A Beginner’s Guide to Minimalism on the Farm

A year ago this entire article would’ve been exactly one word:

No.

We’ve all seen the tiny house craze.  Many of us have vacillated between envy and mocking.  I love the little things.  A single, childless, nothing-to-do-but-write version of myself lives in one in my head.  That said, I admit to being horrified as I watched someone have to choose one cabinet worth of kitchen tools to save for their move to a shiny new little house the size of a decent walk-in closet.  One?  Are you kidding me?  I use more than that to make dinner every night and have two overflow pantries.  I couldn’t fit my regularly used spices in that cabinet!  Where in the sam hell is she going to keep her pasta maker and how is she going to live with only one mixing bowl?  I couldn’t look away as they chose the four favorite, small toys of their toddler.  My kids save EVERYTHING.  I’m surprised I am not consoling them every time they have to flush.  Broken toys have to slowly be thrown away under cover of night to prevent four wasted hours of wailing and screaming worthy of paid mourners.  I once found our 5-year-old digging through the trash at the curb at 6 am because she knew I threw away stuff in her sleep.  Which I do.  She was totally right.  

 My solution to this dual desire is to want a tiny home on my property for guests and any mothers who may move in someday.  I would guard this little refuge with my life, keeping it sparse and neat and preventing my hoarders…er…family from using it as storage.  Seems doable in my head.

Knowing this reaction, you must be wondering what on earth I am doing writing about minimalism on the farm.  Well, I’ll tell you.  I have a friend who is a genuine, dyed in the wool minimalist.  While I delight in donating a sack here and there to Goodwill or a local family, she gives car loads away.  While I love to clean out my closet, she lives on like seven outfits.

I thought I’d give it a try.  I’m nothing if not willing to challenge my paradigms.  And I loved Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven.  I would totally do a couple of the things she did.  Not all, but a couple.  My friend and I talked and decided I would start listening to The Minimalists, a podcast she recommends.  

I started at the beginning.  It would be wrong to start on the current episode.

I liked the intro music fine.

Then it went to hell.

By the time they mentioned getting rid of photos, I was curled up in a ball on the floor of my car.

Okay, that isn’t true.

I’m more thoughtful than that.

I was just crying.

The tenets of minimalism are great:

Keep only that which brings you joy.

You need less than you think you do.

Materialism is misery.

We are drowning in stuff we don’t need.

Less is more.

Physical clutter is a reflection of mental clutter.

And even through my shock about giving up photographs, a thought that has come up many times over my years of living with my Mister and children was bouncing around in my shell shocked head: what would minimalism look like on the farm?

I’ve noticed three major areas of our farm life that could benefit from minimalist thought.  Let’s start with the obvious: stuff everywhere.

Most of us have seen the farms over run with old, rusting equipment, the barns full of treasures and garbage.  The rural areas are dotted with old homesteads, some still inhabited, where piles of rotting boards, a collapsed outbuilding and an overgrown pile of scrap sit as testaments to projects undone, memorials of what was.  

I don’t want that.

But the truth remains, a homestead requires stuff.  What, exactly, varies with the methods but it is all stuff, nonetheless.  We can’t just skip over to a store when we need something and what we need may be uncommon and not available anywhere close.  

So how do those of us who are panicked by mess, feel oppressed by clutter or need open spaces keep from drowning in it on the farm?  Like everything else that turns out well, it takes planning.

Zoning is a start.  Everything needs a place and that place needs to be where it can easily be accessed and returned.  If you have to go through a lot to get things out, they will get used less and are less likely to be put away.  The items that are used together should be stored together and as close to where they are used as possible.

I have pulled this off in some areas of the farm but the garage, help me, is not one.

It is best to figure this out before you bring things home.  It doesn’t matter if you got a great deal if it sits around rotting or destroying your peace.  

Regularly assess your needs.  Frequently, unused items on your farm could be a real boon on another farm.  I LOVE giving stuff away to other gardeners.  

Get around to those projects.  This is a real problem for us.  We are cheap so we slowly accumulate items for projects as we find good deals or as people give them to us.  This means there are areas of supplies just sitting around driving me crazy.  On the other hand, every time we get one done, I’m thrilled.  The hard part is starting for my crew.  Is there something holding you back?

Have clean up days where everyone participates.  If you have to mow around it, its presence needs to be justified regularly.  

Don’t go shopping for things if you don’t need anything.  Yes, sometimes that thing you got a really good deal on ends up being used but more often than not, it ends up sitting around.  Don’t spend a day at auction every month unless you are looking for something specific or you risk owning things you don’t need.

Whatever you do to keep from hoarding, everyone needs to understand the rules.  One person putting things away or being in charge of caring for equipment is a recipe for resentment.

The pot is now done calling the kettle black.  We are still working on most of this.

So, we’ve addressed the physical stuff, now to address what really hits home on the farm: debt  

I’m not talking about investing in micro loans for the impoverished to start businesses.  I’m talking about the all pervasive, life destroying debt of your average US citizen.  

Debt destroys contentment and is contrary to minimalist ideals.  It is  contrary to most religious thought and, notably, to common sense.  Like everything else, debt also destroys farms.  The pressure and anxiety it brings stresses relationships and keeps everything at risk.  It makes you a slave.

“I want”  is better than “I owe”- Andy Stanley

Knowing that we already owe money is what has prevented us from jumping into a larger venture here on the farm.  Choices we already made are costing us now.  

I’ve studied economics, so please save your emails about debt as a tool.  I understand all of that.  I also understand how many farms have gone under because of the huge debt we have convinced farmers is normal and necessary.  I know what debt has done in our lives.

Stay out of it.  Get out of it.  You don’t know how it robs you of peace until it has.  You don’t know how it puts your farm at risk until the risk has turned into eminent danger.

And last but not least: your schedule…

I live and die by my lists.  My lists are longer than the day and probably show some level of mental illness on my part, but I am not alone.  We are judged by how much we get done, or we think that is the case,  We never sit down in our quest to be superhuman, community serving, overachieving, productivity obsessed heroes.  

The reality is, if you are over scheduled and spread too thin, then everything that comes up unexpectedly is an emergency.  

When the chickens get out, it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is if you have such a tight schedule that 10 or 20 minutes can mess up the rest of your day.  I don’t know about you, but I just might be really pissy the rest of that ruined day.

Stop living in crisis mode by putting wiggle room in your life. De-clutter your schedule.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret that will really upset some in the Christian community.  I hate the “Proverbs 31 Woman.”  Look it up on your phone.  She is a mirror in a fun house to me, warping life into a checklist for a “good woman” and driving the innocent to a ridiculous ideal.  The very idea that that we have to be everything to everyone and never rest haunts me.  And yet, I say yes to everything.  I let what breaks my heart drive me and eventually break me.  And that doesn’t do anyone any good.

I am trying, more than with any other, to adopt this minimalist idea.

It isn’t about an empty schedule or not making commitments.  It is about getting realistic.

I am not going to be on any more boards and have stopped adding new volunteer work to my life.  I vowed that if the errands don’t get run I will just have to make another trip and everyone can suck up whatever we are out of.  And, this is big for me, I am not going to put deadlines on projects that are beyond my control.

So far so good.

The daily battle for me is that I am going to bed earlier.  It sometimes means things aren’t done and for that I am not apologizing.  Not everything can be done every day.  

What unrealistic expectations or commitments are causing you schedule stress?

So there you have three areas of farm life that can use a dose of minimalist thought.

What would it take for you to clear your mental clutter?

Now I have to go dig through a pile of stuff we never use for something we actually need.  Wish me luck.

Suggested Listening

The Minimalists can be found here for more information on this movement.

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Love from the farm

Happy eating, Katy

21 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Minimalism on the Farm

  1. A very good post.

    I just have to say… I only own 3 pairs of pants, 2 jumpers and 2 pairs of shoes (And my work boots)… I think I got some of this minimalist thing down. B-)

    Another thing. You missed out ‘delegation’
    Sometimes if you fail to get a job done then maybe someone else could do it? You shouldn’t be expected to do it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, women do. Right now I am thinking of how I can clean up and organize our equipment which tends to be a weed fortress. Yes, we still use 90% of the machinery, but, just when we occasionally need it. I hate the mess, however the right tool makes a hard job easier, and at 64 and 73 that is important for my husband and me. We have the pile of wood and extra fencing too. You have got me thinking about how to clean up and pare down.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So I don’t live on a farm, but am surrounded by so much clutter. It’s an ongoing battle. Life works so much easier when not messy, but, it is not always possible to do everything and mess and clutter result. As I said, a constant battle.

    I will pick up on the proverbs quote (from a Jewish rather than Christian slant) though. Every Friday night at the beginning of the Sabbath meal, Jewish men sing this poem in praise of their “Woman of Worth”. I actually really like it! It is not saying that we should be able to do everything, but listing all those very practical and mundane things which are often parts of a woman’s daily life and praising them. The hard work we do to get up early to look after the members of our family, cloth them, feed them, contribute to the family coffers, support our husbands emotionally and practically, dress is refined and elegant ways. It isn’t meant to be giving such a high bar to feel down when we don’t quite measure up. Rather, this praise and guidance is included in the must Holy Writings. Tzipporah Heller writes a beautiful commentary on it called (I think) More precious than pearls.

    Anyway, great post, it has encouraged me to carry on the decluttering efforts asap.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m still struggling. My personality makes it tough to implement in a meaningful way. But, yes, when I have kept my schedule realistic enough that little things don’t turn in to crisis, I’m very content. The debt issue has always been my intellectual belief but not always our practice so that will take time. I’m still hauling things to town every trip to donate. The tiny house hubby is building for the chickens is almost done so that gets rid of my largest pile of stuff laying about. I’m very pleased.

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  4. So, I am a bit late to this post, but if you wouldn’t have known to write such a topic a year before, I would n’t have known a year ago to google farming and minimalism. Thank you so much, if you have more on this topic (I will check out your blog further) it would be wonderful. That post was soul soothing. I have been trying for the last two plus years to clean up my partners family farm that he inherited with everyone’s saved junk (I mean special stuff) as well as his.
    It is a slow battle, a lot I wanted out of the house is now hoarded (I mean saved) in his shop, but we are making progress too and his mindset is slowly expanding to see that keeping everything means we cant find anything…so then we go buy it again!
    While de-cluttering and remodeling I have changed jobs twice, bought and sold a small business, and we are raising four children, now teens and we continue to farm, so I am sure I have a few years to go before I start to really feel like progress is made, hence the comfort in your comments about not expecting perfection from yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel for you. I think that’s a really common family scenario, ours included. I don’t take solace from being surrounded by things that don’t get used. In fact, it causes me quite a bit of anxiety. It is the opposite for several family members.
      Preparing the farm to sell has really been the impetus for the next level. It’s really nice to not have the extra things cluttering up our work areas. So far, I haven’t missed anything.

      Like

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