Urban Homesteading: How To Live The Simple Life In The City

Have you ever dreamed about homesteading, but just aren't ready to make that leap? Try urban homesteading!

I'll never forget my grandparent's small apartment house in Brooklyn. Grandpa was a carpenter and paid off his house by building furniture for local families and businesses. The house had four small apartments, three of which they rented to tenants. He did all of the repairs and improvements himself, and, of course, built his own furniture. Grandma kept a garden in the small back yard that was more than adequate to support their needs. Every fall brought a bountiful harvest, and what they didn't eat was canned and preserved. Grandpa made wine and wine vinegar in the basement from the grapes they grew. They also raised rabbits in a small, two-story hutch, which was their main source of protein. They barely had any garbage, as most things were either recycled, or thrown into the compost pile. Electric bills were very small, since they spent most of the day with the lights off and the windows open, or outdoors. I didn't know the term back then, but my grandparents were what now would be defined as urban homesteaders- homesteading right in the middle of a busy New York City neighborhood.

The modern definition of homesteading is living as self-sustaining a lifestyle as possible. Many people who homestead live on farms, plant crops, raise livestock, build their own homes, make their own repairs, can and preserve their food, make an income from selling goods made on the farm or bartering with neighbors, and do without many conveniences and luxuries of the city.

While this idea can seem ideal to some of us, for others it would just not be feasible or desirable. There are those of us who like the idea of homesteading, but do not want to totally give up our urban lifestyle, or feel adequately prepared to head for the country at this point in our lives. The good thing is, we don't have to pack it up and buy a farm to incorporate some of the concepts of homesteading into an urban life style. Like my grandparents, we can become more self-sustaining in a home in the middle of the city. Here are some ideas how:

CUT DOWN ON EXPENSES: Frugality is the key to a self-sustaining lifestyle. Basically, the less bills we rack up, the less we will need to bring in to support ourselves and the farther our dollars will go. There are many things that we are so convinced that we "need" that people did without for ages. Just small changes can make a huge difference. For example, instead of leaving lights on all day, open the windows, or go outdoors more in the daytime. Instead of relying on electronic devices for entertainment, read books, play family games, or busy yourself with hobbies and crafts. If you have a place for a clothesline, you can dispense with a dryer. Make your home energy efficient by ensuring it is well insulated and buying low-energy appliances to keep costs down. Set your water heater thermostat at a lower temperature, place a brick in the tank to use less water when flushing, and keep a barrel outside to collect rain water to use for plants to conserve water.

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE: Waste not, want not. Before you throw anything away, think of what else you can do with it. Those vegetable peels and eggshells can be thrown into a small compost pile in your garden. Save those chicken bones from dinner and make a stock, rather than buying it in a can. Those plastic bottles can be used again to house some other liquid, or be converted into containers for starter plants. Have some old furniture or household items you can no longer use? Don't just toss them in the garbage- have a garage sale, bring them to a thrift shop and try to exchange them towards credit for something you can use, or put up fliers in your community offering to barter them for other goods or services that you need.

WORK AT HOME: Forget the 9 to 5 bump-and-grind, and start your own home-based business. Think about what you are good at, and how you can use those skill to provide a service or goods to others. Sell crafts, type term papers and resumes, become a consultant in your area of expertise- begin doing something you enjoy spending your time doing that gives you the option to work only as much as you desire or feel you need. If you can't quit your job, there are other ways to bring in an income so that you can begin to cut back on your hours, or go part-time. Can you take on a border? Can you baby sit for the neighborhood kids? Can you do odd jobs, such as yard work or running errands?

START YOUR OWN GARDEN. Even if you've only a small plot of dirt, or space for some large containers, you can grow a nice salad garden and herbs. It may be small, but it's a start. It will also lower grocery bills and give you plenty of fresh food to eat.

LEARN TO CAN, PRESERVE AND DRY. To get the most benefit out of your garden, learn how to properly prepare your foods for storage. That way, your garden will help keep your grocery bills down year-round by keeping your food supply steady through the winter.

KEEP SMALL LIVESTOCK: Raising rabbits and chickens is inexpensive and takes up a minimum of space. There are some butchers that will slaughter and skin or pluck the animals for you if you wish to use them for food. Even if you don't plan on eating them, keeping just a few chickens can provide more than enough fresh eggs for your family, and you'll have enough left over for selling or bartering.

LEARN TO BECOME HANDY: Take an auto mechanics class so you can repair your own vehicle. Take some books out of the library and learn how to do simple repairs on your plumbing or house. By learning how to build a simple box structure with a hammer and some nails, you have the basics for making a number of different things you can use in your home: book cases, cabinets, platform beds, and storage containers.

Of course, you don't have to do all of these things, and certainly don't have to start doing them all at once. Pick those which appeal most to you, or would be most realistic in your own living situation. As life goes on, you may wish to incorporate more of these ideas, or others, into your lifestyle to work towards total self-sufficiency. If you are serious about homesteading, but just not ready to make the move to the country yet, doing these things will help prepare you for that time when you may be ready to make that move.

© High Speed Ventures 2011