The Simple Life: 14 Steps to an Urban Homestead

Want to live a simpler, more self-reliant lifestyle while remaining in the city or suburbs? You don’t have to move to a farm to grow some of your own food, cut your reliance on the grid, reduce your waste output dramatically and save a whole lot of money. Urban (or suburban) homesteading is all about re-learning basic skills that most of us have exchanged for ‘convenience,’ and feeling more connected to the items and processes that sustain us, bringing those things from faraway factories back into our own hands. Here are 14 ways to get started.

Get Gardening

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The single most important step you can take is to produce even a small amount of your own food by starting a garden. You can do this even if you don’t have a yard, with planters in windows or on a balcony. Whether you just have herbs and a few tomato plants or you rip out your entire lawn and replace it with food, there are few things in life that are more rewarding than eating homegrown produce right off the plant.

Plant Fruit Trees

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If you want to ease into the process of growing your own food, and can’t commit to a lot of upkeep right away, plant some fruit trees. They take a few years to get established and start producing fruit, and require almost no maintenance. Pears, apples, cherries, figs, avocado, plum and pomegranate are just a few options available depending on your local climate. Consult a plant nursery in your area to find out what varieties would be most likely to flourish.

Start Composting

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All of the banana peels, coffee grounds, egg shells and grass clippings you’re currently  just tossing in the trash could be an ideal source of free, high-quality, plant-nourishing garden soil free of chemical fertilizers. Composting is a basic component of growing your own food, turning waste into something valuable. It’s also easier than you might think. Your compost pile could be as simple as a circle of chicken wire, though some people prefer to purchase self-contained units. Starting a simple compost pile on bare earth allows worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate and fertilize the compost. Get the fundamentals at EarthEasy.com.

Cut Waste

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Recycling is an important step to reduce household waste, but it’s far from the only thing you can do. First, try to purchase fewer items that come with a lot of packaging, from food to electronics, so you have less that you need to throw away. Choose large containers instead of several small ones, buy food in bulk, and use reusable items like shopping bags and cloth napkins instead of disposables. Go paperless when possible for calendars, shopping lists, bills and mail.

Eliminate Toxic Cleaners and Chemicals

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There’s no reason in the world to pollute your home with bleach and other hazardous substances when gentle, natural ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice and castile soap work just as well. Making your own cleaning products will save money and lead to a healthier living environment for you and your family. Pamela Salzman has some basic recipes.

Re-Purpose Creatively

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From egg shells to old t-shirts, there are hundreds of additional uses for everyday things that you likely throw into the trash on a regular basis. Turn egg shells, toilet paper rolls or egg cartons into seed starting containers, lay down cardboard boxes in the garden as a weed barrier, use glass bottles and jars as vases or for storage, and turn cereal boxes inside-out to use as shipping boxes. Every time you think you need to replace something that’s broken, ask yourself if it makes sense to fix it instead.

Bake Your Own Bread

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Baking bread is a rewarding ritual, but it doesn’t have to take up your entire day. Experiment with different recipes to find one that works for you. The New York Times offers a no-knead bread recipe that just needs to sit for about a day to rise, and a similar recipe requires just five minutes a day to continuously produce high-quality loaves.

Harvest Rainwater

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Growing your own food doesn’t mean you have to deal with a higher water bill. Install a simple rain barrel collection system, which routes the water from your gutters into a storage container for later use. A hose or spigot at the bottom of the barrel allows you to easily water your plants. Learn more at Neighborhood Notes.

Raise Backyard Chickens

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You don’t need a lot of land to raise chickens for eggs. All you need is a chicken coop and a run. Many municipalities are changing laws that prohibit raising livestock within city limits. Learn about various breeds, different types of coops, how to get started and how to care for your chickens at BackyardChickens.com.

Cut Electricity Use

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Reduce your reliance on the grid in many small ways throughout each day. Unplug appliances and gadgets when not in use, choose Energy Star appliances, use energy-efficient light bulbs and set your thermostat to 68 degrees or lower in winter, and 78 degrees or higher in summer. Leave window shades and blinds open to let in sun on chilly days, and close them at night to retain heat, doing the opposite in summer. Hang your clothes to dry rather than using a clothes dryer, which is one of the biggest power consumers in most households. Wash only full loads in the dishwasher, and use cold water in the clothes washer when practical.

Reduce Meat Consumption

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Reducing your meat consumption is an important way to not only depend on grocery stores less, but also reduce your personal environmental impact. If Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent, it would have the same impact as if we all switched from a standard sedan to the ultra-efficient Prius hybrid car. You can do this by reducing portion size or skipping meat one day per week. Check out MeatlessMonday.com for ideas.

Get Fermenting with Yogurt, Pickles and More

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Cultured and fermented foods introduce beneficial bacteria into our digestive systems, and they’re easy to make at home. Yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, kombucha and even ginger ale are a few of the foods you can ferment yourself using the lacto-fermentation method. Learn more at WildFermentation.com.

Learn How to Can Your Fruits and Veggies

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Preserve your summer garden bounty and you’ll be able to enjoy the flavor of those tomatoes, strawberries and more throughout the winter, too. Food preservation is a crucial homesteading skill, and while care must be taken to ensure that it’s done the right way, it’s not difficult at all. Learn canning basics at The Kitchn.

Add Alternative Energy Sources

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Many of us don’t have the resources to purchase a full solar or wind power setup for our homes, but even one or two solar panels can make an impact. Start small and work your way toward an off-grid system, or simply supplement grid power with renewable sources when possible. You can purchase or make your own DIY solar, wind or hand-cranked gadget chargers. Check out the Alternative Energy group of tutorials at Instructables.

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