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Update Spring 2020: Wow I wasn’t expecting this post to be so relevant in light of a global crisis. We’re all overwhelmed on some level right now. That’s true for beginning and veteran homesteaders alike. This is the story of what happened to us LAST year in our own family crisis and the advice I give to myself and others completely applies to this crisis. Perhaps it will help you.
It’s finally happened. I heard something about myself that I never thought I’d hear.
“I just don’t know how she does it all. It seems overwhelming!”
I actually laughed and asked for clarification because I’ve said that exact same thing about other people and never in a million years thought I would hear it about my own self. Because the truth of the matter is this:
I don’t do it all! I feel as though I am treading water most days, and recent events in our family have brought most of our fun, Instagram-worthy homestead moments to a crawl.
In short, I am overwhelmed.
You see, we’ve been on this amazing journey to build and create a functioning homestead. It started as a desire to build a cordwood house. That turned into actually living off the grid, and now we’re working on adding gardens, chickens, bees, and so on. We have so many plans for the homestead!
The problem is that despite your best intentions, LIFE somehow has a habit of getting in the way. The best-laid plans often go awry. I recently had a reader ask me, “How can one manage to do everything there is to do on a homestead? I’d love to do more but I just don’t have the time!”
The basic answer to that is, “if you value it, you will find the time”. But what happens if you bite off more than you can chew? How do you pick up the pieces and keep going? What do you do when all you want is to get your tomato starts in the ground but your life is upended by the unexpected?
Recent events in our lives have forced me to confront this issue head-on. I’m going to share with you what our own personal journey has been so you can learn how to battle your own chaos and overwhelm.
The best-laid plans.
Up until April 17, 2019, things were going pretty well. We had some fun home improvement plans in the works, like finishing some more trim on our cordwood house (still a lot of work to do) and putting in some garden beds. Our work projects and side hustles were going well. I had a list of things I was going to sit down to do for this blog that evening after putting our son to bed.
Unfortunately, that nice evening never came. Instead, we received a worrying phone call from my mother saying that my stepdad hadn’t come home. My husband Mark went looking for him and found him dead in his car at work.
As my mom has taken to saying, he got in the car to go home and went to Heaven instead.
That was the catalyst for a long maze of grief. Two days after my stepdad’s funeral, Mark ended up in the emergency room with a kidney stone. And in the following weeks, we also had to contend with other family health issues, a big family yard sale, a karate tournament, helping my mom clean out her house, taking care of our budding homestead, and all the other trappings of the end of a school year.
Overwhelmed and Exhausted
In the aftermath of such a month, we’ve been left with a strange new “normal”. My “normal” has been supporting my mom and my son. I don’t begrudge any of it. After all, if homesteading is about anything it is about family. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
But it has meant that sometimes, instead of writing a post here, I’m holding a little boy who doesn’t know why he’s so angry. Or that instead of working on the garden, I’m on the phone talking my mom through big, grieving feelings. It means that I’m packing up things, moving boxes and furniture, cleaning and doing chores for others in addition to my own.
It means that sometimes I am completely and totally overwhelmed inside my own head. Perhaps you have been too?
How to Homestead When You’re Completely Overwhelmed
- Give yourself GRACE.
- Keep realistic expectations.
- Do what you can, when you can.
- Ask for help when you need it.
Grace is something that most of us are really bad at giving to ourselves. We expect ourselves to do more and be more.
In the realm of homesteading, that often manifests as wanting to grow most or even all of your own food. Or wanting to raise a menagerie of animals for meat, milk, eggs, or fiber. And for some, it means making most of your own goods from soap and salves to clothes or furniture. All of these things are fine and worthy goals! I share many of those goals too.
Lately, I’ve had to recognize that for my own self-preservation I’ve needed to give myself grace for not being able to complete certain things. Sometimes it means going to bed early to sleep off a headache rather than finish the dishes (they’ll be there tomorrow, trust me). It means buying bread at the store instead of making my own. It has even meant buying convenience foods in plastic packaging I can’t recycle because it’s something we need and I don’t have the energy or ability to prepare the zero-waste version.
I cringe at saying that, but it’s true. And that’s okay.
God gives me grace every single day that I absolutely do not deserve. If He can do that for me, surely I can cut myself some slack for buying presliced fruit in a plastic clamshell.
How do you see grace in your own life?
This works hand in hand with grace because if I’m recognizing that there are expectations I’m not meeting for myself, perhaps I need to rethink them. I mean yes, I would have loved for my initial container garden to have worked out and for all of our spring veggies to have come from our homestead and NOT the store. But that’s not what happened.
This is the first year we’ve been able to work our soil. It would be unrealistic of me to expect to grow ALL of our own veggies at this stage of our homesteading journey! And it would have been EXTRA unrealistic to expect to keep up with the spring planting when everything happened with our family back in April.
Instead, we’ve kept our gardens small, planted a few seeds for things we like, and tried not to worry about it. We’re taking more of a “wait and see” approach. If it doesn’t work out well this year, that’s okay! At least we have farmers markets and grocery stores to pick up the slack for what we can’t provide ourselves. And anything we do produce? That’ll be a real treat!
Spring 2020 note: perhaps we don’t have the security of farmers markets and grocery stores the way we thought we did! What an eye-opener in terms of preparedness. If you are struggling with food security during this crisis, you are not alone and there are still solutions for you. It might look more like “community coming together” rather than reliance on a strained system, but if there’s one thing I know it’s that homesteaders know how to take care of the community as well as themselves.
Do what you can, when you can.
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “life balance”. Do you have it? NO???? Good, because neither do I.
And you won’t, because life doesn’t work like that. We have busy seasons. Our days are either delirious running or blissfully empty. Where do you choose to focus your energy during those times?
I’ve been spending a lot of time helping my mom clean up her condo in recent weeks as she prepares for whatever comes next. Some days, that means I’m out of our house from breakfast till dinner. On days like that, it would be folly to think I could also take care of all my own home or business tasks. But on other days, I might find myself with a few hours here and there that I can use. I seize those times.
You can’t do everything all the time, but you can do something small in this moment.
A couple of weeks ago, I took an hour to build a small raised bed. A few days ago, Mark decided to gather up some scrap wood and build me a compost bin. Finding pockets of time and using them intentionally has been a real lifesaver lately.
Don’t take that to mean “cram every minute full”. Take it to mean that if there is something you value doing, you will carve the time to do it. Remember to value REST too.
I try my best to manage this in a written planner. We track everything for our family (birthdays, holidays, special events, homeschooling, etc.), homestead (solar power stats, weather, gardens) and businesses (blogging, flute lessons, freelance gigs) by month and by week. I try to block out time as best as I am able so that I know what is going on at every time of the day.
At least, I try to. Most of the time I get pretty close and other times I have to draw a line through an entire week because WHOOPS that one got away from me. And in those moments, I circle back to that idea of grace.
Ask for help when you need it.
My mom will be the first to tell you that I’ve never liked asking for help. There were times when I was in school that it was like pulling teeth to get me to ask my teachers for clarification on anything, and it seems to be a trait that has followed me into adulthood.
But in this season of life, I HAVE to ask for help when I need it. It is a matter of survival. Most often, it means asking for folks to watch our son while we move boxes and furniture. During our build, it meant asking friends to help us with homebuilding tasks. We’ve had some great friends help us with everything from storing our stuff to raising trusses.
If we’re being honest, homesteading isn’t about “self” sufficiency. Yes, we want to do as much as we can in a self-reliant way, but let’s be real. We NEED community. We need to help each other and pool our strengths. Trying to do too much, too fast, all on your own is a surefire way to burn yourself out.
Give yourself grace. Manage expectations. Do what you can. And ask for help.
Every day isn’t going to be picture-perfect, but doing these things will give you a good start.
What are YOU doing to homestead in spite of overwhelm? Let me know in the comments below!
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