Part one: Lists are your friend
My boyfriend hates lists. I mean lists of any kind, to- do list, grocery lists, any list is bad in his book. He finds them constraining and intimidating. I, on the other hand, love me a good list. I’m a list girl through and through. I make them for work, for house repair projects, and of course for homesteading tasks. I have paper lists, a list app on my phone, and lists on my computer. If you’re on the same team as my boyfriend then let me tell you a little bit about how and why you need to make lists your friend.
#1. So you don’t forget
This sounds like a no-brainer I know. Of course, people make lists so they don’t forget things but it’s more than that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought “I need to do that” and then went to do it and realized I really need to do the 5 steps leading up to that task first. This will put you behind hours, days, weeks, or maybe months when it comes to homesteading. If you sit down and think “I need to build a chicken coop this spring”, don’t just put “build coop” on your list. Think about how big the coop needs to be, the design, the materials needed, then make your list. Coming up with a sub “to-do” list that includes “buy 4 8’ posts, 8 sheets of plywood, 2 packs of shingles, door hinges, paint, etc” will get you way closer to having a coop then “build coop”. Even though all you’ve accomplished is buying materials you are closer to accomplishing your goal and are less likely to loose track of time. I can’t tell you home many times we’ve gone to the hardware store for something small and my boyfriend says (like he always does) “what else do we need?” and there I am scrambling to remember what projects I wanted to accomplish and what materials they require.
#2 It holds you accountable
Here’s why the boyfriend hates lists. He is very productive don’t get me wrong, but he HATES anything tied to accountability. Unless there is a fundamental reason something needs done by a certain date he doesn’t want to hear about urgency in completing projects. A list is a constant reminder of what hasn’t yet been done and some people handle that stress differently. I find it as a motivator. I don’t like feeling like I have a lot of things that need to get done so I opt to start on the list ASAP. Some people find that stress consuming and would rather throw the list in the trash then feel pressure to cross things off. If you too find yourself in a relationship with someone who hates lists then I suggest you do what I do, have secret lists. Yep, in regard to our home improvement projects and our homesteading projects, I have lists saved on my computer that he is not privy to. I review my lists and then casually bring up the tasks that need completion over dinner or when we are reading in the evenings. I make sure to have all sub-lists ready to go in case he agrees to help with the task and we can head out to the store for materials ASAP. Then, once said task is complete, I cross it off my list and start focusing on the next item. My motto in my house is “if it’s not on the list it won’t happen”.
#3 Goals are accomplished
Here is my favorite thing about lists, crossing things out. When we were in the thick of remodeling our house I had a master home renovation list. It had literally everything that needed done to complete our home down to installing doorknobs and putting up shelving in closets. It was a list stored on my computer and when I would start to feel discouraged by the lack of renovation progress, I would be able to look at my list and see all of the things that were crossed out. It was great to visually see how much progress was made and also a great way for me to pick a small, very do-able task, and complete it so that I could cross something off and feel like I was moving forward. Your homesteading journey is going to be filled with one goal after another and if you don’t keep track and give yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished you might loose your mind.
#4 Tasks that were never completed aren’t necessarily failures
The dreaded “to-do” item that was never completed and never will be. This is a list maker’s worst nightmare but trust me it’s not all bad. This past spring, I made a “homesteading to do list” with the goal of completing tasks that would lead to income. I made a list of the plants I was going to grow and how I was going to set up a roadside nursery stand. I also detailed how I was going to have my first litter of giant angora rabbits and how much I thought I could sell them for. I detailed raising and selling chickens. I also listed a variety of knitted items I would make to sell on the farm website. The list was aggressive to say the least. This year isn’t yet over but the majority of the things on my list didn’t happen, at least not how I planned they would. We had a terribly wet and cold spring which wreaked havoc on my roadside nursey idea. My first litter of giant angoras did happen, but it was with my un-pedigreed rabbit who had more babies than expected. I actually ended up making more money on the rabbits than planned. In addition, I had planned to purchase a new female rabbit for future breeding and factored in that cost. Low and behold, a breeder contacted me and wanted to gift me a beautiful female rabbit in exchange for the pick of the litter when I breed her to my, oh so desirable, chocolate male rabbit. We did raise chickens and turkeys as planned and have sold WAY more chickens than I expected. The turkeys are still in the freezer so I have my fingers crossed that we will unload them closer to Thanksgiving. As for the knitted items, my brother and his wife announced that they were expecting this summer so I’ve only had time to work on a baby blanket and all other knitting projects are on hold. The moral of what I’m trying to tell you is I ended up with a full to-do list of “failures” but because I had a list with tasks I still stayed on course as much as possible and did come away with accomplishing my overall goal of providing some income to our homestead.
Part Two: “The List”
If I didn’t hammer the point home enough in “Part One” let me say it here, you will have many lists over your homesteading journey. Your life will be full of lists but I’m going to talk now about the big one, the homesteader compass, also known to me as “THE LIST”. This is the list of what you want to accomplish overall as a homesteader. One of the tasks on my “list” is grow and store enough food that we can skip the grocery store for as long as we want. This is a hefty goal that will take years of learning in my garden and in my kitchen to accomplish.
Having a handful of goals like these will help you to organize what you pursue on your homestead. If you are just starting out, or just thinking about homesteading, this is a great first step. You will no doubt find that once you really start researching all the homesteading-type activities out there, you can’t do them all and probably don’t want to. I also should point out this list isn’t carved in stone. You will definitely come across things you want to accomplish as you progress on your journey. You may also remove things from your list down the road. I like to revert back to “THE LIST” from time to time and see if what I have jotted down still excites me.
Once you have your list the next step is how to make those things happen. The number one piece of advice I can give on this is be patient but not passive. Look at a goal on your list and think “what skills or resources would I need to complete that”. For me and my “skip the grocery store” goal, it means I need to not only improve my gardening skills but learn to can. I also need to learn how to cook and bake more things from scratch. My dream is to have beautiful shelves full of mason jars canned perfectly in our basement and a pantry full of basic cooking and baking needs like flour, sugar, and spices so I can whip up a meal from scratch daily. This goal also involves having fully stocked and organized freezers full of wild caught game and our own poultry raised here. It’s a daunting goal but I’m going to accomplish it. You know why? Because I have a plan.
This is where being patient not passive comes in. You will need to look at your goal and create a game plan on what you can do to achieve it. Try to think of small time frames like this season or this year, not “in the next 5 years I’m going to…”. That’s a sure fire way to realize 5 years has passed and you still aren’t where you want to be. You need to identify what skills you lack and how to acquire those skills. For me it meant two skills that I needed to improve this year, gardening and canning. I’m a modest gardener who never grew a darn thing growing up but I’ve been trying since the age of 24 to teach myself. As far as canning goes I’ve never canned anything up until a week ago. I’m still very intimidated by it but now have 11 beautiful quarts of pears that are ready for winter storage. Are we going to live off canned pears this winter? No, but I had to start somewhere. I’m going to continue to can a few more items this fall but I’m still light-years away from my goal. I’m patient in realizing I’ve only made a baby step and I have a long way to go but I’m not passive, I did in fact build skills that are required to achieve my goal. Next year I can revise my game plan to include a more aggressive gardening and canning goal to inch my way forward.
I know this is a homesteading blog but I think it’s important to note I feel strongly about this strategy for all things in life. I come from a family that functioned on the “someday” type of thinking. Someday we’ll move into a bigger house, someday we’ll vacation at that beach resort we see on tv, someday I’ll be able to buy that car I want. Someday never comes if you don’t make it. Even baby steps are steps and you should always be proud that you are doing something, anything to achieve your goals.
When the remodeling of our house was dragging into its 4th year I was near my breaking point of patience. The entire remodel process was painfully slow but I kept telling myself that every step was a step closer to being done, which is right. However, when we were rounding the corner on completion, only needing to install the flooring which we had already purchased, our roof leaked right into our brand new kitchen.
This is the dreaded “step back” I had been fearing throughout the whole process. As far as I was concerned, I could handle all the delays and slow progress but if we had to re-do anything I was going to lose it. We cleaned up the mess, got a few quotes for a new roof, waited months (yes months, because it was winter) to get a new roof installed before we could resume remodeling. Once we resumed remodeling we had a terrible time with repairing the kitchen ceiling which resulted in an additional project that set us back another $500+ and an additional month of time.
Steps back happen and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. I ultimately had to suck it up and become a more positive version of myself. While the roof leaking seemed catastrophic it really only damaged the ceiling. We have gorgeous hickory wood counter-tops in the kitchen that for years were just raw, un-protected wood. We had just covered it in epoxy a few weeks before the roof incident and had that not been done our counter-tops surely would have been ruined by the water. Also, we had almost started putting down the flooring a week before the leak and had we done that our floors would have been also ruined. I was even able to see the silver lining in our kitchen ceiling debacle. We had a standard, lightly textured drywall ceiling before that looked nice enough but we were having issues with hairline cracking. I had resolved that I would have to live with the cracks. However, when the leak happened we had to completely re-texture the ceiling. This ended up going terribly with giant, very noticeable, cracks forming right after the drywall mud dried. I couldn’t live with those big cracks so we opted to buy the cheapest tongue and groove boards we could find and nail them to the ceiling. I then painted them white to give my country themed kitchen the ultimate farmhouse look. Moral being, don’t be afraid to see your step back as a blessing in disguise.
So lets say a few days from now you sit down and write your “LIST”, where do you go from here? Find the smallest step forward. Even purchasing a book on a certain skill set and reading up on it is a step. Be realistic in what you can accomplish. If you set a goal to achieve in the next month but realistically think “there’s no way I’ll have time for that” revise your goal. Achieving any goal will motivate you forward and sometimes you’ll be able to surpass your goal.
Last fall I proclaimed “we should raise turkeys next year”, with essentially no plan. Over the winter I came up with a rough idea of what we needed to do and resolved that we’d only be raising 4-6 turkeys. We knew we’d need to hand process them and had no idea how much feed they’d eat so I thought I was so smart to limit us to a small number of turkeys as a “test run”. We ended up with 16 turkeys. It’s all a blur how it happened but it had to do with coming across 12 baby turkeys at a feed store that were super cheap. I was supposed to cancel our order of the 4-6 we had planned on but didn’t and we ended up with another 4 turkey chicks 2 days later. We built the ultimate turkey tractor when they were young. We processed them by hand which took upwards of 12 hours and brought me to the brink of a meltdown by 10pm when we were bagging and weighing turkeys in the dark with flashlights. We spent an enormous amount on feed but I was savvy enough to keep track of every penny spent so we can properly price the turkeys and recoup our money. It was hectic and, to my standards, poorly planned but you know what, we did it. “Raise turkeys” was a goal on one of my sub-lists (funneling up to a goal of producing our own food on “THE LIST”) and I was able to check it off.
So make your list and get started! Patiently check off your victories and never get passive when it seems your progress is slow. Months or years from now you can reflex on what you’ve accomplished and how naive you may have been to make such an aggressive list.