On Homesteading Burnout and the Need to Focus


At book tour appearances we often said that, while we do a lot of projects as research for our books, readers should not try to do everything. Our message has always been that this movement is not an “all of the above” proposition; you don’t have to raise chickens, brew beer, sew, keep bees, make pickles etc.; you can go with your strengths and make friends with people who do what you’re not good at.

But do I follow my own advice? Not so much. I’ve been thinking lately about trying to focus on the things I’m good at and go KonMari on the stuff I’ve accumulated to do the things I’m not so good at. This is hard for me. By nature I’m a generalist not a specialist. But two potent memento moris showed up in my mailbox this week: my first AARP card along with an ad for the Disneyland of cemeteries, Forest Lawn. In the years I have left I’ll need to focus a bit more.

So what are the activities I can jettison?

Beer Brewing
The brutal truth is that I’m just not that good at it. I ruined the last three batches due to sanitation problems. I’ve never made beer better or cheaper than I can buy. The equipment takes up valuable workshop space. And then there’s the temptation of having five gallons of beer sitting around. Once I conquer the plantar fasciitis I’ll need to squeeze back into an unforgiving and unflattering fencing uniform. If I worked at it I could probably make some decent beer. But, again, I just don’t need that much beer sitting around the house. And to take the hobby to the next level I’d really need to start using kegs and that would mean more equipment.

Ham Radio
I’ve put this activity on hold. I probably should spend some time acquainting myself with my 2 meter handheld and checking in with some of the local nets so that I can use the radio in an emergency. But I don’t need to go any deeper than that right now. Maybe someday when I’m a little older and have activated my AARP card.

That I could only come up with two activities shows how much of a serial generalist I am. Not that there is anything wrong with being a generalist. In fact, the world might be better off if we were all a little less specialized. But there’s still a need to edit the list periodically.

How about you? Do you have some interests you have already or are thinking of ditching? Of your homesteady interests, which have been the most rewarding?

Leave a comment


  1. Well, I’ve given up trying to document whatever it is I’m doing on our blog. For a long time the urge to “educate” strangers was what motivated me, now that seems like a dead end.

    Or, to put it another way, there are a lot of people out there who do it better than I/we could/did. Like you!

    • Thank you Bruce. But I miss your blog posts. At least I have your comments. In fact, one of your last comments prompted me to read a book about the Luddites. I will never use that term disparagingly again. Hope you are doing well.

  2. I actually had to give up blogging,
    at least for now. I’m engaged in 2 projects next to a full-time job and blogging – one thing had to go, certainly for the moment. Overload is the devil, I need keeping to remind myself.

  3. Haha, “the temptation of having gallons of beer laying around!” That’s the thing, right? I think I’d fall into a happy alcoholic haze … and gain 20 lbs! Better to feel the pain of having to buy the good stuff or beg my beer making friends for some of theirs.

    For me, I’m good at and love sewing and gardening. But although I like gardening and I’m down for some fermented pickles I really don’t enjoy canning much at all (toooo hot!). I’d rather outsource that and trade veggies for canned items. Maybe someday I’ll keep bees, but I really don’t want the responsibility of chickens or animals right now. Sometimes I have to kick myself and remind myself that it’s more important to get some decent food in front of my family than it is to cook everything from scratch. I love bread baking, but it’s not as fun when I’m feeling like I have to do it every week. The list could go on and on! I’ve appreciated your KonMari posts, I too am a generalist and lover of all things DIY, but it’s important to be realistic.

    I keep hearing those AARP cards are going out earlier and earlier …

  4. I find letting go of projects that I think I should do, but never seem to get round to, a very cathartic experience.

  5. I’m right there with in the letting go phase.
    I will admit that your books have encouraged me to take on more activities, soap and lotion making for one.
    I find the things I like to do move me away from buying and closer to doing for myself. I’ve always knitted and sewn clothes, so I don’t shop the fashion stores. I love making soap and lotions so I don’t shop drugstores. I garden,grow and can so that cuts down on grocery shopping.
    Beer I don’t drink so I don’t make trips to the beer store anyways.

    Chickens I’d love to try but at 66 I know I’m not up to it.
    I do find myself reading up on all sorts of interesting activities….but I’ll have to leave the doing to others, my activity card is full

  6. in my letting go phase we still garden but we buy our seedlings from another hobby farmer who loves seedlings. We can even special order our seeds. Saves us the time and space for that. We also plan to remove the 20×30 greenhouse and either take it easy or get chickens. Time will tell.

  7. I let go of knitting and cross stitch and stamping to just stick with sewing. I did keep some watercolor pencils and a couple other crafty items that I’m just not ready to get rid of, but probably will when I revisit Kon-Mari when it cools down. I’ve also given up on a lot of things I never started. I had a lot of homesteading type books, but the first Kon-Mari go round had me admitting I’m not going to keep bees or slaughter my own meat. I did keep your two books though!

  8. Things I’ve given up: canning, stained glass window making, rubber stamping and scrap booking, Swedish weaving, electricity repairs, ‘simple’ plumbing (no such thing), sewing my own clothes, keeping chickens, bread making, general baking of sweets, house painting, reading books about being in the boonies and off the grid, soap making, wine making, chopping/collecting wood for my fireplace, trying crazy new varieties of veggie seeds, furniture refinishing and other stuff that I don’t remember. I still do a bunch of things: all my various types of needlework, crocheting, knitting, growing veggies that I like and that are easy, general gardening,ceramics, cooking from scratch, fermentation (vinegars, kimche, sauerkraut), making my own skin care products, and wood burning. But I have a whole room of projects that I want to complete someday and can’t part with (eg art supplies, various specialty items like waffle makers, cheese making equipment, grain mills etc). And yes, I read the KonMari book!
    So you see I am a generalist also.
    I got a chuckle about your AARP card and Forest Lawn advertizement. I get ones for hearing aids and cremation! And yes, AARP’s age seems to have gotten lower. I read their magazine and am amazed at how young people are now considered OLD…50? Really? Who is retired at 50? Not many.

  9. I’ve received junk mail from AARP before, and I’m not even 30 so don’t feel too old if you get mail from them! Clearly something is off in their mailing system.
    I’m definitely a creative generalist as well. Some homesteady activities I do: gardening, canning, baking (though not recently, since the AC has been going a lot just to keep the house below 80), cooking from scratch, sewing, quilting, knitting, simple home repairs.
    Homestead activities I could probably purge…this is tough since I’m at the point where I would prefer to start more! I’m curious about cheese making, though don’t want to buy a lot of equipment; I want to get chickens perhaps next spring.
    I’ll try to keep KonMari ideas in mind though, and purge activities when they no longer bring me joy. I think it’s ok to have a lot going on as long as it still is joyful and doesn’t feel like a sink hole of time. That’s when you know there is too much going on and something has to give!

  10. I think I got my first AARP card at 48. The way they keep coming is really annoying. Sometimes they send you the plasticized cardboard, which is garbage because you can’t compost them. And then sometimes, they send you a plastic one, and it took me a couple of years to figure out what to do with them: cut them in strips, turn them over, write the seed variety on the back and use them for plant markers in your seedling trays. I think AARP finally got the hint because I haven’t heard from them in awhile. Funny thing is, now I’m 55…

  11. I think part of the problem, at least with Americans, is the general tendency to go to extremes. For example, take knitting. Unless you are in the tropics, it is a very practical skill. One can rather quickly become experienced enough to produce high quality scarves, sock, mittens, etc. But if you become part of the knitting community, you will soon encounter people who are euphoric as they husband sheep to spin the wool to dye with herbs they’ve specifically raised for the purpose of reproducing some museum piece viewed while taking a knitting tour of Scotland. Whew! I do not mock the person who has the time and resources to delve into any activity at this level. However, it is helpful to remind ourselves that an activity can be useful and pleasurable at the beginning or intermediate level. Not every activity demands that level of commitment.

  12. I am also a serial generalist.

    I have been paring down by asking “is it as good as or better than I can buy?” Right now, the list includes homegrown greens, garlic, shallots and potatoes, canned tomatoes, strawberry preserves, salsa, harissa, and lactofermented dilly beans. The rest of the garden is on hold while I decide whether to invest in a better watering infrastructure.

    I am about to give up on letting my chickens free range. That utopia just doesn’t work out in my yard. The mess and toll on plants is just too great. I need to build them a bigger run so they can still have a life, but that is an idea that looks better on paper than in real life…unless, of course, you’re the chickens…

  13. The only place where the KonMari gets tricky in curbing my generalist ways is when I know that *I* won’t be doing the activity that I already have the supplies for, but I feel like it’s way too premature to make that call for my two kiddos. What may not be my passion could very well be theirs. Especially because their schools have had a lot of art/diy focus, and now I’m homeschooling one of them next year. Can’t say that I’ve quite found the balance on all of that just yet!

  14. Perhaps a break from all this sucksessful ‘homesteading’?

    You could always go back to grad school for another 5 years to complete another useless Master’s Degree in the Arts… ;^))

  15. I gave up most everything involved with livestock. Contrary to what I was told in the beginning, “real” homesteaders don’t have to have livestock. I raised a couple of pigs last year and we raise chickens and ducks for meat and eggs. That’s it. No more milking cows and goats, no beef critters, no turkeys that won’t leave by Thanksgiving. No more horses. Not even a guinea pig. Instead, we buy or barter locally (but not for guinea pig!), and I hunt and fish.

    We can’t do everything well. That’s king of a hard one to accept sometimes.

  16. Henry David Thoreau in Walden:
    “I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles. Our moulting season, like that of the fowls, must be a crisis in our lives.”

    We would do well to substitute clothes for tools and supplies.

  17. I have very recently come to peace with the fact that I, too, am a generalist. (Though I prefer the term dilettante. ;] ) I’m not really at a point where I feel the need to weed anything out, but I will say that coming to the realization of my “jill of all trades, master of none” nature has relieved a HUGE amount of stress, as I often felt like it wasn’t worth even attempting new projects/interests because I knew that I would never have the motivation and focus to become an expert. Feeling ok with just putzing around with some things, without the pressure to become amazing, has been incredibly freeing, and *so much more fun*!

  18. I wish I had your problem with beer brewing. So far my three batches have been far better than anything I can get commercially. That means that I’m simply going to have to brew more or make do with the best of the lesser brews that I can find off the shelf or on tap. That isn’t particularly convenient right now, and after a month on the road, I’m less than enthused about making do with local micro brews and their fetish for excessive hops.

    • Your comment almost makes me want to reconsider getting rid of my brewing equipment. You are so right about the excessive hop problem.

  19. Erik, you must read this book – “A Different Kind of Luxury” by Andy Couturier. He describes (and interviews) several Japanese people who’ve quit the normal lifestyle (“salari man”) and treadmill life of so many in well-ordered, well-run Japan. They are naturally mostly also artistic and creative. But they live a simple and seemingly satisfying life, while raising their own food, bartering occasionally, not requiring “things”. but the mental attitude is not of privation. they have the luxury of time. time spent in cutting wood, neatly stacking isn’t thought of as a prelude to getting ready for winter. it’s its own process or activity. I’d like to get to that mind set and live a quieter, simpler life. One day recently I took time just to mend (the pile had accumulated over 2 years), and thought, “no one mends/darns anymore”. It was a very satisfying day.

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