Sane & Sustainable Rural Living Part 1

Many people in the world long for a life in the country, lived on their own terms, close to nature, honest and hands-on. A few of these people take this feeling far enough to make the leap, leaving the city, buying land and striving to live the rural  dream. That was me in 1985. But too many of these people find that rural living is harder, less fulfilling and more painful than they imagined. This is almost always because they think about it wrong.

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Too many end up abandoning the dream, feeling guilty, discouraged and inadequate. It’s a shame, a waste of life and it’s often unnecessary. Since COVID, there has been a noticeable move towards living in the country, and I strongly encourage it. People are buying up houses and acreages where I live to the point where the only way you’ll find anything to buy is to get into a bidding war. Before COVID, houses and farms here would remain unsold on the market for years and even decades. There are many advantages to living a rural life, but I see things I need to warn you about, too. These are the things that I’ve seen cause trouble for more than a few people over the years.

This little rural home was built mortgage-free by Robert, one of my sons, on a corner of our rural property. He and his wife Edyta and daughter Lily enjoy a quiet life in the country and my wife Mary and I get to live 500 yards from our grand daughter. What could be better than that?

Rural Living is Easier Than Ever, But . . .

Now is the best time in history to live a modern rural life. That’s what I’ve found over the last 35 years of living at the end of a little cart track called Bailey Line Road. Technologies now exist that empower the individual like never before. Cities are becoming less livable, rural areas have room for more hard-working, self-reliant residents, and the opportunity to make the economics of modern homesteading succeed have never been rosier. So why is it so easy to find people who’ve tried rural living and given up? It usually comes down to failures of philosophy.

The sign at the top of our dead-end little road, and the source of the name of this website and my online course enterprise.

Google “Why I Quit Homesteading” and you’ll find lots of would-be rural residents who aren’t nearly as happy as they used to be. Some are back in the city, some end up tied to a low paying job they hate in a small town, others are living some watered down, emaciated version of the liberating rural dream that led them out of the city in the first place. Over the years I’ve seen many modern homesteaders come and go, and there’s a pattern to what I see.

The Rural Living Dilemma

My son Jacob helping me beat back the forest that’s always trying to reclaim our pasture fields. If you have no appetite for hard, dirty, boring hands-on chores, chances are good that an active rural life isn’t for you.

Perhaps the most common reason for failed dreams of rural living is rejecting too much technology. I know this pitfall well because I used to hold it dear. I say “dear” because it was like a badge of honour. My original homesteading plan had been to have only a hand pump for water, only a dirt floor in my log cabin, horses to do all pulling work, and a food supply that came entirely from my land. I set out to dig a 40-foot x 60-foot basement excavation by hand, I built an all-wood wheelbarrow using hand tools only (even the wheel and axle were wood), and my only bathroom would be an outhouse in a region that regularly gets down to -30ºF.  I’d mistakenly believed that the big problem with the modern, unfulfilling city life I’d grown up living was all that technology and “the grid”.  So, I figured, the more I eliminated this stuff from my life, the closer I’d get to experiencing the deep joy, sustainability and satisfaction of living in the Garden of Eden. Or so I believed.

Rural Living Theory Versus Practice

Funny thing was, the more I actually used the right kind of technology in the right way, the better my rural life succeeded and the happier I was. I struggled with this internal contradiction for years, grudgingly adding technology to my homesteading life and feeling guilty about it while also marvelling at how much it helped me. I’m not talking about new or fancy technology, either. Many of my things are old, well-used, well-loved friends, such as the 71 year old tractor you see me driving below.

This tractor is what passed for “high tech” in 1953. Called the Farmall Super H, this ancient, simple, useful piece of technology has only broken down a few times in the 35 years I’ve owned it, and even then the issues were all tiny and easily repaired. Why is such reliability so rare in newer equipment?

But in a single moment one night as I lay in bed, I had a realization that changed everything. The natural world is not perfect, it’s not the Garden of Eden, and living with nature will always require some kind of struggle. Often quite a bit of struggle. This is definitely not the impression you’ll get looking at things from the city perspective, getting your ideas about nature from TV shows and listening to various gurus who can often talk better than they can actually live simply and self-reliantly.

The right kind of technology helps us struggle more effectively against the harsh realities of nature and now I embrace it. That’s not to say that all technology is beneficial, but your rural plans are doomed to failure if you believe that homesteading is all about getting primitive and rejecting technology. I’m now delighted to be connected to the grid, I love my electric welder, the internet is the engine that keeps my homestead financed and I’m so thankful I get to live on my land and never leave the property to earn a buck unless I want to. We don’t milk goats, we don’t raise all our own meat or grow 1000 lbs of yams each year. We can’t afford to grow that much on our own, and you probably can’t either. Sounds strange? After all, how can you “not afford” to grow food that doesn’t cost you any money to produce? It comes down to how much time you have in a day and how many other important things you need to get done. Poor time management and ill-placed focus is often a huge problem with people moving to the country and attempting a rural life on their own terms.

I could go on about this, and I do. Click to learn more about how sustainable homesteading works in the real world. There’s an excellent chance I can save you years of trouble and heartbreak if you’ll let me. I can also probably point you in the direction of a safe, mentally-sustainable, financially rewarding rural life.

Did this get you thinking? I hope so. Please consider helping me cover the cost of creating and publishing articles like this one. Click the “buy me a coffee” button here and you can make a contribution – quickly, safely and simply. Thank you very much!

– Steve Maxwell