The homestead movement is a modernization of the historical Homestead Acts of the mid-1800s in the United States. Now, however, this movement is global, and has become an integral part of the minimalist lifestyle. In an age when most people live every day reliant on technology and consumer goods, the homestead movement has begun to create a shift in the average lifestyle. Many people are now realizing they no longer want to live a life that is so dependent on items and goods that they cannot provide themselves. There’s a long history to homesteading, which has inspired this powerful, modern movement.
The homestead movement historically dates back to the United States Homestead Acts, particularly the Homestead Act of 1862. The Homestead Acts were a set of federal laws that allowed United States citizens to own acres of land for a cheap cost (or not cost at all), so long as the owners worked for their own land. This included farming, building property, making their own textiles and sources of water.
These federal laws were initially proposed when Republicans of the United States expressed desire to own their own land before the Civil War. At that time, Democrats opposed the idea because they would have greater opportunity to sell land to slave-owners. After the Civil War had ended, the idea was proposed again, and the Northern parts of the United States were granted the right to purchase their own land. Since the South had succeeded from the United States, the Republicans passed the Homestead Act of 1862, which attracted many others, besides wealthy land owners, into purchasing farm land.
The Homestead Act of 1862 also eliminated the use of slaves, since the land owners were required to do all of their own work. In fact, black people and other minorities were highly encouraged to take part in purchasing land under the Homestead Act. Women and immigrants that were United States citizens were also encouraged to purchase land. Even people outside of the United States became eager to become citizens so they could own their own property. The most important condition for these Homestead Acts was that the applicant could not have ever taken up arms against the United States. Additional acts were added, once the movement became more popular. The Enlarged Homestead Act was placed to double the amount of acreage given from 160 acres of land to 320 acres. Less than ten years later, the Stock-Raising Homestead Act was put in place to double the acreage again to 640 acres of land, in consideration of raising livestock.
There were many things homesteaders had to keep up in order to maintain the rights to their property. A homesteader had to be either 21 years of age or the head of their household. The homesteader had to build their own home, oversee any improvements or modifications, and they also had to maintain a farm for at least five years.
While the Homestead Acts stayed in place for a very long time, they ended in 1976 (1986 in Alaska). That’s over 100 years!
Today, the homestead movement has very little to do with rights to owning land, but has everything to do with sustainability and maintaining the way of life with little to no help from outside sources. Homesteading can also be called “living off the grid”. Homesteaders today are devoted to building and providing for their selves on their own accord, which is very similar to how homesteaders had to live during the mid-1800s. The modern homesteader will build their own home, maintain it, and provide their own sources of energy and food. Being a part of the homestead movement does not mean one lives without electricity or other modern features. Homesteaders create electricity for their homes through man-made sources, like water and wind power. Growing and harvesting their own food is another way homesteaders sustain their own lives. This can also include having their own farm of livestock for butchering meat or producing dairy and eggs.
It may seem like homesteading would be very difficult to maintain financially and to make a profit during, but, in the modern age, homesteaders are not limited to solely farming or selling textiles. With self-made electricity and power, modern homesteaders can work from home by selling their own business online or working remotely/telecommuting.
If you’re interested in becoming a homesteader, or “living off the grid”, there are many websites with helpful tips to get you started on creating a self-sustaining lifestyle. You do not have to change your entire life, however, to become a part of this movement. Start making small changes at home, such as limiting how much electricity you use with the television and other electronics. You can also plant your own garden and provide yourself with food you’ve grown yourself. Consider taking up canning as a hobby, and store all of your fresh food, so it lasts through colder months. There are many ways to start transitioning into the homestead movement, but thinking about what material items in your everyday life you can cut back on is a great first step.