Living the Minimalist Lifestyle

by Tiffany in Self Sufficiency

Nowadays you hear everyone talking about stress, how much they have to accomplish, how little time they have, and how much clutter is in their homes and lives. It is no wonder that a big trend in books and media has been getting back to a simplistic, minimal lifestyle. Many want to have a life that is free of complications; a life that has been pared down to its most basic and fundamental needs. If this sounds good to you then you may be interested in looking into a minimalist lifestyle as well.

What is a Minimalist Lifestyle?

Being a minimalist is a way of living that is built around those things in life; those core values and beliefs that are the most important to you. Of course this requires that you know what exactly those things are, and for many, especially in consumer-driven western societies, discovering these core values and beliefs only becomes clear once you begin to strip away the layers of societal conditioning and extraneous clutter that fill up most of our lives. A green living journey actually does wonders to strip these things away as luck would have it.

Of course how you determine a life to be free of complications, or what you see as your most basic and fundamental needs is going to change from person to person, and from society to society, but it is the ability of the minimalist lifestyle to be able to adapt itself to each person and their own particular view that makes the concept so appealing to so many people.

How to Become a Minimalist

Divesting your life of clutter and its resulting complications is the first (and biggest) step to living a minimalist lifestyle. This can be clutter in the physical sense (as in things that you have collected that you do not actually need, want or use) but it can also be clutter in the emotional and psychological sense, as in relationships and outmoded beliefs.

While clutter can be obvious; like having too many books, clothes or knickknacks; it can also be found in things like cable packages, telephone plans and credit cards. For many living a minimalist lifestyle will mean cutting down to the most basic of cable packages or (revolutionary thought) getting rid of the TV altogether. It really is amazing how much time we devote to television; time that we could be spending on more productive ventures. But what about telephones – we need them, right? In today’s society, of course we do, but do you need all the bells and whistles? Do you need a house phone AND a cell phone or could you make do with just one or the other?

Which brings us to credit cards; revolving credit may be great for the economy, but it ties you down to payments for things that you probably didn’t actually need or even want but rather felt that you had to have. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for credit (think mortgages or school loans) but why are you purchasing consumable items with a promise of payment in the future? You are just extending your headaches over your accumulated possessions into the future. Paying off your credit cards is another big step on the road to living a minimalist lifestyle, and it is a step that the credit card companies will fight tooth and nail, even going so far as to penalize your credit record for closing an account. But the freedom that comes from not being tied to a financial obligation for your stuff is worth it in the long run.

You Can Get There

Living a minimalist lifestyle is not an instantaneous process. It takes courage and commitment and a deep desire to create a more meaningful life for yourself and your family. But no matter how cluttered and confused your life is right now, you can get there; you can live a minimalist lifestyle if you simply have the courage to take the first step. Here are a few ways to get back to basics and live with simplicity:

* Stop shopping at large chain groceries and instead buy a CSA share and make small weekly trips to the farmer’s market. Simple food, good food, less hassle.

* Stop buying books and start going to the library.

* Skip the gym one day a week and take a walk or hike outside.

* Use what you have instead of buying new.

* Get rid of the stuff you don’t really need.

* Prioritize the things that energize you and make you passionate about life.

*Take advantage of Frugal Luxuries.

* Pare down your wardrobe (or that of family members) to the basics and you’ll have less laundry to do.

* Read my article on Raising Minimalist Children in a Society of Excess.


Wednesday, June 29th, 2011



A Homestead Interview with Angela

by Tiffany in Self Sufficiency, The Homestead

I have always been more than a little interested in self sufficiency. And I do mean always. When I was little I used to empty my closet of its considerable toy and clothing stash and put empty cardboard boxes in it so I could pretend I was homeless and living off the land. When I was older I used to pour over books like The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It. Then I got a dose of reality when I did in fact move to a farm and it was MUCH tougher than I ever bargained for. Yeah, a horse getting out of the barn in the middle of the night, in winter, when you are 8 months pregnant is not fun. It wasn’t long before I moved back to the city. But the longing for a self sufficient life never went away and I began to wonder if things could have been different if I weren’t so far away from town, if I weren’t pregnant and suffering from cancer at the same time, if my husband was actually home and not on the road 25 days a month as he used to be. I still read those self sufficiency books and memoires. Heck I read The Hunger Games (an awesome book BTW) this week and even it reminded me of that long held dream. Reading inspirational stories of small scale and urban homesteaders gives me incentive to one day try again.

A couple weeks ago I asked about self sufficiency skills on the Natural Family Living Facebook page and got lots of great answers from moms who are practicing a variety of these skills at home. Angela was one of those moms and she generously put up with my barrage of questions. All photos in this post are hers.

Tiffany: So tell us a bit about yourself… how many are in your family, where do you live, how much land do you have, etc.

Angela: My name is Angela, and I’m a 31-year old homemaker. I have an amazing husband, a beautiful daughter, who is 3.5 years old, and a baby due in June 2011. We moved from Arizona to Oregon five years ago and just two years ago we moved to our current home on 0.38 acres. Our property backs up to 9 acres of semi-secluded green space, so we have the feeling of having much more land than we actually do.

Tiffany: Did you fall into homesteading because you wanted to be self sufficient, was it finances that motivated you, how did you end up living this lifestyle?

Angela: Homesteading and self-sufficiency sort of found us, I suppose. We always had a desire to have our own garden, and that is how it all started. I began learning more about food, our food supply, health, household chemicals, etc., and the more I learned, the more self-sufficient I’ve wanted to become. My husband has always wanted to “live off the grid” but for slightly different reasons. He enjoys the independence and freedom it provides. Once we got the ball rolling, the snowball effect took hold, and now we want to do as much for ourselves as we can. What we can’t grow, we buy from local farmers. We find supporting our small, local farms and our community nearly as rewarding as being self-
sufficient. I have made so many wonderful friends and contacts that way, too.

As of late, finances have played a role in the growth of our homestead. We foresaw some tough times coming, so we decided to expand the garden and add chickens and ducks for eggs and meat. It has really come in handy, too. One month we only had $50 in our grocery budget, and we were still able to eat like kings.

Tiffany: What do you grow on your land? Do you preserve foods?

Angela: We grow organic vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms. We also have a mini orchard consisting of several varieties of apples, two varieties of Asian pear, Italian prune, almonds, olives, Meyer lemons, naval oranges, figs, persimmons, peaches, nectarines, three varieties of pears, and three varieties of cherries. All but two of our orchard trees are grafted on dwarf rootstock and pruning will help to keep them, and their fruit, at manageable heights. Additionally, we grow six varieties of grapes, goji berries, kiwis, elderberries, huckleberries, lignon berries, red currant, green currant, strawberries, 21 blueberry bushes, gooseberries, tayberries, several varieties of raspberries, boysenberries, and blackberries grow wild in the green space. To pollinate the orchard trees and early-blooming fruits, we keep mason bees.

Our orchard is still young (planted just two years ago), so we haven’t had much fruit yet, and my daughter devours all the ripe fruit. She’s so voracious, we feel lucky if we get even a half dozen blueberries each. I’m hopeful that next year we will have enough fruit to preserve…though, like the trees, my daughter (and her appetite) is growing, so we’ll see.

This year we had 28 tomato plants, and despite the cool, wet summer weather, we were able to put up several gallons of tomatoes for sauce and about a gallon of salsa (the rest was devoured the day it was made or given away to friends). The fruit from the Principe Borghese tomatoes was dehydrated, so we have about two gallons of sun-dried tomatoes. Extra veggies get fermented or frozen, though I do hope to do more canning next year. Last year we had so many potatoes we gave away bags of them AND still had enough to get us through till summer. We planted half as many this year (we’ll still have enough to get us through spring) and used the extra space for onions and garlic. The onions were a flop because we didn’t harvest and cure them correctly, but the garlic is delicious and we have enough to last us for another couple months. Since neither my husband nor I have much prior experience, we find that every year is a learning experience and there is always something we don’t grow or cure quite right.

Tiffany: Do you raise animals for food?

Angela: Currently we have 18 layer hens that have 1/8 acre to forage on. We feed them a corn- and soy-free locally-grown organic whole grain mix with fish meal that I blend together myself, and they get oyster shells on a free-feed basis. During this past summer, they were allowed to free range throughout the green space and the neighbors’ yards (they loved their two-legged visitors), but after one neighbor found a gift of nine eggs in his backyard, we decided to clip their wings. They also did quite a number on our garden beds and the seedlings, making it nearly impossible to grow a fall garden. This year we raised three ducks for meat…well, they were meant to be layers, but all of them turned out to be male, so we sent our feathered friends off to the processors. In the spring, we are going to try our hands at raising heritage breed turkeys for meat and (depending on how much time and money we have) we may raise a batch of red broiler meat chickens in a chicken tractor. We are also planning on building honeybee hives on the property either this spring or the next.

Tiffany: What other things do you do yourself? (aka bread, yogurt, etc.)

Angela: In an effort to avoid unnecessary chemicals, sugars and preservatives, I make raw milk yogurt, kefir and the occasional batch of butter, kombucha tea, ginger beer, wild-yeasted sourdough bread, fermented vegetables, toothpaste, laundry detergent, cleaning products (which are actually just baking soda and vinegar), body lotion (olive oil or coconut oil with the occasional essential oil added). I’d like to start taking up cheese making again…my previous attempts at mozzarella ended up as some tasty ricotta. In the past, we brewed and bottled our own beer. Currently, I’m looking into making my own bar soap and dishwasher soap, too.

Tiffany: Do you try to stay local with things you cannot provide yourself?

Angela: Absolutely. Every year we buy ¼ of a grass-fed, antibiotic-free cow for a local farmer. All our other pasture-raised meats come from Harmony J.A.C.K. farms in Scio, Oregon. I also buy raw milk from a friend in a neighboring town. During the fall and winter months, we order our fruits and veggies from Azure Standard. They either grow the food themselves in greenhouses on their farm in Dufur, Oregon or bring it in from Washington. Azure is also our supplier of organic whole grains for our hens.

Tiffany: What has been the most rewarding thing about this lifestyle?

Angela: The pride of knowing we can do it ourselves has been our greatest reward. We are not reliant on big companies anymore and we spend a fraction of what we used to at the store. It is also a wonderful feeling knowing that we are living more in line with nature instead of in opposition to it. Mother Nature is amazing and it feels wonderful to know that we are being good stewards of the earth.

Tiffany: What do you hope your children will learn along the way?

Angela: I hope they learn self-sufficiency, independence and interdependence, and I hope they will have a deep respect for and connection to this beautiful earth we live on. My children will grow up knowing that our sort of lifestyle is very doable and highly rewarding. I also feel that living this lifestyle is the greatest antidote to consumerism and the marketing tactics of large corporations. They will know what is truly important in life, and it’s not the latest technology gadget, the latest fashions or fancy cars. I also sincerely hope they learn how to respect their bodies by eating nutrient-dense, organically-grown and humanely-raised food. Their health is their greatest asset in life.

Many thanks Angela for sharing with us and being an inspiration for wanna-be homesteaders!

Thursday, December 16th, 2010



Emergency – This Book Will Save Your Life

by Tiffany in Book Reviews, Self Sufficiency

emergencyThis book was a really fun read for me. It is Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss. When I picked it up and read some of the chapter titles like “How to Protect Yourself from Inflation, Hackers, and Celine Dion” or “Surviving Snipers, Dirty Bombs, and Salad Bars” I expected a funny book that would be “light” on useful information. But come on those titles are hilarious…I had to read it. I am glad I did.

Neil Strauss is a writer and author. He has written for Rolling Stone and for the New York Times on many occasions. In the late 90s he started to become disullusioned with the US and in 2004 after Bush was re-elected…I think he went a little nuts. Yeah…I know the feeling. Strauss decided that the US may be on a collision course with disaster and he wanted an escape plan. If and when TSHTF (look it up if you don’t know what it means) he wanted a way to get the heck out of dodge and be able to survive in the aftermath of anything that came whether it be terrorism, chemical warfare, or complete economic collapse.

What began is the journey he outlines in this book which was well… awesome! He had one heck of an adventure and went from being a spoiled big city guy who lived on take out food to being what he describes as a REAL man… one that could take care of himself and survive in situations that most people nowadays would not be able to. Pretty much ALL the skills he acquired were brand new to him and very scary for him to pursue. It made for one great ride though, for him and for the reader of this book. Although a small warning is in order. The prologue was a little gruesome and since I had formed no attachment to the book I almost quit reading. Luckily before it got too bad it stopped so that the majority of the book could then explain how he had gotten to the point he had in the prologue. People who are sensitive to “hunting” details are warned. 

He did soooo much in his journey to being a survivalist but here are some of the major things:

He went through gun training and got concealed and open carry permits.

He learned to ride a motorcycle and bought a military grade bike.

He went through intensive survival training and learned to survive in the woods for any length of time with only the clothes on his back.

He went through urban evasion training, learning how to pick locks, hot wire cars, break padlocks open, get out of virtually any restraint including handcuffs, and create caches with survival supplies and disguises.

He learned to hunt and fish.

He learned to grow his own food and raise and breed livestock.

He learned to track animals and humans over virtually any terrain.

He obtained citizenship and a home in another country. He also opened up an overseas bank account.

He took FEMA courses and joined the California Emergency Mobile Patrol unit AND became a licensed EMT.

That only covers a portion of it too. The book basically follows him on this long journey and he shares with the readers his fears and his failures. It is also full of many hilarious yet scary moments, such as when he disguises himself as a woman to evade bounty hunters and nearly get his behind kicked by thugs who didn’t take kindly to finding a cross dresser in the men’s bathroom. Or when he has to get out of handcuffs and the trunk of a car. Yet it also has sad moments such as when he is called to the scene of that horrible train on train crash last year in California.

It is also full of extremely interesting and/or useful information. The survival information was useful of course and the info about citizenship in other countries was interesting. I thought US immigration was tough but I think many other countries have us beat.

If you want a fun and clever weekend read this is a good one. And if you want to learn more about survivalism and having an “escape” plan then this might be your how-to guide. ;)

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009



Have You Got Mad Green Skills?

by Tiffany in Self Sufficiency

One of the foremost things that attracted me to green and eco conscious living was the direct correlation to self sufficiency and personal responsibility. Going green is largely about taking control of your spending, your habits, your wastefulness, and YOUR contribution to the pollution of our planet. To live a more eco conscious life and reduce your impact on the planet I think you need to develop your skills set. We need some mad green skills. ;)

This is good news in my mind as I am and will always be a student of life. Learning new things is one of my greatest passions and I loved college more than anyone should I think. I still often think about going back to college to pursue my interests. Classes of any sort whether they be at a college or at my local community center make me stand up and take notice. I LOVE to learn! My hubby and I both enjoy “how-to” books and own a many of them. We subscribe to magazines that discuss self sufficiency and homesteading. We are very interested in expanding on our existing skills all the time and with the economy the way it is and the planet in the condition that it is…I think this is important. Instead of the skills to pay the bills maybe we need the skills to avoid paying the bills. Aka the more self sufficient we are the less likely we will need to rely on other people and services to get by. How can we reduce our consumption and rely more on the sweat of our own backs to get by?

In Mother Earth News this month they shared a survey they did of farmers and over 60% of the farmers they interviewed felt they were in a better position than other people in the country to rough it through economic hardship. Why is that? Cause they have skills.

So what kind of skills can save you money and help you reduce your environmental footprint at the same time? Here are some of the front runners in my mind:

Grow Your Own: I think it is incredibly important that people learn to grow their own food. Our conventional food growers use pesticides, genetically modified seeds, and all sorts of chemical nasties on the food they grow. We can opt to reduce the amount we buy and therefore reduce support to such industries. It is also entirely possible to grow all your own food if you want to. All it takes is hard work and the dedication to build new skills. Grow in your front and backyard, patios, decks, balconies, window sills, etc. Join a community garden if you have absolutely no place to grow. Start a freedom garden movement in your community.

Sew Your Own: Sewing is a lost art and one we need to revive. In this day and age of slave labor and cheap Wal-Mart clothes and goods it is easy to decide that sewing your own is too costly. But sewing your own clothing, bedding, bags and totes,  home decor, toys, etc. is just to rewarding and empowering to ignore. And you can pick up very low cost fabric at yards sales and estate sales all to often as well. I have often bought entire bolts of fabric (40-100 yards) direct from the manufacturing companies so that I can keep costs down on sewing projects. Get good at sewing and you also have a marketable skill. I made good money selling hand sewn goods online for several years. I still love to buy hand sewn items from other moms and do so all the time.

Make Your Own: Why not try to make your own bread, soaps, candles, cleaning supplies, etc? Cook your own food and make your own dog/cat food. How much of the “stuff” you buy can you make yourself? Not only can this save money it is really rewarding to be able to make your own stuff and not have to shop for it. Right now I am reading the Outlander series and in a nutshell the heroine decides twice to to go back in time and live in 18th century Scotland where she and her family have to grow their own food or starve, make their own candles in a week long process and harvest the beeswax themselves, make their own clothes, build their own shelters, and set their own broken bones. It is a really fascinating read and every time I catch myself wondering why on earth she would CHOOSE to live that way I am reminded just how strong and self reliant this character is…yet you will NOT find a sub heading here called “Set Your Own”. :) Please don’t try to set your own broken bones.

Entertain Your Own: The biggest budget killer for my family is entertainment. I grew up in an affluent family that traveled a lot and generally just spoiled me. If I wanted something, I got it. Hubs and I ended up passing on a lot of that to our own kids and now we are back peddling. If we don’t watch it the kids will talk us into a bunch of worthless toys and we will spend a $100 a week on DVDs and movie theatre tickets. This past year I let my son choose an an out of state destination for his birthday and he chose Pittsburgh, PA. We could handle that request. This year he wants to go to Paris! We had to put an end to the destination birthday thing. ;) Now we invest in season passes to educational places like the zoo and the Science Museum. We buy second hand books and do a lot of reading.  We do crafting and painting. I encourage the kids to put on plays for us (last week they re-enacted Star Wars). They listen to audio books. We search out our community for free or low cost events. We create fun outdoor play areas at home and we take them hiking and camping. Sometimes in lieu of traveling to warmer places in the winter we get a cheap local motel room with an indoor pool and let the kids spend the whole weekend in the pool. We are doing this in February in fact. There are so many low to no cost entertainment ideas out there. Check out my TV Free site for ideas. It is a skill for many to get creative and entertain themselves.

Build Your Own – This is my hubby’s favorite learning area. He reads DIY books on building and carpentry with abandon. By developing building skills you can do home renovations yourself, you can build raised beds for your garden, build furniture, etc. The possibilities are endless. My hubby and I both want to pursue education and training in sustainable energy and building systems. We want to learn how to install solar panels and grey water collection systems.

Reuse Your Own- It is both frugal and green to reuse everything as much as you can. You can use egg shells, old rain boots,  and milk jugs in the garden. Old wool sweaters and t-shirts can be turned into cloth diapers and covers. Torn clothing can be used to make rag rugs. Glass jars can be turned into candle holders and vases. One of the greatest cost savings opportunities available is to use and reuse what you already have.

What green skills do YOU want to pursue?

Monday, January 26th, 2009



Now Is the Time to Pick a CSA

csa boxSpring is just around the corner and pretty soon we will start seeing the first of springs harvest. I can almost taste the fresh leafy greens. It is time to start planting seedlings for your garden. Or if you cannot garden or don’t have a desire to it is perhaps time to send in your CSA share money. This will be one of the first years I will not be joining a CSA because I will have my garden and I have one awesome farmer’s market about 2 minutes from my home. But it was hard to come to that decision because I absolutely LOVE the concept of a CSA and being a member of one. :(

What is a CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture.

You may have heard of farm sharing programs or Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) before. They are gaining popularity and getting a lot of media exposure in recent years for their ability to help bring real and local food back to the table every night and support local economies. They are instrumental in helping people to eat their meals from farm to plate.

All those small scale farmers in your area are at a serious disadvantage these days. They simply cannot compete with large agri farm operations that sell to major grocery markets. Small farmers usually have to sell to their neighbors, at roadside stands, and at farmer’s markets. They have had to work hard to find a loyal customer base and unlike large agribusiness operations, small farmers might find themselves out of business the very first time their crops are destroyed or fail to thrive. It is such a sad state of affairs. So….realizing that smaller farms serving the locals might soon be gone with the wind some of them have gotten creative and decided to extend an invitation to their local communities in the form of CSAs.

I am happy to see that many have answered that call.

So how does it work? CSAs work when the farmers sell a portion or a share of their harvest to their neighbors. For a seasonal fee they get a box of fresh farm fruits and veggies every week. I remember being giddy on delivery days each week…just waiting for my box of farm fresh goodies. The CSA that I belonged to in Arizona was run by a gal named Kelly and she included pertinent recipes every week so I was in culinary heaven each week. It was that first year that got me hooked on Kale…because I was swimming in it, LOL. Before that I had never even tried it so being a CSA member also exposes you to new and exciting foods. I did an interview with my local CSA farmer in Arizona at Desert Roots Farm if you want to read about it.

Here was Kelly’s definition of a CSA:

Community Supported Agriculture is a partnership of mutual commitment between a farm and a community of supporters which provides a direct link between the production and consumption of food. Supporters cover a farm’s yearly operating budget by purchasing a share of the season’s harvest. CSA members make a commitment to support the farm throughout the season, and assume the costs, risks and bounty of growing food along with the farmer or grower. Members help pay for seeds, fertilizer, water, equipment maintenance, labor, etc. In return, the farm provides, to the best of its ability, a healthy supply of seasonal fresh produce throughout the growing season. Becoming a member creates a responsible relationship between people and the food they eat, the land on which it is grown and those who grow it.

As Kelly touched on, the farmers have more freedom, security, and flexibility when their costs and products are paid for up front. The consumer benefits by having continuous veggiesaccess to local and healthy foods that don’t have to cause planetary destruction on their way to you. The consumer also absorbs some of the risk involved in farm management because if the crops fail for whatever reason the farmer has already been paid and he or she will not be forced out of business. The consumer, although unhappy to see no food that season, is satisfied in supporting his local community and protecting his or her local food sources.

There are some CSAs that allow you to pay for your farm share or a portion of it in trade for labor. You might be put to work weeding, harvesting, packaging CSA boxes, or delivering the food. This arrangement keeps costs down for both the farmer and the consumer. In my area (Ohio) a whole share from May to October costs about $650 and that pays for a box of farm fresh goodies every week. You can also do a half share for a smaller family. In Arizona it was a bit more expensive.

You may also be able to find CSAs that raise livestock and thus offer shares of beef, raw milk, chicken, eggs etc. There was nothing like that in my area but I get fresh eggs frommilk and eggs the local Amish farms and hoorah….I found a herdshare program nearby that offers a share in a dairy cow and I will be getting 2 gallons of raw, organic milk every week. For the first year the price works out to be $3.65 a gallon and every year thereafter it is $2.65 a gallon. I have to pinch myself that is such a steal….I was paying $8.00 a gallon in Arizona.

Other benefits of joining a CSA include the fact that the whole family starts eating healthy veggies and leafy greens more frequently. It also makes eating raw easier. Joining a CSA in your area might be one of the best things you can do to support your local economy and make a commitment to healthy eating.

So where do you find one? Try Local Harvest for a listing in your area. And if there aren’t any don’t worry, you might be able to do what I am doing which is take a blended approach with a little grow-your-own, farmer’s marketing, shopping with the Amish, pick-your-own day trips, and herd sharing. You would still be eating healthier, eating local, and supporting your community by keeping your dollars local.

Other important links:

Real Milk – To help you find raw milk, raw cheese, and herd share programs.

Pick Your Own – A farm directory where you can visit local farms and pick your own food.

Here is a video I did last summer of our berry picking adventure. Doesn’t it make you long for spring????!

[tags]CSA, community supported agriculture, local food, farms[/tags]

Monday, March 3rd, 2008