It didn't take me long to figure out I was a fish out of water in our new rural living adventure.
More like an octopus, really - flailing around trying to make my new life look like it was working. I so did NOT want to admit there were things I didn't know how to do. But after 22 years in the city, one thing was painfully clear: two decades of lounging around cafes, mountain biking, working in an office and attending cultural events had prepared me not one iota for my new rural lifestyle. Not in the least.
I couldn't light a fire, or figure out how the well pump worked, and chopping wood? That's a topic for another post... Suffice it to say that without my mentor team, I'd have likely packed it in and moved back to my lovely condo.
Except I'd sold it.
And then the housing market tanked.
I had to admit that all the reading and studying and pretending in the world wasn't going to save me from the fact that I had become a 'city girl'. Then of course, the doubt kicked in. Big time.
Could I really do this? Would I have to go back to the city and admit to everyone that my dream was just that - a dream? Who was I to think I could actually do this on my own?
I spent a lot of hours in this place, wondering if I'd done the right thing. But the thought of going back made me nauseous, so that was out.
I needed to figure out how to learn what I needed to learn, and fast. So after a lot of soul searching (and more than a few broken nails), I realized I had a few tricks up my proverbial sleeve that would prove to serve me really well in my new life.
These are the same traits, preferences and preparations that will serve YOU too.
Check out the list. Go deep and see what comes up for you as you read. Some of these things we think we'd be OK with, but the reality can be something else entirely. Let's face it - when you're confronted with an incessant squirrel trying to chew her way into your house and more mouse poop in your favourite boots, the romantic country living ideal can go out the window pretty quickly.
Are You Ready for Country Living?
Here are some character traits and preparations that should make your transition to country life more comfortable and enjoyable:
1. You don't mind getting dirty.
This sort of goes without saying, but it's amazing how averse to dirt we get when we live in the city. Probably because city dirt is usually pretty disgusting (yes, all those people who let their dogs do their thing in parks, I'm talking to you). But country dirt is something different altogether. Usually, anyway... unless it's mouse poop. Bottom line is that it's pretty difficult to do the work that needs to be done on a homestead or rural property without getting dirt on you in one form or another. If you're OK with that, you're halfway there. Sort of...
2. You can survive without a blow dryer.
I love my blow dryer and flat iron. I don't go out of the house without using one or the other unless, of course, the power goes out in the middle of the night (happens a lot around here). So if you need to look great for work or have an important meeting planned the day after a big storm, you'll want to be able to improvise: either have one of those rechargeable or gas-powered hair appliances handy, or get a haircut that doesn't require powered styling. This might sound goofy, but I've been on backcountry rafting trips with women who packed blow dryers in their dry bags. What they thought they'd plug them into is beyond me. But I understand the desire to look fabulous, even when you're up to your knees in garden muck... or vacuuming mouse poop from your sweater shelf. Just because we're living off the land doesn't mean we can't look great, but if you can look good without the blow dryer, you'll have a much more comfortable time living in the country.
3. You don't need to transfer huge files over the Internet for work.
Ugh. This one almost did me in. My soon-to-be-former job requires me to connect to a VPN (virtual private network) to access our corporate file and mail servers. Unfortunately, VPNs are notoriously slow and eat up a lot of bandwidth. Even more unfortunately, the only Internet connection I can access in our part of the world is via satellite, which is also slow. Slower than ADSL or cable, anyway, and some days not much faster than dial-up. Double ugh... So my advice here is to be very thorough in checking all your Internet access options before you decide to move. It was an afterthought for me, which is something I wholeheartedly advise against. Do your homework before you move and you just might save yourself a great big headache later.
4. You've got some money put aside, just in case the whole thing goes sideways. I guess the same could be said for any new venture, but the way everything is these days, you just can't be too careful in the 'fall-back' department. Maybe you'll be staying at your job after your move, in which case this won't apply to you as much. But what if you decide you love the rural lifestyle so much you want to stop commuting and live in the country full time? What then? It always pays to have a longer term plan and a few bucks put aside for any lean months that may transpire. I'm transitioning out of 'employment' in a couple of weeks, and am very happy I've positioned myself such that we'll be OK financially for a while. If I had to worry right away about where the next paycheque was coming from, I wouldn't be able to enjoy all the blessings of this lifestyle anywhere near as much.
5. You are flexible.
For all of the reasons listed above, and many more (including snowy roads that aren't plowed for weeks, if ever, power outages that last for days, and persistent squirrels that wake you up every morning at 3:00 with their incessant chewing), rural living requires a sense of flexibility that city living doesn't usually require. Not for most, anyway. What would you do if you had a big project due and the power went out for three days? What kind of back-up systems will you have in place? Are you in a position to get out to another locations that does have power and Internet connection? Is your drinking water well pump electric so you have no water if the power goes out? Are you OK with finding mouse poop on your counter in the morning? These are just a handful of the things you need to be able to deal with if you live in the country. But if you're prepared, and willing to 'go with the flow', you and the rural life will get along just fine.
6. You're willing to cultivate a 'beginner's mind'.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I'm not really a 'beginner's mind' kind of person. I've been lucky in my life in that I've been competent at pretty much everything I've ever tried. Maybe I'm competent at this rural living gig too, but it sure doesn't feel like it sometimes. And it sure didn't feel like it in that first year. In short, I don't like to look like I don't know what I'm doing. But I'm working on it. I have to out here, because if I'm not willing to ask for help and advice, I'm going to waste a lot of time and possibly money figuring it out. Don't get me wrong - failure is a great way to learn, but in most cases on the homestead, it isn't really necessary. If you're a busy person, working or running a business, and running your homestead, you don't want to be wasting a lot of time. There's a lot to be said for old-fashioned community. Ask questions, locate mentors, and be willing to look like you don't know what you're doing. If you're anything like I was (and still am in so many ways), you probably don't.
7. You're comfortable asking for help.
This goes with the beginner's mind, but is beyond asking questions and hanging out with mentors. It's about swallowing your pride and knowing when you need to ask your neighbor to help you get the wood in for winter, or the local organic gardener how to prepare your raised beds for planting, or the pest control guy how to stop the crazy squirrel from driving you nuts with her incessant chewing on some corner of the house you can't locate! Of all the traits and preps on this list, this one is the one that will give you the most mileage, and the most reward. There are so many people out there who would be happy to help a newbie homesteader. All you need to do is ask.
So, Are You Ready for Your Move to the Country?
These seven traits and preparations are pretty much critical for anyone looking for the rural living lifestyle. Well, maybe not critical, but they sure make the life out here a lot more pleasant. Let's face it - without them, the squirrel chewing and the mouse poop will be sure to send you packing. They just about did me in.
Victoria Gazeley lives in a restored heritage homestead cabin on a 6 acre rural property less than an hour by ferry from Vancouver, British Columbia. In her work life, she is the owner of a small website design firm, helping small businesses build successful, easy to manage websites that get results. When she's not working with clients and developing her homestead, you can find her out exploring and traveling with her family and friends, researching and planning her future non-profit organization/foundation, and contributing her many years of communications experience back to her community. After more than 20 years of city living in apartments and townhouses, she's finally found her place in the woods. And she can't imagine it any other way.
Photo. Witthaya Phonsawat
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