I often get asked “how in the world do you cope with winter isolation?” It’s a question that a lot of hopeful homesteaders want answers to. I get questions like “Don’t you bored?” “Doesn’t it get lonely?” “What do you do with your time?”
Keep in mind while you read this that we have an empty nest and we homestead full time. This is not every homesteaders reality but for many who are “middle aged” or moving towards retirement this could be your reality.
When I first started getting these questions I had to put myself in the mindset of those asking the questions. I had to think about it from the perspective of how our life used to be before we moved to the homestead. After some reflection I realized that the answer was a simple one. I can (and will) tell you about how we have structured our winters but here’s the key to answering your questions.
We are living in an insanely fast world. There’s this obsession with cramming activities into every second of the day and falling into bed exhausted. My friends and I used to take turns reminding each other to “just breathe”. We could barely manage to work out a date to celebrate a birthday, that worked with everyone’s schedules. New hobbies were often relegated to the corner. This is life in the rat race right?
Homesteading is NOT that life, doubly so in the winter.
Winter is the reward at the end of a season of hard work! It’s a time for personal growth and reflection, a time to rejuvenate and pamper your spirit, learn new skills, read a book, dance, sing, bake & create. Do whatever you want because you’ve earned the time to do it.
Winter Isolation at Walkerland
Here’s what winter at our homestead looks like (for the most part).
Chores & Work
You can eat up entire days just by clearing snow, digging out doors, the mailbox, chicken coop and other things. Our driveway goes on forever and when you live on acres, there’s a lot of clearing to be done. There is also the task of making trails, bringing fresh water and food to the animals, repairing things broken in a storm, collecting more firewood, making kindling, hunting and inspecting the land. Winter is unpredictable around here and it certainly keeps us busy.
Food is a pretty big part of our lifestyle. We grow and preserve a lot of the food we eat and we keep our pantry well stocked. We love to eat good food and winter is the perfect time to try new recipes and challenge ourselves in the kitchen. I’ll spend more time baking bread and sweets and special preserves. I also spend more time learning new time saving techniques.
My husband is a keen chess player. He can fall into that game for hours. He’s into programming, and the tapping of his keyboard is often present. He also fills the house with music, playing piano and guitar. I am more about making things: knitting a scarf, creating soap, bread, canning, photography or some new DIY project. It’s important to develop hobbies and interests that stretch your mind and keep you productive.
Sometimes we can get too much of one another. This can add a lot of pressure in a relationship. The best solution is to mindfully give each other some space. I like to go outdoors and walk, feed and water the chickens and then come back home with something new to share. My husband likes to follow the activities in the world, news and finance and he shares that with me. I have the blog to work on and he has his own technical endeavours. We chat about our projects, listen to music and eat lunch together but we aren’t glued to each others side, all day every day.
Writing can be therapeutic and I think it’s a worthwhile practice. If you journal in a book or on a computer, sharing your experiences, thoughts and life is a gift for your children and future generations. I wish I had letters or notebooks from my grandparents …don’t you? We are usually too busy in the summer to get much written down so winter is when I spend the most time on our website. Walkerland has grown to the point that it is now a small business and no longer a hobby. A lot of hours go into writing, photography and site maintenance. If that interests you then why not start with a blog and see how it grows?
Winter is a good time to figure our what things you can do to earn some cash from your homestead. We’ve had a lot of ideas that didn’t come together as planned. We nearly bought a bee hive business but the deal fell through at the last minute when the seller bailed. We had our sights on becoming garlic tycoons but the field flooded in the spring so that’s not happening (yet). Brainstorming business ideas is a fun way to pass the time and eventually the right ideas will materialize into something that works.
There is a saying “do what you know best”. With our background in IT, blogging makes a lot of sense. We can do all of our own work, the technical stuff, the photography and writing, so overhead is low. It is also perfectly suited for winter. We don’t have to worry about getting to the post office to ship goods, we don’t have any phones to answer, and we like doing it!
Study & Planning
It’s difficult to accomplish anything truly productive outside in the wintertime. There’s just too much snow on the ground. I actually look forward to the break that winter provides and turn my mind to studying and learning. There are plenty of on-line courses & books for permaculture, herbalism and other gardening pursuits that help us become better and more efficient at what we do.
We also map out our gardens, work out issues (poor drainage for example), inventory & order seeds and have sketches of what will be planted, and where, before spring arrives. Using the wintertime to learn and prepare makes it possible for us to hit the ground running when spring finally arrives.
We’ve become quite in-tune with our bodies these days and haven’t been to a doctor in years (Ryan last went in the nineties.) I don’t recommend this for everyone but for us it works. When we sense something is not right we are able to research, learn and follow more holistic approaches which are generally far more time consuming that modern medicine. It’s something that we could not do at this level when we were busy chasing the corporate dream.
With our desire to avoid chemicals and toxic ingredients we make a lot of our own skin, dental & cleaning products and just feel like we have far more control over our personal well-being. In past, when we had less time to focus on this, we suffered from a variety of annoying ailments: heartburn, insomnia, neck/shoulder problems, wrist problems, headaches, stomach issues. Living the homestead life, and paying attention our bodies, we’ve eliminated each of these problems and are now mostly focused on preventative maintenance.
Most people are far less physically active in the winter than the rest of the year. Sure, there is snow to remove, chicken runs to clear and water to haul but many hours can be spent sitting, should you so choose. The problem (and regret) arises when Spring arrives and you need to launch into marathon gardening. When your body is screaming in agony after day one and you’ve got hundreds more ahead of you you will wish you’d exercised during the winter. Do what you enjoy to stay active and stretch every day. Go walking (or snowshoeing), dance in the living room or follow an exercise video. You don’t have to spend money to exercise but you do need to stay active for your well-being. You can read about the importance of stretching here.
In the winter we see one of our nearby neighbours once in a while but we don’t get many visitors. Our driveway is quite daunting so only those with good tires and 4WD can make the drive most days. It is nice to visit and have a coffee so we try to make a point of seeing other people “once in a while” and we always host Christmas at our house. It really depends on your personality though. We are happy with this arrangement until spring arrives and then cabin fever tends to creep it’s way in.
If you are outgoing and crave a lot of friends you can join community groups, get involved in something. Host weekly coffee/gab sessions and reach out. You can join on-line groups as well and get involved in virtual conversations. If you are introverted, it can take a bit longer but eventually you will find like minded friends to connect with.
The feeling of winter isolation really isn’t part of our homestead experience. I think it is partly because we fill our days with a diverse range of activities. Equally important is the fact that we enjoy one another’s company but also give each other space. We are mindful of the journey we have taken together that made it possible to be sitting here today, writing this. Tonight we’ll enjoy the comfort of a hearty meal & some blackberry wine with the fire crackling and the dogs snoring happily. Thoughts of isolation will remain far from our minds because we are content in this homestead life.