How We Ditched Living In The City, Moved To The Country, Quit Our Jobs, And Began Homesteading Full Time!

We feel so lucky to be able to say we are truly living our dream life.  Honestly, we really didn't think we'd be able to achieve this at all.  We were a typical middle class couple, working to pay the bills.  Then we had this dream but we thought it would remain a dream because we weren't sure how we'd be able to financially achieve it.

And then, 12 years ago, we started on the path.  And two years ago we did it!

In light of the recent pandemic, I've received a lot of emails asking about our story and how we simplified and, eventually, began living and working full-time on our small homestead.  So I'm writing this post in response to all of the questions, hoping to answer them collectively here.  This isn't a how-to and certainly isn't the ideal way of achieving a dream life, but it's our story.  My wish is that it can give someone hope that regardless of their current situation they just might be able to achieve the life they dream of.

It's a long one my friends, so grab a cup of coffee or tea!

The Dream Begins
I spent my teens and twenties concentrating on making money to live a lifestyle I read about in magazines.  Although I was never able to actually achieve the high income it would have taken to have reached my materialistic dream, I sure gave it a try.  We had a lot of stuff, we did a lot of things, and we spent a lot of money.

By the time I was in my early-thirties I realized that I really didn't like working for others.  I was also starting to feel overwhelmed by the "stuff" and struggling to keep up with the trends.  Keeping our home and my wardrobe up-to-date, keeping up with our collections, eating out on average 3 days a week, and buying a LOT of expensive coffee shop drinks was getting to be too much.  As Dave Ramsey says, I was buying a lot of expensive things to impress people I really didn't care about.

It was so true!

But this was the lifestyle I'd grown up in so I had no idea what else to do.  Then one day I walked into the local bookstore to purchase a few magazines to take on vacation.  We were headed to the beach and I wanted a few things to read.  I have no idea how, but I stumbled across a Countryside magazine.  I browsed through it.  It was in no way like a traditional magazine and certainly not what I had been searching for.  No glossy photos, no perfectly organized homes or trendy clothes.  But as I browsed through it, I thought it looked interesting.  For a period of my childhood my parents had a small hobby farm and it kind of brought back memories of that.  As I walked toward the cash register I saw on an endcap a book called "Simplicity Lessons" by Linda Breen Pierce (affiliate link).  I flipped through that and found it intriguing so I purchased that as well.

Once we had made our way to our B&B in Rhode Island, we dropped off our stuff, I grabbed the Simplicity Lessons book, and we headed to the beach.  As I read the book I couldn't get enough.  Honestly, it just spoke to my heart.  I savored every single word and I didn't want to stop reading!  The thought of living a life of less stuff and more time & memories spoke to me.  Owning only what we needed and/or loved, paying off all debts, learning to need and want less and, therefore, not needing as much income I thought was a brilliant revelation.  A long story short, I felt so excited by both the book and magazine that was all I could think about.

Starting To Implement The Dream
My husband and I moved to upstate NY once he retired from the military.  We'd never lived in this area, didn't have any family or friends here, but wanted to give it a try.  So, we rented a condo in a fairly big town in the outskirts of Albany.  We both found jobs and settled in.  We really liked our condo - we liked our neighbors, it was near where we both worked, and it was in a convenient location, close to shopping of all kinds.

A couple of years into living in the condo is when I made the discovery of the voluntary simplicity movement as well as homesteading on that beach in Rhode Island.  Upon our return home I began sharing what I'd learned about both of these lifestyles with my husband and it (thankfully) peaked his interest as well.  We were inundated with what felt like a TON of stuff.  I had collections, he had collections, I had a lot of shoes, clothes and jewelry, and we had a lot of unnecessary home décor.  I was tired of living paycheck to paycheck, tired of our money seemingly disappearing, and starting to lose interest in buying the clothing, jewelry and home décor that would impress the people I surrounded myself with.  I was simply tired of my focus being on things.  And although we enjoyed our closest neighbors, we were craving distance from others and an increase in privacy.

The first thing we did was stop shopping and start to simplify.  And that began with getting rid of stuff.

I can't tell you how good it felt when I started seeing less and less stuff in our home.  Initially I was a bit panicked but it quickly turned into relief, almost a lightness is the only way I can describe it.  I sold a lot online, donated a bunch to local charities, and then, eventually, we sold quite a lot at a garage sale where we priced everything to sell.  We didn't want any of it left and we just about achieved that!

The next step was getting our debt paid off.  I wrote a detailed post about how meal planning allowed us to pay off our debt.  We didn't have a lot saved, so we wanted to start putting more into our savings account for our future home rather than toward the outstanding debt which meant that getting it paid off was a priority.

We spent that year really starting to pull together the start of our new life.  Then, one year later, we received a call from the landlord that he would be selling the condo we were living in and wanted to offer it to us first.  We talked about it and decided this was our opportunity to move to the outskirts of the city and buy a small homestead.

It was amazing how things were falling in place!

Lessons Learned About Mortgages
I was shocked at the amount we were approved for a mortgage.  We were at the lower end of middle class income at the time and I had been looking online for homes I assumed we'd be approved to buy.  Initially I was excited about the larger amount - maybe we wouldn't need such a fixer upper after all!  And then reality hit....

I calculated the monthly payment and was immediately sick to my stomach.  We were fairly new to the budgeting concept so I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't be able to keep us on track every month, ensuring we could pay our mortgage without issue.  Then I thought, what if something happened to one of our jobs?  What if something large needed replacement at our new home?  How would we build up a homestead if money was tight?  And then I went back to what our long-term dream was - to eventually pay off the mortgage and live full-time on our homestead.

There was no way this was possible if we maxed out what we'd been approved for.

So, we went back to the houses in the price range we had thought we would have been approved for, which is what we were most comfortable with.  If one of us lost our job we would be ok.  It would be tight, but it would be ok.

Although we had hoped to purchase a home on a few acres, there just wasn't anything in our price range in the area we'd decided we wanted to move at that time.  I should amend that - there wasn't anything that was livable in our price range in the area we'd decided we wanted to move to.

That was our next lesson: find a house that was within our budget that we would feel ok about living in immediately.  Here's the husband was a contractor at that time.  He's very talented and can do or figure out how to do just about anything.  But a true fixer upper had a few issues:

1. Time - we were both working full-time so trying to fix up a home could be tough.
2. Desire - honestly, I knew that my husband didn't really want to work on other peoples homes all week then come home and be forced to work on ours.
3. Money - although we could possibly get a run down home for a steal, it was going to cost money to fix up.  I had the advantage of having a contractor at my side telling me the true costs of what we could see.  But there's almost always issues you don't see....

So although we initially fell in love with a larger property, the home on it was something we knew we would not want to inhabit for long.  We knew ultimately it needed to be torn down and a new home built.  Did we want to do that?  Were we financially in a position to do that?  The answer ended up being no, so we continued looking.  Funny enough we were actually driving past the home we would eventually purchase every single time we visited the property we'd originally hoped for.  We never even saw it!  When we finally gave up on trying to make the original one work, my husband scrolled through the internet listings again and spotted our 140 year old little farmhouse.  It was situated on just under an acre which is less than we'd hoped.  But other than that it was perfect.

What we've found out, however, is it actually fits us and our lifestyle just fine.

Why Homesteading?
A lot of people can wrap their heads around the idea of simplifying.  They think we're crazy, but they can understand it somewhat.  However they cannot typically understand our desire to homestead.  So the most often question we received initially from friends and co-workers was "why homesteading?"

Here is the best answer I was able to give:
- Because while we will never be fully self-sufficient, we would like to be somewhat self-sufficient.
- I enjoy trying to grow what we eat.
- It contributes to a simple lifestyle.
- It will keep us outside and active as we age.

The first thing we did when we moved into our little old farmhouse was plant a garden.  Actually, that's wrong.  The very first thing we did, after cleaning, was paint.  Then replace the refrigerator as soon as I realized it wasn't getting cold enough to keep the food cold.  THEN we planted.  And immediately after planting we drove to Connecticut and purchased a flock of chickens.  Why Connecticut?  Because we wanted healthy adult chickens and as we tried to figure out how we were going to ensure that's what we were getting, we came across information about UCONN selling egg layers.  And so our chicken keeping days began.

We continued to work full-time while we slowly immersed ourselves into homesteading.  I set a goal that I wanted to make everything that I could make from scratch at least once.  Then, we would evaluate whether or not we preferred the homemade version to the store bought version, whether or not it was feasible to fit making it into our life, and whether it was cost effective.

I made bread, crackers, butter, yogurt, cheese, soap, mayonnaise, lip balm, dish soap, and mustard, to name a few.  I was constantly amazed that all of this could be made right in my kitchen.

Next, I learned about food preservation.  I wanted to learn to can, freeze and dehydrate some of the items from our garden as well as those we were purchasing at the farmer's market.  If you're fearful about trying this, let me tell you, it's not nearly as hard as you may think.  You make mistakes and learn from them such as my first time canning. I was feeling like I was really getting the hang of it one hot afternoon and just shy of patting myself on the back when my husband walked in the kitchen and broke out in laughter.  I looked at him while I was pulling jars out of their water bath and asked what was so funny.  He walked over to me and pointed to the jar lifter.  "You're using the wrong side" he said, still laughing.  "Huh", was my response.  "Well this end works pretty good!" I said and kept on going.  Of course, I did start using them the correct way.

We began raising chickens for meat in addition to chickens for eggs.  Producing meat for ourselves from our little parcel of land was something we hadn't thought would be a possibility.  We were shocked that it was easier than we'd thought it would be and thrilled with the results.

We also continued to work on trying to adopt frugal habits.  Reusing where we could.  Saving odds and ends when it made sense in case they could serve a purpose later.  Making do and trying to not default to running to the store as we always had up to that point.

Every skill we learned and every new piece we added made us appreciate this lifestyle even more and long for the day we could leave the rat race.

Quitting Our Jobs
I really did not like working for someone else.  It was becoming more and more difficult for me.  I hated the politics, I hated the game playing, and I hated pretending every single day that it was all ok.  My husband was getting pretty burned out as well, but we just weren't sure how in the world we would ever make the transition.

I was 42 and Jay 48 and we were in no way ready financially to retire early.  We were out of debt except for our mortgage but we were still living on too much of our income and not saving as much as we should.  In hindsight, of course, I really wish we'd buckled down on this.  But we didn't.  We tossed around ideas including trying to make and sell the soap we'd been carefully formulating since anyone who tried it loved it.  We quickly discounted this idea because there are so many people making soap, we just didn't see how that was going to be our way of making a living.

And then I began having issues at work.  I was struggling, ethically, with so much that was happening at the top of the organization.  I did not want to be there and I did not agree with what was going on.  One day I reached my breaking point, it was a Friday.  Jay and I discussed it over the weekend and we both decided that I needed to leave.  I did not have another job lined up, and leaving without a plan was something I'd never done before, but I knew I couldn't continue.  This was one of a handful of times I was incredibly grateful we had a smaller mortgage payment, one that could be paid on a single income.  So we hoped that if I jumped a net would appear.

I jumped and had no idea what to do next.  I started looking for another job but we had decided, at the encouragement of others, that I would also start making soap, lotion, herbal salves and lip balm to sell.  Our friends insisted that our products were different and they really believed others would love them too.  We knew it likely wouldn't lead to an actual income and that I still needed to return to work, but we figured that maybe by the time we wanted to retire, it would become a business to provide us a little income.

Oh how we had no idea!

So, here we were with one and a half incomes.  My husband had been cut to part-time for half of the year for the previous few years and full-time the other half of the year plus he receives a moderate military retirement pension.  So that's what we lived on.  We had decided that we would not go into any amount of debt to start the soap business, so we needed to build it slowly with our finances.  I would continue growing what I could for vegetables, preserving the excess, and work on tight budgeting for the remainder of our food costs and other living expenses.  The half of the year that he was part-time was pretty tough, but we somehow figured it out.

About 7 months later I found a full-time entry level position and returned to work.  I had been a director at my previous position but it was for a not-for-profit that didn't pay well so, sadly, my entry level position at a for-profit company wasn't much lower than what I'd previously made.  I had also signed up for a few craft shows and we had just begun selling our products at a local farmer's market.

In one year our business began taking off.  I had received a promotion at work which came with more responsibility and more required hours and we were spending our evenings making and packaging products and our weekends selling it.  That was the first time we realized that we just might be able to work from our homestead full-time.  To say we were shocked is an understatement.

One year later (two years after we started the business), our business was booming and we were completely and utterly exhausted.  We worked so many hours that we were actually just wasting money.  I was traveling for work a lot, we were traveling on the weekends for craft shows, Jay and I spent all week making and packaging products, we were eating out too much, I wasn't properly budgeting our grocery spending (or any other spending) because I had no time or energy, I stopped gardening, and we were not fixing or making do with anything on the homestead.  We were paying to have it fixed or buying new.  Things were just spiraling out of control.  On a positive note, this was also the year that we stopped personally financing the business (woo hoo!) and it began financing itself.

It was a Saturday in July.  We had returned home from a craft show and were unloading our displays so I could spend the evening preparing them for the farmer's market the next day.  Jay was coming in with a load and I had just sat down on a barstool at the kitchen island, exhausted and hot from the summer heat and humidity.  He walked in and I said "I can't do it anymore."  He looked at me and quietly admitted "I know, I can't either".  I said "honestly, at this point I don't care if we stop the soap business altogether and just keep working our jobs or if one of us quits working and runs the soap business full-time.  We just need to do something."  Jay continued walking through the kitchen heading toward the soap room when I heard a faint "I'm in".  Huh?  I said to myself.  What does "I'm in mean?" I thought.

I followed behind him and asked what in the world that meant.  "I'm in" he repeated.  I said "I know, I heard you but I don't know what that means".  He told me that he is ready to leave his career and run the soap business full-time.  This was a huge deal because he's the one that stresses the most regarding finances and is fearful of change.  Giving up the comfort of a paycheck was a huge step for him and I knew this.  So we discussed it in detail, ensuring he truly was ok with the decision.  We ended up deciding that, even though he'd never made a product himself at that point, it made the most sense because my job was full-time year-round and his wasn't.  So, he gave 2 months notice and in September of that year began his new role as President of Cobble Hill Farm Soap.

We were scared, elated, and had no idea what to expect.

We did make a few very good decisions which I'm grateful for.
- We started the business while we worked full-time.
- We paid cash for everything.
- We had not taken any income from the business for the first 2 years.

These decisions helped in a multitude of ways:

1. There is a LOT of overhead in a soap and skincare business.  Making the products means buying a surplus of ingredients, containers and other packaging, and storing a lot of products made ahead of time.  (soap, for example, is a 1-2 month process which means we need a lot of product made ahead of the time we actually need it = money just sitting on the shelves).

2. Building the business slowly meant that although we had to initially purchase ingredients and packaging in smaller quantities, resulting in spending more money per item (because prices drop the larger the quantity you purchase), it meant we could build a business with cash on a limited income.  If we had taken on debt we would have paid more in interest and had to play the catch-up game with trying to pay it off.

3. Not taking an income resulted in all of the profits being put back into the business.  Little-by-little we could afford to attend craft shows that were bigger (and cost more), create nicer marketing materials, expand our product line, and eventually build an online store (moving from etsy to an actual online store).

My work life became increasingly more difficult.  The games, the dysfunctional family owners, a passive-aggressive leadership group, and the ridiculous hours.  It was all too much.  We were still traveling to craft shows and the farmer's markets on weekends (and Jay did 2 weekday markets).  We lived off of my income (plus his pension) and reinvested the money the business made back into the business.  Jay joked he'd never worked so hard for a job that paid absolutely nothing.

Not taking an income allowed us to grow larger without debt and in a shorter period of time.  Two years after Jay left his career to work for our business, in a blaze of burnout, I quit my job and finally joined him.  That was truly the scariest yet most joyful time of our lives.  We spent one year debating whether or not we could do it.  Every time I was about to give my notice one of us would get cold feet.  The only regret I have is that I wish I'd left a year earlier as we'd originally planned so I wasn't so burned out and suffering health issues.  I'm glad, however, that I finally made the jump.

Living A Life We Love
The first few months of working for ourselves we spent determining what each of our roles and responsibilities was and worked on setting up schedules and budgets. This was imperative as we would now be spending every single hour of every single day together.  Now that we would need to take an income from our business we had to figure out that balance as well.  We also had to make decisions about what to do with our business.  Do we grow it?  Do we leave it where it is?

Ultimately, we made the decision based on how we want to live the rest of our lives and that meant keeping it the size that it is.  We have no desire to ever have employees or debt or work the crazy hours we worked before.  We don't want to manage people, instead we want to make and sell our products.

We spent our first year of living off of our business figuring out the finances.  We make the most in the months of June through August and mid-October through Christmas.  The remainder of the year we make half, or less, than what we make during those months.  So we had to budget with that in mind, trying to factor in what we would need during the slower months.  Not only did we need money to live on but the business needed money for ingredients, packaging, craft show fees, etc.

We are back to lower end middle-class income but we have a much different view on it.  This time around we feel like we have everything we need.  We understand budgeting, have simplified our lives even more, have embraced frugality, make a lot from scratch, grow a large portion of our own food, preserve huge amounts for good winter eating, and have adopted and appreciate living a slower paced life.

I will also note that I recognize that we do have a couple of advantages that many don't have - my husband's military pension and healthcare.  He worked hard to achieve these and we are both very grateful to have them.  When we speak with others trying to make it on their homestead full-time it's usually healthcare costs that poses the problem.  We appreciate that this wasn't a concern for us.

Of course like everything, there are pros and cons to working for yourself.  In our minds, however, the pros far outweigh the cons.  The main cons being - we are fully responsible for our income; there is no paid time off (if we don't work, we don't get paid); and a higher percentage of our earnings go toward taxes.

Some of the pros include:
- We work for ourselves.  Honestly, that alone is such a HUGE pro for us.
- The stress has pretty much melted out of my life.  Yes, we have times that can be stressful, however, I am so much more relaxed and have returned to the practice of having faith that it will work out.  (Jay thinks I should be more stressed about our finances but I'm just not - I feel like we will be ok)
- Working for ourselves allowed us to take care of both dogs when they were very sick, including caring for Emerson in his last few months.
- It allowed me to spend almost every day with my mother and be her full-time caretaker during her last few months of life.
- It allows us to spend time together that we wouldn't get otherwise.
- If we don't enjoy a craft show or farmer's market and any drama that may come with it we can replace it with another or just deal with it - it's only one day per week (farmer's market) or one day per year (craft show).
- We have the time to grow and/or raise our own food.
- If we want time off we just take it.
- Everything we work for every single day benefits us and our lives.
- We spend our days on our homestead which makes us incredibly happy.

At the risk of sounding too "woo woo" I can say that I believe a few things have really helped us along the path:
- Having a clear idea of what we wanted and thinking about it often.  Not thoughts of what we didn't want - we did not focus on that, instead, focused on what we wantedThoughts are incredibly powerful.  I've learned this lesson over and over.
- Finding gratitude in every single situation.  Good or bad.  It's hard and something that doesn't always come natural to me, I will definitely admit that, but gratitude is a game changer.
- Having faith.

Those combined with working hard toward our goals, I believe, were keys for us.

We still have the one debt - our mortgage.  We are working to get that paid off early making us fully debt free.  We can't wait!


Kathy said...

Oh you are right that was a long post however totally worth getting to the end. I loved reading your whole story and the sensible decision making you did in relation to the purchase of your property and when you left your jobs. Taking the emotion out of it and looking at the numbers is very logical. Yes the bank approved a big loan and you could have bought a bigger property with more land however the security of knowing if you had to live off one wage what would that look like. When it comes to budgeting there are wants and needs and the needs have to be met and if you get a couple of wants in the mix well and good. What a lovely life you have created for yourselves. Learning to make one new thing at least once was a great idea as well. Things these days are so convenient to buy from the shops [well not in this CV situation] however just normally. The fact that some kids grow up thinking they make a cake from a box and an egg and hard is it to make a cake with butter, egg, and flour - a real cake with no chemicals in it. If we can't get bread from the shops we know how to make bread, bread rolls, pizza bases, crumpets, focaccia I feel very lucky that my mindset enjoys the "simple living" lifestyle. Your post will help lots of people on the path and before everyone move to the country you can still grow veggies, have chickens and made homemade things in the suburbs. Have a good week Staci and stay safe. Kathy, Brisbane, Australia

Torrie said...

I loved reading your story here! I've been following (and loving) your blog for awhile, but it was good to see the whole trajectory over several years---it gives me the hope and patience to just keep pushing and to not get frustrated when results can sometimes take much longer than expected.

daisy g said...

Brilliant post! I loved reading every single word. It's so inspiring to hear your story and I like that you share the good, the bad and the ugly.
So happy for you both.
Continued blessings...

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Thank you so much Kathy, Torrie and Daisy. Your kind words mean so much!!!