Updated: Feb 28, 2022
We hear it almost every day. "We wish we could do what you guys are doing...I'm so tired of (running around constantly, empty grocery shelves, my kids spending so much time on screens, never seeing my spouse, working two jobs, insert any common frustration with the modern education or medical system)" The statement is often followed up by a wistful sigh and accompanied by a look of longing. We we first started homesteading officially we heard this from a small group of people, but now we hear it from almost everyone. The current social systems are not working for a lot of families right now. You are not alone in that! Here's the thing, we've been "doing this" for years, long before it looked like we were doing it to everyone else.
What exactly do people see us doing? People see us digging in the dirt and growing our own food. People see our family working together. People see the choices we make to skip public education and trying traditional medicine and herbals before heading in for that sore throat or ear ache. People see that we don't have our kids in three sports each and spend all our time running from activity to activity. People see that we made a radical choice four years ago to say no to a higher paying job with a long commute to move into a small, run down home and fix it up inside and out. They see us making these choices and doing these things and they think there is something there, something that appeals to the very core of who they are. But they also see a long list of excuses for why it will never work for them. We couldn't get by on less income. How will my kids go to college? My kids would never work that hard. I don't know how to garden. My kids don't eat real food. We don't have space. The real question is not actually if you can do, it's how can you do it. Shift the question that small degree and you can start to shift your lens of possibility when it comes to setting out on the path to opting out of systems that just aren't working for your family any longer.
10 Ways to Opt Out Where You Are
Grow something...anything. Herbs on your kitchen windowsill, strawberries along a sidewalk, tomatoes in pots, wildflowers for the bees and butterflies. Sure, you can dig an actual garden plot, but everything you grow is one less thing you are relying on the system to purchase even if it is just to make you smile.
Learn to eat and purchase seasonally. This is the best way to learn what opting out and growing your own food might even look like in the place you live. We live in Minnesota, we can't eat local berries in winter unless we have taken the time to buy a flat (or better yet go pick a flat at a local farm) and then save in the form of freezing, drying, or canning (usually as jam or jelly). Learning to preserve food purchased in season is kind of a step 2 1/2. It is a great skill, but start with just seeing what you can do with what is available right now. You will learn that even in northern climates, there are farms growing greens year round and local squash and root vegetables are usually available well into winter. Milk is another food usually available locally year round that can be incorporated into a variety of delicious dishes and sides, including this homemade ricotta cheese.
Buy your meat from a farmer. After numbers one and two, this was the next thing we did to start eating more sustainably. In fact, it has been almost 10 years since we purchased anything other than the occasional cut of meat from the grocery store. At first we just went straight to our local butcher and asked to be added to the list for beef. Then we started making connections and purchasing directly from farmers that we knew and trusted. And THEN we started raising our own meat. We didn't start there. We learned to appreciate the quality, cook and store meat purchased once or twice per year, and then we started doing it on our own. After trying something different, the majority of our customers say they could never go back to conventional meat. (Click here to see what is available for pre order right now!)
Backyard chickens. I went back and forth about if I should include this, because not everyone has this option available but many cities allow for backyard chickens in some capacity. They are a rewarding animal for learning and give parents and kids the chance to get their hands dirty (but not too dirty) in the process. Plus the eggs. Don't forget the eggs! Check your local regulations and you may be surprised what you are allowed to do. If chickens aren't an option, rabbits are another great choice for learning basic animal husbandry (care) and usually fall outside local regulations.
Simplify your cleaning. Vinegar and dish soap will clean almost every mess out there. I know it sounds crazy, but its true. Baking soda comes in handy as well. This is not a housecleaning blog by any stretch of the imagination, but I use little more than vinegar and dish soap. If I'm really worried about germs (mostly when we are processing meat) we bring out the (home mixed) bleach spray. Cheap cotton dish flour sack dish towels or old cloth diapers make excellent cleaning rags that can replace paper towels. Simplifying to one set of cleaning supplies instead of specialty products for every room will save you money and save you time. If the smell of vinegar bothers you, try adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
Check your hygiene products. There has been a lot of information coming out in recent years about the various endocrine disruptors in the plastics and chemicals we use to clean and care for our bodies. Soaps made from simple natural ingredients such as pastured lard, coconut oil, and honey are gentle and soothing on skin without adding harsh chemicals. It may seem overwhelming to replace everything all at once, and trust me it is! I tried it once...and promptly went to Walmart and purchased everything we used to use in triplicate. The next time I started more slowly, replacing one product at a time. Sometimes opting for more expensive natural options and sometimes opting to make my own. Now I'm most inclined to make or purchase from another small business owner who is doing the same thing we are, but chose a different product to start from! (Like my friend Meghan at Six Sisters Skincare!)
Evaluate your family schedule. I have been writing about this topic for years, and I'd really like to thank a certain virus for driving the point home. People are too busy. Our kids don't know how to be with us as a family because they haven't spent enough time practicing it! There are of course seasons where we will be busier, but the run, run, run culture is not good for kids or adults. If you are trying to opt out, it is the biggest hurdle you will ultimately run into if you don't address it head on. Heidi's book, 7 Days to Simplicity, is almost entirely dedicated to different aspects of this topic. It is also available as an ebook on Amazon.
Recognize needs versus wants and adjust priorities. We were listening to a podcast the other day and heard the hosts joking about the wife who "needs" a new kitchen as soon as she has a new bathroom. See, our kitchen ceiling is currently being held up by a piece of 1x4 after...someone.. accidentally stepped through it from the attic installing a new vent fan. Fixing that is more of a need than a want, but it just keeps not being a priority so we threw up the board to keep the problem from becoming more of an urgent crisis kind of situation....as in having it fall down on our heads while we were eating dinner some night. Everything you want is not a need. Everything you need eventually is not an urgency. Learn to tell the difference.
Shop used. From cars to clothes and everything in between, get comfortable with the fun of the search for the perfect used items. I bought a like new condition Carhartt jacket in my size and favorite color (plum purple) for $10. New that coat sells for $120 at our local chain farm store. Instead of thinking of that $110 difference as money saved to spend on something else, we think of it as $110 less we need to make. The less money we need to make the more time we have to pursue our radical life of simplicity. Local online auctions have led to a greatly reduced price horse trailer, several loads of lumber, fence posts, an air compressor, table saw, and more.
Recognize the need for community. The goal here is not really complete self reliance, it is independence from the systems that leave us feeling like we don't have any control. We are always going to be interdependent on each other. We work with other farmers almost every single day. We have friends who make this work on 1/8 acre lots in town. Barter with each other for things you can't make (we have been trading meat for piano lessons for a couple years now). Partner with another family to buy a whole side of meat to save money. Volunteer to help at a market garden in exchange for food.
The community at the end of the day is what really makes it possible to opt out. We wouldn't be where we are without those who have encouraged and taught us. Those who have taken risks with us and learned side by side. Farmer renegade and food pioneer, Joel Salatin, is often heard saying you can be a Buddhist or a nudist but you can't be both. As in you can be weird, but only so weird. With the right community, before you know it you will be wondering what's so weird about all the people who haven't figured out how much they have to gain by saying no to the stressors that are running their lives and the excuses that keep them from making a change. Ready to opt out? Welcome to the community. Welcome to Euphrosyne Corner.