I’ve been homesteading for almost two decades, and believe me, I made plenty of mistakes along the way. I’m going to share what I’ve learned personally and observed from other homesteaders over the years to help you avoid the most common mistakes homesteaders make.
Set yourself up for success by recognizing and avoiding these common pitfalls; either when first starting out, or further down the road.
Here are 10 common mistakes I see homesteaders make. But not you, because you’re going to pay attention to this post – right?
1. Not Being Informed of the Laws/Legalities in Your Area
This is a big one (hence, the first one). And it’s easy to do because there are laws about everything.
First up, you have to be aware of the zoning laws of where you are purchasing land. It’s essential to know whether you are legally allowed to live off-grid in that location.
Not every state in the US has zoning laws (and if you’re setting up in the Caribbean or Costa Rica, then you are under a different government system – read up!).
Thankfully, in places like Hawaii and Texas, it is pretty easy to legally live off-grid. If you’re interested in a full break down including rankings on the best places to go off grid, then check out this post.
Be informed of all the laws pertaining to living off-grid, including:
- Sewage laws
Especially if you’re buying land that is connected to the sewer system, you could be in a pickle about changing to a compost toilet when you go off-grid.
Rainwater: This includes laws about collecting rainwater (some locations in California have a cap on how much water you are allowed to collect in a year).
Water rights: locations like Missouri and Wyoming can be tricky when it comes to figuring out water rights, so make sure you are well-informed before starting homesteading.
- Alternative Energy
Solar: This is pretty straightforward in some locations, like Hawai’i, but other states might have laws about how many solar panels you are allowed to have, and the way they are secured on a roof or other structure. Keep yourself in the clear by knowing and abiding by the laws of your jurisdiction.
Even if your area doesn’t have zoning laws doesn’t mean you can raise a herd of cows anywhere you like, there are still agricultural and live-stock laws you have to abide by.
Make sure you know the rules before investing in animals, no matter how big or how small.
If you’re raising animals to sell for meat (cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, goats, rabbits) then you should definitely be aware of the legal requirements like: vaccinations and antibiotics.
Further, you should be aware of the minimum grazing requirements in your state, especially for cows and goats.
2. Missing Out on Tax Breaks
This mistake goes hand-in-hand with the previous one: if you don’t know the rules, you can’t benefit from them, either.
States like Florida, California and Arizona offer tax rebates on rainwater harvesting. You just may be able to write off some elements of your rainwater system, so keep those your receipts!
More than just a tax break, some states give you FREE MONEY for using solar energy or collecting rainwater. These are government grants available to just about anybody ready to fill out the paperwork and prove they deserve it; grants for composting or having land in a remote area are available, too!
I have a whole post about USA Grants which are perfect for homesteaders.
Do your research for two reasons: to avoid breaking the law and facing hefty fines, and to possibly be eligible to get free money just for following an off-grid lifestyle!
3. Setting Unrealistic Goals
Most homesteaders are guilty of this mistake; planning way too big, way too fast.
Sure, you want to live off the land, that’s the dream! But, your fruit trees need years to grow, and I wouldn’t recommend starting off right away with 200 chickens.
If you are planning to run your homestead as a business, this is an easy mistake to make. You do the numbers and calculate how much milk you need to produce, or pigs you need to raise to get a profit so you aim straight for that, hoping to achieve it in just 6 months.
My advice here is to go slowly; start off with small steps to help you reach that big goal. You’ll learn as you go, and be able to bounce back from minor pitfalls, like if animals get a disease and you have to cut back, or if a storm destroys half of your orchard.
When you sit down and plan your ‘dream homestead’, break it down into 1-year, 5-year and 10-year visions, this will help you think practically about what you can accomplish in smaller chunks of time.
If you go too big too fast, these disasters could wipe you out instead of merely setting you back.
4. Trying To Set Up Your Homestead Too Quickly
Perhaps you don’t make the mistake of big, unattainable goals. Maybe, for your homestead, you make 600 small, attainable goals – same problem, different package.
It’s okay to go slow, that’s the whole point of homesteading and getting out of the rat race that has become ‘normal society’.
It takes time to re-wire our brains to slow down, enjoy the process and experience and not try to do ‘all the things all at once.’
Moving slowly and setting attainable goals is much more manageable and sets you up for success. That first year can be a doozy! So go slow, and start small.
5. Not Building Things Right – The FIRST Time
If you’re a pro at this, cool. But it’s doubtful that you’re an electrician, a professional landscaper, and a roofer.
It’s much better to call in help for the big things (like roofs, solar system, plumbing, heating and rainwater system) than building something that won’t last. In the end, you will waste time and money fixing it, when you could have done it right the first time, with just a little help.
And, if you do know how to do it right; don’t take the quick fix – buy the quality equipment, wait for the thing to fully set before moving on to the next step, etc. This will save you a headache and time in the future.
I’m 20 years into my homestead and I’m starting to come across all of these things I need to fix because I took a shortcut so many years ago. At this point in my homestead’s evolution (and my personal evolution…old age) I’d much prefer to have done it right the first time.
6. Isolating Yourself On Your Land
For some of us, heading off to live off grid means kissing the trappings of society goodbye. The rat race can be so traumatic that it may require some time (and isolation) in order to heal.
Ultimately, however, Homesteading is not about ‘hunkering down’ without any community. We need a community to thrive. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially when you get focused on your projects that first year, when the plants and animals need the most attention.
I encourage new homesteaders to network as much as possible. Social outlets are healthy for us as humans and a great way to pool resources, exchange knowledge, and practice bartering.
It’s also the best way to learn new things: join a gardening club (where all the other gardeners are making their own compost, too!); swap ideas for storing food (from homesteaders who have been doing this for decades) and learn the best ways to keep chickens warm, without electric heat lamps.
I’m not gonna knock social media here – it’s a great way for homesteaders to connect. Join online groups, post questions, learn. We have a thriving Facebook group by the same name of this blog, Homesteadin’ Hawaii, where folks get help from each other ALL the time.
As great as the internet is, nothing can replace in-person community. Take time to get to know your neighbors, make friends at the local farmer’s market and create your own groups.
This is how you find (or create your own) trading group to swap excess vegetables or get free seedlings of fruit trees.
…Or how you just happen to discover that your neighbor really is a roofer and will help you out, for much less than a typical contractor…
7. Trying To Move Everything From Your Previous Home Onto Your Homestead
Downsize. Downsize. Downsize!
Even if you have the space on your new property of 1000 acres – still, downsize. You are making a lifestyle change, right? So don’t bring everything from your old lifestyle when you move.
- Instead of trying to bring all your kid’s toys with the move, build a simple sandbox and swing set.
- Keep kitchen items that work with your new gas stove, and give away your instapot and microwave, you’re probably not going to use them.
- Don’t get a storage unit – if you won’t use it every 6 months get rid of it!
This will allow you to settle onto your new homestead, clutter-free and focus on building a new lifestyle.
8. Bringing In Too Many Animals Too Soon.
I’ve seen this so many times; homesteaders always want to start with chickens or goats as soon as they get on the land, so they buy a whole bunch at once and “learn as they go”.
I’m all for learning as you go – experience is the best teacher, after all. But it’s best to learn with a smaller investment, when less is at stake.
I’ve had it happen to me, where I brought on chickens too early and they constantly destroyed the gardens I was trying to create. Instead, if I created the garden first, then got chickens, things would’ve been so much easier.
I would also be doing you a disservice if I did not mention the amount of time and dedication animals take. You can kiss goodbye those last minute camping trips or late nights at a show, you gotta get back to take care of your animals!!
If you’re not experienced with livestock, start with a few and get the hang of it first. Learn about the diseases to watch out for and how to treat them. Start with just a couple animals, breed them and learn slowly that way.
9. Homeschooling Pitfalls
For parents planning to homeschool along with homesteading, there are some common mistakes:
Too much academic focus
Too little kid involvment
If you’ve taken your kids out of the government school system and are committed to homeschooling, then you may be bombarded with academic curriculum and a sense of comparison.
Too Much Academic Focus
Kids do NOT need 8 hrs of sitting in a classroom, studying. That’s mostly to keep them occupied while parents work in a 9-5 society.
Reading, basic math and accounting will all happen throughout the day. You don’t need to schedule and print out worksheets every day.
With older kids, in grades 9-12, you can put weekly assignments instead of strict daily schedules.
Just because they are not writing something down doesn’t mean they aren’t learning; every experience is a learning opportunity; go snorkeling, hit up a museum, bake a cake together. These all are ways that kids learn, even if they aren’t strictly ‘academic’.
Too Little Invovlement
Another pitfall is the kids having too little involvement on the homestead.
Give them chores according to their age. Little ones can help dump compost, feed the chickens, collect eggs. Get older kids into the garden, weed the veggies and harvest fruit.
Instead of having your kids look at a Biology book about the life cylce of plants – get them into the garden with you. Have them plant trees and watch them grow.
Include your kids in all sorts of processes on your homestead; let them learn about how solar panels work and why you need an inverter for your fridge. Make them participate in recycling greywater; these lessons are going to shape them and help them to appreciate life on a homestead even more.
10. Being Hestitant to Change
The last (but not least!) mistake I see homesteaders make is being hesitant to change.
Hey, I get it, change hurts sometimes. It usually requires work and sacrifice (and, admitting you were wrong!).
But, if one of your goals or projects for your homestead just isn’t working, be willing to change. Let that one thing be a ‘failure’ and move on to something more productive.
I think of it as adapting. If you adapt then you’re growing, evolving – and thats a good thing!
Learn from your mistakes, its okay to move on to another animal, shift your garden to a different plot and cut down those diseased trees. I’ve pivoted so many times I lost count, sometimes you just have to cut your losses.
Don’t be so rigid in your plan for your homestead that you can’t shift and wiggle it; that’s the only way you’re really going to thrive and enjoy your homestead to the fullest.
Bonus: Not Thinking Broad Enough
Some homesteaders start off just to get away from the 9-5, soul-sucking life they knew before (and that is a completely valid reason). But, as you get on your feet and make a rhythm of your life, pay attention to the areas that could be income streams.
Many possibilities for a side hustle are right under your nose and might require very little investment at all.
For example: raising 100 chickens is not much more time, energy or cost than raising 50. And this allows you to sell the eggs, sell the meat, raise chicks, etc.
Same with rabbits – it’s not much more investment of money or time to raise 15 rabbits or to raise 10… and with the way those rabbits breed, you are going to have a lot of meat for sale in a short amount of time.
If you’re only thinking about you family’s needs, or what you originally dreamed for your homestead, you could be missing thease easy opportunities.
You might make some of these mistakes (I did!), but remember the worst mistake of all is not starting; of being so scared of failure that you don’t take the plunge and start your dream of homesteading in the first place. Go at it in small steps, go slowly, but most importantly, get started!