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Look Before You Leap!

There's nothing better than dreaming about living out in the country, raising our own food, living a simple lifestyle and relaxing on the front porch listening to a symphony of crickets. Gone are the days of traffic jambs, city violence, stress from an office job and all of the clutter associated with a rather hectic lifestyle. Ah yes, it is the good life!

Dreams do come true for those who work hard at it, keep the faith and recover from mistakes. But for many, the dream may never come true. Why? Either there wasn't enough planning, enough money or the "significant other" had a different dream than you. Learning and planning are very important elements before making a lifestyle change of this size. Of course, the size of your lifestyle change can vary greatly. For some it's simplifying one's lifestyle while continuing to live in an urban environment -- having a small organic garden, reducing consumption, taking on a new fulfilling career. For others it might mean quitting a job, taking the kids out of school, selling the house and moving from a city to the country. Everyone's story is different. And regardless of your dream, a plan must be designed, redesigned and successfully put into action in order to achieve your end result. 

Where to start?
Before even attempting to put a plan together, make sure you and your significant other are in total agreement on pursuing your dream. If you don't work together on this as a team, it's sure to fail. Make sure that everyone involved has a clear understanding of what the goals are. Don't get too specific. Chances are your dream will change a bit along the way. It's very important that there's a complete understanding of what the implications might be for everyone involved. It's not uncommon that family members may have different views and or goals. That's o.k. Just be sure that everyone's roles are defined ahead of time.

For example, lets say that you and your significant other's overall goal is to change from an urban lifestyle to a rural lifestyle. You each understand and share the main objective. But being that no two people are alike, your dream is to live out in the country and start a small farm business. Your significant other's dream is to live in the country but be close to a city where there's access to a job where he or she can continue a career. The overall goal is the same, but each of you has now defined a role for this new lifestyle. By deciding each of your roles will help focus what to look for as far as land, climate, society, jobs, health care, etc. Just be sure that everyone involved is in sync.

Once your goals are firmed up, the first thing to do is start planning right? Nope. The next thing to do is to attempt to do as many things as possible to try out parts of your dream before you even plan for them. You may very well find that parts of your dream may not be what you thought they'd be once you try them out.

For example, if part of your dream is to try some small scale farming, then by all means try it! But how? Even if you live in a big city, there's a good chance that volunteer work is available at a working farm museum, inner-city gardening project, prairie restoration project, botanical garden, etc. Now this may not be the ideal situation, but it will give you good practical experience and if anything get you in shape for manual labor. You will also find that your "dream" will change along the way. You'll find things that appeal and don't appeal to your liking. That's o.k. -- this is your chance to look before you leap. If there are no places locally to experience your dream, get in contact with a homesteader via the Internet or through a homesteading magazine. Homesteaders are very open to giving you suggestions or an invite to their own homestead.

If you are planning on moving to the country, you're going to have to live on less of an income (more than likely). So take a year and reduce your dependency on money. Spend less, pay off debts and live lean. This is a hard thing to do, but if after a year you and your significant other are still talking to each other, you'll be in good shape. It's a win, win situation. You will prove to yourselves that you're able to live on less, and you'll have saved money to use toward your dream.

To put it simply, experience as much as possible before you seriously begin planning. Don't rush it. Things like this take years to prepare for, but you've now greatly enhanced your chances for making a go of it. Now that you've experienced as much as you possibly think you can, start planning. 

Things to consider in your plan
Once you've got some practical experience under your belt and you're dream has been mulled over a couple thousand times, now is the time to plan. Addressed are some of the major subjects to take into consideration in your plan:
  1. Money  - There's no way around it. We live in a society bound by the dollar. No matter what your plans are, some how, some way, money enters into the equation. If you want to get a real good idea about how to consider this matter, my suggestion is to read two books: Your Money or Your Life by Joe Domingquez and Vicki Robin, and Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin. This will put into perspective how money controls our lives and how to become free from its grasp. In planning your adventure plan for two things: get out of debt and double your estimates of what it will take to move, set up your homestead and live comfortably for a period of time without any income. You can never be prepared enough for an uncertain future. With that said, the more you can become independent of money the less you will need. If you can manage to get totally debt free, and still have a roof over your head your expenses will be greatly reduced, and therefore becoming less dependent on money. But you will still need income of some type, so make sure your plan includes a fool proof means of some income.
  2. Shelter - Depending upon your dream, you may elect to buy a farm, undeveloped land or just stay put. If you are planning to pull up stakes, you will need a new place to live. You could buy a pre-existing home, a new home, used or new trailer, yurt, home kit or build a home from scratch. There are many possibilities - some may be ruled out by finances while others are ruled out by personal likes or dislikes. Keep an open mind and take your time researching. More than likely, you will change your mind a number of times.   Take into consideration the energy efficiency of the shelter. Keeping your energy consumption to a minimum helps the environment and reduces your dependency on money.
  3. Food - Depending upon where you live, there are a number of factors that may limit you as to what you can raise when it comes to food. What is your climate like? How about your soil? Can your land support livestock? Are there any ordinances against raising your own food? Are you planning on growing enough for your family or are you planning on selling your surplus? Is there a market for selling your surplus? Can you barter with your neighbors? Are you planning on having a root cellar? Canning or freezing your harvest? These are all questions you can only answer for yourself. Think about the costs involved in raising your own food. Consider the ramifications of raising your own livestock for food. Are you willing to do what it takes to practice animal husbandry? Do I raise fish, chickens, goats or cattle? Or none at all? Whatever you decide, start small and learn from small mistakes instead of big ones. Something else to consider, being a vegetarian has advantages -- it takes less labor, land and resources to produce plants than meat. If you can't do without meat, consider that fish are the most efficient at turning food into meat, followed by chickens, and finally cattle.
  4. Income - This kind of relates to the first topic, but it deserves it's own category. Once you've made the change, you're going to need some form of income, unless you're independently wealthy. Based on your skills, there are opportunities to start a small business from home, or you may elect to make an income from your farm.  You might consider starting out with you or your significant other getting a regular job. A job would provide a steady income  and it would also provide benefits. Insurance benefits, although not necessary, are in my opinion very important for you and your family. A serious illness could jeopardize your dream if you don't have insurance coverage to help handle expensive medical bills.

In summary, take your time planning before doing. There are many facets to contend with and the road will not be without its bumps. Check out the Essential Reading page for a number of good references to books and magazines associated with homesteading. Most importantly keep the faith, take your time and things will fall into place.