Updated: Aug 30, 2022
We’re back for part 2 of our Essential Homesteading Skills series - Putting the Home in Homestead. If you missed it, you can catch up on part one by clicking the link below.
Homesteading and homemaking go hand in hand. Traditionally many of these skills would have been considered “women’s work” but, in the modern homestead there is no such thing. Everyone from the youngest member of the family to the family dog will need to pull their weight to make a homestead run.
That being said, there are skills on this list that may have been ingrained in you from birth and others that you’ve never done. Especially since some of them are tasks that have been lost to time and replaced by modern conveniences. But, if you’re preparing to homestead, chances are that you will be saying goodbye to some of those modern conveniences and will now need to prepare yourself for doing things by hand in much the same way that your grandparents or great-grandparents would have done them.
Wash Laundry by Hand
Dirty laundry is a fact of life and one that modern technology has simplified. But many homesteads lack reliable power and while your power may not be reliable, your quantity of laundry will be. After all, homesteading can be a dirty job. Between managing livestock and managing land you never know when you’re going to get covered head to toe in mud, muck, or worse.
Drying Clothing on a Line
After you’ve mastered washing by hand, you’ll need to master line drying all of that laundry. Drying your clothing on a line instead of a commercial dryer not only reduces your energy consumption but also adds longevity to the life of your garments and bedding. All you’ll need is some clothespins and a line, or a drying rack. The trick is to make sure that you have plenty of space between your items for good airflow.
Make Your Own Laundry Detergents and Softeners
If you’re washing your garments by hand, knowing how to make laundry detergents and softeners by hand is a good skill to have. Especially since it can sometimes be hard to effectively rinse commercial detergents out of your laundry by hand.
For a simple powdered laundry detergent you’ll need:
A container with a tightly fitting
Mix together 2 parts borax, 2 parts washing soda, and 1 part soap flakes to create your laundry detergent. Make as much or as little as you like so long as you keep the portions the same.
For a simple fabric softener you’ll need:
A Spray bottle
Use a funnel to pour vinegar directly into a spray bottle. For every cup of vinegar you use, add 10 to 15 drops of essential oils. Seal spray bottle and shake to mix. If you are line drying, hang your laundry then lightly spritz and allow to dry naturally. If using a commercial dryer, lightly spritz laundry before starting the dryer.
Learn to Make Homemade Household Cleaners
You’ve mastered cleaning laundry, now it’s time to master cleaning the rest of the house with simple DIY cleaners. Commercial cleaning products are full of synthetic fragrances and chemicals, bad for the environment, and often harmful to respiratory health. Don’t get me wrong, I always have a bottle of Bar Keepers friend on hand for a tuff job, but I always try to tackle the task with a homemade version first.
For a simple all-purpose cleaner you’ll need:
1 cup distilled water
1 cup white distilled vinegar
1/2 lemon juiced (optional)
15 drops lavender essential oil or peppermint, orange, or lemon
Using your funnel pour all the ingredients into a 16oz. spray bottle. Shake gently and store in the fridge so you don’t risk the fresh lemon juice spoiling on you. *Note - Do NOT use a vinegar cleaner on marble or granite surfaces.
For a simple scrubbing powder you’ll need:
A tight sealing jar
Mix 4 parts baking soda with 1 part washing soda label the jar and use for all of your scrubbing needs!
For an easy oven cleaner you’ll need:
Non-reactive bowl (metal or glass)
Liquid dish soap
In your bowl, mix 3 parts baking soda (3 tablespoons) 1 part hydrogen peroxide (1 tablespoon), 1 part dishwashing soap (1 tablespoon). Once combined coat your oven and let sit for 20 minutes and then wipe clean.
For a simple DIY toilet bowl cleaner you’ll need:
Small spray bottle
½ cup baking soda
1 cup distilled white vinegar
½ teaspoon tea tree essential oil
Add your vinegar to the spray bottle using a funnel if needed then combine with the tee tree oil and shake gently to combine. Spray vinegar mixture inside the bowl, on seat, lid, and handle. Sprinkle the inside of the bowl with baking soda. Allow everything to sit for 5 or more minutes. Scrub the bowl with your toilet brush then wipe all other surfaces clean with a cloth.
For an easy DIY glass cleaner you’ll need:
1 cup distilled water
2-3 tbsp. white vinegar
1/4 cup rubbing alcohol
Add the rubbing alcohol and vinegar to a spray bottle, then fill with distilled water. Secure the lid tightly and shake thoroughly. Make sure your vinegar says "made from grain" on the label for best results.
Learn to Make DIY Bath and Body Products
Now that we have everything but you clean, it’s time to look into a little personal care! There really is nothing like handmade bath and body products to relieve the stress of the day and have you feeling sparkling clean.
This is one I haven’t yet mastered myself, but it’s on the list. I’ve been on the hunt for my grandmother's soap recipe and once I locate it, that will be my first step in the soap-making journey. Until then, you can find a great beginner tutorial over on lovelygreens.com to get you started.
Homemade Shampoo & Conditioner
Once you’ve learned to make soap, putting all the synthetic chemicals on your skin from commercial products feels somehow wrong. As I said, I haven’t mastered the soap yet, but I have my DIY hair care routine down. There are other more elaborate recipes out there, but this is what I personally use. My hair is somewhere in between wavy and curly or as one friend described it ‘mermaid hair” and I do know that the recipes below work best for hair like mine and people with straight hair may not fall in love with it.
To make a DIY homemade shampoo you’ll need:
A recycled shampoo bottle or other squeeze bottle
Essential oil (optional)
To your bottle add 1 part baking soda to 3-4 parts distilled water depending on the consistency you like. If using essential oils for fragrance, add a few drops till you are happy with the fragrance level. To use in the shower, wet your hair completely, turn off the water, and gently apply the baking soda mixture from root to tip. Let sit for one minute before rinsing it out with water. Finish with the Apple cider vinegar rinse below.
For a simple DIY conditioner you’ll need:
Small bottle or recycled conditioner bottle
Apply Cider Vinegar (AVC)
This one couldn’t be easier, in your bottle mix 1 part ACV with 4- 5 part distilled water and shake to combine. When using this as a conditioner I apply only to my ends, never my roots because I tend to have a dryer scalp, but if you have oily hair combined with the baking soda ‘shampoo’ it will help to restore the pH balance of your scalp. *Side Note: this can leave you smelling like an Easter Egg until your hair dries, but I’ve never noticed the scent lingering once hair is fully dry. And for the difference, it makes in how my hair looks and feels I’ll take it any day over synthetic scents from cream rinses that always leave my hair dry no matter how they claim to hydrate.
For DIY bath bombs you’ll need:
A mold of your choice (muffin tins work well)
Large glass or metal bowl
Jar with a tight sealing lid
1 cup baking soda
1/2 cup citric acid
1/2 cup Epsom salt
1/2 cup cornstarch
3/4 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. essential oils of your choice
2 tbsp. oil (jojoba, sweet almond, coconut, olive, or even baby oil)
Optional - A few drops of natural coloring
Optional: Dried flowers
Mix all dry ingredients except citric acid in your mixing bowl. Add all wet ingredients to a glass jar and shake vigorously to combine. Pour the liquid mixture into dry ingredients, and combine by hand till you reach a wet sand-like consistency. (some fizzing is normal, don’t panic.) Mash the mixture into your chosen molds very tightly. Then loosen the bombs from their molds onto wax paper and let them dry several days before use.
To make a DIY salt or sugar scrub you’ll need:
Small tightly sealing jar
Glass or metal bowl
Wooden spoon or spatula
1/4 cup Melted Coconut Oil
1 Tbsp. Jojoba or Olive Oil
1 cup Coarse Salt or Sugar
10-20 Drops or your favorite essential oils
Optional - a few drops of natural dye
Optional - a few Tbs. dried flowers, coffee grounds, berry or poppy seeds
Add the melted coconut oil to a medium-sized bowl and stir in the jojoba or Olive oil. Add in your salt or sugar and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon. Stir in essential oil and any color or additives you like then transfer to a clean glass container with an airtight lid. *Side Note I tend to use salt scrubs instead of sugar because the sugar can attract ants if you don’t scrub your tub or shower down after each use, and well I’m too lazy for that much cleaning.
Homemade Lotions & Balms
Whether you’re making goat milk lotions or tallow lip balms the process can be a lot of fun, and of course, the natural options are always better for your skin, and it helps you become less dependent on synthetic chemical-laden moisturizers. Since I don’t have any great and trusted recipes of my own in this category, therusticelk.com has a goat milk lotion I’m dying to try, and the bumblebeeapothocary.com recipe for tallow lip balm looks wonderful!
Learn to Sew
Sewing is not for everyone, I get that. But, when you live on a homestead the ability to repair minor tears, patch knees, sew on buttons and replace zippers is essential to reducing your cost when it comes to clothing.
The Sewing Machine
If you’re planning on taking on the task of making clothing from scratch or whipping up the cutest curtains you’re going to need a sewing machine. I actually learned how to sew when I was about 8, spent 15 years as a professional seamstress, and have a degree in fashion design. (No idea exactly how I went from the catwalk to the chicken run, but I wouldn’t change a thing.) Since I have the sewing skills, I’ll be doing plenty of posts on basic sewing in the very near future, so stay tuned for those!
If the sewing machine is a bit too daunting for you, start out small by learning to hand sew. Again I’ll be starting with the basics in upcoming posts! When budgets are tight, as they often are on a homestead being able to relapse a button and make minor repairs is essential and I’ll be walking you through all of the basics.
Crocheting & Knitting
This is another one of those skills that used to be passed down from generation to generation but few people know how to do it anymore. As for me, I’ve knitted a few times and I can mend a sweater or repair some socks but I’m not really patient enough for knitting or crocheting. I can take a ruined sweater and sew it into mittens and a matching hat in under an hour so knitting is not where I spend my time. But again being able to repair a sweater or some socks is a good skill to have and as for the basics of knitting, Hobby Lobby has a great video over on YouTube to get you started.
Learn to Make Candles
Throughout history, before the invention of modern electricity, candles were used to provide light in the darkness. While modern electric light is great, it’s not necessarily always available and it can mess with your circadian rhythms, something candlelight won’t do. A lot of modern commercially made candles are full of chemicals that off-gas into your home as they burn. Learn how to make your own beeswax candles, tallow candles, or even sap candles to help live without electric light. Since our homestead is 36 acres of pine, I’ll be posting a tutorial on pine sap candles in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!
Learn to Make Rag Rugs
Homesteading is the epitome of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, and nowhere is this most evident than with the humble rag rug. Inevitably, clothing and lines wear out. The perfect solution is to turn what’s left of them into lovely rugs to use in and around the homestead. I’ll be starting one of these soon, so I’ll keep you updated but in the meantime, over at upcyclemystuff.com, they have a great post showcasing 9 different ways to make them!
Learn to Budget
Even though I’ve left it till the end of the list, learning to budget is a key skill for homesteaders. It takes a lot of work to balance the books and determine if the cost of keeping your chickens is balancing out or if you’re spending too much money on goat feed and need to find alternative solutions. Homesteading is about being frugal and figuring out how to come up with money when you don’t have it on hand. To get you started, 15acrehomestead.com has a great intro to homestead budgeting that you should check out.
Well, that’s part 2 of our Learning to Homestead series under wraps! Join us next week for part 3 Survival and Preparedness where we'll discuss some of the essential skills you’ll need to survive, coexist with the land and be prepared for whatever life on the homestead throws at you. But for now, what are the essential skills that you’ve needed to keep your homestead running smoothly? Tell us all about it in the comments section! And, until next time,