How to Create a Small-Space Homestead

Image by Maggie Hoffman

Guest Post by Erin Odom of The Humbled Homemaker

Growing up, I never imagined I’d need to learn how to create a small-space homestead. Living in an apartment or townhouse or even a residential neighborhood wasn’t even on my radar.

I grew up on what my dad lovingly refers to as a “mini farm.” We lived on 6 acres of land, and Holstein cows were our “pets” (until they made it to the dinner table!). My brother and sister spent summers building forts in the woods, but ever-the-bookworm, I preferred to enjoy the great outdoors while sporting a dress-up gown, devouring a classic while lounging in the fields and pretending I was either Jo from Little Women or Scarlett O’Hara.

We drank our fill of well water–never having to worry about chemicals or fluoride. As a teen, I practiced driving in our front yard because it was definitely big enough. I could walk to the mailbox in my pajamas–because the only cars driving by were the milk trucks making their way from one farm to another.

And when we wanted a garden, we planted it. No questions asked.

Garden 2011 Fall

Image by luisventura

But as an adult, I’ve always lived in small spaces–be it my college dorm room, a city apartment in Costa Rica, a small residential house in Mississippi, a low-rise building in Vancouver, BC, Canada–or, for the past three and a half years–a townhouse in North Carolina.

I am by NO means a homesteading expert (really, I’m quite the novice at that and homemaking!), but here are 6 steps I’ve taken to create a small-space homestead:

1) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Honestly, the 3Rs never really occurred to me as something of importance until my family spent a short time living in Canada. It was against the law to not recycle where we lived in Vancouver, and my husband and I just didn’t feel at peace not recycling when we moved back to the U.S.

We set up a trash can in our pantry for the sole purpose of collecting recyclables, and each week we sorted and delivered everything to our local recycling station. We were thrilled when our town began offering curb-side recycling about a year ago!

Now it’s easier than ever to recycle! And before even tossing things into our pantry pile, we make sure it can’t be reused first. A bonus of practicing the 3Rs? We barely ever have to purchase trash bags because we throw away so little!

2) Live off someone else’s land.

Now, I’m not suggesting you just go planting in your neighbor’s yard without asking! But if you do not have any land where you can plant (we have only a concrete patio), then seek out a friend, neighbor, co-worker or relative!

For the past 3 years, our family has borrowed a small patch of land on my parents’ “mini farm,” where we house 3 box gardens. Perhaps you can barter a service in order to use the land–or even ask if you can rent land if you are able.

3) Buy local when/if possible.

The next best thing to harvesting from your own garden is buying from someone else’s instead of the grocery store. Now, I will be transparent and say that a lot of our food still comes from the supermarket, but I try to buy local what I can without breaking our budget. And think outside of just produce at roadside stands or farmers’ markets. We have bought eggs and sausage from my doula’s “mini farm” down the street.

drying diapers

Image by simplyla

4) Use cloth.

Want to simplify your living and cut down your spending? Switch to cloth napkins, cloth dish towels, cloth diapers, etc.

5) Air dry your laundry with a drying rack.

When we first moved into our townhouse, my husband installed a retractable clothesline. I romanticized that I was Ma Ingalls every time I stretched out the line on our patio and hung my baby’s diapers in the sun.

Then reality hit: We received notice from our landlord that the Home Owners’ Association in our neighborhood outlaws clotheslines. Someone had turned us in. (Perhaps they thought the cloth diapers were some funny-looking granny panties?) Our solution? We purchased a basic drying rack that functions just as well as the line.

Jill: Heck, I can have a clothesline where I live, and I still prefer my drying rack! :)

6) Start a container garden.

We planted our very first small herb garden on our patio this past summer. I admit I don’t have the greenist of thumbs, and I killed it. Yes, I killed it. But I’ll try again next year.

What are some ways you have made your apartment or townhouse a homestead?

Erin Odom is a stay-at-home wife and mother to three little redheaded girls–ages 4, 2 and newborn. She loves practicing the semi-crunchy lifestyle from her small-space homestead in North Carolina. She’s a lover of Jesus, cloth diapers, natural birthing and {mostly} real food–albeit with an occasional trip to Chick-fil-A or a sip of a Reese milkshake here and there. She writes for her local newspaper, edits eBooks and blogs at The Humbled Homemaker–putting a biblical spin on natural homemaking for far-from-perfect homemakers.


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  1. says

    Great ideas for those with small spaces! We are homesteading on 1 acre…which seems like a log in comparison :)

    Would love to have you join up at Wildcrafting Wednesday…

  2. Megan says

    I live in a mobile home in a very strict community. i do not have digging rights so i cannot have a traditional garden at my house. my solution was to use 5 gallon buckets that i recycled from the local grocery store bakery dept on my patio. i also have a small plot at my churches’ community garden. Luckily for me, the other 6 gardeners are only growing food to be sold to the other parishioners for church income, or sent to the local food bank, so they let me get first dibs on their harvest as well. Recently i have started a rabbitry in my shed. i have 2 large cages that i built from chicken wire salvaged from the community garden and wood pallets from the store. i am currently feeding 5 flemish giants that are 2.5 months old that i got for free from craigslist and am in the market for a NZW to cross breed with the one flemish i plan to keep.

  3. Katie says

    I’m so glad I’m not the only person who manages to kill all her plants! We have a garden in the backyard and several big containers of herbs, and none of them have survived through to August in three or four years. I can blame it on the drought and unseasonable heat all I want, but mostly, I’m just not very good at gardening! :-)

    Good tips, Erin! There’s always something we can do, even when we don’t have the ideal set-ups we would like to have.

    • Judy French-Disch says

      You will have wonderful plants if you use worm tea and castings from red wriggler worms. You can raise them I house, outside, your patio, etc. Mine are In my shed during winter. They thrive on a combo of produce scraps, egg shells, shredded paper ( junk mail, newspaper, etc.), bread, etc. just google “red wriggler worms” and see how to raise them. I used recycle containers and my husband drilled holes in them to allow air and the “tea” to drain. I catch the “tea” in an aluminum disposable turkey Pan. Good luck!

  4. says

    More confirmation that you are totally awesome, Erin! I am so blessed to “know” you. You may not have your own mini-farm but you are amazing and making a huge difference in lives around the country – of that I am a testimony! :)
    I see you didn’t mention it, but it is something I’ve been considering of myself lately: is it possible that we don’t have our dream homesteads at the moment because we are meant to expend our energies writing to encourage and bring hope to others instead? especially during a period of our lives when the task of raising babies takes more of our energy than is required of a full-scale homestead? It’s a thought that at least makes me feel a little better about failing as a cattle rancher… that perhaps I was made for something else. At least at this point in my life – with small children underfoot. Perhaps when our little ones grow a little more we will both have the chance to establish our dream homesteads (if that’s what we still want/need and God willing, of course!). Just a thought… I don’t know. I hope this isn’t too personal a question for this forum. I just thought it would be nice to hear what established homesteaders think.
    Hope you have a blessed and relaxing holiday and that you enter the new year refreshed, renewed and recharged. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  5. says

    Thanks to Erin for posting and to Jill for hosting. My wife Heidi and I are in the process of creating a small space homestead ourselves. The challenges are evident, but there are some excellent benefits as well! We recently started our own blog on this very topic. You your readers can check it out at if you are interested. I loved your ideas about borrowing land. We too have found this to be a very practical solution. Thanks again.

  6. Kristina says

    My fiance just moved (he accepted an offer for his DREAM job) from our perfect little 1929 craftman house “in town” (a little over 1/2 acre) in a small rural farming town in northern Michigan where we had almost an acre. To a southern lakeside community along Lake Michigan, in a townhouse, with a 10×10 ft patio. Luckily our neighbors garden around their patios so I know I can get away with some tomatoes and herbs in containers and I’m thinking of trying a potato tower this summer as well. However, our kitchen is HUGE so my usual bread making and canning continue at pace, and for Christmas my parents bought us a pasta maker (which I see reducing our grocery budget quite a bit!). I’m loving the blog and I’m so glad I found you!