Dreaming of a simple, more self-sufficient life?
You’re not alone.
With the world becoming more chaotic every day, more folks crave moving away from the fast-paced, consumerist society and being closer to nature.
But only a lucky few can afford to buy a huge piece of land in the country and live out their fantasy.
If you’re not one of them, does that mean you have to give up on that dream?
Nope—you can still be a homesteader regardless of where you live.
In this article about urban homesteading, you’ll learn what an urban homestead is and how to get started on making your own. Let’s jump right in:
First Off, What Is an Urban Homestead?
Homesteading is typically associated with off-grid living. You know, very Little House on the Prairie with the horses, green fields, and mountains. Most people don’t even believe it’s possible to homestead in the concrete jungle.
But that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
While you may not be able to operate on the same level as an off-grid homestead, you sure as hell can have a scaled-down version of it in the middle of the city—your urban homestead.
Because homesteading is more about the following principles than it is about having several acres of land:
- Self-sufficiency: To be self-sufficient means you can take care of your needs without overly relying on outside sources. We say overly because it’s impractical to be 100% self-sufficient, especially in an urban homestead. Ordering less takeout, upcycling old furniture, and using alternative energy can already make a world of difference.
- Simplicity: Homesteaders are simple folks. They haven’t sworn off technology completely, but they aren’t attached to material things and live a minimalistic lifestyle.
- Sustainability: Homesteading and sustainability go together like PB & J. By recycling and using renewable energy sources, homesteaders lessen their environmental impact.
- Innovation: Ask any homesteader if they’ve got any project in the works, and they’ll likely share a never-ending list of to-dos. Homesteaders are constantly thinking of ways to be more self-sufficient. They aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and keep experimenting with DIY projects.
Should You Start an Urban Homestead?
Actually, let’s change that to why you SHOULD start an urban homestead. There are a ton of reasons, but here are the main perks:
It makes you more self-reliant
Even if living entirely off the land is impossible, you’ll at least have a few tricks up your sleeve that can save your butt in an emergency. Let’s say prices for basic commodities shoot up. If you’re growing some veggies on your balcony, that’s one less worry off your back.
It improves your health
When you eat the veggies you grew yourself, you won’t second guess what was used to fertilize them. You can’t say the same about store-bought produce that may or may not be laced with chemicals.
Plus, there’s a feeling of accomplishment you get from harvesting greens you tended to for weeks. It definitely gives you the motivation to eat healthier.
It’s good for the environment
You’re not the only one who can benefit from an urban homestead. Mother Nature will also be grateful since you’re consuming fewer fossil fuels and producing less waste.
It saves you money in the long run
But we’re gonna be completely honest—when you’re starting out, you’ll be shelling out on a lot. You’ll need supplies for your indoor garden, homemade soap, and preserved fruit. Anyway, as long as you’re dedicated, these will all pay off.
Challenges of Starting an Urban Homestead
We’ve established the perks of urban homesteading. Now, let’s discuss its downsides. You may already have an inkling of what these are, but to give you a better idea of what you’ll be in for, let’s take a closer look at the major challenges:
Local regulations and zoning laws
No one really has complete freedom to live out their homesteading dreams. Even people who live in the backcountry aren’t exempt from the law. The specific regulations will depend on where you live, but to give you an idea of the limitations, some areas may restrict the use of gray water or prohibit you from selling certain food without a permit.
Landlord and homeowner association rules
This is where off-the-grid folks have it lucky. Unlike these guys, you gotta obey homeowner association (HOA) rules on top of local laws. And, if you’re renting, you also have to respect your landlord’s policies.
No animals allowed means you can’t own pets, much less raise goats or cows. You may need to check in with your landlord and HOA before you’re allowed to install solar panels in your urban homestead, too. Whatever the rules are, just follow them to avoid drama and unnecessary attention. Don’t forget that blending in is a crucial part of urban survival.
Considering you don’t have vast amounts of land, you’ll have to operate your urban homestead on a much smaller scale. You’ll need to be creative and maximize the space you’ve got. Others do so by growing a vertical garden or using foldable furniture.
Lack of time and energy
Managing a full-time job and other day-to-day tasks is a juggling act as it is. Throw urban homesteading into the mix, and you’ll be one heck of a busybody. Don’t stretch yourself thin. You can start small and work on a project every other weekend. That already makes a huge difference.
11 Urban Homesteading Ideas
You made it this far, so we’re gonna assume you’re ready to transform your place into an urban homestead. We’ve got a couple ideas to get you started, and spoiler alert, most of them are totally beginner-friendly:
1. Cook more and take out less
Got Uber Eats on speed dial? Maybe you wanna cut down on that and start cooking more. It’s a simple way to get into urban homesteading. Now you don’t have to force yourself to whip up 3 meals a day every single day if you’re strapped for time—just make cooking a regular habit.
To motivate yourself, try a new recipe every week or recreate your favorite fast food from scratch.
2. Start an indoor garden
If you’re not a green thumb, herbs are the best introduction to gardening. They take up little room and are generally low maintenance. You just prop them on a windowsill and let science work its magic.
After you become more confident, try growing veggies like lettuce, scallions, and beets. They all can thrive indoors, making them perfect for apartment homesteading.
As for your garden setup, that’s up to your personal preference and the types of plants you want to grow, but here are some common examples:
- Container gardening: This is a popular option for folks who can’t have a fully-fledged garden. Instead of planting saplings straight into the ground, you’ll grow them in containers. You don’t even have to buy pots. Old containers work perfectly fine.
- Vertical gardening: If you’re looking to save space, try a vertical garden setup. It involves—you guessed it—plants growing vertically from a suspended panel.
- Hydroponic gardening: This is a soilless setup where plants grow in nutrient-rich water. Compared to soil, a hydroponic garden uses less H2O and actually helps your veggies sprout faster. Another pro? No weeds! Here’s how to start a small-scale hydroponic garden.
- Rooftop gardening: This is basically like container gardening, only you’re doing it from the rooftop of your building and not your apartment. Of course, you also need to wait for your landlord or building admin’s go-ahead before you start hauling all your materials up.
Related: Urban Garden 101: How to Garden Like a Pro in the City
3. Make compost
Compost is full of nutrients that allow you to dial down on fertilizer and pesticides. Made from food scraps, dry leaves, and other yard trim, it’s a cheap and simple way to enjoy healthier, more fertile soil. And since you’re essentially saving your trash, you’re also keeping landfills less populated.
There are several composting methods you can follow for your urban homestead (but double-check first if you’re allowed to compost):
This is the easiest method, albeit not the fastest one. You just need to dig a hole in the ground with your trusty shovel and bury your scraps. That’s it.
The biggest downside of direct composting is that it takes a while for your scraps to break down. You’ll also be digging a lot of holes.
As you’ll learn from the video above, a compost bin accelerates the decomposition process and protects your pile from birds and vermin. It also keeps your garden tidy, unlike dumping your yard trim and food scraps right on the ground.
You can use a plastic container, cinder blocks, or a trash can for the bin.
This is a more advanced version of the compost bin. You’ll still be using a container for your pile, but this time around, you’ll need to rotate it on a frame every few days.
Vermicomposting works great for an indoor garden. You just have to be really comfortable with worms since they’re the star ingredient. You’ll be adding them in a container along with food scraps and bedding material (for insulation). The result will be vermicompost, or worm castings.
If you do things right, you won’t need to worry about pests and foul smells.
4. Gather rainwater
There are numerous reasons to collect rainwater for your urban homestead. One, you can use it on your plants. Two, you can reserve it for an emergency where running water is unavailable. Three, if you have a decent rainwater collection system in place, you can save H2O (and lower your water bill to boot).
A quick reminder, though. Don’t use rainwater for cooking, bathing, brushing your teeth, or even rinsing your vegetables until you’ve purified it. Who knows what it can be contaminated with? You wouldn’t want to take any chances with bird poop, smoke, and other harmful substances.
5. Raise chickens
If you have a backyard, look into owning chickens. Chickens are small, cheap, and pretty easy to care for versus other animals, making them great for folks new to urban homesteading (like you). Plus, they regularly give you eggs so you can devour all the omelets you want—with enough to spare for your neighbors.
To keep these flightless birds happy, give them enough room to roam, keep their coop clean and well-ventilated, and make sure they have access to enough feed and water.
Related: Raising Animals for Survival
6. Patronize farmers’ markets
Can’t grow all the food you eat? No problemo. You can support the local farmers’ market instead. The produce they sell is fresher than the greens they sell in the groceries, and it’s better for the environment, too.
7. Take advantage of solar power
If you own your home, consider installing solar panels on your roof. We know these don’t come cheap, but they’re a great investment. You’ll notice a drop in your power bill right away, and you’ll also be doing the environment a favor since solar is a renewable energy. Sounds like a sweet deal, huh?
This also goes without saying, but solar panels are only worth it if you live in a place that gets plenty of sunlight.
8. Preserve your own produce
What if your garden is thriving, and you can’t possibly eat all the veggies you’ve harvested? No problemo. They won’t go to waste if you know how to preserve them.
The neat thing is that you can preserve food using different methods, like:
- Canning: This involves sealing food in jars or cans and heating them to eliminate bacteria that spoil it. Water bath canning and pressure canning are both Water bath canning is meant for fruits, pickles, and other acidic food. Pressure canning, on the other hand, is best for low-acid food—think vegetables, meat, and chicken.
- Dehydration: Moisture contributes to spoilage since it allows microorganisms to develop in food. By getting rid of your food’s water content (aka dehydration), you’ll increase its lifespan. You can invest in a dehydrator to easily dry your food or go the traditional route with sun drying.
- Freeze-drying: Freeze-dried food goes through a process called sublimation, where ice immediately transforms into vapor, skipping the liquid stage. It’s dehydration’s more sophisticated cousin, basically.
- Fermentation: Guess what kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut have in common? That’s right, they’ve all been fermented. During fermentation, sugar and carbs are broken down into alcohol or acids. Microorganisms grow in the process and give the food that distinct fermented taste.
It’s your choice to pick which of these food preservation methods you’ll start with. You can try canning first, then give freeze-drying a whirl afterward. Figure out which method makes the most sense for your urban homestead. When you do, you’ll have enough food to save for a rainy day.
Related: 5 Food Preservation Methods Every Prepper Should Master
9. Buy secondhand
Why buy from thrift stores, estate sales, or just secondhand in general? Because it’s sustainable and saves you money, that’s why. And with platforms like Poshmark, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace, it has never been easier.
There are tons of clothes, furniture, and appliances you can find for your urban homestead. Many of them are as good as brand new but at a fraction of the price.
10. Learn how to sew
While sewing isn’t as common as it used to be back in the day, like knitting and crocheting, it has seen a resurgence. It’s a worthwhile skill to know if you want to take sustainability up a notch.
You can find hundreds of how-to videos on YouTube that teach you basics like choosing the right thread, threading a needle, and sewing a button. Once you master these, you can learn how to patch holes and eventually keep your favorite button-down out of the trash.
Upcycling is all about breathing new life into something old. So think before you toss out empty jars or that one stained shirt in the back of your closet! You can pour beeswax into those jars and make homemade candles, while that shirt can be made into a bag for grocery shopping.
Here are other upcycling projects you can try.
You don’t need acres of land to call yourself a homesteader! Apartment homesteading is just as valid as homesteading in the backcountry.
What matters is that you’re serious about living a minimalistic, sustainable, and self-sufficient life. The urban homesteading ideas above will definitely help you there, and you’ll be more prepared to weather disasters, too.
Have you already started on some projects for your urban homestead? What are you working on now? Let us know in the comments!