Posts Tagged Life Style

Why Is Simple Living So Hard? 5 Tips for Simplifying Your Life (From Someone Who’s Done It)

Why Is Simple Living So Hard? 5 Tips for Simplifying Your Life (From Someone Who’s Done It)

why is simple living so hardLast year, I did a no-spend challenge. For an entire year, I didn’t buy anything except food.

It doesn’t get much more “simple living” than living in a tiny house and spending nothing for a whole year, but even after I got into the groove of buying nothing, I still felt the pull of the busy world around me. So, throughout my no-buy year, I kept a list of all the items I wanted to buy when the year was over.

Ryan living simply in a tiny houseI live in a 150 square foot tiny house. I follow a minimalist lifestyle and own less than 1000 items to my name, but at the end of my no-spend year, there were 30 items on my wish list! However, as I went through my list and prioritized, I realized there was only ONE item I truly wanted. Despite my commitment to simple living, even I get tripped up by advertising traps and marketing. We live in a world where we’re constantly told that we need more things to feel happy.

It’s no wonder the simple life has so much appeal. Most people are stressed out, overloaded, and working themselves to the bone. If you look at the way American society has changed in the last 50 years or so, it becomes obvious. When I was growing up, I was told you go to school and get a degree. From there, you get a good job, do a good job, and build job security. You add money to your 401(k), buy a lovely little house with a picket fence. You’ll meet your future wife and create a family, living out the American dream lifestyle. Eventually, you retire fat and happy at age 65.

But in 2009, I graduated with my masters. I got a job and the company I was working for folded six months in. The rug was completely pulled out from under me. I realized the narrative I had been living wasn’t realistic, something had to change.

what's right for you, question to ask when you want to live a simple lifeNow, society is really good at pulling you back on the conventional path. For example, when I was looking for flexible employment I could do anywhere, I saw hundreds of options for jobs that would have tied me to a 9-5 corporate ball and chain. It was daunting to realize I had to create my dream job for myself. It would have been easier to follow society’s path.

What you should ask is what’s right for you…and also, what’s wrong for you? Simple living means different things to different people. Those definitions don’t work for everyone. Often, it’s easier to define what you don’t want. Most people hesitate to say exactly what they want, but they can quickly pinpoint EXACTLY what they don’t. “I don’t want to work for this jerk anymore,” or, “I don’t want to trip over clutter around my house,” or, “I don’t ever want to hear from a debt collector again.” Then, what you want is the opposite.

What You Need To Know BEFORE You Try Simple Living

what you need to know before you try simple living

Do you think you’re ready to rise to the challenge of simple living?

Before you try simple living, you must explore your reasons. People are often hoping to leave their old life behind but embracing a simpler life won’t magically erase your past. Simple living isn’t the ultimate solution to every problem in your life.

It’s important to unpack your baggage and deal with it. When people see others in tiny houses, they often say, “Look at that person, they look so happy! Tiny houses are the secret to happiness.”

Honestly, happiness doesn’t have anything to do with a smaller home. It’s because the person in the tiny house has decided, “these things are important to me” and “these other things aren’t.” When you see people living a simple life happily, it’s because they’ve gone through the pain of unpacking their emotional baggage.

simple living requires introspection

Simple living requires introspection. One affliction in America is the busyness culture. We are so afraid to slow down because we would be left alone with our thoughts and for most people, that is terrifying. So we put a screen in front of our face. We jam-pack our schedules. We keep our homes filled to the brim. We don’t allow ourselves to slow down and think. We can’t enjoy the experience because we’re too busy taking a selfie to show others how much “fun” we are having, so much so, we haven’t had a substantive conversation with the people we are with that would make a memory, but later that week we’d tell our therapist we don’t feel connected.

In my experience, the best investment I’ve made is time alone with myself. It was the most productive time I’ve spent, and it pays dividends every day.

One saying I follow is: people are happy because they’re happy people. It’s not because of the stuff we own, the house we live in, the place we travel to, or the job we do. We’re happy because we choose to be that way despite the bad things in life that inventibly come up.

The Pros and Cons of Simple Living Like A Pro

pros and cons of simple living

After my company folded, I did a lot of soul-searching. I realized I wanted a different, less-traditional job—basically, a job that I had to create for myself. Could I have taken the cube farm route? Sure! But I know I wouldn’t have been as happy or satisfied.

But building my simpler life didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow and steady process. If I had to take away one lesson from the experience, it would be:

it takes time to start to live simply

Simple living requires time to transition, but it’s so worth it!

There were plenty of bumps along the way too. Like, when I told my parents that I was going to take a simpler job, scale back, and blog full-time. I remember my mom was seriously worried (even though she’s incredibly supportive).

Then when I started to build my tiny house, I found that many people were curious and some of them critical. One day as I was working on my place a lady stopped at watched for a while. She started asking me all kinds of questions about my home. I’ll never forget her parting words, “Good luck finding a wife who will want to live in your tiny house.” I remember thinking maybe she was right. Perhaps I was making a mistake. Which brings me to the second point:

You need to question everything when you want to live a simple life

Simple living means people will question and critique your life.

But the truth is, those people are questioning you, because there are aspects of their own life they’re struggling with. That’s when I learned how self-centered people truly are. They may look at how you don’t need as much “stuff” or how you’ve chosen a less-traditional job, or a smaller home. You may hear, “I could never do that!” And the truth is, they probably couldn’t.

simple living isn't for everyone

Simple living isn’t for everyone.

I also discovered this as I started dating. I found out that there are pros and cons of living a simple life. Yes, people question your choices (and maybe even your sanity), but those who stay in your life are really worth keeping. I’ve found the women attracted to the simple life are really grounded. They aren’t hung up on superficial stuff, and they’re aligned with my worldview. Being open and honest about wanting to live simply, attracted women I wanted to date, and dissuaded those who wouldn’t have been a match anyway.

The same is true with friends. I’ve found that as my life has become simpler, I’ve found more time to spend with the people who really matter to me. It helps you narrow your focus and figure out who is truly supportive and needed in your life.

relationships are important when you focus on what's important

Simple living helps you form closer relationships.

Today, my friends sometimes joke I don’t work at a real job. I just “run a blog.” But then they see me headed off to other countries. They look on when I get to spend a few weeks (or months) in Croatia, Australia, Stockholm, or the UK. They ask me how I take morning hikes on a Wednesday when they’re working their 9-5.

The truth is, because I’ve chosen a simple, less traditional path, I’ve been able to accomplish many big goals. I blog for a living. I write books. I spend time with those who mean a lot to me. My time is more valued, and my life feels more meaningful. Although I’m not a trust-fund kid, by any means, I don’t have debt, and I travel often.

to live simply you need to know what your goals are

Simple living helps you achieve a life you design and remove obstacles.

When it comes to simple living, if you want it, it’s achievable. There’s no secret sauce or trick to simple living. It’s about deciding on the goal that’s right for you, figuring out how to align it with your lifestyle, and then pursuing the goal single-mindedly.

You might think, “Being my own boss, living debt-free, eliminating clutter, cutting back stress—those all sound awesome! I want that!”

And indeed, simple living is possible in some form for everyone. But there are a lot of misconceptions about simple living out there. A lot of people get an idyllic notion stuck in their head that isn’t accurate or aligned to their needs.

farm cabin tiny house

I’ve met a lot of people who jump into living in a cabin in the woods, or they go out and buy a full-fledged hobby farm in the country. They haven’t found out what’s right for them. They’re subscribing to someone else’s definition of simple living, which is a dangerous mistake that will only leave you searching for answers.

When you jump into a new lifestyle out of nowhere, you’re basically saying, “I don’t like my life now. I’m going to live a new life.” But what happens is you end up importing all the problems your former life had: all its definitions, labels, and problems.

understand who you are at your core

Simple living doesn’t change who you are at your core.

So, you want to become a homesteader. You go out and buy land and a barn in a spot you’ve never been to. You fill the barn with animals you’ve never raised before. Then you wake up one morning, and your life is not simple at all. In fact, you’re stuck with a pretty big problem. You never leave the farm because you need to milk the goats, tend chickens, and put the cows out to pasture.

It’s all about finding the simple lifestyle that’s livable for you. For example, I would love to own a few cows and goats, but I also love to travel. I can’t commit to animals that need milking twice a day, every day, or they go off milk. I couldn’t even leave for a weekend trip, and it wouldn’t work with my life.

its not a magic bullet

Simple living doesn’t make your life perfect, but it helps you find more meaning.

In fact, sometimes simple living is really challenging—even difficult. But, it’s in that struggle we find the beauty and satisfaction of a simple life. Research has found that when things come easy for us, we don’t derive as much value out of it. Although a life free of stress sounds terrific at first, it’s struggle and adversity that bring us meaning. I’ve found this very accurate for myself. The things I’m most thankful for were the most difficult. Striving and strife make us value it more. Simple living isn’t easy, but it also brings us a great deal of meaning.

The Logistical Challenges of Simple Living

challenges of simple living

Aside from the philosophical pros and cons of simple living, there are a few logistical challenges as well. It’s important to understand these barriers and consider all aspects BEFORE you move toward a simple life.

the space that you live in might not be largeSpace: When people consider moving into tiny homes, they think they have to live in a tiny house of 200-300 square feet when it might not be right for them. The truth is, 200 feet isn’t going to work for some people, particularly if you have a family. You won’t feel happy with five people in a super tiny home. So, maybe instead, you sell your 4,000 square foot house and buy a 1,000 square foot house. Find something for half the mortgage and use the money to travel as a family.

living simply might actaully cost more moneyMoney: It sounds counter intuitive, but even a simple life costs money, there are times where simple living may even cost more than your old life depending on certain factors. If you want to live simply in a city, you still need to earn an income. You still need to understand your budget. On the surface a simpler life may seem cheaper, but you still need to look at your relationship with money. Why do you spend? How can you simplify your finances and still feel satisfied? Is spending X dollars a month in rent or on your mortgage getting you closer or moving you further away? What steps can you take to get your money under control?

understanding why you buy thingsWants: You need to get down to the underlying reason you want an item. After all, no one buys a $100 designer t-shirt because they NEED it. They buy it because they want to show they can afford it. Why? Because they want a girl to like them? Why? Because they really want love and companionship. Many people are addicted to (fleeting) happiness they think they can buy, which doesn’t actually satisfy their needs. We’ve all heard of retail therapy. It’s a hard habit to break.

cutting out toxic relationshipsRelationships: People run into the obstacle of relationships because they don’t know how to prioritize and say no. Simplifying your life doesn’t only mean tossing out belongings you don’t need and downsizing. It means finding ways to get more control over your schedule. You want to spend time with the people who mean the most to you, doing things your love, in a way that is on your own terms. When I simplified, I cut back to only the people who were important to me and who I wanted to invest time in. The others, I cut out.

figure out what you do and don't want to spend your time onTime: Simple living takes time. One of the biggest obstacles I faced when simplifying was realizing I had to go through the process of figuring out what I wanted. I had to get out of debt. I had to figure out how to become location-independent, own my own business, and deal with my own baggage. It took me years from the time I started my blog to quit my job. During that time, I was downsizing possessions, building my tiny house, and navigating my path. What seemed so simple ended up taking me 6 or 7 years to achieve. And guess what, I’m still working at it even today.

simple living means making choices that are hardSacrifice: When I started to simplify, my family announced they were going on a trip to Italy. Now, family time is extremely important to me. But I had set really aggressive financial goals to pay off my student loans. I decided between the goal of paying off my loans or going to Italy with my family. In the end, I didn’t go on the trip. I’ve faced many of these hard choices over the last 6 or 7 years. I had to recommit every single day.

you'll need to redefine who you are in some waysIdentity: Many of us define ourselves by our career. It’s how we earn money. It’s what people pay you to do. When you introduce yourself, you say something like, “I’m a banker.” Well, you might be a banker now, but it doesn’t mean you need to be a banker tomorrow. If living a simple life means finding a fulfilling career path, you may wrestle with your identity. What are other ways to earn money, and what’s holding you back?

When I started living in a tiny house, my rent went from $1,500 to zero. That allowed me to take risks and follow new pursuits. I could start a company. Most of my pals were like, “I can’t do that because I have a mortgage and bills. I must stay in this cubicle.”

5 Tips To Simplify Your Life (from Someone Who’s Done It)

tips for simple living

No matter where you are with simplifying your life, there are 5 practical tips I recommend that you can apply today. These tips really apply to any new situation or significant lifestyle change you’re considering. If you’re wondering how to destress your life and build a life you love, it starts here.

1
Ask What You Want More Of – Look at your current lifestyle and write a list of all the positive aspects that bring you joy. What do you want more of in your life? Maybe it’s time, family, travel, health, or something else. What makes you the happy and what would you like to expand on?
2
Ask What You Want Less Of – Now it’s time for the flip side. Sometimes it’s hard to nail down what we do want, but people are pretty clear what they don’t want. What are all the aspects you’d like to eliminate from your life? Write down anything that drags you down, makes you unhappy, drains your energy, or causes you stress. It may include debt, your dead-end job, too much clutter, toxic relationships, or something else entirely. What do you want less of in your life?
3
Define Your Ideal Day – This journaling exercise really helps you pinpoint how your perfect life looks. Imagine your ideal day (or even your ideal week); walk through each moment from the time you get up to the time you drift off to sleep. What is your morning like? What’s your routine? Do you work? What type of work? How would it look? Get as specific as possible—what clothes would you wear, what would you eat, what people would you spend time with?
4
Define Your Goals – Behind every single success is a goal. Goals give us a marker to move toward. When you pinpoint your targets, write them as clearly as possible. Set SMART goals and define the parameters. Any time you want to achieve something big (or small), a goal will guide your way.
5

Write Out the Steps – This will look a little different for everyone. There isn’t a clear point A to point B roadmap and sometimes it seems like such an overwhelming task that you don’t even know where to start. The question is, what do you need to do next? Do you need to break down your goals into smaller steps? Do you need to set a budget?

If you ask yourself these questions about your ideal life, your vision will start to come together. You’ll match up your idea of a simple life with the reality of what works for you. Life doesn’t need to be complicated. Many people find the simpler their life gets, the more satisfying it becomes. Make time for the lifestyle that really matters to you.

Your Turn!

  • What does simple living mean to you?
  • What’s your biggest challenge when simplifying?

How to Embrace the Zero Waste Lifestyle, Realistically

How to Embrace the Zero Waste Lifestyle, Realistically

The zero waste lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but everyone in the world benefits when we create less trash and cut back on waste. Not only does our trash take up room in our homes, but there are plenty of concerns about the environment as well.

how to start zero waste lIfestyle

Cutting back on trash is also important if you don’t get regular pick up of trash or recycling. Save yourself the time and energy of hauling garbage to the dump when you could simply make a few adjustments.

In my own life, I’m not yet 100% zero trash, but I’ve cut back significantly in the last few years. This what I’ve learned and how I’ve made a zero waste lifestyle (or close to zero waste) work for me.

Getting Started with the Zero Waste Lifestyle

getting started with a zero waste lifestyle

If you’re ready to get started with a zero waste lifestyle, there are a few steps to mentally and physically set yourself up for success. There are many zero waste products out there to help with waste free living. Items like bags, bottles, and food containers can be reused over and over. Storage containers can even be created from items you already own.

Here are my tips on how to go zero waste easily.

1. Be Realistic

be realistic when starting with the zero waste movement

Get yourself in the right mindset to before you even start exploring how to go zero waste. Focus on how you will make a zero waste lifestyle work and how you will deal with any anticipated roadblocks.

Most importantly, stay realistic. Don’t expect yourself to go completely zero waste overnight. We all see people in the news and on YouTube who commit to going zero waste 100% right away. While this works for a few people, most of us need to simply take steps over time to cut back on trash and waste. We’ve been living with our wasteful habits our entire so it will take some time to reverse that.

2. Do an Anthropological Study on Your Trash

study your trash to see what you throw away

If you’re ready to start, my first recommendation will sound a bit odd, but stick with me here. Go through your trash! Take your most recent bag of garbage and go through the items in the bag piece by piece. Approach it like an anthropologist—what will you learn from your garbage?

Your garbage will probably tell you a lot about what you eat. Many people find the majority of their trash comes from the kitchen. Food containers, drink containers, straws, bottles, bags…all these items add up quickly. As you separate out your trash, look at the items to recycle (typically, recycling isn’t counted as “waste”). Sometimes cutting back on your trash means recommitting to recycling as well.

Keep an eye out for items you could have repurposed. This isn’t to say you should hoard empty containers and jars to the extreme. A cupboard full of repurposed containers still takes up space in your home. Simply see what is recyclable and how you could minimize your current trash footprint.

Understanding what you actually throw out will let you guard against those things in your zero waste future.

3. Focus on Small, Meaningful Changes

focus on small changes to acheive the zero waste life

Once you’re ready to start the transition to a zero waste lifestyle, check out zero waste resources. Read zero waste blogs and books about the zero trash lifestyle. Find small waste reducing adjustments to implement without changing your routine too much.

Something as simple as carrying your own water bottle or reusable coffee mug makes a big difference without much effort. When you went through your garbage, did you notice many of the same items, like Styrofoam coffee cups or takeout containers? That indicates a good place to start.

Would your favorite takeout place let you bring your own container for food? Could you carry your coffee mug with you each morning?

Beyond your convenience food purchases, look at your shopping habits. Is your grocery store zero waste friendly? Some stores allow you to bring your own bags or jars, offering ways to minimize your food containers (more on creating a zero waste kitchen below).

4. Purchase Zero Waste Products to Set Yourself Up for Success

purchase zero waste products: water bottles, resuable bags, reuseable straws etc

There are many products available to help those who want to live a zero waste lifestyle. Metal and silicone straws are a great example of now-common zero waste products. Bags and food containers are also widely available.

You may also want to look at products with minimal or recyclable packaging. Some health and beauty companies sell products like “bar shampoo” without a bottle. For example, the company Lush promotes that 35% of their products are sold “naked” without package. Look for minimal waste or recyclable options for items like toothbrushes, deodorant, and more.

If you buy items like candles, look for ways to reuse the jars. If you read magazines, exchange or recycle them, use them for crafts, or donate them to a local school or library when you’re done reading them (better yet, switch to an e-reader). Whenever you make a purchase, ask yourself if there’s a less-wasteful alternative.

5. Find Simple Swaps

find simple zero waste swaps, there are lots of products to reduce trash

There are many simple swaps to help set you up for success with your zero waste lifestyle. On the blog The Greener Girl, she outlines many easy zero waste swaps. Straws and bags are two of the easiest switches.

Other items to swap for zero waste (aka reusable) items include fountain pens, razors, feminine products, and laundry soap. Change your kitchen sponge for a microfiber towel. Rather than using napkins and tissues, switch to washable handkerchiefs and cloth napkins. Once you explore the zero waste swaps out there, you may be surprised at all the areas where you can implement a simple change. In the long run going, zero trash will save you money.

How to Create a Zero Waste Kitchen

create a zero waste kitchen

Hands down, the biggest area of waste is usually the kitchen. When I studied my trash, almost everything I was throwing out on a regular basis had to do with food. Many convenience food products come in plastic bags, bottles, boxes, and containers. What we’re saving in convenience, we’re making up for in garbage.

If you’re wondering how to create a zero waste kitchen, there are a few easy areas of focus to start to cut back on waste.

1. Bulk Buying

bulk buying to reduce trash from food waste

Many stores offer the option of bulk buying, especially natural groceries and health food stores. People might feel a little intimidated at first but buying items in bulk is simple. Best of all, bulk buying creates zero trash.

When people plan to buy bulk, often they bring containers with them to the store. Purchase simple mesh bags made to hold all sorts of items like rice, nuts, oats, and coffee beans. Bring a paper bag with you for items like flour. Jars are typically used for deli meats, cheese, and other items requiring a sealable container.

Get your containers weighed at the service counter before you start shopping. The grocery clerk will give you a printout or write down the weight of each container so it’s deducted from the purchase weight at checkout. Then all you need to do is fill up your containers. Shopping this way doesn’t take much extra time and you often save money because bulk buys are typically cheaper.

2. Store Items in Jars

store items in jars to reduce on trash

Rather than storing items in plastic containers, use glass or metal jars to hold the ingredients in your kitchen. If you live in a tiny house, this tip is useful anyway—often glass or metal containers take up less space than commercial packaging. Uniform containers help you maximize your storage space and look great too on open shelves.

If you cook meals ahead to freeze, use glass container to store your food. Leave extra room in the top of each container because food expands when frozen. Store your leftovers in glass jars and reuse them over and over—you can even heat mason jars and eat out of them. This makes food storage simple and there are no worries about chemical compounds in the plastic leaching into your food.

Even microbreweries get in on the trend of reusable containers. You can purchase a “growler” from many breweries and get your beer refilled over and over. This is a fun way to eliminate the need to recycle beer bottles or aluminum cans.

3. Compost

compost bin to handle kitchen waste

Composting is part of a zero waste lifestyle, and for good reason: so many of us throw out food we could instead compost. Gardeners know compost creates a rich, nutrient-dense soil for plants to thrive in. Even if you aren’t a huge vegetable gardener, compost is a welcome addition to any flower bed.

Now, all organic matter can be composted—including human waste. If you’re interested in setting up a composting toilet, it isn’t hard (but of course it isn’t for everyone).

Food composting on the other hand is SO simple, everyone can do it. There are great containers with charcoal filters to eliminate any smell. These bins are stored right on your countertop. Add food scraps, vegetables, coffee grounds, and even paper products to your compost. Most people prefer to avoid adding meat and dairy waste to their compost as it takes longer to breakdown and attracts pests.

When you’ve filled up your compost container, you move it outdoors to a larger composter, where it is mixed with grass, leaves and other organic waste. Vermicomposting uses worms (typically red wiggler worms) to break down the decomposing matter and turn it into harmless vermicast. This rich compost is excellent for gardens. Vermicomposting is an easy composting method for anyone and my personal favorite composting method.

4. Cut Out Bags

cut out bags by using reusable shopping bags

Plastic shopping bags are one area where nearly everyone can cut back on waste. Whether you make your own (make a no sew shopping bag from an old tee shirt) or purchase ready-made bags, fabric trumps plastic every time.

If you buy fresh produce at the store, did you know you don’t need to put it in the bags they provide? Add loose fruits and veggies to your cart and checkout without using plastic. The mesh bags used for bulk buying are also used to store fruits and vegetables, or you could use a paper sack if you prefer. No matter your choice, it’s easy to BYOB (bring your own bag).

5. Plant a Garden

plant a garden to grow your own food which means less trash from food packaging

One of the best ways to cut back on food waste is to grow your own food as much as possible. Now, gardening and homestead farming aren’t for everyone, but even planting a few herbs and salad greens will cut back on containers and waste. Put your new compost to good use by planting easy vegetables like squash in recycled containers.

If you’re ready to take farming further, chickens are often a great place to start. Not only will you get eggs aplenty, but chickens minimize bugs and even help you till the soil in your garden. As you start to grow your own food supply, you’ll see a huge reduction in the amount of waste your produce. Gardening and homestead farming are a great step toward the zero waste lifestyle.

6.Buy Local

buy local food

Another important tip for minimizing your kitchen waste is to buy local whenever possible. Farmers markets and fruit stands naturally produce less waste. Food doesn’t need transportation—there’s minimal packaging and you often pick up right at the farm. Check into your local CSA or farm-share program as well. You could get a bushel container of packaging-free organic vegetables every week!

Buying local also extends to meat, dairy, and baked goods as well. A loaf of bread at the bakery will need less packaging (and require less wasted energy to create and transport) than a commercial bakery. When you purchase from local purveyors, you build relationships and connections with your community. Choose your prime cuts, waste less, and request minimal packaging. Many commercial grocery stores won’t let you bring in your own containers for meat and deli products, but smaller natural food stores often will accommodate a zero waste lifestyle.

The same goes for joining a local co-op. Often, co-ops specialize in bulk foods and minimally packaged items. If your city or town has a co-op, consider becoming an owner. For a small fee, you’ll get access to a wide variety of foods and products, usually locally produced and minimally packaged.

7. Pack a Zero Waste Lunch

pack a zero waste lunchbox

Brown-bagging your lunch with zero waste is simple! There are so many products out there to help you pack a lunch and transport your food, it’s almost a no-brainer. I use a stainless steel box by a company called LunchBots. These containers are beautiful, simple, and so easy to transport. Your lunch is laid out in small compartments and it’s really appetizing.

bento box by lunchbots - a stainless steel lunch containerBento-style lunches have become very popular and for good reason. Not only are they a zero waste lunch option, but they’re aesthetically pleasing as well. In fact, a simple search on Pinterest will yield tons of ideas for making appetizing bento lunches your entire family will love to eat.

Plastic bags and utensils are really easy to cut out of your lifestyle because there are so many alternatives. Get rid of plastic wrap too. With beeswax wraps, you cover food airtight, wash the wrap, and reuse it over and over.

If all else fails, take a cue from your local deli and wrap your lunch in recyclable butcher paper. It keeps food covered and will help you maintain your zero waste lifestyle when you eat on the go.

8. Learn to Creatively Repurpose

creatively repurpose items that would otherwise go in the trash

Embracing a zero waste lifestyle means learning to creatively repurpose items whenever possible. Nowhere is this truer than in the kitchen. So many packages can be reused again and again. Spaghetti sauce jars are used as storage containers. Cans are reused to organize or as pots for plants.

A simple cutting tool will turn plastic bottles into strong rope to use in many different applications. You can recycle many plastic items into craft projects and gifts too. A simple search for repurposed or recycled crafts will yield hundreds of ideas.

Use your old toothbrushes as cleaning brushes. Reuse clothing as cleaning rags. The idea behind a zero waste lifestyle is to use up items as completely as possible. When you think an item has completed its purpose, ask yourself how to reuse it in another way.

FAQs About Living a Zero Waste Lifestyle

zero waste faqs

When considering the zero waste lifestyle, people often have a lot of questions. Like living the tiny life, there are no set rules you need to follow. The main idea behind zero waste is to find what works for you and do your best. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to a zero waste lifestyle, but really, it’s pretty simple.

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions I get about zero waste.

Where should I start?

Start by going through your trash to see your biggest area of waste. Then set small goals to help you tackle each area. If you see a lot of kitchen waste, for example, focus your zero waste efforts there. If you seem to throw out a lot of toiletries and beauty products, then that may be a good area to focus on.

simple clothing to wearYou may want to focus on a zero waste wardrobe as well. Having a capsule or minimalist wardrobe is a great start. Pare down to the necessities and simplify. As you clean out and get rid of items, find ways to recycle, donate, or reuse them whenever possible.
For most people, a zero waste lifestyle begins in the kitchen. Tackle that area and chances are you’ll take a huge step toward become completely zero waste.

Is it hard to do?

It depends on the situation. It requires effort, yes, but if you already recycle and minimize your purchases, then zero waste is the next step. If you plant a garden and grow your own food, then you may find it even easier to transition to a zero waste lifestyle.

My biggest piece of advice is to take it slow. Move in small steps. Tackle one area of your life at a time, like implementing a zero waste kitchen first. Then move to the next area. Like all lifestyle changes, baby steps make it much easier.

Does it cost money?

It seems counter intuitive to spend money on more “stuff” to embrace a zero waste lifestyle, doesn’t it? I recommend using what you already own as much as possible. That said, there are items in the zero waste products section below to help you on your journey.

A one-time purchase like a reusable straw will cut out many future purchases down the road. Buying beeswax wraps or mesh bags might mean making an investment up front, but it’s a trade off when you never need to buy plastic wrap or Ziploc baggies again.

Does it mean giving up “normal life”?

People may raise an eyebrow at any type of lifestyle change. When I moved into my tiny house, people asked me if living in a tiny house meant giving up a normal life. When I’ve advocated for homesteading or minimalism, people ask if it means giving up their normal routine.

Anytime you change, it will mean giving up the conveniences and norms you’re used to. That said, there are zero waste options for almost any product you can think of. You don’t necessarily need to go without something, you just need to adjust your approach.

For example, while I don’t know much about cosmetics, I’ve been told there are beauty companies who allow you to bring your own containers and fill up your own products. There are also minimal packaging beauty products to fit with a zero waste lifestyle.

For clothing, you will find almost any item of clothing you need at a second-hand store. Check Craigslist, Freecycle, and other exchange networks. Borrow what you need and find creative ways to reuse and repurpose items to keep them out of the landfill.

What if I mess up?

Again, like living the tiny life, there are no hard and fast rules you need to follow if you want to live the zero waste lifestyle. There are people who minimize their waste to a mason jar while there are others who simply try their best to cut back on garbage. Join online forums to get ideas and support about living zero waste.

Just keep in mind, no one is perfect. Sometimes there are items that wear out or need replacement (for example, I had to buy a bathmat even though I was attempting a no spend challenge). If a zero waste lifestyle is right for you, do your best. Even making an effort toward reducing your waste is a step in the right direction.

Resources & Zero Waste Products to Help You Start a Zero Waste Lifestyle

zero waste resources - websites, articles, posts, and videos

There are many zero waste blogs and ideas out there for living a zero waste lifestyle. Check out Pinterest and Google for resources to help you navigate. There are also many social media groups for zero waste.

A few popular zero waste blogs are:

Trash is for Tossers
Going Zero Waste
Zero Waste Home
Litterless

The items I’ve found really helpful for a zero waste lifestyle are:

LunchBots Bento Containers
Klean Kanteen Mugs and Water Bottles
CamelBak Water Bottles
Epica Countertop Compost Bin
Flip & Tumble Bags
Flip & Tumble Reusable Mesh Produce Bags
ECOSIP Reusable Straws
Glass Food Containers
Handkerchiefs
Microfiber Towels
Safety Razor
Biodegradable Toothbrushes
Bee’s Wrap Food Wrap
Wool Dryer Balls
Bar Shampoo

There are a plethora of reusable and zero waste products out there. Research and purchase items as you go along to help you embrace the zero waste lifestyle. It’s a great challenge to take on and really makes you think about what you’re buying (and the container it comes in). While we aren’t all ready to go completely zero waste, we can all take steps toward minimizing our waste and cutting back on trash.

27 Great Hobbies for Small Spaces & Minimalist Lifestyles (+ 7 Bonus Tips!)

27 Great Hobbies for Small Spaces & Minimalist Lifestyles (+ 7 Bonus Tips!)

Building a tiny house, downsizing, organizing and simplifying are all time-consuming projects. Over the last several years, my tiny house journey has consumed a big chunk of my free time and focus. However, everyone needs a hobby or two, even when living in a small space.

hobbies for small spaces and minimalists

Of course, I can only speak for myself and I realize not everyone enjoys the same great hobbies I do. Fun hobbies for me might not be the same as fun hobbies for you. So, explore these simple hobbies for small spaces and apply them to your own taste.

If there was an activity you enjoyed before you moved toward a minimalist way of living, chances are, you’ll still enjoy it. The only problem you face is that…well, hobbies often take up a lot of space.

I’ve known people with entire rooms dedicated to crafts: studios for art, sound rooms for recording and game rooms for playing. In a small space, you can still enjoy fulfilling and entertaining activities. If you’re looking for great hobbies to fit minimalist lifestyles, you simply need to shift your approach to your pastime of choice.

So before I get to the list of hobbies, here’s how to make almost any hobby work in a small space.

How to Pursue Your Hobbies in Small Spaces: 7 Tips to Help

1. Stay Organized

First and foremost, one of the keys to hobby success is staying organized. A huge, overflowing and messy workspace won’t fit into a minimalist lifestyle or a small space. If you love paper crafts, organize supplies into a small binder. If your hobbies involve computers and electronics, keep cords and supplies neatly tucked into a container or bin.  Whatever your hobby, don’t neglect the organization of it.

2. Don’t Hold on to Leftovers

When you finish a project—a piece of art, a completed puzzle or a sewing project—don’t’ keep all the leftover scraps. Donate them, trade them or give them away. Use up only what you need for the project at hand. Storing extra bits takes up too much space. Besides, many of us forget about these items when we’re ready to start the next project.

3. Work on One Project and One Hobby at a Time

hobbies do them one at a time

If you love model building, RPGs and fly tying, you may need to focus on one hobby at a time. Depending on your storage capacity and time constraints, it makes sense to focus your efforts in one area. This is a different mentality from the “I’m bored, move to the next source of entertainment,” approach many of us are familiar with. Instead of multitasking, mindfully focus on the single project at hand.  This is what I’m trying to do this year, enjoy the hobbies I already have, not add new ones.

4. Scale Your Hobby to Your Space

Look at the hobby you love and scale it to your space. If you play an instrument, is there a smaller version you’d like to explore (guitar to ukulele or cello to violin)? If you enjoy woodworking, learning to carve and whittle give you a similar sense of satisfaction on a smaller scale?

5. Move Your Hobby Outdoors

geocaching as hobby

Depending on the climate, some great hobbies fit in very well outdoors. Taking your easel and paints outside, for example, could give you a new subject matter to explore and eliminate the stress and clutter of an indoor studio. Similarly, there are many great hobbies like birdwatching and geocaching that require time outside.

6. Share Your Finished Product

If you’re a creative person, share your finished project with others. Many people build models or paint large canvasses or design, with nowhere to store the finished project. If you’ve got a talent you want to share, consider donating your work once it’s completed. You could even set up an online store, but keep in mind, turning your hobby into a business may require even more time, space and energy.

7. Focus on the Core Value of the Hobby

If you’re looking for a satisfying hobby to pursue, consider the core value of what you already enjoy. For example, if you love to design and build, could you put those same skills to work by exploring culinary arts, making models or miniatures, or gardening? If you’re analytical, would you find puzzle games, escape rooms or web development interesting? Many hobbies use the same values and traits, in different applications.

The List: 27 Great Hobbies for Small Spaces

Ready to get started with a new pursuit? Again, not every hobby fits every personality or aptitude, but here are some ideas for great hobbies that fit well with minimalist lifestyles and small spaces.

1. Gardening

gardening on land

Gardening is one of the oldest hobbies. It’s extremely useful—growing plants and herbs for food or to beauty your home and yard. If you’re leasing property, you may not be able to plant a full garden (or if you’re living in a space without a yard). Fortunately, there are container gardens and even hydroponics that require very little space to produce a bounty. Start with a few plants on a windowsill and let your green thumb grow.

 

2. Stitching & Sewing

Similar to paper crafts, stitching and sewing are great hobbies that can also spiral out of control with supplies and projects. If you’re working on a textile craft in a small space, it’s important to stick to one project at a time, keep your supplies organized and only store what you need for the project at hand. When it comes down to it, needles, thread, yarn and felting tools don’t require a lot of space. It’s the yards of fabric and skeins of yarn that take over a space.

If you enjoy handicrafts and stitchery, consider embroidery, needle felting, tatting, and crochet, which use minimal supplies. Cross stitch is another fabric craft that doesn’t call for a lot of space. Tutorials on these projects are found on YouTube or Craftsy.

 

3. Culinary Arts

The world of culinary arts offers a wide hobby area to explore. While a small kitchen is a challenge, some chefs see it as an opportunity to really push themselves. The best part of cooking as a hobby is the end results are edible (and don’t require much storage). Hosting outdoor dinners to show off your creations is always an option if indoor entertaining doesn’t work for your space.

food dehydrator excalibur

Areas to explore are food preservation like canning, dehydration, and pickling. Bread baking is another popular small-space culinary pursuit. If the science of food fascinates you, explore nutrition or even molecular gastronomy.

4. Woodworking

Woodworking and carpentry becomes a passion for many who build and craft their own home. Once the work is complete, you may realize continuing carpentry requires many supplies and large-scale storage. Rather than give up the skills, consider shifting your focus to small-scale woodworking. Whittling and wood carving are great hobbies that don’t require much space. The results of a skilled woodcarver’s work are truly stunning.

5. Gaming

The world of gaming is huge and encompasses a vast number of interests. Not all games are perfect for minimalist lifestyles and small spaces, but many are. Role playing games (RPGs) require little more than a dice set and a group of friends. Board and card games are another excellent options. Check out the International Gamers Award winners, to find the best games. Chess is another great option for beginners.

Video games are another popular hobby. Most gaming units are relatively small, including handheld devices like the Nintendo Switch (which is a handheld and console unit) or the Sony PlayStation Vita. You can also get started playing video games on your phone or computer. Online gaming offers the option to play with others around the world, right from your own screen.

6. Writing

Writing is a fantastic minimalist hobby. As a blogger and writer, myself, I must admit it’s ideal for small spaces. You can write from anywhere—all you need is a laptop and an idea. Blogging, journaling, and creative writing are all great hobbies and getting started is easy!

writing notebook

If you’re living in a small, or minimalist space, you don’t need to give up your hobbies. With a few adjustments and modifications, you’ll enjoy plenty of great hobbies to fit your small-space lifestyle and help you relax and enjoy life.

7. Mindfulness Pursuits

Yoga, meditation, and spiritual exploration are excellent pursuits for small spaces. Many of these studies and practices help you explore your mind-body connection and learn to be present, connected and aware of your surroundings. Yet, most mindfulness pursuits require very little in the way of equipment or supplies.  You can start with a book or by following yoga tutorial videos. You may also want to download a mindfulness app, such as Headspace.

8. Ham Radio

Amateur or ham radio is a popular hobby that’s been around for many years. It’s a way to communicate with people around the world (English is the universal language of ham radio). Ham radio is also used for emergency communication, such as weather watching, so it’s a helpful hobby to learn. Because radio transmissions are sent internationally (and can receive communications from emergency personnel and law enforcement) the hobby is regulated by the International Telecommunication Union and licensure is required. Learn more from the ARRL (National Association for Amateur Radio).

9. Jewelry Making

Jewelry making covers a variety of great hobbies from beading, to lampwork and metalwork. Many jewelry makers start simply by creating necklaces and bracelets for themselves, friends and family. As the craft grows, you can move to more expensive mediums and a variety of substrates such as glass, acrylic, fine metals, jewels, and gemstones. Explore the classes available on sites like Craftsy to learn to create a wearable work of art.

10. Knots

knot tying

Knot tying may seem like a dying art, but many people still enjoy learning knot tying and it’s particularly useful for sailing and outdoor survival. Believe it or not, there are thousands of knots and the oldest example of knot tying was used in a fishing net dated 8000 BC. You can use knot tying skills to for paracord tying; knots are also a key part of fly tying, both of which are great hobbies for minimalist spaces.

11. Leather Working

Leather goods hold up to years of use. You can create beautiful belts, bracelets, pouches, and bags out of leather. Large leather work requires quite a bit of space and larger tools, but on the small-scale leatherworking is a fun project for anyone. To get started in leatherworking, you may want to purchase a kit for a small item like a coin purse or bracelet and explore online videos and tutorials to help you get started.

12. Illusions & Cards

Magic, card tricks, sleight of hand and optical illusions are fun for many people, but they often require practice. Fortunately, this practice doesn’t require much space or equipment. You can learn by watching simple YouTube videos or taking an online course. Professional card dealers often attend classes and even go to casino gaming school, but you’ll get far with regular practice and self-study.

13. Model Building

model planThe world of model building is huge and combines the art of sculpture, painting, and design as well as engineering. Model-makers create miniature replicas of everything from spaceships to ships-in-a-bottle. A popular model building area is in repainting and redesigning figures with incredible attention to detail. There are even conventions such as WonderFest USA to showcase and award top model-makers.

Similarly, creating miniatures, whether for a dollhouse, terrarium or simply a display is another small-scale hobby many people enjoy. Using polymer clay or other materials they recreate and “miniaturize” everyday items.

14. Music

If music is your hobby, there are many ways to adapt your creative outlet to fit in a minimal space. Singing, music writing, and many instruments are still easily incorporated into many different sized homes and lifestyles. Of course, you may need to pare down a collection of instruments (and a piano is much harder to fit in a small space than a ukulele), but many people embrace music as a hobby.

15. Nail Art

Now, I can’t speak to this personally, but I’ve heard nail art is one of the preferred hobbies for women. Painting designs as part of a manicure or pedicure requires few supplies. Your fingers and toes are your canvas and nail artists get quite into their craft—some nail artists even add jewels to accent their designs.

16. Paper Crafts

When it comes to paper crafts, it’s a hobby that can quickly take over a space. After all, paper can result in a lot of clutter. Yet, there are ways to enjoy paper craft on a small scale. Origami (the art of paper folding) is one such example. Quilling, or paper rolling is another. When pursuing a hobby such as paper crafting, it’s important to remember the seven guidelines above to keep your supplies organized and only keep the project you’re working on at the time.

17. Photography

camera and photography

Of all the great hobbies for small spaces, photography is one of the easiest to pursue—particularly because of the advance of digital photography. With little more than a camera and photo editing software, you can capture and design incredible photographs. Learning how to alter and edit photos using Photoshop (or any free editing software) is another way to explore the hobby even further. Many of us carry a camera all the time, via our phone, so learning to take great photos is the next logical step.

18. Puzzles & Deduction

Many hobbyists enjoy cracking codes, figuring out puzzles and playing logic games.  While boxes of jigsaw puzzles may not fit with a minimalist lifestyle, there are plenty of digital puzzle games, books of crosswords, Sudoku and logic puzzles you can check out. If you enjoy forensics, check out Hunt a Killer, which is a monthly detective puzzle game.

Brain benders, meta, and wooden box puzzles are also a fun pursuit to stretch your brain and turn the gears. Rubik’s cubes and other combination puzzles will keep you occupied for hours. Similarly, lockpicking is a popular pursuit, where you apply the same techniques to locks (check out Locksport International for information on getting started).

19. Outdoor Exercise

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to pursue great hobbies is to do them outdoors. Outdoor hobbies can be split into two categories: active and leisure. On the active side, of course, the options are limitless but bear in mind, many outdoor hobbies require equipment: skiing, kayaking, golfing and so on. Fortunately, if there’s a hobby you really love, you can possibly rent the equipment to cut back on the need for extra storage.

A few outdoor pursuits that don’t require much in terms of supplies are swimming, jogging, running and hiking. Fishing, tennis, Frisbee golf, and even snorkeling is possible, provided you parse down the extra supplies you need to the bare minimum. Team sports like soccer, softball, and volleyball are other great options, where all you need are some friends and a ball to play.

20. Outdoor Leisure

Outdoor leisure pursuits include walking and spending time outdoors. You can enrich your outdoor exploration by including an element you wish to study, such as plant identification or birdwatching. Foraging for wild edibles is another hobby you can leisurely pursue outdoors.

hiking with gps and a moutain view

Geocaching is a fun option many outdoor explorers enjoy. Geocaching is essentially a big outdoor treasure hunt using GPS. They keep a log book, recording whenever they discover an item (using GPS coordinates) in a cache. They take an item, leaving behind an item of greater value (items are typically small toys).

21. Reading

Perhaps the ultimate minimalist hobby, reading is a favorite pastime of many people. That said, books take up a lot of space. If you’re cutting back, downsizing and decluttering, you may want to sell your used books as you finish them. Other options for avid readers are using an eReader (like a Nook or Kindle) or borrowing books from the library. Check your neighborhood for Little Free Libraries as well—you can drop off and pick up books any time. If reading is your preferred pastime, you can easily enjoy it and still embrace a minimalist lifestyle.

22. Computers & Technology

Computers and technology are great hobbies for minimalists. With cloud storage, web, app and game development is possible from nearly anywhere with very little equipment. Frontend developers focus on design and user experience and generally need to learn to code (like HTML or JavaScript). Backend developers work use logic and problem solving to improve the function of an app or site, using server language like Python.

On the DIY building side, Raspberry PI is a small programmable computer that’s a lot of fun for beginners. Arduino, is a micro-controller motherboard popular in the DIY computing community. If you’re interested in computer technology, it can become an excellent and even lucrative hobby.

23. Video & Recording

Similar to photography, videography and recording works well with a small, minimalist space, provided the hobby stays on the small scale. Cameras like the GoPro Hero are used to film some really fun videos with very little extra equipment needed.

If you enjoy making videos, you could start a YouTube channel and vlog, or record tutorial videos for others (those who are camera shy, may prefer to explore podcasting instead). There are a vast number of topics and ideas for videos, so the options are endless. If video and filmmaking is high on your interest list, you could also try your hand at digital or stop-motion animation.

24. Visual Arts

Visual artists often worry they’ll need to give up their art if they move toward a minimalist lifestyle. After all, tubes of paint, easels, and brushes can take over a space pretty quickly. If art is your outlet and one of your preferred hobbies, consider drawing and sketching which are more portable and only require a notebook and graphite.

Other options for visual artists are to explore the world of graphic design. Apply your art skills in the digital world and learn to create on a computer. You could also do micro portfolio work. Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) and ACEOs (Art Cards Editions and Originals) are miniature works of art measuring 2.5” x 3.5” and they’ve become quite popular. Many artists swap them online and at swap events. The collectors market is rising for these miniature treasures.

25. Wine, Beer & Spirits

I’ve seen brewing listed time and time again as a suggested hobby for homesteaders and tiny lifers. It’s interesting because brewing wine and beer (and fermenting drinks such as kombucha) can take up quite a bit of space. Homebrewing also has specific temperature and sanitation requirements and it can give off a smell you may find overpowering in a small space.
beer and homebrewing

If you’re a hobbyist who loves homebrewing or the culture of beer, wine, and spirits, you may want to explore other areas of the beverage field. Wine pairing, beer tasting, and appreciation can become quite a fun and pleasurable hobby. Bartending and learning mixology is another great area of focus. Not only can you learn a (possibly) marketable skill but it’s useful knowledge for many situations.

26. Floral Arranging

Floral arranging is a beautiful and useful hobby, particularly if you enjoy growing flowers in a garden, or have access to fresh flowers. Flowers are temporary, and the arrangement is enjoyed for a while and then transitioned to a different look. The short-term aspect of flowers makes floral arranging a good option for those who live the tiny life. One place to get started is by exploring Ikebana, the traditional Japanese style of flower arranging.

27. Astronomy

Amateur astronomy doesn’t require much equipment or setup, other than a telescope and a notebook. If you live in a rural area (away from city light) this is a fascinating hobby where you can really explore the universe. Sky & Telescope is a great place to get started.

Your Turn!

  • What are some of your favorite hobbies for minimalist lifestyles?

 

Setting Up Your Land To Start A Homestead

When you’re just starting out and setting up your homestead there are a lot of things that you need to think about.  We all have big aspirations of what we want to do on our land, but there is a lot of work that needs to go into it all before we can really do anything.

land to homestead

In some cases we are coming into a piece of property, or our property that we already live on has certain elements, layouts or assets that we need to work with or around.  While I am always looking to capitalize on what I already have in place, I’m also not afraid to make changes or remove something if it doesn’t work in the way I need it to.

Get A Plan In Place

When it comes to setting up your land, I always ask myself a few key questions:

  • What is the land telling me?
  • What are the very specific things I want to do on the land?
  • What are the workflows that are going to happen on the land?
  • How can I reduce effort, improve ergonomics, and make it more efficient?
  • How can I design it to be flexible?

These are some really important questions to ask yourself because if we are just starting out, we can nail these few considerations and make our lives easier, our design will work for us, we will have less frustrations, and we can prevent burnout or injuries.

What Is The Land Telling Me?

take time to listen to the landWhen it comes to setting up land or starting on a new piece of property we need to make some observations before we begin.  If you have the chance, try to live on the land for a year before committing a lot of time or money.  It also gives us time to take a bunch of soil samples and get them analyzed.  That isn’t always possible, but if you can manage it, it’s well worth your time.

By taking the time to see how each season works with the land you’ll understand it’s character.  You’ll learn where the warm sunny spots are and where cold air settles in low spots. You’ll learn where water pools in the rainy season, where it soaks into the ground well and other areas that it just seems to sit on the surface for a long time.  All these things tell you how the land naturally behaves and it’s our job to work with that, not against it.

Two things I’ll do on a new property is in the cooler months, go walking in shorts despite the cold.  This let’s me sense with my legs what parts are warmer or colder than others.  If it starts to rain a whole lot, I’ll put on a rain jacket and go out walking; looking for how the water flows on the land, where it pools, where it gets boggy.  All these things are helpful in your planning.

What Are You Going To Do On The Land?

writing in notebookBefore we even begin to plan what our homestead is going to be like, we need to know what we are going to do on that land.  We can’t figure out a direction to walk if we don’t even know where we are going!  Take the time to be honest about you and your life.  If you’re going to homestead and work a full time job, what can you honestly dedicate to your farmstead when you’re pulling 40 or 50 hours a week?

Plan for your worst day, not your best day.  When you’re tired from work, it’s raining out and very cold in January, what do you want your life on that land to be like on that day where you want to do nothing?  If you plan for that, every other day will be a pleasure and it will make it viable for the long term.

When I was planning my future homestead I realized that a lot of what I thought I wanted to do just didn’t fit with my lifestyle.  I wanted to travel some, not have to wake up at the crack of dawn, and have a place that I could easily keep up so I could relax sometimes.  This meant certain things were ruled out and other things became more realistic.  What life do you want to lead on that land?

What Are The Workflows?

If we are planning to homestead, we are the kinds of people that don’t shy away from hard work, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be smart about our work either.  I started out with a list of everything I wanted to do on my homestead and then broke each one down into that activities and actions that needed to take place for those things to happen.

feeding chickens

We want to be super efficient and be smart about everything we do, because there is never enough time in the day and a little planning up front will pay off big on the back end.  So come up with your list and then start to envision in your mind how you’re going to do everything.  What are you doing, what do you need to do those things, where are you lifting, moving, pulling, pushing.  Play out these things in your mind to figure out how you’re going to do work on your stead.

Reduce Effort, Improve Ergonomics, and Make it More Efficient

We want to be smart about how we get things done on the farm. A really great primer to this way of thinking is 2 second lean principles, which we did a post on.  On our farm, we want to always be looking for ways to be better, work smart and reduce possibility of injury.

An example would be chickens.  Let’s say you want 5 birds in a chicken tractor, in my mind I’d play out a day in the life of taking care of them. I wake up at my normal time and get ready.  I walk out to the tractor, it’s raining outside so the ground is wet. I go to a bin in the garage to get their feed and fill their feeder which is clogged so I have to climb into the tractor, and I drag the hose across the yard to top of the waterer.  I reach into the nesting boxes to get any eggs and I move the tractor a few feet to fresh grass.

improvement on the land

So from this example I’d analyze what work happened and how I might make it better.  Starting out with it’s raining and the grass is wet (remember plan for your worst day) it would be really good if I had some farm boots to wear out to the coop so I don’t get my professional job shoes dirty and wet.  I needed to get some feed, where did that feed come from? Is there a way that I could back my truck right up to where I need to unload it?  Do I have to bend or lift things, is there a way I could reduce it or prevent injuries/strains?

Is there a way to locate the feed and water closer to the chickens?  I might consider if a mobile coop is worth it, or would a fixed coop allow me to run a water line to it and have a little storage area right there to keep feed in and back my truck bed right up to it?  If I have to get in the coop, maybe it’s better to make it 6 feet tall so I don’t have to stoop inside, and how can I set it up so I don’t have to go inside often and cleaning is a breeze?

golden comet chicken

Think through all these things, look for places where a tweak can save your from extra work, walking back and forth, repetitive tasks, or not having things right where you need them.  If we are starting from scratch, let’s make our lives easier!

A Flexible Design

When we are starting, out we are operating under a lot of assumptions and even with careful planning and experience, we may find that our plans need to change.  Being flexible is a huge part of being able to solve problems and as homesteaders at our core, we are good problem solvers.

If I’m spending time to build something, paying money to install something or other big decisions, I ask myself what if I had to move this, change it or expand it? If we ask these things we can think about the future and bring flexibility into our design.

be flexible with your plans

A real good example is running water lines for spigots.  When I ran mine I had the trencher rented for a day. That meant I could keep trenching to add more hydrants.  At that point adding 100 feet more of water line and putting in three more hydrants was very easy and pretty cheap.  Hydrants are $70 each and I can buy a 100 foot roll of pex for $40.  So I ran my water lines where I needed them, then added one in the back corner, one near where I could build another garden bed in the future, and one next to my driveway to wash my car.

Think about if you had to change things, move things and what happens if my plans don’t work.

Access Is Key

There are a few things I always look for when considering land and access is critical. The first step to getting the land to the point where you can live on it is simply being able to access it. This comes in the form of roads, driveways, turnarounds and parking pads.

Before you even think about laying down the road, you must first clear the way, remove trees, level the dirt and make your path to your new home. You have a couple of options: gravel, cement, and asphalt. Gravel is the most economical and I’ve found if you know how to build a gravel drive properly it can last for a long time.

road access to land is important

Always go bigger than you think you need. You want to make sure that you can easily fit a dump truck, cement truck or trailer and have good places to park and turn around for the bigger vehicles and trailers.  I would also clear 4 to 5 feet on either side of the driveway and grade it somewhat. When you open up the woods you’ll find that trees start to push into the opening as they make a bid for sunlight, this will give you a buffer so you don’t instantly need to start cutting it back.  I give myself this buffer so I can just run a bush hog down either side and make quick work of it.

If you can get your water, sewer, internet, phone and power installed before you put down your final grade of gravel, you’ll save yourself a lot of work in many cases.  I’ve had it where the power company came in and said they would put in the line for free, but they needed to trench right down the middle of the drive.  If you allow 4-5 feet on either side, you can give yourself room to trench utilities into the property without tearing up your road and make it easier when repairs are needed.  I always try to put my sewer on one side of the road and drinking water on the other. For power lines if buried, I try to put power on one side of the road and data/phone on the other so there is no EM interference.

Here is a video of the installation of my road, turnaround and parking pad. Note I had a much easier time because there used to be an old dirt road in this location, so it was simply a matter of cleaning it up and leveling it out. The whole process took about 6 hours of hard work.

Infrastructure

There are a few things that are critical to actually making a piece of land or a home viable, this all comes down to installing critical infrastructure right off the bat and doing it the right way.  This is one of those things that doing it half measured is not going to cut it.  The saying is “buy one, cry once” and when it comes to getting your infrastructure in, this couldn’t be truer.

Water

No matter what you’re going to do or how you’re doing it, you need to have a very reliable, high quality water source that brings it right to where you need it.  I have seen people who tried to save a few bucks, had a water truck deliver water to them, do water catchment, try something alternative or temporary and it never works out.  If you can get tied into a municipal water line or have a good well dug for you, I’d save up for it or skip that land.  Water is life and you can’t compromise on it, you’ll just end up frustrated, broke, and doing it the right way like you should have the first time.

water connection

For water I am connected to the city water. The meter and installation cost me $2,200 (city sets price), but that is only from the water main to the closest edge of your property. You then need to connect it from there to your house, which, for me, was $700 for materials, $800 for ditch witch rental, and $1500 for a plumber to do all the connections, fittings and other tasks.  For running water lines; once you have your main connections you can do most of the work yourself and it isn’t too difficult if you’re willing to work hard.  I used PEX water line and ring crimps, buried below the frost line and frost proof hydrants for hose connections.

While you have your trencher, go ahead and future proof your system, put in a few extra connections, make sure you bury everything below the frost line and I’d recommend not using PVC or Poly Tube; go with PEX, it’s much more durable and cheap too!

Power

Having power is another major consideration you need to make.  In some cases getting tied into grid power can be expensive. Other times they will run the power line for free.  This is one of those things that I’d save up for and do it right the first time.  I currently live off the grid with my power, getting it only from my solar panels, but there are times where a grid connection would be nice.

tiny house solar panels

Heating (air, stove/oven, water heater)  and cooling take around 60%-80% of a home’s power consumption, the rest is all pretty easy.  If you’re going more off grid, starting out smaller is better and making sure your system can scale.  Check out my post on how I set up solar for my home here.

Since we are on a homestead consider if you need certain special hook ups like a 220 volt outlet for a welder, a 50 amp plug for a tiny house or camper, or running power to different parts of the yard where you need it.  Again, when you’re trenching it’s often just a little extra work and a few hundred dollars to add extra hook ups.  When I trench for power I try to put it on the edges and go a little deeper so I don’t have to worry about hitting the line with a tiller.

Places to consider to run power are: to your outbuildings or workshops for tools, finding things in storage or for those late nights of work.  I’ll also make sure I have lighting to illuminate areas I have animals really well; in case a predator is lurking I can flip on some really bright lights to spot them quickly.  In some cases it’s good to have power near the pens and paddocks so you can power a waterer to stop from freezing, a power washer for cleaning or corded tools for repairs.

I’ll also light areas for my infrastructure: a well, septic pumps, driveways, and other areas that if something breaks down I can flip on a good light to see what I’m doing while I fix it. Additionally consider some motion detection lights so that if someone wanders on to your property it will light them up and keep thieves at bay.

All these things can be done more easily ahead of time with some planning and for a cheaper cost since you already have trenchers or trades people on site.

Sewage

There are a few ways to handle this, it mainly depends on your local laws, so be sure to check with your township on what the rules are.  For many it will either be a septic or city connection.  In some cases you may be using a composting toilet or even an outhouse; these are often subject to local laws so make sure you know what you can and cannot do.

Internet/Phone

internet on the homesteadWhile this may not be at the top of musts for most people I like to include it here because often when you’re setting up everything else, it’s a good time to get this setup as well.  Having a connection to the outside world will allow you to set up security cameras to keep an eye on things while you’re away, or may allow you to work from home or remotely for better job opportunities.  Your homestead may start selling things and online order, customer emails/call and website stuff are easier when you have a connection.  Finally in many rural areas cell phone signal isn’t great, so being able to watch a YouTube video or call for help is a consideration.

Outbuildings, Animal Shelters And Storage

With any property you’ll need a place to put things, store things, or covered areas to work on things that you don’t want inside your house.  For me I have a place to keep all my tools, gardening supplies, lumber and things I need to work the land.  If you have animals, they’ll need housing appropriate to them. You’ll need storage for feed and hay, and other things to raise those animals.

If you have equipment like lawn mowers, tractors, generators etc you want to make sure those can be kept out of the elements. These expensive pieces of equipment can be made to last a lot longer if they aren’t subjected to the rain or snow.

Fencing

One major cost that people don’t anticipate is fencing.  If you have a large property a good fence around the perimeter is a large cost even if you do it yourself.  I try to get my fencing setup so I can run a bush hog or mower on either side of it while still being on my property.  This will make maintenance easier, define your property line, and allow you to walk or ride along it regularly to make sure no breaks have happened.

fencing your land

So those are some things you need to consider when it comes to setting up your land for a farm, a homestead, or a tiny house.  Keep our basic tenants of learning from the land, having a solid plan, focusing on work flow and staying flexible and you’ll have a great piece of land that will work for you.

Your Turn!

  • What are you plans for starting a garden, farm, or homestead on some land?
  • What have you learned at tips and trick when setting up your land?

5 Easiest Vegetables To Grow For Beginner Gardeners

I’ve been there, the seed catalogues come in January and you get all excited about what to grow this year in your garden.  It can be hard to figure out where to start, so I thought I’d share my recommendations on five easy vegetables to grow in your garden in your first year.  The biggest mistake new gardeners make is not starting small:  They have too big of a garden, they try to grow too many things, and in the end they get burnt out.

what to grow for begginers gardening

My advice after teaching people how to start gardening for years is to only start with a few things.  Three to five types of vegetables in a single variety of each.  This will give you a really good foundation to start your gardening journey.

Grow What You Eat

grow the vegies that you like to eat basketA very common this that I see newbie gardeners do is get excited by what they could grow, but they may not really like things or they try new stuff before they find out if they really like them.  If you were to look in your kitchen right now, what vegetables are you purchasing from the store?  Many of those could be good contenders for your first year’s short list.

There will be some things that you buy that aren’t in season or are more complicated to grow, but many of what most people like will be on our list below.  So consider what you eat, choose the easier ones to grow and let’s stack the deck in our favor!

Get Your Garden Prepared

It’s important to not just think about the vegetables that you’re going to grow, but to also think about growing good soil.  Have good soil is really what makes a garden go from okay to amazing, so don’t skimp on this step.  If you have never gardened before, check out our post on how to prepare your soil for a vegetable garden.

From Seeds Or From Seedlings

There are some things that do really well from seeds and some things that starting with a seedling is the way to go for first time gardeners.  Seedlings are simply very young plants that have been started ahead of time indoors, that you later transfer outdoors into your garden.

seedlingsIt can be tempting in your first year or two to in addition of starting a garden to also raising seedlings indoors, but my advice is to avoid this.  Your first few years to learn gardening is a lot, to add learning to start seeds into seedlings is too much and you’ll just burn out.

 

Below I’ll mention which ones I’d start from seed and which ones I’d start from seedlings.

What Plants To Start With?

Here are a few of my favorite plants to start with.  These are pretty easy, widely available and you can find lots of knowledge from local people and online. Start with three to five of these in a single variety.  It will be tempting to choose a bunch of types of vegitables and a few varieties of each, but doing so will bring complexity, stress and a greater chance of failure.  We don’t want that!

Zucchini

zucchnis from gardenThere is an old joke that I like to tell.  In the city people lock their doors so people don’t steal their stuff, in the country they lock their cars so someone doesn’t leave them a bag of zucchini and squash in their front seat.  What is really great about this plant is that it grows really fast, its very simple and it produces a ton of vegetables.

I’d suggest starting out with three plants of zucchini if you have a family.  There will come a point where you can’t eat anymore (trust me), at that point I usually just pull the plants out of my garden and compost them. For your first year I’d start these from seedlings, they’re easy to find, cheap and makes it easy to start.

One piece of advice that I give is I’ve found that there comes a point when I start to see squash bugs on my plants.  When I see more than 2 or 3 of them on a plant, I pull that plant right then and there.  New gardeners will often be hesitant to prune or pull out plants, you can’t be afraid to.  Squash bugs are very difficult to combat, every trick I’ve read online doesn’t do anything for my garden.  So I plant a few extra than I need and then just pull the plants as soon as I see the bugs and am content with whatever squash I got to that point, usually I’m sick of it by then anyways!

Tomatoes

These are a favorite for most people and a garden tomato can’t be beat.  I would absolutely use seedlings for tomatoes.  The two varieties I suggest are “Early Girls” or “Roma”.  If you have short growing season I’d suggest Early Girls because they produce pretty quickly and earlier than most tomatoes.

tomatoes just picked

A few notes about tomatoes:  If you find that you are getting a lot of flowers, but they’re not really translating into tomatoes it’s often because they aren’t pollinating well enough.  This could be because they’re aren’t enough natural pollinators like bees or Humidity is binding up the pollen.  Tomatoes will often stop fruiting when it gets really hot, then start back up when summer temperatures start to wind down.

If you live in a very hot and humid area and Early Girls aren’t working for you, consider the variety “Pink Brandywine”.  They produce great tomatoes that are huge and tend to fair a bit better in higher heat.

Finally know that you will need to support the tomatoes in some manner.  This could be a cage, it could be a be a steak or string.  My favorite way to stake these is get a 6 foot pole that is durable metal coated in plastic and then use the rolls of twist ties you can buy at the store.  I find other options just don’t hold up over the years or are too cumbersome.

Radishes

I’ll be the first to say these aren’t my personal favorite, but they are super easy to grow and they open up the soil some as they grow.  I’ll plant these for the chickens to peck out of the dirt and for friends who like them.  Radishes take between 14 and 21 days to grow full which is very fast and they are a cooler weather crop so early spring or fall is a great time for these.

radishes from garden

These are very easy to grow from seeds and they’re very cheap to buy a lot of seeds.  The seeds are very small, so what I will do is prep my bed nice and even, then just scratch the surface a little bit with the back of a garden rake.  The rule of thumb for seed depth is 3 times the length of the longest dimension of the seed.

In the case of radishes this means you barley cover them if at all, just make sure you keep them nice and moist with a fine mist (not a spray).  It can be easy for these to dry out, but since we plant in the cooler parts of the year it’s a little easier.  For spacing I follow the same approach I use with lettuce, so read below to find out how I do it.

Lettuce

There are a million varieties of lettuce so it can get overwhelming.  Ask around locally to see if people have favorites that do well in your area.  I often just get a lettuce seed mix which is several kinds all mixed together.   You loosely broadcast the seeds over a smoothed and prepared bed and lightly water.

leafy greens

Since we are starting from seeds, we need to know how to space them so they’re not so close that they crowd the others, but not too far that we allow for weeds or wasted space.  For lettuce I typically just shake the seeds out over the entire bed as evenly as I can, then when they start to grow up to about 2 inches, I go in and pluck out some of them to make enough space.  I typically go for about four inches apart from other plants, but I also try to choose the strongest ones.  It doesn’t have to be perfect!

Lettuce is grown in cooler weather, so spring or fall, the heat of the summer is often too much for most varieties, but there are some options for those who live in hot climates.  From seeding to harvest is about 3 weeks and you often can cut the leaves right above the soil about an inch and the lettuce will grow back another two times or so.

Beans

green beansThe two main types are “bush” or “pole” beans, the only difference really is that the pole beans need something to climb.  I often just stick with bush beans because it’s less poles and structures I have to deal with. These are a great plant to start out with in your first garden.

Beans are easily started from seed and are a larger seed.  Because we know the rule of thumb: plant three times the longest part of the seed, they typically get buried about an inch or so below the soil.  I usually take my rake and with the handle side make a little divot, drop the seeds about 6 inches apart and then lightly brush the soil of the trough back over the seeds.  Again, we don’t need to get out our ruler here!

So those are my recommendations on how to start a garden the easy way, to stack the deck in your favor and keep it all fun.  In the comments let me know what you’re going to try.

Your Turn!

  • What’s on your list to plant this year?
  • What tips do you have for first time gardeners?