Homestead Aesthetics

Sharon July 9th, 2009

I know a lot of people who read “shelter magazines” – which is just a fancy way of saying magazines full of pretty homes.  I admit to liking to look at them in checkout lines myself, since they do help me beautify my house – just not the way they are supposed to.  I think: ”Wow, that’s a gorgeous sleigh bed – I’d love that…hmmm…8,000 dollars….yeah, my futon’s looking cozier and more elegant already!”

I admit, though, I’m not totally immune to the call of the pretty – I mean, who is – aesthetics are important.  They are also not something I’m naturally good at.  One of my sisters is – she’s one of those people who always looks cool and pressed, whose clothes are nicer than everyone else’s, even though she buys a lot of them used, and who just knows instinctively what looks good – she never has to make beauty a separate project, it just flows from her as part of her way of being.

Whatever portion of our genome that proceeded from, I don’t have it.  I am casual and sloppy by nature, and while I appreciate beauty, it feels like it takes a lot of effort to create, an effort I don’t always have time or energy for.  Instead of beauty flowing out of my actions, it is something that has to be added on top of “functional” for me most of the time.  The only exception for me is with language – I don’t find it much harder to “write purty” than I do to write bluntly, or in any other mode.  This gives me hope that maybe, someday, I’ll learn to make my home purty automatically.

Until then, I keep thinking that the best possible thing I might be able to do would be to start a shelter magazine for normal people trying to Adapt-In-Place.  In my head I’ve been working on “Better Homesteads and Ratholes” (ok, that probably wouldn’t be the best sales inducement, but it is just a working title ;-) ) for a long time – a magazine that would aestheticize function and sustainability – but not in the way that fake sustainability magazines like “Real Simple” and “Natural Home” do it, with 7,000 dollar eco mattresses and 4,000 square foot green built homes with a 30K solar array on it do. 

Transforming our sense of what is beautiful, elegant, cozy, etc… is going to be such a big project.  Some of it will come, as we are impoverished, by necessity.  But some of it is still required.  We have to learn to look at what we are creating as in itself lovely.  And yet, that’s hard – really hard.  I know intellectually all the arguments for the pointlessness of lawns, of course, and yet I still cannot help seeing my waist high grasses (which normally would have been cut by now, but haven’t been because of ceaseless rain) through the eyes of someone trained to see cut grass as tidy and neat, and my yard as a mess.  And if I can’t always see the beauty of my meadow, how can someone who has had banged into them since infancy “this represents beauty, neatness, order, affluence”

The reality is that we’re going to have to offer other images of beauty, neatness, order and affluence to help people change what’s floating in their heads.  And one of the things we may have to point out is this – a working homestead – whether rural, urban or suburban – does not look like a home that is mostly a showplace.  It should not.  It cannot.  So creating images of homestead beauty – beauty that can exist within the realities of a home that is used is an important project.

How can you tell if you have a homestead, rather than a showplace home?  Well, first of all, you are there a lot.  Whether you own or rent, have a private place or a collective one, a homestead is a place where you really live.

At a minimum, this means that you invest your time and energy into the place, to adapting it to you and you to it.  In aesthetic terms, that means there’s almost always a project getting done, and the accoutrements of that work-in-progres about.  Your hoes and shovels don’t come out once in a while, there are tools and sawdust about, furniture being moved about, and most of your home tours include the sentences “eventually that will be…” or “that’s a work in progress.” 

The other reality is that you probably use your home more than most people.  Maybe you work full time, but you spend your evenings gardening and cooking and building things.  Or maybe you have a cottage business, or work from home. Maybe you homeschool, or your kids spend more time at home and playing in the neighborhood than they spend at camp and more structured programs, because they are learning home-based skills. 

That also, frankly, means that your home does not look like a magazine spread – remember, in those pictures, people are always lounging around or having a barbecue – I’m sure you do some of that too, but the reality is that you are going to have your office full of work, or your barn full of boards, homework spread all over the dining room table, tomatoes on the counter – not a bowlful, decoratively laid out, but buckets of them, waiting to be canned.

The major feature by which a homestead differs from a home is that more and more of one’s needs are met at home, rather than elsewhere.  That does not mean we live in caves and never come out into the light – but it does mean we’re more likely to eat with our friends at our own table than at restaurants, or replace trips to the store with trips to the garden, the fabric stash or the accumulation of “potentially useful salvage.”  Not only does this mean projects, but it also means storing stuff for some people (others like to come at this lightly).

All of which means there is exactly no chance that that your house will look like a magazine – some people’s do, of course, but except for those with that instinctive gift for beauty, most of the ones that do look like they do because no one is home – adults work, kids go to school and to activities if they are middle or upper class, or to jobs if they are older and not. 

The other thing that makes it a homestead is attention to caring for one’s place, and for one’s larger community.  Many of the things typically used to meet modern aesthetic standards are toxic, unsustainable and dangerous to the environment. Now in some cases it is possible to find a replacement – you can get rid of the bleach in your laundry and use the sun or natural whiteners, get rid of the power mower and switch to the push mower, and achieve much the same effect. On the other hand, without a dryer, your towels simply won’t be a soft, and without chemlawn and a sprinkler, your lawn won’t be as green.  The brown lawn and the crunchy towels are the better choice by far – but it is hard to get people with strong aesthetic assumptions to grasp shift – to find the brown and weedier lawn more beautiful, or even better, the beds of vegetables or appropriate natural plantings.

Wealth itself is unsustainable.  This is a hard message for people who have lived their whole lives being told that affluence is their goal.  A practical and painful reality is that the world cannot afford rich people anymore.  By rich, I do not mean the absurdly wealthy, although certainly those too – but I also mean people who are simply well-off by developed world standards.  That does not mean we cannot afford ornamentation, beauty or elegance – after all art, ornament and beauty are a part of many societies that live far more sustainably than we do – but it does mean that each of us cannot have our own private palace, decorated with expensive (in both ecological and monetary terms). 

The deep fear of “looking poor” that underlies so much of our actions is one we have to deal with – it is a tough thing to navigate, because it is much more complex than wanting to “keep up with the Joneses” – there’s that, of course, but there are other impulses – the desire not to have to apologize for not meeting the conventions of hospitality or neighborhood aesthetics, the fear of pity or contempt from others if they think you can’t afford “normal” things.  There’s the fact that we too were taught to think of homely things, as well, homely. 

I find myself apologizing to people, and warning them before they come to my house. I’m afraid they’ve read about what we do, and they hold in their head an image of what it should look like.  A visiting friend of mine recently said to me, kindly, “Don’t worry, the real farms are never the pretty ones.”  I know she’s right in some ways, and being kind in others, but what I wanted her to say is “your farm is beautiful.”  And parts of it are – the woods are beautiful, the pasture dotted with sheep are beautiful (if you can see the sheep over the tall grass the sheep haven’t actually gotten to), the gardens are lush.  But the kids bikes are scattered around the yard, we still haven’t stacked our wood and the broken window on the front porch is covered with a board.  There is enough squalor here to read “squalor.” 

And some of it truly could be a lot prettier than it is – we could stack the wood faster, we could cut the grass more often – it is just that doing that would come out of something else.  Right now the wood is sitting where it is because, well, we haven’t gotten to it yet – I’ve been making the cherries into cherry jam instead.  I can make beauty blossom on the shelves in my kitchen as red jars fill the shelves – but only at the price of the rathole look out on the driveway ;-) .

Thus, I find myself dreaming of the day I can go up to the checkout stand and see “Glorious Homestead” Magazine, with pictures of real people in their gardens, the old wooden tools and the bursting eggplant alongside the real gardeners, who do not look like the people at the barbecues in the magazines ;-) , showing what life looks like in a real homestead – the rich potential for beauty in made over and made do, in homegrown and home cooked, in mended and patchwork, in home built and fresh made, and the art of hybridity – the transformation of an ordinary suburban ranch or an apartment in the Bronx into a place that is full of art, and life.

Meanwhile, my personal project is to stop apologizing for my home being what it is, and try harder to make other people see it as I do on the good days.  I like the exuberance of our lives, the piles of books and musical instruments, the sight of the bikes that says “my children are learning to make their way in the world.”  I like the full pantry and the richly colored jars, but also the canning kettle out on the counter.  I do need to work on the dirty dishes and the stacked wood, on prettying things up, simply because I like it that way.  But I also want to stop letting myself see it through old eyes, and invite others to see it the new way.


47 Responses to “Homestead Aesthetics”

  1. vera says:

    Maybe it will help that many of us turn green with envy just hearing about how you live, and having such a wonderful place in the country. :-)

    P.S. I think permaculture manuals ought to include “tidiness” as one of the principles! Maybe it would get folks to pick up the stuff before it congeals on the front lawn. The rest… nature takes care of the beauty in most places away from Babylon…

  2. Ani says:

    yup- I think about this stuff too sometimes…..
    Although I live in a very rural area, some of my neighbors manage to maintain their homes as if they were suburban tract houses or something- totally manicured lawns with no dandelions in sight-the works….. My place on the other hand…. well it’s a working farm and a work-in-progress I guess……. and yes, I need to not apologize for it. I try to keep it reasonably kept-up- no trash left lying about or wrecked cars or anything- it’s just not groomed to within an inch of it’s life and there is only so much I mow- the rest can just grow wild……

    I think that actually what you are speaking to goes much deeper- it has generated much of the “desire” that has resulted in the purchase of expensive kitchen and bath renovations and master-bedroom projects and family rooms and so on- the magazines portray this stuff and people believe that if how we are supposed to be living and so they go ahead and join the party-or rather get a home equity loan- or did…….

    Real people don’t for the most part live like that, nor do they need to. But we’ve bought into an image that has resulted in a whole host of unmet consumer “needs” thus generating lots of sales…..

    BTW- I’ve spent a lot of time visiting farms as part of work I used to do- most real working farms were not showplaces- some were neater than others but most were not suburban looking. The few that were tended to be owned by trust-funders- I don’t believe they were doing the yard-work or even the house-cleaning. There isn’t enough time in the day to both run a farm AND maintain a perfect house and lawn, and I for one would rather spend my free time volunteering in my community or playing music or reading a good book…….

  3. Heather says:

    Tidiness is definitely not my strong suit. I hope that isn’t a principle of permaculture. However, by Sharon’s definition, my home is certainly a homestead. The garden is ever expanding. The bathroom has had half the paper ripped off, waiting to be painted for 8 months. We homeschool, so we are always here, always making a mess. The chickens live in their tractor in my frontyard. People keep asking what we’re going to do with them, as if I got them for a quick project. The thought of having chickens on a permanent basis is difficult to grasp.

    My home is aesthetically pleasing to me, and my family. That’s all that really matters. As long as the place is relatively clean (not neat, but clean), I’m happy.

  4. dogear6 says:

    Wow, I’m not so weird. That sounds pretty much like our urban homestead. I garden in raised beds and it is real vegetables in there. And those lovely vines under our front bushes? They’re actually called zucchini (less chance of neighborhood kids wanting to steal them).

    I love my tile floor in the kitchen. It mops up so wonderfully after it gets too trashed out. But stop by unexpectedly and you can see how really dirty it is!

    The hubby and I have shelves in extra bedrooms, gardening, cooking, and garage tools all over, AND we know how to use them.

    Our favorite vacation is to stay at home. We stay at home most weekends too and enjoy the quiet of our neighbors being gone.

    We have a nice house, but it will never be the showpiece like someone with no hobbies and whose life is lived somewhere outside the house.

  5. gael says:

    Besides all the writing and homesteading, don’t forget you are raising three kids and kids are messy and time consuming and parents at home can be easily distracted – it sounds like a kid paradise- messy and projects everywhere and lot to learn and love. Thanks for posting. How about:

    Homestead Alive

    - the real deal
    -flowing growing households
    -amazing feats besides growing all the beets

    You are an amazingly busy woman, sometimes I read the posts and just admire your energy!!

  6. risa b says:

    In my mom’s family they always said “Handsome is as handsome does.”

    If your farm is something you DO, then that’s its beauty.

    After all, why apologize to a standard established by marketers of “status” –especially in a world where many who have such status are plummeting past us while we adapt in place?

  7. Helen says:

    There is a Shaker dictum that helps me to focus on what my home needs really are:

    “If it is not useful or necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to make it.
    “If it is useful and necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to enhance it by adding what is not an integral part of its usefulness or necessity.
    “And finally: If it is both useful and necessary and you can recognize and eliminate what is not essential, then go ahead and make it as beautifully as you can.”

    As a concept, it works equally well when applied to supper, sandals or swimming.

    Thanks for all the thinking that you do.

  8. KM says:

    Thanks so much for this post! Similar thoughts have been on my mind a lot lately. I have had a lot more opportunity to see the pretty magazine photos homes and gardens than I have had to see other real, live homesteads, it seems.

    Recently though, I was visiting seom friends attemping some of the same things we are and felt a sense of relief as I saw that my place isn’t the only one with big weedy areas, lots of unfinished projects and a fair share of “squalor.”

    Since even the images I see of other homesteads are usually carefully selected/edited pictures (blogs, Countryside Magazine, Mother Earth News, etc), I find it easy to slip into thinking that I am “behind,” not working hard enough or even that I’m “not really farming.”

    I have often thought how nice it would be to see images in magazines that showed other people’s homes in their real, lived-in state. And I love your idea of seeing other homesteads/farms, too.

    I am reminded of something a wise, more experienced mom said to me when my children were babies that I always try remember when I start to feel anxiety over “presenting” my home to someone: Mothers with young children do each other a disservice when they clean their houses before having one another over.

    Thanks again, Sharon.

  9. Wendy says:

    I gave up worrying about how my house looks when baby number five was born, we were homeschooling, my home business got busy, and we decided that we were, indeed, homesteading our suburban lot. I mean, I still want things to look “purty”, but who has the time to worry about piddly little things like that cobweb way up in the corner of the room or a glaring stain on the carpet?

    Eventually, that carpet is going to be a hardwood floor, anyway ;) .

  10. knutty knitter says:

    We finally got the youngest boy out of the bathroom cubby hole and into a sort of bunk in the ex-dining room which will be made over some century into a proper bedroom. We can now take a shower whenever we like. The new bathroom (replacing the 1912 version) is still an empty dumping ground and the kitchen has no sink – its still on the front veranda waiting to have a dent removed from where my brother in law dropped it off the trailer accidentally. Our bedroom is also the living room and the workshop. I do like the bed made because there really is no other place to take visitors. I hope to get one of those lift up wall beds eventually – its on the list!

    On the other hand, the house is what we could afford so we have a smallish mortgage, its on the sunny side of the valley, there are three really good sized parks nearby and the view is mostly rural, tree clad and mountainous (well large hillish). We should be able to live here forever as the 1000 square ft is small enough for us to be elderly in even if it is a bit of a squash for 4.

    One big advantage – it looks very pretty in the front and has no grass as the front is only a few feet from the street. There is only a small garden strip which I keep in annuals and veges and a white picket fence.

    I don’t ever aspire to being magazine perfect but I do like looking at the local magazines just to see what’s out there and are there any useful things I can adapt. Sometimes there are. I don’t apologise much. My friends know what to expect anyhow and anyone else just has to live with it.

    viv in nz

  11. homebrewlibrarian says:

    Oh, THAT’S why my place is always in disarray – I live there and prefer to spend my time there. Who knew! What’s interesting is that when I’m *not* there, it gets even more unkempt. Odd stuff can appear when it wasn’t there before if I take my eyes off the yard (I think that has something to do with the 3 year old living upstairs…but you never know…).

    Despite the fact that this place will never be a fashionplate example of an urban home, the neighbors are liking how it looks – even with blue tarps covering top soil and compost, a big heap of scrap metal and gardening pots and equipment strewn everywhere. In the not so distant past, my friend the landlord had an almost for-real junkyard for a backyard and a weedy mess with random items in the front yard. He’d been fined enough times by the municipality that he’d gotten the largest junk out by the time I moved in two years ago but since I’ve been adding raised beds and growing lots of vegetables plus anything else I think might be edible, the lot looks way better than it ever has.

    Nevertheless, I’ll get a wild hare occasionally and get out and neaten up a bit. Recently it was the strip of sideyard on the south side of the building – I cleaned up the planted beds, trimmed back all the weeds, did a bit of mowing, edged around the sidewalk and the chainlink fence and carted all the plant matter back to the compost piles. My goodness, it practically sparkles! And since we’ve had no rain in days, it’s likely to stay looking neat for a while. Mind you, it’s a 9′ x 35′ strip out of about 5000 sqft of lot but the satisfaction I got from doing it helps me not worry so much about the rest.

    Kerri in AK

  12. Karin says:

    Sharon, You have been right on with so much lately. You are awesome!

    okay …goddess praise aside…I am currently packing up my homestead to relocate to a better situation for my whole family. This means that there are three years of salvaged building materials that we must sort through and give/ freecycle and dump. There is a lawn that in other years we would let grow and feed to our sheep that we must mow regularly for potential buyers. There are the many projects started that are near completion and some dreams deferred.

    But this is the beauty of the home we live in: cast iron cookware hanging from a beautiful beam, pint jars of homemade vanilla extract and chive blossom vinegar distilling in the kitchen window and a garden bursting with life.

  13. Edward Bryant says:

    Looks like this post resonated with a lot of people, me included.

    Late this spring when people were coming over to tour the “permaculture homestead”, I raced about, trying to accomplish my normal spring tasks and clean up the brush piles, broken wheelbarrows, the bag of sawdust for the toilet…there was an almost endless amount of “tidying-up” to do. So I took after it all in earnest and gave up. Then I had a beer and was much more at ease.

    My question to Sharon is…cherry jam? How do you do that? My cherry jam always tastes like cough syrup. I end up drying the surplus, but I would love to have good tasting cherry jam as well. How about a hint?

  14. sealander says:

    I would be happy to volunteer my rathole for the first full color centerfold ;)

  15. NM says:

    We get a lot of flyers from local lawn care businesses left on the front door. I don’t care about that, it kind of amuses me, but I am Extremely annoyed that someone came along and sprayed Roundup along the curb strip. If I knew who had done it, he’d get an earful.
    My husband does mow the lawn, but we let it go brown in the summer, and the roses aren’t always kept tidy and deadheaded and heavily watered, because I’m busy working full-time, and preserving like mad all summer. It does make quite a contrast with the neighbor’s lawns, though … and the guy across the street is irritatingly efficient, and nice to boot. He hunts, he fishes, he works full-time, his lawn is perfect, his shrubs neatly trimmed, his garden is filled with vegetables long before mine (and weed-free!), he generously shares his blueberries and raspberries (which, unlike mine, are pruned on time, and tied to their wires, and Not buried under the willow branches my husband cut down weeks ago that I haven’t yet hauled away) … sheesh. The man gives me an inferiority complex. (So I’m sometimes reading novels instead of doing the housework, or the yardwork; is that a crime?! :D … I think it goes with my Brazen Hussy label …)
    Ah, well. Please do publish your Better Homesteads and Ratholes! I’ll subscribe!

  16. Brad K. says:

    Sharon, how about a magazine title like, “Plain home pride”. We are talking about making do or handmade – plain living, where the beauty is the skill and effort and pride that went into making or providing an asset.

    Blessed be!

  17. Mo says:

    Wow, you always seem to have a way of posting about thoughts I have recently been having!

    I was at the “show home” today of one of my dear friends, and began to feel rather inadequate, and to question whether our home is good enough. Whenever I think this way I try to ask myself “good enough by whose standards?” But as much as I like our chaotic, dusty, half finished existence in the suburbs, I still find myself being affected by the message that what we own, and how our house looks is who we are.

    Thank you for reconfirming for me in the strongest way that this is absolutely not so. I know it in my heart, but I just need to hear it from others sometimes too.

  18. Sarah says:

    Try this book: Griggs Lawrence, Robyn. The Wabi-Sabi House: the Japanese art of imperfect beauty. 2004.

    Here are some of my notes that sum up the wabi-sabi aesthetic:

    Fukinsei (asymmetry) Asymmetry lets us be loose and spontaneous—more human than good like. All the china doesn’t have to match.

    Kanso (simplicity) Zen eschews gaudy, ornate, and over embellished in favor of sparse, fresh, and neat.

    Koko (austerity) Zen asks us to reduce everything to “the pith of essence.” Don’t love it? Can’t find a use for it? Let it go.

    I knew I finally found a great group of friends when I didn’t care that they saw the house messy, but I suppose they were too interested in the backyard chicken project to notice.

  19. debra says:


    thanks for reminding me that my home isn’t something i need to apologize for (“oh, sorry, i meant to put that rabbit/chicken/dog food away ages ago. watch your step”) but a work in progress that will always be in progress. sometime before i die i hope to get the new flooring down. as long as there are children to teach, animals to feed and gardens to grow, hope is a beautiful thing :)
    finished ANOF last night. i hated to put it down!

  20. Raya says:

    I think better homesteads and ratholes would make a great blog- and each of us can take turn showing off our hovels and current projects :)

    I am working hard to teach myself a new “beautiful” the beautiful in the doing and hopeful doing and too busy to purdy things up. Unfortunately rich people like my parents (when I was growing up we were living in a put together hovel) just don’t see it. They talk about it, but when it comes to reality they aren’t happy with the new beautiful because they don’t feel comfortable with showing it off.

  21. Devin Quince says:

    This sounds right up our alley. Cleaning the homestead is a secondary job to tending beds, feeding the chickens, finishing the other 4 rain barrels and the list goes on. Our neighbor just despises our yard and actually called us white trash with a carbon obsession. Now if there is ever an oxymoron that is it.
    The Quinces

  22. Amy says:


    It’s not really surprising how many comments you have on this topic. I think most of us struggle with our priorities of “function” over “form”. I know I romanticize the “look” of homesteading.

    Sometimes I think that the form will follow the function, just as soon as I have enough time to really weed and mulch the garden.

    Last week I went to an Amish quilt shop. The garden was just gorgeous. There were peas already and I even saw almost ripe tomatoes. I’m sure there were weeds, but they were kept to a minimum by the lush growth of the plants. I aspire to that kind of function. (Something keeps pruning my lush growth).

  23. rdheather says:

    I actually know someone who had their house photographed for a magazine-roughly 1/3 of their possessions were removed for that ‘magazine clean’ look. So it’s definitely not reality and since I’m not naturally tidy it’s even further away for me.

    And some of it is how far away from ‘poor’ are you mentally. My parents are very conscious of not appearing to be white trash. But it’s just a blip on my radar. And I’ve gotten a fairly nice couch from someone once because she just “Couldn’t have a couch on the porch-it’s so white trash!”

    But I do need to pick up trash and crap around my place this weekend. It’s too messy even for me.

  24. Sharon says:

    I’m a little too frazzled right now with the new book and the classes to actually start a magazine – although it is possible a new segment could be appended to the much-neglected hen and harvest. Anyone else want to take on the project of setting up a “homestead beautiful” site?


  25. [...] Sharon Astyk once again says some sensible things. I know a lot of people who read “shelter magazines” – which is just a fancy way of saying magazines full of pretty homes. I admit to liking to look at them in checkout lines myself, since they do help me beautify my house – just not the way they are supposed to. I think: ”Wow, that’s a gorgeous sleigh bed – I’d love that…hmmm…8,000 dollars….yeah, my futon’s looking cozier and more elegant already!” [...]

  26. Oh, darn. I read the title of this post as “homestead anesthetics.” I was thinking you were going to tell us – in a purely hypothetical way, of course – how to produce painkillers from, say, our poppies or our valerian. I can be forgiven, Sharon, I hope, for associating you with herbal medicine before home decorating.

    Nice article though!

  27. Ann says:

    Beauty isn’t just of the eyes. It’s of any of the senses. If your food tastes and smells good, it’s beautiful. We over rely on vision in this hemisphere. Surface is everything.

    Crunchy towels? Several suggestions. Towels require very little soap to get clean because they aren’t that dirty to begin with. They don’t rinse well, either, because they are so dense. Full rinse is what gets clothes clean anyway, not barrels of soap in the wash cycle. Laundry often comes out full of soap goober, which can make towels stiff and clothes itchy. You can use just a drop of soap to wash towels. If worried, pre-soak by shutting off the machine after a few agitations, then start it up a half hour later for just a bit more agitation. Or set the machine back to the rinse cycle after it finishes to give another rinse. Then, after drying on the line, give each towel a good shake before folding. They may still be slightly stiffer than from a dryer, but plenty soft and cozy.

  28. gpurdum says:

    As you once posted in a previous blog, Sharon (I think it was when a TV crew was coming through your house), “It’s not a house, it’s an ecosystem.” One of these days I will have that posted on a sign by the cluttered kitchen entrance.

  29. Heather G says:

    Another cheer from over here! Although I am trying to clean the place up, it’s part of my continuing to organize, unpack, dispose, etc. This week I harvested some lavendar and brought in a bit of lady’s mantle and a single persian cornflower bloom — still don’t know where my vases are, so I grabbed a clean jam jar and used that — it’s absolutely perfect!

    Another thing on towels, and also for jeans — let them dew dry. Leave on the line overnight and then when they’re dry again later in the morning, they’ll be softer than if you do a single day drying. Snapping always helps of course :) Got that one from my mother-in-law, who’s been line drying since before I was born.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Can I just keep my towels non-crunchy by drying them in an electric dryer powered by solar panels? :D Just saying, blending new ways with the old is the best way to get people to change for the better.

  31. Kate-B says:

    What a beautiful article!

    I think you tell it like it is and provide much food for thoughts. I am even now reflecting on recent discussions about building design and planning as it applies to neighborhoods and communities. In particular, I am referring to that of transforming our sense of what is beautiful. My feeling is that transformational process is an integral part of actually reclaiming our living spaces and neighborhoods. As we begin to open up to a new aesthetic within ourselves and cultivate it in the environment, we ourselves (and by extension those around us) develop an even greater appreciation for it’s beauty.

    What I am probably drawn to most about Natural Building is that it invariably reconnects you with nature. As we become more integrated in our ecology, we are able to question and realign our priorities. When we are confident and rooted in them, we realize that a building that serves the function of preschool, for example, is much more beautiful when it is entirely centered on optimizing the learning, socialization and cultural experience of the children themselves than it is when it merely looks shiny and attractive from your neighbor’s automobile passing by doing 65 mph. Imagine a learning environment so harmonic to it’s environment that deer walked right up to the doors without spooking at any ordinary rhythm of the community…

    I say, no apologies and no regrets.

  32. Kate-B says:

    What a beautiful article!

    I think you tell it like it is and provide much food for thoughts. I am even now reflecting on recent discussions about building design and planning as it applies to neighborhoods and communities. In particular, I am referring to that of transforming our sense of what is beautiful. My feeling is that this transformational process is an integral part of reclaiming our living spaces and neighborhoods. As we begin to open up to a new aesthetic within ourselves and cultivate it in the environment, we ourselves (and by extension those around us) develop an even greater appreciation for more natural beauty.

    What I am probably drawn to most about Natural Building is that it invariably reconnects you with nature. As we become more integrated in our ecology, we are able to question and realign our priorities. When we are confident and rooted in them, we realize that a building that serves the function of preschool, for example, is much more beautiful when it is entirely centered on optimizing the learning, socialization and cultural experience of the children themselves than it is when it merely looks shiny and attractive from your neighbor’s automobile passing by doing 65 mph. Imagine a learning environment so harmonic to it’s environment that deer walked right up to the doors without spooking at any ordinary rhythm of the community…

    I say, no apologies and no regrets.

  33. Heather G says:

    Hey Anon,

    “Can I just keep my towels non-crunchy by drying them in an electric dryer powered by solar panels? ”

    Um, only if you can afford the solar panels.

    And if I myself could afford solar panels, I would use the energy they generated for more important things than drying towels. Quite frankly, I like my towels just the way they are — and if I do use the dryer (yes, we still have one), I absolutely WOULD NOT use a softener/anti-static sheet — I found the towels didn’t dry as effectively that way as they do now.

  34. Sharon says:

    Anon, you do realize that generating heat with electricity is just about the most inefficient thing you can do, right? Generally speaking, even people with big, big solar systems – say 20-30K can’t run their dryer off their panels most of the time (electric stoves are another big problem). So sure, if you’ve got unlimited funds…


  35. I grew up in a show home culture, and am now surrounded by it though ours thankfully isn’t.

    The show home culture affects us though.

    For instance, my son is on the high school cross country team. He wants to offer our home as a place the team can occasionally come to make waffles or have a spaghetti dinner. We live a mere 5 minute walk away from the high school in a neighborhood that is within easy walking distance of many places we use on a daily basis: post office, schools, banks, grocery stores, parks, library, etc.

    In other words, it’s a great location for living with a small carbon footprint.

    But my wife and I don’t want to have the team to our home because almost all of the boys on the team come from “rich” and “successful” corporate teamplayer families who live in show home McMansions.

    We don’t want to be the object of their misguided pity.

    Perhaps as the McMansion world continues to crumble, we won’t look so “bad” anymore.

    Who knows.

    Thanks Sharon for yet another great essay.

  36. Mary says:

    You only have to put the towels in the dryer for two minutes to get rid of crunch–either at the beginning while you hang the socks or at the end.
    I’ve learned so much staying at friends’ houses for a week and seeing what they actually do and use all day. I often dream of a homestead house tour where we get to see what each others’ houses look like when they’re functioning.
    We live in an area of upgraded older homes and are not upgrading. State of the art 1940s kitchen, bathroom nicely tiled in 1940. But the shower is non-tempered glass, really ought to replace that with a washable fabric shower curtain.

  37. Ann says:

    Good one, Mary. I’ve done just that with both towels and sheets when partly dry and the weather turns unexpectedly. They are like fully drier dried. But try using just a tiny bit of soap anyway so the soapy goo all rinses out. Then just a shake off the line will do it sufficiently. You won’t need the drier at all unless the weather turns.

  38. Jenn says:

    I’ve actually been working on a similar post myself (long time coming, unfortunately), trying to work through the importance of aesthetics and finding some balance between not worrying too much about aesthetics, and appreciating the beauty in everyday life and living enough to attract people who might be adverse to creating a homestead because it doesn’t tend to live up to their aesthetic expectations.

    I’ve tried to stop worrying about how my home looks, but it’s still hard at times when people come over and think my place looks somewhat unkempt or overstuffed (especially for a grad student), either because of the laundry hanging up, the preponderance of kitchen gadgets I use to cook from scratch, the extra books, blankets, games, and things that make it more pleasant for me to stay home, the second-hand furniture, or any one of a bunch of other things. A lot of the time I’m successful and it’s water off my back, but there are times when I do take such comments personally, or avoid having people over so they don’t have the chance to comment at all. So, mostly I just keep on keepin’ on, and appreciate my home for what it is and what it does for me, which is, I suspect, what really matters in the end.

  39. [...] But I’ve also been thinking of aesthetics recently, both while working on a post here, and also when I read Sharon’s recent post on Homestead Aesthetics. [...]

  40. Robert says:

    “the world cannot afford rich people anymore. By rich, I do not mean the absurdly wealthy, although certainly those too – but I also mean people who are simply well-off by developed world standards. ”

    If a person owns land without debt, or has any other thing such as a skill in a trade that will be useful in the world of the future, then that person can be considered wealthy.

  41. Kat says:

    My parents’ home looks like Southern Living magazine pictures, as does my eldest sister’s. One of my younger sister’s home is a Victorian masterpiece, complete with antiques (the pretty kind, not the kind I have!) My other younger sister’s husband is very wealth-oriented so when they aren’t living in the Phillipines, they are at their enormous suburban home (Kunstler would NOT approve!).
    My husband and I, both of us middle children and thus not particularly concerned with impressing anybody, bought 13 acres of overgrown hill and a used double wide which we spent a lot of time and energy fixing up. This is a dream-in progress for us. Our home is very aesthetically pleasing to us, but I daresay it would not be to one of my siblings, and that’s okay. We have a big garden and a barn (sheet metal, that my husband and son built together from salvaged materials) that always has works in progress and sometimes works that are finished but the worker hasn’t gotten around to picking up the leftover stuff around it.
    We homeschool, ’nuff said. Projects everywhere!
    My point is that when I started tutoring a little girl in my Girl Scout troop, her mom brought her up the first time and just fell in love with our place. She sits outside (her choice) while we have our lessons and just drinks in the beauty. Of course, I always think it’s beautiful, but it is nice to have someone else see it for what it is and not for some skewed notion of perfection.
    I love the idea of the magazine, but it sounds like everyone is too busy to do it!

  42. [...] today, I read the following from Sharon Astyk. And some of it truly could be a lot prettier than it is – we could stack the wood faster, we [...]

  43. Joanna says:

    My partner & I seem to be in the minority, trying to keep things neat & tidy while we ‘stead. We live literally with the exurban photoshoot kind of houses on one side, and actual farms on the other. Aesthetics-wise we’re somewhere in the middle.

    I realize kids and cash are 2 huge reasons for not being able to keep up with the less critical things on a working stead, and everyone prioritizes differently. We don’t have kids, which frees up lots of time for maintenance, and we both work full time, which helps pay for things. We sold larger holdings to pick a size of home & lot that would feed us and still be manageable in terms of upkeep.

    I do love finding bargains and reusing materials etc. But boy oh boy do I love the way our new outbuildings look when we build them with the best materials we can afford and paint them to match the house. Our tiny tiny house was built in 1920 as an original homestead cabin. Even with additions it’s under 900 sq ft. But it’s tough and cute and I can feel its ‘attitude’ change with every finished project or chore. We’re in the middle of repainting it now. Yes, the garden needs weeding (I still make time for canning & critter care) but part of ‘steading for me is putting as much love into my place as I can. I can almost see what was a neglected rental for the past 20 years stand ever prouder as we put it back into functional and pretty working order.

    Since starting on our ‘steading journey, I’ve really had to learn some tough lessons about not overstretching our time & money & labor. We scaled back some things I really loved and wanted to do, but I feel it’s more important to have a solid footing under our efforts, and know everything we currently do is “well-capitalized”, than to have so many critters that care is onerous or so many plantings that other things are neglected. The harder we work to streamline and focus what we already have, the easier it is to add more later. But I had to go kicking & screaming down that path before I figured it out. As much as I love having a milk cow, the time & care for her takes away from the garden or building projects. And by buying milk from the family dairy 3 miles away, I support local sustainability. So I sold the cow. As much as I miss the experience, I sleep much better at night without that bit of infrastructure to manage.

    I really liked the Shaker philosophies posted earlier. I still have so far to go in getting our ‘stead clean & lean, and those are good principles for me to keep in mind.

    I do think some kind of pictorial article showing real ‘steads would be wonderful. The magazines are so far from reality or balance it’s silly. I’d love to see inspirational pictures, demonstrating that homesteading doesn’t require a trust fund OR a rathole.


  44. Joe says:

    Great call Sharon,

    There is no reality the lifestyle magazines. We sort of know it but our eyes can easily deceive our brain. And your point about the new reality having to be far simpler and far tougher is spot on.

    The real homestead magazine is a great idea…. Doesn’t sound commercially successful of course but maybe there are organisations that would like to see some real people make real changes that can act as a lead to the rest of the community (as well as inspiring those already trying). Could be local councils, philanthropic trust and perhaps people will actually pay for the magazine.

    I appreciate that you are up to your ears in your own space but it is certainly an idea worth pursuing.

    And thank you again for your ceaseless thinking, writing and action.

  45. pauline says:

    IT EXISTS! It’s Mary Jane Butters in Idaho:

  46. Cassandra says:

    Two words:

    Flickr Group

  47. seomadness says:

    Hey, I’ve already read this one. see sites with yahoo But well, thank you for sharing. i have bookmarked your site.

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