Lessons Learned in Hardship

One family reflects on how their lifestyle has helped them prepare for uncertainty, and shares some lessons learned along the way.

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Adobe Stock/KHBlack

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a year to remember. The whole world has been affected in one way or another, and the list of tragedies seems to grow longer each passing day. As I write this, there are still a few months to go before 2020 blows out, and I can only imagine what’s still in store. However, as difficult as this year has been, our family has had revelations and learned lessons along the way. Here are a few of the most significant things we’ve encountered so far, which we’re already using to better prepare for the next wave of uncertainties.

Self-Sufficiency Provides Security

Perhaps the hardest lesson for many of us this year has been losing our illusions of safety. While security looks different for each person, many of us can probably say that before COVID-19, we believed that certain safety nets — jobs, college degrees, housing, reliable transportation, medical insurance, etc.­ — would shelter us from serious harm. Uncertainties, however, often necessitate the ability to look outside the box to provide security for our families. Savings accounts, while extremely important, do run out, and commerce can and does shut down. This realization seems to have led to a broader growth in the self-reliance movement, which I hope will continue.

My husband and I prepared for uncertainties nearly 10 years ago when we made the move from two solid incomes to one so we could home-school our kids. To do this, we sold our custom-built home and 50 acres, moved to another state, and bought a smaller tract of land and a smaller, more humble home. We learned to live on one income while I built a part-time, home-based business to pay for extra things we enjoy but don’t need. Over the years, we’ve learned to grow, raise, and hunt as much of our own food as possible. We’ve gained countless self-reliance skills, ranging from seed saving to raising and processing our own meat. We can prepare food in nearly any environment or weather condition, both with and without electricity and running water. I’ve become familiar with herbal remedies for many conditions, and I’ve stocked my garden and pantries with the herbs we need in order to avoid depending on outside sources.

shelves with homemade pickled vegetables and stewed fruit. Verti

How has our self-reliance served us in 2020? Quite well so far. We knew from the start that we could cut many items out of our budget if we lost our main source of income and still be able to pay our mortgage, utilities, and vehicle. We didn’t have to find child care when the schools shut down, and our kids’ education continued undisturbed. And while we aren’t what many would consider “preppers,” we’re definitely able to sustain our family without relying on grocery stores and other businesses — for the most part. When stores shut down and grocery shelves went bare overnight, I distinctly remember taking inventory of our family’s resources, and I knew without a doubt that we had enough frozen and preserved food to last at least six months. That didn’t mean we’d enjoy everything we ate at every single meal, but we certainly wouldn’t go hungry.

Our biggest weakness is our dependence on the grid — a clear sign we’re not die-hard preppers. However, we have the skills necessary to quickly preserve any frozen foods we have, should we experience long-term power outages.

Tomato Seedlings

This lesson was a good one for us. It was nice to know that if our family was affected by illness or loss of income, we would be able to sustain ourselves with healthful food, clean water, and a roof over our heads. This realization gave me enough comfort to sleep soundly at night without worrying about the future. It also showed me that all the hard work and long, sweat-soaked days working in the Southern heat were worth every second, and that I’ll be happy to do it again and again.

Don’t Become Complacent

The most unpleasant lesson I learned this year was to not let myself get complacent. In all my homesteading years, this was the first year I slacked in my self-reliance tasks due to an unusually busy schedule. Every year for about 10 years, I’ve had a good-sized winter greens garden going before winter started and all my seeds ordered before Christmas, along with January seed-starting dates already set in the calendar. But this year, I didn’t have a single head of lettuce growing. I had zero packages of seeds, no heirloom seeds stored, and not even one transplant cell started by March. This meant little-to-no produce would be available for storage for 2021 if I didn’t act fast.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too late, and I found local seeds and simply started a little later than usual. No, I didn’t have sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, or onions like I usually do­ — it was too late for those. And, yes, I did have to buy tomato transplants and store-bought lettuce packages, but in light of current events, I know we got off easy. This was a lesson learned the hard way, but it wasn’t as painful as it could have been. Had it occurred during any season other than spring, when food production and preservation aren’t possible, it could have been much worse. Still, it’s not a lesson I plan to repeat, regardless of how busy my schedule becomes.

Red chicken walking in paddock Ordinary red rooster and chickens

Simple Is Best

I find myself struggling with the desire for more and better things from time to time. Our family chose to homestead and live on a single income, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like nice things. We’ve been very blessed in our lives by the choices we have available to us, but sometimes I get worn out from constantly trying to be frugal. Still, every day I wake up knowing this is the best life for our family; COVID-19 has simply brought all those thoughts to the forefront for me.

The week our state shut down, my husband and I had an appointment with the bank to inquire about building our next house. The day we were to meet the banker, the bank shut down. We were incredibly bummed. But then the weeks started passing, and I began hearing of indefinite job losses, friends who had their entire livelihoods ripped from them, and families losing their beloved homes.

Two bottles of black elder syrup with elderberries

So, the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far this year is to deeply appreciate this simple life that provides all of our family’s needs during both good times and these dark days of 2020, no matter how hard it may be. I’ve learned our new house can wait, possibly indefinitely. I’ve been re­minded of the true need to continue learning new skills, to continue passing that know­ledge along to the people out there striving toward their own self-reliant ­life­style, and to keep a watch on news and local events in order to be better prepared for future upsets.

I wish the best for each of you this year, and I hope this story reaches you at the end of 2020 with you and your family in high spirits and with hope in your hearts.

Kristi Cook and her family have been building their homestead for many years. Kristi shares their many experiences through her articles, workshops, and blog.

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