One Woman’s Story of Creating (& Loving) A Suburban Homesteading Lifestyle

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Do you think of Ma and Pa Ingalls or a rural farm when you think of homesteading?

Homesteading is actually a lifestyle focused on increasing one’s ability to live sustainably and be self-sufficient. That means it’s possible when living on many acres, in an apartment, or when living somewhere in between, which in my case means suburban homesteading.

I’ve been reflecting on my homesteading efforts over the years. So many blogs and articles have emphasized the hobby farm approach to suburban homesteading. I decided I wanted to take a longitudinal view of suburban homesteading and share my journey over the past 45 years, only three of which were spent in rural homesteading.

To me, much of suburban homesteading revolves around skill-building. Sometimes in years past, I was able to do more than others. Sometimes the garden was more extensive, or I was whipping out quilts for every bed or canning up a storm. It’s easy to let your enthusiasm carry you away into more than you can manage.

As a checklist for my skill-building knowledge, I used The Survival Mom’s free printable, Master List of Practical Skills. On it, I noted when I learned a skill and how I’ve used it.

image: suburban homesteading in brick house with raised beds in sideyard

Suburban Homesteading Skills and Knowledge

So now, let’s delve more deeply into my decades of suburban homesteading and the skills I learned along the way.

Cultivations/Husbandry Skills

I have gardened for over 40 years and am a Master Gardener. However, I do not have much of a large garden anymore. So instead, I grow culinary herbs in pots and occasionally try to beat back the weeds in my shrub beds.

Why is that?

Growing up, my dad always put in a garden. My first adult version was a small backyard garden in Virginia. Along with the usual tomatoes and peppers, I even grew peanuts. These were great; the blue jays loved them when I set them out to cure on the back fence. However, life changes forced me to move into an apartment and give up the garden.

Several years later, I bought a small house in a subdivision. I could plant a salad garden along the driveway and grow raspberries along a back fence at this location. I also had a large perennial flower bed and herbs and roses.

Meanwhile, I worked 12 shifts as an ICU nurse, and my grade-school-age boys had many time-consuming activities. Life was so hectic. I felt I was drowning in laundry and dishes.

In fact, I had a bucket of dried beans that never did get shucked. But I kept us in strawberry jam from the strawberry patch and made my mom a black raspberry pie from my home-grown berries.

From those experiences, I can check off knowing how to grow backyard berries, garden organically, grow and use herbs, compost, flower garden, and save seeds.

A Brief Foray Into Rural Homesteading…

Fast forward several years. I have remarried, and we’ve bought 3 acres in the country.

Finally, I could have that big kitchen garden I always dreamt of (along with pretty landscaping). I laid out geometric raised beds and grew all manner of things. I even had an asparagus patch! There was also a large pond with waterfowl and fish.

Other than electricity, we were off-grid with a well and septic system. Taking care of the property was all we did after work and on the weekends. It was about this time I decided to go back to school.

Professionally, I am a Registered Nurse. Nursing is a lifelong learning profession, and advanced degrees are essential for advancement. Once that happened, the garden went all to weed!

During our time in the country, my husband developed arthritis. As a result of that and my demanding educational commitment, that property became too much to handle. So now we are back in a subdivision on city utilities.

…and then back to suburban homesteading again.

Back in suburbia, I tried several small gardens over the years. However, the deer problem was huge. One crucial aspect of suburban homesteading is financial health. It’s essential to calculate your return on investment, both time and money. For us, by the time we rigged up fencing and netting to ward off Bambi and Thumper, the tomatoes were about $20.00.


That didn’t make a whole lot of sense for us.

The zoning laws where we currently live don’t permit chickens. I’m not too heartbroken because I don’t want to mess with them anyway. I don’t think the neighbor’s pool parties would like bees buzzing around their margaritas either, so beekeeping is off the radar.

Then there are things I don’t/can’t/won’t do, such as raise and butcher rabbits and chickens. I also know nothing about large farm animals or horses.

I’ve never had the space for an orchard other than small berries. And I want to enjoy retirement life and travel without worries about livestock. It’s hard enough to find someone to feed the cats and water the plants for short trips. I can’t imagine trying to find someone to feed a cow.

I kept my seed starting supplies, though—grow lights, a heating mat, peat pots. When we winter in Florida, I plan to start some seeds for a salad garden by the RV when we winter in Florida. The RV park we’ll stay in has a garden club with raised beds. I hope to learn how to garden in Zone 9.

The herb plants are still with me from last winter in Florida, and I recently dried some of them, using the dried herbs to make an Italian blend for my tomato soup.

Domestic Skills

My first mother-in-law taught me to can food 40 years ago. The project was elderberry jelly.

First, my then-husband and I foraged the berries from wild plants by railroad tracks. Then, his mom showed me how to juice them and make jelly.

She taught me so much about self-sufficient living. I’m sure I never thanked her enough before she passed. She and my first father-in-law were charter subscribers to Mother Earth News. They had a big garden in their suburban backyard.

I’ve canned and frozen other items over the years. At one point, I had two freezers, an upright and a chest. Unfortunately, canning is a skill that sat on the back burner until recently. Fortunately, I kept all my equipment, and now that I have more time to devote to this, I’ve tried my hand at it again.

Knowing how to cook from scratch is a critical homesteading skill. I’ve also made yogurt since my babies were tiny. I used it as one of their first foods. Actually, I made all of their baby food. I made it in a quart canning jar that fits a one-gallon thermos jug. So that’s an example of using what you’ve got. Now I just use my Instant Pot.

Homemade ice cream was a summer favorite. Pickles, jellies, and jams were seasonal until time and fatigue interfered with them. Also, it was hard to find good fresh, organic produce over the years when I didn’t grow them myself.

I used to do some baking, but there are way too many carbs in bread, and middle-aged weight gain is an ongoing battle. Making soap and personal products is intriguing but something I haven’t tried. I have a couple of books on the subject but haven’t made the leap. Maybe one of these days soon.

Going down the list of skills, I am sure I am up to speed on my domestic skills. No butchering, though.

Textiles as another homesteading skill

Skill building is a life-long process.

I’ve been sewing since 7th grade home economics class and learned to crochet and knit as a teen. However, I began knitting in earnest when my first grandchild was on the way. Since then, my knitting skills have expanded.

Now that I am retired, I am teaching myself to spin and weave. I have a flatbed knitting machine and a circular sock knitting machine to keep our family and us in warm woolies.

I quilted when cotton fabric was almost non-existent in the days of polyester everything. Now that I have more time, I am enjoying quilting again.

The RV park I stay in during the fall/winter has a building dedicated to quilting and sewing. So I will pack up my fabric and tools and spend my day there with others enjoying this homesteading skill, although they might call it a hobby.


Nursing education is my specialty area. This meant I taught many Basic Life Support classes and First aid classes.

CPR and first aid should be in everyone’s skill set. They are not hard to learn; you never know when you will need to use them. The Heimlich maneuver is another one to know in the event of helping someone who is choking.

My first husband taught me how to shoot before I entered the Army. I qualified Expert on the M-16.

Recently we bought some firearms and received updated training. It is essential to go to a range periodically to maintain your skills. I genuinely hope a range target is all I will ever need to shoot.

Archery is another fun activity. I hadn’t shot a bow since Girl Scout Camp until I visited my son and his family several years ago. He made sure his girls were proficient with bows and arrows. I brushed up on my skill then, too.

Personal & Household

Personal and household choices are great ways to practice suburban homesteading,

Some of these skills, like making cleaning supplies or laundry detergent, are great ways to save money. For example, vinegar and baking soda can go a long way to keep your home clean and non-toxic.

One of my favorite sources for homemade cleaning solutions is the Old Farmer’s Almanac. For a time, I made my own toothpaste with baking soda, glycerin, and peppermint oil (the one used for candy making.)

I’ve tried my hand at music (no talent there). However, I enjoy drawing and painting. I cut my hair once in college when we tried to get that Farrah Fawcett shag. However, now I leave that to the skills of a professional.

Trade Skills and Household Maintenance

Over the years, I’ve lived in several houses, and they all were fix-it-uppers. Because of that, I became very good at working with walls and floors. Drywall repair and laying vinyl flooring are in my skill set. I have my own toolset and several power tools.

Skills like these are learned by doing them when they need to be done. For example, home repair skills like drywall patching happen when your son puts a hole in the wall, or I rip off the surface when stripping wallpaper.

One day I came home from work to find a kitchen wall gone and the light switch hanging in the air. My sons were teens and thought I needed a new kitchen. I had mentioned that maybe someday . . .

So that started a big project. The former in-laws came with their motorhome, and grandpa helped the boys, and I gut the kitchen while grandma cooked meals in the RV. What memories!

I bought my older son a book on basic home wiring and told him to study it well. I did have a qualified electrician check his work.

My dad taught the boys to put the plumbing in for the sink and fridge. He also pulled out his engineering books and calculated how much load strength the pantry wall would hold for the new cabinets. Finally, he decided they could use some additional 2 x 4’s.

What is the essence of suburban homesteading?

The essence of homesteading in suburbia is not how big the garden is or how many solar panels are on the roof. Instead, it is the practice of self-sufficiency and independence. It’s a lifestyle of making do, using, up, and wearing out while conserving resources. Not unlike those who lived through the depression era, except we are choosing it.

So although I am on the grid now, I’m also prepared to manage fine if I lose electricity, sewer, or water. No, I don’t have bees or chickens, but I know those who do and will support them by buying their products. Same with gardening—I found a wonderful local source for fresh produce that renewed my interest in canning, freezing, and dehydrating.

I hope my story as a lifetime suburban homesteader encourages you to persevere in doing what you can, with what you have, where you are right now.

Your bank of skills and knowledge are things no one can take away.

What is your experience with suburban homesteading?

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