The Complete Guide to Suburban Homesteading for Beginners

Are you dreaming of life in the country but are stuck in town? Try your hand at apartment or suburban homesteading! It’ll help you reduce your waste, live more self-sufficiently, and learn old-fashioned skills at the same time.

collage of snap peas, antique stoneware bowls, and rosemary lemon cleaner for a post about suburban homesteading.

Although many of us aspire to live on land with our own little homesteads, that’s just not possible for everyone. Don’t let that hold you back, though! There are so many ways to increase your self-sufficiency wherever you live.

In this post, I want to share strategies to reduce your waste, grow your own food, and preserve the harvest whether you live in an apartment, suburban neighborhood, or anywhere in between.

Full Disclosure: This is my life. My husband and I dream of buying some land and building our dream house, but we’re not there yet. Instead, we’ve spent years as suburban homesteaders. It may seem a little silly to picture our cookie-cutter house in our HOA neighborhood and call that homesteading, but there’s so much more to it than you’d expect.

We don’t have a huge backyard, but we have a big vegetable garden that keeps expanding, our pantry is fully stocked with home-canned foods and pantry staples, and we are continuously learning or practicing skills that support us in our homestead lifestyle.

If we can do it here, you can do it anywhere! 

What is Suburban Homesteading?

Suburban homesteading opens up rural homesteading to a wider audience. There are lots of different ways to define it, but it’s really about a return to a more agrarian lifestyle. I can tell that people are longing for a stronger connection to nature. They recognize that modern life is really out of alignment with our core needs as humans, and they reject it. They might “play the game” at work, but then at home, they grow their own food, preserve their harvest, connect to their neighbors, and get outside in the fresh air!

There are many reasons why people would start homesteading in suburban areas, but many of these are related to being more self-sufficient, living more sustainably, and feeling more prepared and in control of your life. 

Why you should start an urban homestead

  • REDUCE YOUR WASTE – One of the main things that attracted me to the homesteading lifestyle was my love of sustainable living! Homesteading invites us to make the most of what we have, repair things that are damaged, build things ourselves, and repurpose items when they are no longer useful. These actions will naturally help you to reduce your waste as well. 
  • SLOW DOWN – This isn’t true for all homesteaders as some people just like to add more and more to their plates until they overflow, but living with the seasons, growing your own food, and preserving food can help you slow down. It’s about tapping into a totally different rhythm of the year. The more you’re around plants and nature, the more you’ll feel it!
  • SAVE MONEY – You can easily overspend by investing in a freeze-dryer or a luxury chicken coop, but the same principles that make homesteading sustainable can also make it quite frugal. Most homesteaders I know don’t mind investing in the right tools, but they feel no need to overspend for convenience or labels. 

Before You Start

There are two things I want you to consider before you dig up the front yard or order a bunch of baby chicks.

1. Consider your capacity. How much energy, time, attention, and money do you have to invest in your homestead?

If you’re already feeling drained by life, start small. Pick 1-2 things below to try instead of doing everything at once. Otherwise, you’ll probably have a meltdown (or 5) somewhere along the way.

2. Take imperfect action. Some people, like myself, like to do all the things at once. They want to build the garden, get the chicks, install the rain barrels, and start milling their own grain in the same week. They make changes without building the habits to support them, which results in overwhelm and burnout.

Other people spend way too long researching “the best way” to do things and then never take action.

Choose something to start with and commit to it. You will do some things right and other things not-so-right, but you will learn through these mistakes and failures. Making mistakes is the fastest way to learn. Don’t wait for it to be perfect – just go!

20 Suburban Homesteading Ideas for Beginners

There are so many ways to improve your self sufficiency wherever you live. The tips below work for people everywhere, not just beginner homesteaders.

Note for apartment homesteaders: Because cities are so densely populated and reliant on modern systems, I recommend taking extra precautions to ensure you have access to safe shelter, food, and water. 

It doesn’t have to be big or scary; build a little survival stash in case of power outages or natural disasters. 

1. Get to know your community

I’m adding this to the top of the list on purpose. Although many of us get into homesteading to increase our self-sufficiency, we take that label too literally.

Self-sufficiency is much easier in community. You must find people to share the workload and teach you vital skills. 

They make the homesteading journey and life in general, infinitely more meaningful and enjoyable.

  • Meet local farmers and offer to volunteer or help them harvest.
  • Research different organizations and causes in your area working for positive change.
  • Hunt down community gardens where you can learn how to garden, keep bees, etc.

Everything else below is so helpful, but real success starts when you cultivate community with like-minded people.

snap peas growing in a suburban homestead backyard garden.

2. Grow your own food

One of the main parts of modern homesteading is growing your own produce. Some people do this for food security – to know they’ll have food no matter what happens in the world around them – but there are SO many more reasons. Personally, I just love being outside and I find that keeping a garden gives me so much more than I put into it. It really grounds me and makes me feel like myself. Plus fresh food is best! It doesn’t get much fresher than grabbing some kale or herbs for dinner from the backyard. It can eventually be a nice way to offset your budget too (but definitely not at first).

I know that gardening can be intimidating for beginners! There is so much to learn bout the individual plants, let alone considering the types of beds, soil, amendments, pests, diseases, etc. I highly recommend that you start small. Start with container gardening. You can easily get some 5-gallon buckets and grow some tomatoes, herbs, or other veggies. They won’t be able to spread and you can set those up in a small space.

More gardening tips for urban homesteaders

  • Set up an herb garden or herb garden or regrow veggie scraps in small containers if you have sunny windows. You can even look into indoor gardening with hydroponic systems. Microgreens can be grown on a kitchen counter and are packed with nutrition!
  • We use garden towers from Greenstalk, which can hold dozens of plants each. They have a really small footprint, so we can really expand our garden space without requiring a larger yard.
  • Incorporate vertical gardening into your garden design. Add trellises and arches to expand our gardening footprint when possible.
  • Consider adding edible plants to your front yard, too! We are not allowed to rip out our lawn to grow veggies, but you might be able to. You can also incorporate edible perennials in your landscaping, like blueberries, artichokes, grapes, nasturtiums, and many different types of herbs.
  • Extend your growing season during the colder months with low-tunnels or cold frames. These insulate your plants against harsh weather and allow you to enjoy your harvest much later into the year.
  • Start your own seeds! If you want some money on plant starts, invest in a grow lights and seed starting equipment to start your warm-season crops indoors.
  • I highly recommend incorporating perennials and fruit trees whenever possible. These will feed your family for years and years with minimal effort!
fresh raspberries for canning or freezing.

3. Increase your food production

This will vary depending on where you live and your zoning laws, but many suburban homesteaders are able to keep backyard chickens, hives of bees, or a variety of other small, quiet farm animals!

Unfortunately, we are not able to due to our HOA, but our previous neighborhood did not have an HOA, so we could. Be sure to double-check your city ordinances. We were able to have chickens, but we couldn’t have a rooster. We had a hen that tried to fill that void with the most warbly-sounding crow ever, but technically, not a rooster!

You could consider keeping rabbits, quail, ducks, goats, sheep and more! Here are some of the quietest farm animals for suburban homesteaders.

4. Shop locally

Many homesteaders get into the lifestyle because they reject mass-market consumerism that glorifies excess and debt. 

They’re tired of companies hurting the land and people to make a profit and would rather support real people and small businesses.

  • Start shopping for fresh produce, meat, and dairy at your local farmers market. 
  • Check to see if there is a co-op in your area. 
  • Hunt down locally-owned restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, and more.

It might be outside your budget to live a 100% local life right away but start with small steps. 

Skip the grocery store once or twice a month and stock up on fresh produce from local farms. 

After managing a local farmers market for years, I’ve collected my favorite tips for eating local produce on a budget to help you get started.

5. Buy whole foods

When you purchase whole foods, you’re going to pay less and avoid excessive packaging.

You’ll also be able to control the quality of ingredients, removing unnecessary preservatives, additives, salt, and sugar.

Take a good look at your grocery list. If you’ve been relying on processed foods, try removing 1-2. Challenge yourself to prepare those items yourself or do without them.

One easy area to reassess is snacks. They add up so quickly, and most are totally devoid of any nutritional benefit. 

  • Try making your own crackers or popcorn. 
  • Cut a block of cheese into wedges instead of buying cheese sticks. 
  • Enjoy fresh fruit or sliced veggies with homemade hummus instead.
  • Dehydrate apples or pears for a crunchy snack with minimal ingredients
cast iron skillet with sourdough cornbread with honey and butter.

6. Cook from scratch

Cooking from scratch is one of the most powerful ways to take control of your budget, waste, and health. 

I’ve written dozens of articles and created many recipes to help you switch to a real food lifestyle, which is a true passion for me.

Especially if you try to eat organic food or shop locally, you’ll need to know how to turn your simple ingredients into healthy, nourishing meals. 

Home cooking is a vital skill to make the most of your garden harvest and any excess food. Plus, you’ll stop sending money to corporations that care more about profits than people.

Unprocessed foods you can make at home

homemade sourdough bread being cut before baking.

Set up a regular meal planning routine to make cooking from scratch every day easy. Here are some tips to get you started.

gravenstein apples in a bowl for canning or preserving.

7. Eat seasonally

If you’re already shopping at local farmer’s markets, you’re likely already doing this. So many people have lost their relationship with where food comes from. 

They don’t understand seasonality, so they buy plastic-wrapped produce shipped across the globe.

Eating seasonally will help you reduce your budget, reduce your waste, and reduce your food miles. 

It’s also a wonderful way to get to know a place. I look forward to the waves of produce from my garden and local farms all summer.

It can be grounding to tap into a seasonal way of eating, and it’s easy to start. Download my seasonal produce calendar or visit your local farmers market. 

free printable seasonal produce calendar

Get my free seasonal produce calendar

Learn which crops are ready to eat during each of the seasons. Print this & stick it on your fridge for easy meal planning!

8. Preserve the harvest

This is my favorite part of homesteading: preserving fresh vegetables and fruits to enjoy later in the year. 

I love dehydrating foods, infusing fresh ingredients, making homemade extracts, canning, fermenting sauerkrautfreezing fresh produce, and more.

I highly recommend starting with water-bath canning. It doesn’t require a lot of equipment or supplies, and you can easily put away jams, jellies, preserves, and pickles all summer long. Pressure canning requires a bit more know-how and the pressure canner itself is usually quite expensive, too.

Try these recipes to get started:

free food preservation challenge email signup.

Get the Free Food Preservation Email Challenge!

Want to learn how to preserve the harvest without a lot of space or materials? Sign up for my free 6-day email challenge!

I’ll share my favorite low-prep ways to preserve the harvest that you can do with any basic kitchen setup – no fancy equipment required!

Dealing with limited space?

If you’re an apartment dweller or have a small home, you might feel limited by space. Prioritize shelf-stable food preservation projects that don’t require a big chest freezer.

Store your preserved food in creative ways, like storing boxes of canned food under your bed or other furniture. Tuck them into an empty cupboard in the laundry room or bathroom.

jars of golden raspberry jam cooling on the counter.

9. Rethink food waste

If you’re investing in high-quality local food, make the most of every scrap to make the most of your money and reduce your carbon footprint.

  • Save your veggie scraps in a freezer bag to turn into vegetable stock.
  • Turn leftover bones into stock.
  • Shred your broccoli stems to make slaw or stir fry.
  • Use citrus peels for cleaning or to make infused vinegar.
  • Eat your leftovers.

Food waste challenge

Try keeping a log of what you throw away for a week. It sounds intense, but it’s a fantastic way to help you understand the waste you are producing. 

At the end of the week, take a look at your list. Brainstorm ways to turn those vegetable scraps into something else before they hit the trash can or compost.

homemade lemon rosemary vinegar cleaner.

10. Reduce your waste

There’s a reason why the zero waste movement is so popular. Did you know only 9% of plastics are ever recycled? 

Recycling isn’t enough; we really need to work to stop producing so much trash.

Plus, if something happened and the trash companies stopped coming to collect your garbage, what would happen? 

It would quickly become a massive problem and public health concern in urban areas especially

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Make your own cleaning supplies or switch to a low waste concentrate
  • Purchase reusable products to avoid disposables
  • Replace your paper towels with cloth rags
  • Buy loose produce instead of pre-packaged
  • Prioritize glass and paper packaging over plastic
  • Look for a local bulk store to refill your containers
  • Buy your most commonly used products in bulk (if space allows)
kitchen compost bin on a marble surface.

11. Start composting

Yes, you can compost even in a tiny apartment or with a small backyard! Divert those tea bags, eggshells, and coffee grounds to the compost instead of adding them to the landfills.

There are many ways to compost, depending on the space you have available.

Learn how to use a kitchen compost bin here and then decide how you want to dispose of your scraps.

  • Hire a curbside compost service to collect your scraps
  • Give your scraps to a local garden
  • Set up a bokashi system or worm bin to compost in your own apartment
  • Invest in an electric composter

Each system has pros and cons, and the options will differ depending on where you live. Take some time to understand your options and choose one to start.

12. Get a water filter

I’m not the type of person who is going to freak you out about solar flares or the grid collapsing. I don’t promote fear-mongering in any way and prefer to homestead from a totally different place.

With that said, there are some basic survival needs we need to consider, like safe, clean drinking water. 

A high-quality water filter is a great way to remove leftover fluoride, forever chemicals, chlorine, and a wide range of other things from your drinking water. We use this under-sink filter to remove PFAS and chlorine specifically from our water. It’s relatively affordable and lasts up to 5 years. Simply screw it into your existing cold water supply for purified water in every glass.

Especially in a city, it’s essential to have a safe source of drinking water beyond the tap in the case of natural disasters or a power outage.

Consider investing in a gravity-fed water filter like a Berkey water filter and storing at least a few gallons of water in your apartment. 

You can even can water to avoid plastic and practice those canning skills.

13. Use it up

We’ve got to change our relationship with consumer culture. We’re consuming items faster than the earth can replace the resources used to make them.

Even worse, they aren’t being made responsibly in the first place.

Shift your perspective and try thinking like your great-great-grandparents.

They used their items as long as possible and often cleaned and repaired their belongings to extend their life span.

Unless something is unsafe to use, try fixing it yourself or use it as it is.

If it still does the job and doesn’t hurt you, it’s okay if your items are dinged up, chipped, or slightly damaged.

shopping secondhand for home decor and homesteading supplies.

14. Shop secondhand first

This is the best way to slow down your shopping impulses, save money, and reduce your waste.

When you need new furniture, clothes, or household items, exhaust your secondhand options first. 

Look for

  • thrift stores
  • neighborhood groups
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • your local Buy Nothing Group

If you can’t find what you need secondhand, invest in the best quality you can afford. Buy made-to-last products whenever possible and dedicate time to maintain them.

15. DIY & Upcycle

Humans are astoundingly creative and can imagine infinite ways of reusing everyday items.

The next time you have a problem around the house, try creating a solution yourself instead of ordering a gadget on Amazon.

Check your recycling bin for supplies, and give yourself a chance to try to build something yourself. It might not work, but there’s also a good chance it will.

We’re giving ourselves fewer and fewer chances to flex our creative muscles these days and instead look for everything we need at the store.

Creative thinking is a survival skill that will serve you well, and you can strengthen it over time.

image of beeswax coconut oil candle with dried eucalyptus.

16. Make Your Own

Now you don’t have to make your own candles, lotions, salves, and scrubs, but you certainly can!

Once you have some basic supplies and tools on hand, you can easily make lip balm, lotion bars, bath bombs, cleaning sprays, and more!

Here are some fun recipes to start with:

17. Invest in your success

Although there are many ways to homestead on a budget, you will eventually need certain tools or equipment to set you up for your success.

I highly recommend spending some money on books to expand your knowledge. It’s great to get them at the library, but it’s also helpful to have them on hand any time you need them. Knowledge is power, right?

Ask for what you need as gifts! I like to put canning jars and beeswax on my birthday and Christmas wish lists to make sure I have the supplies I need without spending lots of money on them. My husband almost always asks for woodworking tools or things to work on jobs around the house. 

handmade basket and handmade candle for suburban homesteading blog post.

18. Learn to simplify & slow down

Have you ever caught yourself saying, “The years are passing by?” Many of us are just going through the motions. We do the same thing every day for years at a time. 

I find that most people who want to be homesteaders of any scale) are craving a different type of life. 

They don’t want to spend their lives glued to their phones or televisions. 

Instead, they want to craft intentional routines to feel grounded and present every day. 

I highly recommend slow living. My approach is rooted in seasonal living, so it will help you feel more deeply connected with yourself and nature at the same time. It’s been incredibly helpful for me and is also very soothing, especially for my anxiety and depression.

My guide to slow living will break it all down for you. You can also learn how to live with the seasons every day right here.

19. Pay off debt & save

Here’s the thing: debt limits the range of options in your life. Debt can be powerful and help you do things you couldn’t do otherwise, like buying a home. 

However, there’s a steep price to pay (and I’m not talking about interest).

Debt requires us to keep following the status quo.

How many people dream of something else yet keep heading to a draining job every day because they “need the paycheck?”

Sure, we all have bills; that’s a part of life. But many of us carry significant consumer debt and live beyond our means.

If that debt is holding you back from your dream of moving to the country or whatever else you imagine, it needs to go. 

Get your finances in line. Set up a zero-based budget: reduce your spending, learn how to live within your means, and pay off your debt. 

Start saving for the life you want to live today.

fresh broccoli, zuccchini and beans in a handmade basket in my backyard suburban homesteading garden.

20. Lobby for change

Use your knowledge and passion to push for the change you want to see.

Try to make your home as sustainable as possible. Look into adding solar panels, rain barrels, or a compost bin to repurpose your waste.

Ask your local community to invest in school garden programs, community gardens, or switching to solar or wind energy. 

You can also become a source of knowledge for others in your community. 

  • Create posters with information about local composting services
  • Set up a drop site for your local farm’s CSAs or Azure Standard
  • Invite your neighbors over for a canning party 

There’s power in numbers, and it helps to have people you can rely on.

pin for how to start a suburban homestead for beginners.

Start your suburban homestead today!

Any type of homesteading can be challenging, but it’s worth it. 

But be warned; these shifts may change your life. These strategies will get you of the house, meeting your local farmers and business owners and connecting with passionate people. 

You’re going to get your hands dirty and fail at a few things while you learn new skills.

I suspect you’ll love it just as much as I do. This is how people are supposed to live: deeply entrenched in their community, connecting over food and working to create positive change.

Are these suburban homesteading ideas helpful? Do you have any ideas you want to add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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