How to Start a Homestead from Scratch: a Step-by-Step Guide

By Kimberly


Having a homestead doesn’t have to be a dream on the backburner. It’s something that can be started and worked towards today – if you’ve got a step-by-step guide to starting a homestead.

The key to starting a homestead from scratch is to start with what you know and to learn as you go. Starting with fewer projects at a time (and expanding as you go) will help a homestead succeed faster and more reliably than will trying to go all-in at once. Here is a step-by-step guide.

Ready to start your (backyard or any other sized) homestead from scratch? Keep reading – and I’ll show you what I’ve learned through experience and crazy amounts of research!

An image of the Starr family's chicken coop and chain link run with the door open and a wheelbarrow full of dirt next to it. A pallet wood animal shelter for goats is next to it.
we’re upgrading our chicken coop’s security from predators and building a goat shelter out of pallets

How to Start a Homestead from Scratch – the Step-by-Step Guide

Due to my background, I’m a firm believer in creating systems and using reliable methods to come up with easier, faster, and better ways to get things done – even on my backyard homestead. So pulling from that experience, here is what I’ve learned about starting a homestead from scratch.

Oh, and the best part? Based on my research and from talking to other homesteaders – this step-by-step process is scalable. Meaning it’s totally usable for however big (or small) you want your homestead to be.

No matter where you are on your homesteading journey, go through this list and make sure you’ve accounted for each of these steps in fostering the right homesteading mindset.

Develop a Homesteading Mindset

Step-by-Step GuideRationale and/or Notes
Decide that homesteading is something you want to do (or try).Even if homesteading is an experiment, go all-in on the mindset to give it a thorough test. You may fall in love with it as we did!
Develop a homestead-ready learning mindset.Homesteading requires a learning mindset that focuses on growth. It also requires becoming a creator (rather than a consumer). Be ready to do lots of research, and experimentation, and try things again.
Work towards financial independence through frugality.Homesteading can easily become a financial drain if budgets aren’t set and adhered to. Instead of letting your homestead drain your finances and energy, set a budget – and stick to it. Find a way to make what you’ve got work for you. Then, get out of debt and save what you can for a proverbial rainy day.
Create a working environment.Homesteading is work. You’re going to need working space – in your kitchen, in your home, in your yard, and in everything you do. As you go, create working spaces based on your goals and circumstances.
Learn the basics of homesteading.Start at the beginning and take the time to learn the basics first. Your investment in time and study now will mean an easier time learning more advanced techniques in the future.
Decide how self-sufficient you want to be.What items do you want to grow and produce yourself? Which items or products are you okay with buying from other homesteaders or a store? Your answer will be unique to your family’s needs and circumstances – and that’s how it should be.

So far, all of our steps have been all about mindset – because if your frame of reference is in the right space, you’re far more likely to succeed.

Once you’re willing to go all-in on one area of homesteading, here are what the next steps will look like in your homesteading systems development process.

Build a Homesteading System

Step-by-Step GuideRationale and/or Notes
Dream up one new thing you want to try on your homestead.Start with one small thing. If you are just starting out and want to do all the things, start with a garden first. You’ll add the other things in as we go.
Read and research everything you can on that subject.This research includes reading, YouTube videos, talking to other homesteaders, and reading books, blogs, and whatever else you can get your hands on! You may also want to find a homesteading buddy or mentor to help you navigate things faster and easier.
*Please note that your research should also include any local laws, codes, and zoning that could impact your current homesteading project.
Develop a learning and growth mindset.This process will only work if you’re willing to keep learning, growing, and adapting. You can learn and do this, given enough time! Plan to learn from both success and failure. As my kids like to remind me, F.A.I.L. just means “First Attempt In Learning.”
Plan your next steps.What things do you need to do in order to make your next homesteading project a reality? Start with the first, smallest steps – and go from there.
Prepare your homesteading project.This goes along with the planning step, but get your project ready to go.
Implement and enjoy your project.Go and do and enjoy it! There are bound to be some hiccups in the project, but find a way to work with, around, or through those – to get to your end goal of being a homesteader.
Give yourself time and grace.Being a homesteader is more than just doing things – it’s a mindset and a lifestyle change. Give yourself time to adjust to your new mentality of giving your family a better, healthier, and more sustainable lifestyle – and, at the same time, give your garden (or animals) time to grow.
Evaluate how things are going – or how they went.As you’re going, evaluate how things are working out for you. How are things doing? Is there a way you can make things easier, more sustainable, or more compatible with your goals? Is homesteading living up to your goals and dreams – or has something gone terribly wrong? What can you do to remedy the situation?
Adjust your plan for going forward.Your plan will be based on your evaluation and conclusions. Perhaps you’ve determined that an aspect of homesteading isn’t for you – and that you need to rehome your (fill in the blank). That’s okay! Do that. Or perhaps you’ve discovered that you need to find a way to make something less stressful. Do some research and try out some more ideas. Or, if things are going grand, keep at it.
Consider adding one more thing to your homestead.Once you’re comfortable with your existing homestead skills and experience, consider adding one more thing to your homestead. It’s better to start small and grow – than to bite off more than you can chew and risk choking.
Enjoy what you do.Homesteading is a mentality and lifestyle that’s meant to be enjoyed. Do what you enjoy – skip the stressful parts. If a particular home-based product is important to you, find another homesteader that you can trade with to get that particular homestead-produced product.

Having the right systems for your homestead in place means that you’ll be able to plan, implement, and evaluate all of your projects. Having that system in place means you’ll be more likely to see success, skip common problems, and then fine-tune your homestead to fit your circumstances and expectations.

For example, I’ve loved having chickens. However, I wanted our homesteading chicken experience to be able to survive us going on a camping trip. So I’ve used my own system (as outlined above) to design our chicken set up to be as hands-off as possible – so that when we do go camping for a few days (or a week), our chickens are just fine.

But what if our chicken sitter forgets to refill their food or water or collect eggs? Well, we’ll have an awful lot of eggs to collect, but the chickens will be fine. Systems work and help you win at homesteading.

Okay – so now we’ve got the mindset and the systems – now where should we start with our homesteading experience?

Build a Homestead Piece by Piece

Now that you’ve got your mindset ready and you know the systems you’ll need to use, it’s time to decide on what you want to have in your own homestead. This answer will be different for everyone. And where you can have your homestead will definitely impact your answer.

Step-by-Step GuideRationale and/or Notes
Learn to garden.Gardening is a common first step to homesteading. It teaches you many of the basic principles and gives you some amazing-tasting produce. It can be done simply from seeds or with some store-bought help via seedlings from a store or nursery. Use what land or space you have available, barring any legal issues.
Learn to compost.This can be done in conjunction with your garden. It’s a great way to enrich your garden soil without costing a lot of money. Plus, it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it.
Learn to safely preserve your own foods.Whether you’re preserving your garden produce or extra produce bought on sale at the store, learn to preserve it. Some of our favorite ways to preserve foods are via canning, dehydrating, and freeze-drying.
Add livestock to your homesteading experience.Common livestock options you may want to consider include: chickens, ducks, geese, quail, rabbits, sheep, goats, pigs, cows, or horses.
*Please make sure you read and know your local laws, zoning permissions, building codes, and any applicable HOA covenants before you bring home your livestock.
Expand your homestead – as desired and able.If homesteading agrees with you, you may want to expand it – either to fit within your current home and lifestyle or you may want to go full-time as a homesteader on a new, larger property. Do what’s right for your family and situation.

Why start with gardening? Well, it’s always nice to know that homesteading is right for you – and gardening is usually the least-complicated, least-expensive way to test things out for most people. In fact, gardening is usually fine for almost any housing situation – provided you do it in an approved manner.

Here are a few examples.

  • Growing up my family lived in an HOA-run neighborhood. We were limited in what, where, and when we could have a garden. So we followed those HOA covenants.
  • When I lived in a 2nd story apartment in college, I couldn’t have a garden except in planter pots on my patio. So that’s what I did.
  • Once married and we lived in our first home, we built our first raised-bed garden box terrace-style on our crazy-steep backyard hill.
  • Today, our garden is in our backyard and it’s just right there, in the ground.

Now, there is definitely some wiggle room within this list. If you’d rather start with chickens, for example, then start with chickens. Just make sure you can have them before you bring the cute, fuzzy chicks home from the store. Most stores have a no-refunds policy on livestock, though some stores may have an “unwanted chickens and roosters” box where you can safely return those rapidly-growing chicks.

Here are some more reasons why you need to build your homestead one piece at a time.

Perks to the One Piece at a Time SystemRationale and/or Notes
Tools and Equipment accumulation.Tools can be expensive. Focusing on one thing at a time will give you the time to accumulate those tools without breaking your budget. Buy the tools you’ll need on a regular basis. Consider renting bigger equipment or specialty tools.
Equipment and building resources.Getting resources to build your homestead takes time. And those resources take up space! So do one thing at a time – that way, you won’t lose equipment or building resources in a huge pile of stuff for your to-do’s.
Getting Projects Done – no project left behind!Doing one thing at a time means you can focus on one thing at a time – and actually finish it. Having undone projects can be a huge source of stress. So focus on one thing at a time – and get it done with far less stress.
Budgets can stay intact.Having one project at a time means it’s a lot easier to stick to your pre-determined budget. Then, when you’ve got more money, you can choose the next project. You’ll have time to estimate costs – and see what you can do next.
Learn to recycle and up-cycle.Doing one project at a time means you’ll have time and the mental capacity to think about ways to recycle and up-cycle other items – including using those often-free wood pallets that are decently easy to find no matter where you live.
Take time to research between projects.Doing one project at a time means you’ll have time to do your research – and make sure the next project is actually something you want to do rather than diving in and discovering, much later, that you actually didn’t want to do that project. This will save you lots of time and money!
More time to appreciate what you do have.When you’re doing one project at a time, you’ll have the mental and emotional energy to appreciate what you’ve accomplished so far. You’ll be far less tempted to keep up with the Jones’, too.
Time to properly plan and skip the common problems.The most common homesteader problems all stem from doing too much at once. They include: wasting garden produce, neglecting homestead/livestock/garden security from disease or predators, improper calculation of the costs of animal care, improper soil considerations, not considering local laws or HOA covenants, and poor placement of your homestead parts.

That’s the whole process in a nutshell. Following these step-by-step guidelines means that you’re going to avoid lots of that heartache, crazy costs, and headaches that other, less patient homesteaders experience. And in this way, you can start your whole homesteading lifestyle – from scratch (or wherever else you’re at right now).

Want to get the complete guide in an easy-to-download PDF? You can get this guide (and other cool exclusive subscriber goodies) when you subscribe to my free newsletter. Click here to open a new window to do that now.

Here is What You Need to Have on a Homestead

Officially, there are zero requirements for your homestead for right now. There’s only where you’re currently at – and where you want to be one day. And that end goal? It could change several times – that’s totally normal.

My original homesteading goal didn’t include goats – or alpacas. Alpacas were my husband’s idea! And we’re still working towards getting them – because we’re doing one thing at a time.

Pick a starting point for now – based on the step-by-step guidelines and recommendations outlined earlier in this article – and go from there. Pick what you want to do as your starting point – and know that it’s a trial. You can always stop, change, or pivot your homesteading experience as needed.

Is there a specific space or land requirement for a homestead? Some homesteaders would say that there is – and that you need a minimum of several acres of land to have a “proper” homestead. I disagree. I think there isn’t a requirement – and that you can have a backyard homestead on whatever land (or patio space) you’ve got available.

And if you’d like to read more about land requirements for homesteading, I’ve broken it down in this article about how much land you need to have a homestead.

That being said, here are a few nice-to-have things to have on hand when you’re wanting to homestead.

  • The willingness to give things a go.
  • Ability and willingness to add to your homestead – one thing at a time.
  • Dedication to stick with things for a solid trial – of at least a year or two per experiment.
  • Space for your homesteading project of choice.
  • Time to dedicate to your homestead.
  • A way to include family and friends in your projects.
  • Resources for your homesteading project of choice.

So if homesteading for you mean having a small garden this year? You’re going to need fewer resources, time, and investment than if you’re going in on both a garden, chickens, and goats all in the same year. And because you’re only doing one thing at a time? You’re going to have the capacity and energy to actually do things well.

Trust me. Do one thing at a time.

An image of the garden getting ready for planting and backyard homestead upgrades going on in spring 2020 at Starr's house.
This year’s backyard homestead projects: garden (adding a few new vegetables), chicken coop upgrades (for predator security), and adding goats to our backyard homestead.

How Much Does it Cost to Start a Homestead?

Starting a homestead can be done as cheaply – or as expensively – as your budget allows. Your total costs are going to depend on several factors, like the following.

  • what you have on hand already
  • what your plans are for your homestead
  • how much work you’re willing to do yourself
  • what you need to buy
  • things you’d rather pay someone else to do for you

What if your budget is tight? You can totally start homesteading for free – or super cheap. You’re just going to have to do more and be a little bit more creative in your re-purposing of equipment and resources.

What if your homesteading budget is larger? You’ll be able to buy more equipment, and resources, or hire help. Your budget can be as big as you’re comfortable spending. If you’re buying all the things, it could quickly become five or more figures – especially if you’re also buying land.

Based on my experiences and research, here are some ways to create and/or expand your homestead – for free, low-to-mid cost, and for a higher budget.

ExampleFreeLow-to-Mid CostHigher-End
LandUse what you’ve got access to – like your backyard.Buy a small plot of land or buy land that’s remote to get a better cost.Buy an existing homestead, buy more land, buy land more centrally located, and/or build what you want.
GardenFind a dirt area in your yard (dig up grass if you have to). Plant starts or seeds that you can get from friends and family.Build a dedicated garden where you can. Invest in seeds, starts, and equipment as able.Build a raised-bed garden and buy potting soil. Buy starts, fertilizer, tools, and go from there.
CompostPile up those scraps in a heap. No equipment is needed.Build a basic compost system out of scrap 2x4s and scrap chicken wire.Buy a fancy compost system from Costco or Amazon.
Chicken CoopFind and use something you can up-cycle – or find a free coop on a local classifieds site.Buy a used coop from a classifieds site.You can custom order a coop for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Chicken RunFind a free run or chain-link dog fencing to pick up and use.Build a run using available or low-cost materials.Buy a dog kennel run to use.
ChicksPick up free chicks from folks who’ve raised chicks for Easter/homesteading and are now over it.Find sales at a farm supply store.Buy more expensive chicks from a local farm or farm supply store.
ChickensCheck your local classifieds for people who are over raising chickens – and are giving them away.Buy pullets (teenager chickens) from people who no longer want chickens.Buy laying chickens from a farm or other homesteader.
Chicken FeedLet your chickens forage for bugs. Feed them appropriate kitchen scraps, too.Use a combination of forage, scraps, chicken feed, and supplements.Buy chicken feed and mineral supplements from a feed store.
GoatsFind goats being given away (rare).Find pet-quality goats for sale on a local classified site.Talk to a goat breeder or a dairy goat farmer to buy your goats.
Animal SheltersScour your local classifieds for any free dog crate, sheds, or whatever else you could use. Pick it up and go!Scour your local classifieds or call businesses to see if you can pick up free pallets. Build your own animal shelter using the free materials.Buy a dedicated shelter, barn, or shed for an animal shelter.
Animal EquipmentFind free options or alternatives that can be used as needed.Buy used equipment.Buy new or specialized equipment.
Animal FeedFind free feed options, including pasture space if it’s available.Use a combination of pasture, feed, and supplements to feed your animals.Buy animal feed and mineral supplements.
Pasture FencingFind some kind of fencing you can up-cycle and reuse.Buy some fence posts, t-posts, and some wire mesh fencing, and put it up yourself.Pay someone else to build your fence.

Our personal choices have been largely influenced by our own budget – because we believe in sticking to our frugal ways. Even so, here are a few examples of where we’ve opted for free versus being willing to pay more money.

  • Land – we use what we’ve got.
  • For our garden, we’ve gotten started from family and we try to grow from seeds if we can. However, if one of our kids tramples a freshly-planted seedling, we’re okay with buying a couple of replacement seedlings from our local nursery. Local nurseries typically have better prices and better quality seedlings than big box stores.
  • We’ve tried all types of compost systems. My favorite is the homemade 2×4 with chicken wire getup we built ourselves.
  • Chicken coops – we’ve bought new and used ones. Buying one to start is a great idea so that you can discover what you like. Once you know what works for you? Then you can build your next coop – that’s our plan, anyway!
  • Chicken runs – our home had a chain-link dog run when we moved in, so we repurposed that. There are a lot of them being offered on local classified sites for free or cheap, too. If we didn’t already have a free-for-us option, that’s what we’d do.
  • Livestock (including goats and chickens) is one area where I’m willing to pay more – for a healthier, better quality animal. We get our chicks from IFA – and our milk goats from a dairy farm involved in both breeding and showing animals.
  • Animal shelters – some we build out of free wood pallets we’ve gathered up for that express purpose. We also shop new and used, depending on the need and availability. We do also weigh the risk of contamination/sanitation in our buying, depending on what the shelter’s purpose will be.
  • Animal equipment – we buy new and used, depending on the equipment and pricing.
  • Animal feed – we use a combination of feed, supplemental minerals, and pasture space so that our animals can eat on-demand while also staying healthy.
  • Pasture fencing – we bought our own materials and built it ourselves.

That’s what has worked for us, anyway. What will work for you, your family, your situation, and your budget will be different. That’s okay – and just the way it should be. Do what’s right for your situation – and your homestead.

Want to get the complete guide in an easy-to-download PDF? You can get this guide (and other cool exclusive subscriber goodies) when you subscribe to my free newsletter. Click here to open a new window to do that now.

Starting a Homestead FAQs

Now, let’s make sure that you’ve got all of your homestead-starting-related questions answered – beyond the tips I’ve included earlier in this post (make sure you check that section, too!). Here are some of the most commonly-asked questions I’ve asked, researched, or been asked by someone like you.

Oh, and if you don’t see your specific question (or answer) here or in the tips section below, feel free to shoot me an email. I’ll try to respond to as many emails as I can – and I’ll get your question added to this post. To find out how to email or contact me, click here.

 An image of the Starr family's chicken coop and chain link run with the door open and a wheelbarrow full of dirt next to it. A pallet wood animal shelter for goats is next to it.
We’re upgrading our chicken coop’s security from predators and building a goat shelter out of pallets.

Where is the Best Place to Start a Homestead?

The best place for you to build your homestead is going to depend on your situation, family circumstances, and budget.

If you’ve got some bigger budget constraints, then you’ll probably do best if you stick to whatever space you’ve got available. Or, if you’ve got a budget for buying land, you may opt to go out into the country and buy a dedicated homestead.

Neither answer is wrong – and there are a whole lot of in-between options that could be right for you. Find what’s right for you and your family’s situation – and then go with that.

We started our homestead in our backyard – it was what was right for our family, our situation, and our budget. And we have a good-sized backyard, so it’s not like adding a backyard-sized homestead has us hurting for space. Instead, now we’ve got a smaller lawn, an animal pasture, and a garden, and the kids still have space for the playset and trampoline.

Where Can I Homestead for Free?

Homesteading for free is totally an option – as long as you’re willing to get creative. Here are a few ways to get creative – and have some free homesteading in your life.

  • Look up places that are offering free land (for homesteading or other reasons, like town revitalization). Move there and stake your claim.
  • Homestead in your existing backyard. Turn part of your lawn into a homesteading area – whether for your garden or some backyard-and-area-approved livestock.
  • Homestead in your front yard. It may not be your prettiest option, though, so make sure you don’t have any codes or HOA issues with a front-yard homestead area.
  • You know that weed-prone strip of lawn along the street that you hate mowing (okay, that I hate mowing)? Either turn that into a xeriscaped patch of a landscaped area or turn it into a front yard and/or community garden.
  • See if your area has a community garden. See if you can claim a patch and/or volunteer to use that as part of your homesteading efforts.
  • Ask a neighbor, friend, or family member (who has more space) if you can grow a small garden or have a homestead in their yard. If they’re getting some deliciously free homegrown produce out of it, they may be more likely to let you go for it!
  • Ask your landlord if you can garden and/or upkeep a patch of the existing garden landscaping area – and ask what they’ll let you grow in that specific area.

Seriously – be willing to ask people if you can help the garden. As long as you’re polite (and there aren’t any laws or other issues that pose problems), then maybe they will say yes. The worst that happens is they say no.

Oh – and if you think I’m joking about using the streetside curbs for gardening? I’m not. There are some amazing urban and suburban gardens (even in inner cities) that use that specific part of the real estate garden. If that’s all you’ve got – see about using it.

What States Offer Free Land for Homesteading?

Okay, so I’m not looking to relocate, but I did do a quick, anonymous Google search to at least get a quick idea of which states offer free land – for homesteading or other reasons. Because hey – you’re wanting to know. And that’s totally awesome. I’m happy to help!

At the time of publishing, these states are all offering either free land, super-cheap-to-rent-for-insane periods of time (like 60 years), or are giving folks other incentives to move to specific areas within their borders.

  • Kansas
  • Nebraska
  • Iowa
  • Ohio
  • Minnesota

Keep in mind that you’ll want to verify that these states are still offering these kinds of deals. Doing your own Google search should help you quickly verify which states are still offering land via any of the various programs.

Oh, and know that some of these programs do have an application process – and an associated deadline. So just because you apply, it doesn’t mean they’ll select you. Some of these free homesteads will probably have a good bit of competition.

I think it’s better to start with what you’ve got, rather than looking for free or insanely cheap land – because that land is almost always undeveloped and comes with some good-sized strings. So if your job isn’t flexible – or you can’t find one in that area? It’s not a realistic move anyway.

How Can I Make Money Homesteading?

Making money while homesteading can definitely be done – if you’re willing to research your local laws, put in the work to produce quality products, and do some marketing.

This is kind of a quick version – but don’t worry. I have a fully-dedicated post that explains how to make money as a homesteader on a few acres of land. Click here to read it (COMING SOON). Or, here’s the super-quick summary – so that you can at least get your thinking cap on to get the brainstorming session going.

  • First, make sure that you can legally make money homesteading. In our area, we can sell eggs – but there are some guidelines and other rules we have to follow. Goat milk has other restrictions on it – and we’ll follow those rules, too.
  • Next, put in the work. If you’re going to sell produce at a farmer’s market, you’re going to need to not only grow the produce but also go to the farmer’s market on a regular basis. As you’re able, expand your offerings – or find other ways to make money.
  • Finally, you’ll want to do some marketing. Maybe that means putting up a homemade sign in your yard. Or while you’re at the farmer’s market, see if any buyers would like to work with you for direct orders. That way, you can develop a list of clients that become regular buyers. You may also want to check with neighbors, family, and friends to see if they want to buy your homesteading products.

There are some other ways to make money as a homesteader, too. Many homesteads create and sell their own merchandise. Others use blogging, vlogging, or social media to increase their reach – and to tap into advertising and marketing incomes by promoting specific products.

But again, this is all a hugely involved topic – for the other post. So make sure you check it out by clicking the link above – after you’ve subscribed to the newsletter so that you can get the complete guide to starting a homestead from scratch and the other subscriber-exclusive extras. Click here to open a new tab for subscribing – so that you can read the article on making money as a homesteader in this tab.

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