It's hard to know where to start when you first decide to simplify your life. I read about all sorts of things that I wanted to implement. There were and still are so many things that I don't know how to. Sometimes the only thing you have to go on is a book, magazine or an online resource for something that is so foreign to you, someone may as well have tasked you with brain surgery. When people write instructions on how to do something, they are going to make sure they tell you the best way to get the biggest results. Sometimes the instructions were long and complicated, equipment needed went against my goal of trying to get out of debt and I didn't have the kind of time or energy they said I needed.
Well it's amazing how many people don't do things "the right way" and still get results. I don't think you have to do things perfectly and by the book in the beginning or sometimes at all. Did early man have an instruction book or expensive equipment when he learned how to grow food and capture water? Don't let complexity keep you away from trying something different to improve your life. A way to get rid of this road block was to focus the research on people that did what I was trying to do the cheapest and easiest way. When you read several sources about the same topic, you can see an underlying theme and pick up what is really important.
For example, compost piles. When I wanted to start growing my own vegetables, I knew compost was important. I read about all sorts of ways to compost and it was so foreign to me, I stalled and stalled because I didn't have the tumbler or even the wood to build a 4 sided box. After too many excuses and delays, finally I just started. I found a spot behind the garage and just started putting leaves and grass clippings there, then when the pile got bigger, all the kitchen scraps too (no meat). You know what, it did just fine. I know it would have been much better if I had turned it or applied ANY of the techniques for good compost. I just had to start somewhere. When I finally saw much later how awesome it was that I "created compost", I started getting more interested in it. I kept my eyes out for supplies that I could use to make it better. Now it is something that interests me and even tough I still don't' do it "by the book" I do apply many of the techniques I've learned about and it just gets better and better. I found my current oldest compost pile to be beautifully dark and crumbly after the Spring thaw.
It seems that when I have a project in mind, after reading about it for a while, and finding the common important themes; materials I need seem to be everywhere, just previously un-noticed. Maybe somethign I already have or somethign routinely thrown out by people. The common theme I found with composting was it needed Nitrogen and Carbon or "fuel and fire" or "greens and browns". Green scraps such as grass clippings and food scraps and browns such as straw, leaves, hay, or wood based animal bedding/ kitty litter (only for compost piles to be used in flower gardens if the bedding is used by a meat eater like a cat). Sure if you want to make the best compost ever there is more to it than that. When you are starting out though, who cares. When I realized how truly cool composting was on so many levels, my eyes were always open for composting supplies. I found an old roll of chicken wire and bags bags of leaves by the side of the road, and scrap lumber to build up some sides to keep the animals from running off with all the good stuff. I learned about adding animal manure and soil and other amendments to help it along, but I didn't do any of that in the beginning. When your eyes become open to a new way of doing things, suddenly you see in common, ignored objects everywhere - a means to an end.
Bringing a new task to the front of your mind will help spark small ideas in a moment of lull, relaxation or meditation. I made a short list of things I thought were the most important towards becoming a self-sufficient homesteader. Things I needed to learn more about or needed to implement. If the list had been too large, I would have felt overwhelmed. In thinking about those things often and just glancing at the list every day, an idea would pop into my head on how I could simplify it or made it an affordable task. Even if doing somethign such as growing all your own vegetables will eventually save you money, sometimes you just don't have the money to get it started. My lack of money, know-how or energy wasn't going to stop me. So I started reading about how to save seeds from food I bought from the grocery store and that was as good a place as any to start for my garden. I also found dollar store seeds, which aren't the best but are better than nothing at all. I don't do that now because I prefer varieties that aren't typically found in the store or if they are, have no seed (such as Endive). Because of floods the gardens failed, but for a while it looked good. I just bought seeds from a local nursery to start this garden, but will save all the seeds I can from this year's harvest for next year. Buying locally is very important whenever possible. Just don't let lack of money keep you from gardening and becoming self sufficient, there is almost always a way.
I also started a list of tools or items that I would really like to eventually get to help in my newbie homesteading activities. The items on the list gradually started coming my way or were crossed off because I would get information that it was somethign I didn't really need. Sometimes I'd find things on the side of the road, in a pawn shop, or used and for sale in an ad posted. With a little patience it's amazing that it does work. Before I started the lists and really thinking about my new projects, I don't remember free stuff just coming my way or really much of anything working out (so I thought). I once found an entire giant roll of corrugated sheet metal a mile from my house the day after the pig's house was built out of donated material, but it didn't have a roof. Intuition is very important in changing your life and will lead you places you normally wouldn't go. The day I found the sheet metal I took a left out of my driveway instead of a right. It popped into my head while backing out of the driveway that I wanted to see how big the River was that morning. So I thought I would add the extra 1/4 mile to my commute.
I try to go where intuition tells me and it almost always pays off. When you don't know what you are doing, sometimes intuition is all you have to go on. If you keep reading my blog, you will hopefully find many more examples of how not only information, but supplies, tools and whatever else I need many times finds its way to me when I need them. Another quick example, when we first moved here I didn't know what to do to supplement my pig's bagged food. He always had a large fenced area and just grazed on grass in Texas. When the snow hit up here, he became one grouchy guy. We decided to take the "long way" to town one day so that we could learn the roads and just see what this other road was all about. Someone put a table in front of their house with a big FREE sign. Screeeeeech! I got out to investigate and found more produce than I knew what to do with. The table and ground were loaded with Zucchini, squash, gourds and all matter of fall harvest goodness. I only took a few things for Rufus the pig - not wanting to be greedy. On the way home, I had to drive back by and the table was still loaded down, so I got a little more, some for us too. This house was only about 6 miles from mine, so when I needed to go to town I would drive by. The table rarely emptied. This went on for about 2 months I think. I put a nice note on the table thanking them for providing our food for our first season there. They weren't the only ones that fed us when we first arrived. New friends popped out of the woodwork with extra produce and we all stayed well fed.
Don't let fear of failure stop you from trying. I find that I am pretty good at messing somethign up the first or first few times. That seems to work for me because it makes it easier to remember next time how to get a better result. After messing up a little or sometimes a lot on several projects, I found that it really is OK. I usually ended up having some aspect of the project brought to the forefront that I hadn't previously given much attention to. You rarely forget your mess ups and if that's how my brain learns, then so be it. Does this go against my idea that you don't always have to do things the right way to be successful? Not really, but sometimes you have to learn by trial and error what the really important instructions are and what can be relegated to the optional column. Of course when something is safety related and I could actually hurt myself or someone else, I try to follow the instructions to the letter.
One of the first and easiest things to do is to look into simply replacing items you normally buy with items that are cheaper and better for the environment and your health. "All natural" cat litter is one of the most ridiculously over priced items. Though I'm all for just kicking the cats out and not having a littler box, I've attracted several cats that have mental problems. Some argue that all cats have mental problems and sometimes I agree. I wanted to use all natural kitty litter but was not about to pay that price when bulk clay kitty litter was a fraction of the cost. At that time getting out of debt was the top priority. Then I found out about pelleted horse bedding (sometimes called pelleted animal bedding). My favorite is by Tera-Migo, but I can't get that here. So now I just use plain old Tops horse bedding. The used litter goes into a compost pile for flowers (don't put used kitty litter in the compost pile for your veggies). I put grass clippings, pig manure, leaves and soil in with it so it will break down faster. It was also a great way to reduce household trash. The used bedding bags are then used as trash bags and tied with a kite string from the dollar store (they usually sell string in good sized rolls there). We throw almost nothing away and recycle everything humanly possible, but I'm not at the point yet where I truly throw nothing away (working on it). I produce so little trash though, there is no need to pay for trash pick up and since there is nothing "yucky" in the trash, it just sits till i have 3-4 bags and I drop them at the dump when I have to go to town. There is no food in the trash since it all goes in the compost because we are vegetarians, so there is no smell and animals don't get into the bags. I honestly can't remember the last time I bought trash bags and a box I had when I moved here last August is still under the kitchen sink. I would like to think that eventually I'll figure out how to either get rid of the litter boxes all together or find some way to make my own litter if I still have insane cats that won't go outside. It's not very high on the list right now as there are other household offenders that need to be whittled away first. I suspect that mulch, sand or even just dirt would work fine, I don't see why they wouldn't. For now though, $6 for 35 lbs of kitty litter and a free garbage bag to boot will have to do. You can get pelleted animal bedding at most "feed stores" and you will be surprised to find some in town.
If you think you don't have time to learn about how to make changes to your life, think about how much time is spent watching TV, listening to the radio, commuting to work, playing games, and shopping. How many of those activities take 20 minutes or more? I had to just make time for what was important in my life. That meant I couldn't let a job keep me from my family, friends and improving myself. I learned to say no to working most overtime and started reaching out to help my family and myself more. Not only was I trying to get through some challenging events, but so were members of my family and they needed me too. Someone gave me books on CD that I listened to on the way to work, I read books and magazines about homesteading topics on lunch breaks and when I could, got up a little earlier in the morning while most of my world was still quietly sleeping to get in some important personal time. 20 minutes a day in one focused direction will eventually get you to your destination.
This is a picture of the gate I made to the tree nursery out of chicken wire, an old branch and some scrap rope. It works like a charm.