Laura Ingalls Wilder spent her childhood living in various homesteads, dug-outs and log cabins with her family. They pushed the boundaries of the frontier westward (along with thousands of other pioneers) and broke new ground for white settlement. She and her family made do with little, living simply and making much use of what little they had. The books she later wrote as an adult imbue pioneer life with a charm and romanticism that I’m not sure it truly had at the time but, whatever the case, generations of little girls have become enamored of the pioneer lifestyle partially as a result of reading her books.
Now, here we are in 2011 and urban homesteading is becoming more and more popular and the romantic myth of Laura Ingalls Wilder is becoming a reality in urban areas across the US. Modern city-dwellers want to live in a simple, natural way. They (we) want to make products from scratch, re-purpose existing items and, generally, live simply, self-sufficiently and small-ly. This is such a trend, in fact, that there is a store in Portland dedicated to urban homesteading: the Urban Farm Store.
Here are some ways that I’ve tried to live simply and naturally, along with accompanying links:
— I wash my hair with baking soda. All you need is 1 tablespoon baking soda and a re-fillable water bottle. It’s nicer for the environment, cheap, easy and, I think, better for your hair. Using baking soda I wash my hair about two times a week. I buy a big box of baking soda for $3 or $4 at the grocery store and it lasts for about six months. (http://heartkeepercommonroom.blogspot.com/2010/06/washing-hair-with-baking-soda.html)
— I wash my face with honey. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, this sticky substance is actually an effective cleaner and has anti-septic properties. A dime-sized squeeze of honey will get the job done. It also smells good, tastes good (if you accidentally get it in your mouth) and lasts forever. (Literally — honey never spoils.) (http://surelyyounest.blogspot.com/2008/06/honey-face-wash.html)
— I make my own laundry detergent. Grocery-store ingredients like laundry bar soap, washing powder and borax is pretty much all you need. I mix mine up and store it in a bucket like the kind you would use if to wash you car or scrub the floors. My first batch lasted about 10 months and cost about $1.50 to make! This laundry detergent is not attractive — at all. It’s gooey and gelatinous and a weird yellow color but it’s simple, low on packaging and gets clothes clean (which is real test of laundry detergent, obviously.) The directions are here: http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/laundrysoap.htm .
— In the past I’ve tried “family cloths”: http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/2010/01/mmm8-round-up-family-cloth/ and I plan to try them again someday when I have a washer/dryer in my own home. This is the ultimate in reusability and really tests your commitment!
— I’ve also tried making lard soaps before. This is a perfect re-purposing project. Commercial/grocery-store butchers don’t have any use for the extra fat on the animals they butcher so it just gets thrown away. In my (one-time) experience, the butcher is perfectly happy to pass it along to you instead. You can render the tallow and make soap, thus avoiding having to buy some pre-packaged soap and making use of what would have been thrown away otherwise. If you really want to go all old-timey you can also make your own lye using ashes from a bonfire but lye is also just sold in hardware stores. Directions are here: http://preparedcitizenwsg.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-to-make-lye-and-tallow-soap.html
— Finally, gardening, of course! Gardening is a relatively simple activity which is extremely rewarding and useful. I have a 10×10 plot which is growing more lettuce than I can eat, monster zucchinis, and dozens of tomatoes. I’ve also got a couple dozen carrots, pumpkins, basil and melons. And I still have room for more plants! You can imagine what you could grow with a whole back yard. If you can’t have chickens or back-yard goats, you can at least have a kitchen garden. It just makes sense, don’t you think?
I love the Urban Homesteading movement. I’m looking forward to post-Peace Corps days when I’ll be able to get more involved in it. For the moment, small things like the ones I’ve listed above help me feel more self-sufficient, more resourceful, less cluttered and less damaging to our environment. And, as a good Portlander, I’ll end this post by mentioning that even though pioneers like Laura didn’t have bicycles, bike riding fits in perfectly with the UH movement. It’s low-impact, simple, frugal, healthy, and fun. No wonder it’s so popular in Portland!