and I try to remind my readers that if their great-great-great grandmas could do it without YouTube, so can we. 🙂

  3. Sooo many more people are homesteaders than realize it these days, I think. Self-sufficient living is a natural result of our difficult times, right? Hopefully, for our kids, it will be a natural and normal way to live. They’ll never know how hard us city kids had to work for our education!

      • Excellent article, Patrick. I like the idea of many strands going into what makes a ‘homesteader’. I think you captured the key ideas of growing food, making things, preserving and living frugally.
        It all crosses over for me into zero waste or low waste living. And also prepping, and rejecting the consumerist life of buying more and more ‘stuff’!
        Although it’s very easy to buy more when you have a homestead – there is always the next investment to maximise production! My next ‘wants’ are more water tanks (we are in rainwater), a greenhouse, and a battery system for our solar panels.

        • Yes, yes, yes!! Zero- or low-waste living and preparedness are 100% in there, too!
          We’re in a holding pattern with what we do next because we’re currently in a rental, but when we get to our “forever homestead”, you can bet your bottom dollar we’ll be ramping things up with rainwater collection, a greenhouse, solar panels, and much, MUCH more!!

  4. This is a great article! Before we ended up on our land I always tried to make the most of what we had. At one point I even grew two apple trees on my apartment porch!

    • I tried to make it pretty simple for new homesteaders to know that they’re moving in the right direction, and for people who want to start homesteading to know how to start wherever they are. 🙂

  5. Love it! I’ve always wanted to learn skills, tips and tricks for homesteading. But now we have a small house with no garden and I’m trying to figure out how I can have chickens and rabbits on my roof! I think what might end up happening is that we sell/rent out this small house and upscale to a property with a bit of a garden so we can have chickens, rabbits, ducks, a geodesic dome greenhouse, and space for a food forest… actually I might get a bit carried away with all the planning. Lol

  6. Thanks for clarifying the meaning of the term Homesteading or who is a Homesteader. I too thought that a homesteaders are those with acres of land who grows crops and raise animals. Good to know that it a lifestyle much deeper. Thanks for sharing

    • 100% right. It’s all about the lifestyle you live and how deep down that rabbit hole you want to go. Even an apartment dweller can consider themselves homesteaders sometimes. 😉


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