If homestead life has you feeling harried, hurried, and stressed on a daily basis, barely feeling like you’ve got enough time to get anything done, I have to break it to you: you’re doing it wrong. Once a homestead is established, running it can be one of the most productive, yet stress-free modes of life.
Our modern society has not conditioned us to understand what that feels like, however. If you’ve recently jumped ship from the 9-to-5 grind and are finally setting off on your own, the lack of a boss or schedule from on high might make you feel a bit adrift. As much as we may have resented being told what to do, it was nonetheless the pattern many of us grew up with since childhood.
I remember that feeling from my first few years of homesteading. Now that we’re established, though, I can now tell you that it wasn’t that I had too much to do, but that I initially lacked the organization to have things done in an orderly way. When you’re your own boss, you often need to build in some mental scaffolding and daily practices to keep from forgetting important things to do! So that said, here are a few tips and ideas for staying organized on the homestead.
The Daily List
Anyone who keeps livestock for any span of time knows that they are creatures of habit, quickly growing accustomed to the sound of a bucket at 7:00 AM, the slant of the fading sunlight in the evening, and other quiet, repetitive farm rituals that make their word have a pleasant rhythm. Those daily habits benefit the humans on the homestead as well. When you’re the one figuring out your own schedule, actually deciding to make a schedule may make the difference between success and 11:00 PM, oh-my-gosh-I-forgot! frustration.
On our homestead, this starts with the early morning cup of tea and The List. I start almost every day thinking through what I’d like to do and writing it down. This helps me organize my goals for the day, set realistic expectations, and make sure that I don’t forget something important. There is a certain satisfaction to checking off boxes and feeling accomplished, but there’s also the threat of setting too ambitious a set of tasks and feeling disappointed. Figuring out how to set appropriate goals for every day and every week is a discipline that you’ll develop through experience.
If you work on a homestead, I assume a huge part of your daily effort is in the raising and growing of your own food. That heirloom garden produce and heritage meat, however, need to pass through the kitchen gate to make it to a plate, of course!
If you’re not accustomed to cooking three meals in a day, this may seem like an insurmountable task at the onset. But I offer this encouragement: it’s not. Housewives throughout time and in every country have accomplished this task for thousands of years. In the years since I’ve become a homesteader, I, too have cooked three meals a day for my family every day. Through practice, the process has only gotten more enjoyable and methodical.
When I was a new homesteader, freshly freed from the job that I quit to pursue this new life, I didn’t quite know how to organize myself to do timely meal cooking. I made a whiteboard for every day of the week and wrote out my plan on a weekly basis. This really helped me get my feet under me. Having a written plan for when to set the yogurt to culture, a note to soak beans the night before, or a reminder to cook double portions in preparation for a busy day makes the week just that much less stressful.
Keep User Manuals And Receipts in a Binder
Lots of homesteads are run with expensive machines and tools. If purchased new, these valuable implements often come with a user manual and a warranty. And that pile of important receipts, manuals, and other notable documents are often victim to the I-Know-It’s-Important-I’ll-Find-A-Good-Place-To-Put-It-Sometime-Later shuffle that makes them mysteriously disappear when actually needed.
To prevent that frustration, buy a three-hole-punch and store all manuals, associated receipts, and warranties in a binder set aside for that specific purpose. It seems a simple idea, but organizing this information in this way has helped our homestead save countless hours. So, no more wild-goose chases for a manual hidden… somewhere!
Keep a Garden Journal, Keep Livestock Records
Along with composting and seed-saving, I believe a garden journal or garden record-book should be essential to any gardening endeavor. This book can be as detailed as you like, but it should, at the very least, keep track of what varieties of seeds you planted, what month you planted them, where they were planted, and how they performed. If you want to save heirloom seeds, this can help you avoid cross-pollination and protect your pure seeds—save cabbage and beet seeds one year, then the rutabaga and swiss chard seeds the next!
If you keep livestock, a record of their care and activities is also incredibly helpful in keeping the show running smoothly. If you immunize, worm, and otherwise medicate your animals, a record of who got what is invaluable to make sure each individual has been properly cared for. And if you breed your animals, you can keep careful track of genetic lines, prevent inbreeding, and provide all the information necessary for pedigrees (if you’re working with animals with papers, that is).
Did any of you grow up resenting your Mom waggling a misplaced item at you as a reminder to clean up? I’d wager a guess that the well-worn maxim was on her lips while giving you the raised eyebrow, “A place for everything, and everything in its place!” Now that we’re well past our teenage years, however, the wisdom in those words rings a little more true. And on a homestead, tool storage is a prime place for that organization. A cluttered toolshed is more than just an eyesore—it’s wasted time, time spent seeking a hammer that could have been better spent on the project at hand.
Give order to your tools quickly and efficiently by making a dedicated space for every tool, labeling it, and maybe even drawing the outline of the tool that belongs in each space so that it is stored correctly. This organization system not only takes away the headache of tool-hunting, but it also keeps tools in prime condition for service.
Once upon a time, farmers and homesteaders across America ended the day with a short, written description of the day’s weather and activities in their farm journals. Whether it was wonderfully described or briefly noted, a year-round record of nature events, farm activities, animal care, harvesting yields, or personal family events provided an intimate view of the pace and personality of their specific acreage. One of my favorite examples is a beautifully illustrated preservation of a farm journal from 1805: Eric Sloane’s Diary of an Early American Boy.
A more modern version is Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. His book is a beautifully written account of his own land in Pennsylvania, and while it provides an interesting view into his manner of observing the nature of his own land, it is necessarily specific to his own acreage. In order to benefit from a deep observation of seasonal changes and first appearances on your own land, you are the one who needs to record it. (mother earth news article) And the fun is, you can do it however you want. From a handwritten journal of daily notes to a fully illustrated depiction that you render every night to relax, this land connection will only deepen the more you observe and remember.
This practice of observing and remembering seasonal changes and their specific coincidences on your property has a term now, phenology, but it’s a practice probably as old as humankind. Keep track of what happens on your land, and you’ll feel that intimate knowledge of your earth, too. Whether it’s the first call of the thawing chorus frogs to indicate the arrival of spring, the blooming of the ox-eye daisy that also indicates the ripening of wild strawberries, or the emergence of maple leaves to give the clue for when to plant corn, it’s all useful to the homesteader looking to understand the weather and their life with the land beyond what the weather app on their phone told them.
These tips for staying organized on the homestead are just a handful of the many ways you can provide orderly structure on your acreage for the benefit and pleasure of all who live there. And in the meantime, if you have any other ideas to contribute to the pile, don’t hesitate to comment below!
About the Author: First, Wren was an environmental educator and language teacher living in the city. Then, she and her husband decided to escape from the confines of city life and its dependence, and move their family to 12 acres of land in the Ozarks. They are currently in the middle of establishing their dream of a self-sufficient, permaculture-based, off-grid homestead, one step at a time. She can be typically found armpit-deep in brush foraging, cooking on cast iron, talking to her ducks and chickens, pumping yet another bucket of water from the well, and, in quiet moments, sketching art around the homestead.