A post about how to embrace urban homesteading and how you can live simply and sustainably, even in an urban environment.
I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts the other day, the Simple Farmhouse Life by Lisa from Farmhouse on Boone, and it go me thinking about homesteading in general. The discussion was about homesteading as an aesthetic and how there is a rise in popularity because of that. Homesteading, in its essence, is a lifestyle choice dedicated to self-sufficiency, sustainability, and a closer connection to nature. However, in recent years, aspects of homesteading have certainly developed into an aesthetic. This aesthetic often includes elements such as rustic home decor, garden layouts, traditional crafts, and artisanal food preparation methods, all captured in beautifully styled photographs shared on social media. It’s worth noting that while homesteading aesthetics can inspire and create a sense of community, they don’t necessarily reflect the day-to-day realities and hard work of a true homesteading lifestyle. So, while it’s become a popular aesthetic, it’s important to distinguish between the visual trend and the lifestyle itself, which involves a deep commitment to sustainable living practices.
I am not a traditional homesteader, I don’t live in a house, I don’t have land (other than my allotment), and there is no way on earth I’d want chickens (sorry! That’s just personal preference). But I would consider myself an urban homesteader. Urban homesteading is a lifestyle that applies traditional homesteading principles to the urban environment. It’s about creating self-sufficiency within city confines, and it involves practices such as growing your own food in small spaces like balconies or community gardens, preserving and canning, composting, recycling and reusing, and sometimes even raising small livestock like bees or chickens where possible. Urban homesteading aims to reduce dependence on commercial goods and services, encouraging sustainability, community engagement, and a greater connection with nature, despite the bustling urban setting. This lifestyle empowers those who don’t have access to acres of land to live more sustainably, cultivate a closer relationship with their food, and foster a sense of self-reliance and environmental stewardship.
In today’s world, where the hustle and bustle of urban life can sometimes feel overwhelming, a growing movement of urban homesteaders is showing us that it’s possible to live a slower, more intentional life, even in the heart of the towns and cities. It’s about minimising your footprint without sacrificing your dreams.
Understanding the Urban Homesteading Movement
As I said, the urban homesteading movement is about reclaiming a degree of self-sufficiency within a more urban environment, such as towns and cities. It’s about growing your own food, preserving traditional skills, reducing waste, and embracing a more sustainable way of life. This movement often intersects with living more small, simply and sustainably within small spaces.
Why Small Homes?
Society will tell us that we need to always reach the next bigger and better thing. It tells us that we frequently grow out of the space we have and that we need to upsize, spending more money, accumulating more debt and then spending even more money filling that space with more stuff. What if we stopped and thought about it for a second, what if instead of thinking about it in the sense that we have a space problem, what if we considered that maybe, just maybe, we have a stuff problem.
Listen, I am not doubting that sometimes we grow out of our spaces because sometimes we absolutely do. But a lot of the time we use our homes as storage facilities and actually, if we better worked out how to fit into our homes rather than expecting our homes to fit to us, then we might do better all round.
We made the decision many years ago to live small, not tiny, but small. It was a conscious decision to not overstretch ourselves, to ensure we lived well within our means and to be able to live off of one income if and when necessary. This served us well as I took time out of my career to have our children. What started as a vague idea has become more and more part of the way we want to live, and while we have discussed moving (which is more a personal living situation choice than anything) we ultimately want to keep to the notion of living in a smaller home by choice. We love it for so many reasons, some of which I have set out below.
Simplicity and Freedom: Living in a smaller home encourages a minimalist lifestyle, one that emphasises experiences over possessions. It’s about freeing up time, money, and energy that would otherwise be spent on maintaining a larger living space, and using these resources for other pursuits, such as travel, hobbies, or spending more time with loved ones.
Affordability: It goes without say that smaller homes are typically cheaper than their larger counterparts, both in terms of upfront costs and ongoing expenses. This makes them an attractive option for people seeking to escape the rent cycle or too much of a mortgage trap, and they can provide a stepping stone towards financial independence.
Sustainability: Small homes have a much smaller environmental footprint than their larger counterparts. They require less energy to heat and cool, and they necessitate a reduction in consumption due to their limited space.
Urban Homesteading in a Small Home
Urban homesteading practices dovetail perfectly with small home living. Both movements encourage a reduction in consumption, a focus on sustainability, and a reconnection with nature and traditional skills.
Growing Your Own Food: Space is at a premium in both urban environments and small homes, so it’s important to get creative. Container gardening, vertical gardens, balcony gardening and indoor herb gardens are all excellent ways to grow your own food in small spaces.
Sustainability Practices: Urban homesteaders strive to live sustainably, which aligns perfectly with the living small philosophy. This might involve installing solar panels or a composting toilet, recycling water, or utilising a rainwater catchment system.
Preserving Skills: From canning produce to knitting blankets, urban homesteading often involves a rekindling of traditional skills. These activities can be deeply rewarding and also serve to reduce reliance on mass-produced goods.
Community Engagement: Urban homesteading is often centered around community. It’s about sharing resources, skills, and produce, fostering a sense of connection and mutual support.
Embarking on Urban Homesteading
With urbanisation at its peak, more and more people are discovering the charm and benefits of urban homesteading. Urban homesteading involves applying the principles of traditional homesteading—growing your own food, preserving food, reducing waste, a deeper connection with nature, and living simply—to an urban environment. Even within the heart of the town or city, in the smallest of homes, you can begin your homesteading journey.
1. Start with a Plan
Before you start, it’s essential to plan according to your available space and resources. Take stock of what you have: Do you have a balcony, a patio, or a small back garden? Do you have sunny windowsills? Your plan should be tailored to your specific situation. Remember, the idea is to start small and gradually build on your skills and resources.
2. Growing Your Own Food
Even the smallest spaces can yield impressive harvests. Start with container gardening, which is perfect for small patios, balconies, or sunny windows. Herbs, salad greens, tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries can all thrive in containers. Vertical gardening is another excellent technique to maximise space. Trellises, hanging baskets, or vertical wall planters can house a variety of crops. We have two different outdoor spaces, our balcony and our allotment. We spent five years exclusively growing on our balcony before getting an allotment too. Now we do a mix of allotment growing and balcony growing.
Composting reduces waste and provides rich soil for your plants. Even in a small apartment, vermicomposting—an indoor composting system that uses worms to process waste—can be a viable option. Composting not only reduces the amount of waste going to the landfill but also enriches the soil for your urban garden. If you have a back garden be sure to try some traditional methods of composting too.
4. Preserving and Canning
Once you start growing your own food, you’ll want to make the most of your harvest. Learning to preserve and can your produce will allow you to enjoy your garden’s bounty even in the off-season. Start with something simple, like making homemade jams or pickles.
5. DIY and Handicrafts
Urban homesteading also involves creating rather than buying wherever possible. This might mean knitting scarves for winter, making your own soap, or building furniture. Start with a simple project that interests you, and gradually build your DIY skills.
6. Energy Efficiency
An integral part of homesteading is reducing your environmental footprint. In an urban setting, this might mean using energy-efficient appliances, or using a clothes airer instead of a dryer. Each small change contributes to a more sustainable lifestyle.
7. Embrace your local resources
While being an urban homesteader is different than being a full time homesteader, there are things you can do to embrace the transition. If you’re an urban homesteader you might not be able to own chickens, raise dairy cows or animals for meat, but you absolutely can employ all the other homesteading skills. When it comes to things like dairy, meat and additional produce be sure to embrace your local resources. Check out local farms where you can pick up farm fresh eggs, or local meat. Contact local beekeepers for local honey and find out where the nearest source of raw milk might be. By embracing what you have locally you can still live by these ideals in a small but thriving urban environment.
8. Continuous Learning
The journey to becoming an urban homesteader is one of continuous learning. Take advantage of local workshops, online courses, and homesteading books. Join local communities or online forums to learn from experienced homesteaders.
Furthermore, the urban homesteading lifestyle requires commitment and work, from tending your garden to maintaining your compost system. Small home living and urban homesteading show us that it’s not the size of your home that matters, but the quality of your life. They challenge the notion that we need a vast amount of space to live comfortably and happily, and they remind us of the beauty of simplicity, the value of community, and the joy of living in harmony with nature. Big dreams can indeed come in small, sustainable packages.
Starting your urban homesteading journey may feel a bit daunting at first, but remember, every small step matters. With time, you’ll see your tiny urban space transform into a productive, sustainable haven, one tomato plant, and DIY project at a time. Happy urban homesteading!