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5 tips on how to avoid overwhelm on the homestead, because let’s face it, this old-fashioned way of life, it adds another layer of work and tasks. It’s worth it, oh is it worth it, but it’s important to make sure we’re enjoying the process and not allowing ourselves to get too close to burnout.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #189 5 Tips on How to Avoid Overwhelm on the Homestead, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.
This week, I sat down with Stacy Lyn Harris of Lots of Living to talk about family life, expectations, and how to avoid overwhelm on the homestead. Stacy is a writer, speaker, chef, TV personality, mother, wife, and homesteader from Alabama. As her family has grown, she’s developed approaches that keep her grounded and connected throughout her very full days. In this week’s podcast, she shares those strategies with me and gives us a peek into life on her busy homestead.
Melissa: Stacy, welcome to the Pioneering Today podcast. Thank you so much for coming on. I’m really excited because this is an area that I feel like I still struggle with. I think almost all people feel overwhelmed when we’re going beyond just “regular” life trying to get everything done and adding a homesteading element. It is such worthwhile work, but it is more work. So let’s give people a little bit of backstory. Tell us how many kids you have. This is why you are totally qualified to help us with the how to avoid overwhelm on the homestead.
Stacy: Yeah! I have seven kids. It’s the same thing as homesteading. You have one and the next and by the time you have seven, you’re kind of able to do it. But you’re always in a heightened state of awareness. I never am totally relaxed. Not as relaxed as when I was younger. Does that make any sense?
Melissa: It does make sense. And I only have two kids. I come from a large family with 10 kids, but during my childhood we weren’t all in the house together. But I totally get what you’re saying, because I’m always thinking ahead. Homesteading is different than having seven children. The kids are way more important! But I’m always thinking: I’ve got to do this next, and this next, or this needs attention now. The livestock and the garden and the kitchen and all that kind of stuff.
Stacy: It’s crazy, especially right now in the height of summer. You’re excited, on one hand, that all of the eggplant are ready to be picked, but on the other hand that means I’m going to be in the kitchen until, like, 10 o’clock tonight. And with the kids, if you can think, “I’m going to have them with me and I’m just going to think five minutes at a time. I’m not going to get too overwhelmed and think about four hours down the road. I’m just going to do this right now and enjoy the moment.” That kind of makes everything better. You’re only one person. It’s going to be family time, not just, “I’m going to do this and I’m going to miss being with the kids again.” Today we’re going to do all of this together. It makes a big difference. So it doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming, if that makes any sense.
Melissa: So, how do you handle all of that? I’m assuming that some of the kids have certain chores and responsibilities. But as the facilitator, what are your tips that you’ve learned to keep all of this going?
Stacy: As far as the kids go, everybody has work to do. I grew up as an only child. I have a half-brother and a half-sister, but we didn’t grow up together and I really didn’t see them that much. So I’m going from me being all alone to having seven children. And it’s a different kind of world. But one of the advantages that I’m seeing with having a large family is that everybody has to pull their load. And there’s more peer pressure. When somebody doesn’t pull their load, the other siblings let them know. So a lot of my responsibility is off!
When they were younger, I started them working from pretty much when they could move. Not because I needed it, and I didn’t even know what I was doing. I was just trying to give them something to do. I homeschool, and I read a book from Charlotte Mason, an educator. She said to give children something to do, something to think about, and something to love. So every day when I wake up, I’ve tried to do that.
As a mom, having children every two years, you’ve got a lot of work to do. If you can teach your kids to put up their clothes, put the silverware up in the kitchen, even if they’re doing a terrible job, just don’t worry about it. You have to overlook the fact that it’s not going to be orderly for a long time and let them get used to working and being helpful. Shoot for that good feeling and then they’ll want to be with you when you’re working. They pitch in. That’s what I noticed.
And I never would have done that growing up. Never. I mean, I would never just voluntarily pitch in. Maybe I was just totally spoiled. But it’s been different, watching my kids. My husband is such a do-er, he does so much. Maybe they got that from him. I’m always doing things now, but growing up, I wasn’t so much.
I think it’s important to have them help as young as you can. If you’ve got bigger kids, my thought is not to make them do this stuff like the garden. You don’t want to make them hate it. But you have to sit them down and say, “Okay, what are you going to be responsible for in our home?” And let them tell you what they want to be responsible for. We haven’t had to make our kids do a whole lot of anything, it’s like they just kind of did it. I would assign a list in the kitchen, and for a while they were rotating chores every week, but eventually people just kind of took their own and went with it, and it just kind of worked out. So train them early. And if they’re not trained, ask them, “What responsibility do you think you should have in our home?” They will probably take on more than you would give them because they are going to feel responsible.
Stacy: Some of the things that have helped me through the years that I’ve realized: having realistic expectations with myself, with my children, and with my husband. That will help you to be a happy person. Just being thankful everyday for what they are doing and who they are and knowing that it’s okay if we don’t do certain things. A lot of people that homestead want to do it all, and a lot of times your land may not be conducive to it. It may be too much trouble that year for you to do beans or whatever. Be okay and say, “I’m not a failure at this just because I don’t want to grow peas this year. I’m going to grow everything else and barter with a friend that does peas.” This year I’m doing that with my dad. We’re not growing peas, we don’t need any nitrogen in the soil. This year I’m just letting him do all of the peas and pole beans and we’re trading eggplant and tomatoes. So I think being able to release some of your duties is another thing. And not having the high expectations that you’re going to do all of it every year. Because some years you just may need a break.
Melissa: I really like that you brought that point up, because it’s so true. We’re so blessed, on one hand, to live in this digital internet age. I mean, hello, we’re doing a podcast together from two opposite parts of the United States and getting to share with people all over the world. And we can go online now and there’s so much that we can learn. Before, if we didn’t have somebody in our local area or we didn’t grow up with it, we’d have to go to the library or it’d be really hard to find the information. There’s so many blessings about it. And I want to preface it that way because I think, just like you said, if we look at things from the perspective of being grateful and thankful, it always helps. Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed, to think “Thank you, I’m so blessed to have this many tomatoes to put up for my family,” instead of being like, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do with all these?”
But there is a different pressure now, especially with social media. Everybody puts their best foot forward on social media. I mean, most of us aren’t posting all of our failures and the messiest part of our house. We’re posting the highlight reel, which is fine and can be helpful. Inspiring, too. But you put that pressure on yourself, like “I’m not a real homesteader if I don’t have my own milk source and my own eggs.” But you don’t have to do it all to have the wonderful benefits. You can be a real, bonafide homesteader, even if you’re not doing everything and take years off.
For example, this year we did not raise any pigs. I still had plenty of pork in the freezer from when we raised our pigs the year before. We had our beef cattle coming in, we just got done going to the coast and getting all of our crab for the year, and I’ve got my chickens for eggs and all of that. We don’t really need to raise the pork this year. It’s a whole other thing any time you bring on another livestock. Their fencing, their feed, care for them, all that stuff. And so we decided we’re not gonna be raising pork this year, and that’s totally fine. Next year we probably will, but like you said, even in the garden, maybe you’re not going to do a crop this year. It’s okay if you take things away and you’re not doing all of it, all the time. You give yourself permission for that.
I think as homesteaders, we are naturally go-getters. We just naturally are hard workers and we want to do all the things. And so I think that can be a big pitfall for us naturally. If you’re into homesteading and even gardeners, you always want to do everything. But being very realistic about what you can do at that specific time is so key to avoid overwhelm on the homestead.
Stacy: Also, ask if this is something you know that you’re being prideful about or is it really something that is going to benefit your family. You want to stay sane and have a fun time with what you’re doing and let your kids see that you’re a happy person so that they want to walk in your steps. If you cut something out, look at it realistically. An heirloom tomato will cost you $5 to get at the farmer’s market. That’s a lot of money for tomatoes. I say yes, that’s worth growing on your own. But say, for instance, peas. I love peas, by the way. Peas are my favorite. But my dad grows them and I have that source. At the same time, you could get them at the farmer’s market for pretty cheap. So, money-wise, you may be saving money if you just let another person grow your stuff. Try to look at it from a financial standpoint, because there’s a lot of things that don’t pay for themselves. You can knock it down based on that.
Melissa: That’s one of the things that we do, too. I don’t grow a whole lot of sweet corn. We enjoy fresh corn on the cob in the summer with some meals, but throughout the whole year we don’t eat a whole bunch of corn. So to take up all that crop space when I could use it for tomatoes and some of those other things– cost-wise, it’s just not worth it for us. So we don’t grow it. But if fresh corn on the cob is something that you and your family go through a ton of and you can’t get it at a cheap price… everybody kind of has to do that evaluation. I think it’s really important to look at everything.
I also want to come back to what’s realistic even in a day. Because I used to have these to-do lists for a day and if I only got three of the ten things done, I was like, “Oh, I didn’t get everything done I needed to.” One time I was complaining to my Mama and she said, “Well, what else was on your list? What all did you have down that you needed to do today that you didn’t get done?” And so I read her off this list. Oh, it was so funny. I needed to can, you know, 10 pounds of strawberries, and then I needed to get all the laundry done, and then the house needed dusting, and all the bathrooms cleaned. And then I also needed to get started on the pickles, and the garden weeded, and all this stuff. Oh, and write a magazine article! And she just started laughing. She said, “Honey, nobody could get all that done in one day.” And it was so simple, but I just expected that I should be able, ideally, to get all that done. And then after she said that, it made me evaluate. There’s no way I could do that all in one day. So I would add prioritizing what is realistic to get done in a day, what has to get done, and then not worrying about the rest.
Stacy: I told my son that this morning. I looked at him and I said, “You look like I do sometimes. It looks like you’re kind of lost a little bit. Pick three things today that you really need to get done. Three things, and then expect to get one of them done.” Because it’s going to take you three times longer to do anything on your list than you think. And if you can remember that, to go ahead and make your list and then cut it down by two thirds, then that’s probably what you can get done. Because my list sounds just like yours. And I still make them that way because I’m thinking of everything I need to get done. But if I can go back and circle the top three, it’s very, very helpful to me. I had something this week that I haven’t done yet and it’s been circled on all of my days. But, you know, it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world.
One day, I went outside and my husband was in the garden. I sat down and I said, “I cannot do this.” And I know that everybody has probably felt like that. It happens for me about once a week. I’m like, “I just cannot keep this up. I cannot do everything on my list.” And he said, “Look, I like order and I like to be able to know what I’m going to be doing each day, but no two days are going to look alike for you.” And when he said that, it opened up a whole new world for me because I would like to get up, read my Bible, and then teach the kids for four hours, and then make my phone calls in the afternoon. I write the article I need to write, go out in the garden that evening… I’d like it to be one, two, three, four, five, six, and it life is not like that. The interruptions! One day I just wrote down all the interruptions. It was unbelievable. But realizing that interruption’s fine and that sometimes you need them: that is a huge, huge thing. And that no two days are gonna look alike. Each day is a new day. I don’t know why that meant so much to me, but it really did. No time or person or wife or kids or husband or garden is perfect. None of them are perfect, at all. Just knowing that is a huge thing.
Melissa: I tend to set higher expectations for myself than I do for my family. And it’s the same thing. I’m not perfect, and I have to quit measuring everything against perfection. With my kids and my husband and, like you said, the crops and the weather, all of it. Because there’s some years when everything seems to come so easy with the garden. And then there’s other years. Like this year has been rainy and cold. I mean, it is July 16th and I have not harvested any zucchini yet because we have just been so cold that they’re only an inch long now. They’re just not wanting to grow.
Stacy: Isn’t it crazy? Our zucchini is completely done. It’s amazing how different it is there and here. And this is the problem! People will go on Instagram and they see this other person’s garden. Like, mine did really great this year. Then, if somebody says they’re not getting any eggplant or “My tomatoes didn’t grow,” they may feel like a failure when it has nothing to do with you. But my dad, he lives 45 minutes away and he says his garden is just pitiful this year. He always has a great garden, but this year somehow ours has done really good, and it’s just not his fault. To look around you and see other people succeeding in what they’re doing and you feel like you’re failing, that makes you feel bad. But realize that every year is different for every person and you’re not a failure just because something doesn’t work out.
Melissa: I completely agree. I’m a big believer in looking at things and evaluating them after the fact. Like looking at the garden and asking, “Was there anything I could do to improve things?” I might note my soil levels were great. There’s no nitrogen, there’s no calcium. It simply comes down to the weather. Now, in years past, that’s hasn’t been true. I had a lot of blossom-end rot. Well, that was my fault because I needed to put some more calcium in the soil and I needed to improve my watering techniques. But you always learn every year with gardening. I’ve been a gardener since the time I was a baby. My parents started me out young. My husband and I have been married for 20 years, have had our own garden for 20 years, and I’m still learning something every single year. But you know, there’s not actually anything I could have done this year to improve that zucchini harvest. It’s totally weather dependent. So know where you can improve and where you can’t, it’s simply out of your control.
I think giving yourself permission to do the things that aren’t perfect goes along with what you’re saying. So I’m going to be totally honest. There have been days where I have been preserving and doing a ton of canning. Because sometimes when the harvest is on, it’s just on, and I’ve got to get to it or it’s going to get lost. So those are the days that the house doesn’t get cleaned because I’m busy preserving. You can spend all day harvesting your own home-grown food and preserving it, and it is okay if you buy a Costco frozen pizza and that is what is for dinner.
Stacy: Amen, girl! Seriously, when you are doing all of that, your kitchen is a disaster. You can’t just go, “Okay, I think we’re going to have a meal now.” And I’ll hear people say, “Oh, just put something in a crockpot,” and that’s good. You can do that. I am going to order a pizza, because it’s just too much for me. And everybody has a different level of where they know, “Okay, I will go crazy if I have to do that.” And you know that, so just go with it. You’re made the way you’re made, and just be okay with that. I don’t know about y’all, but I use disposable diapers. That’s not very sustainable, I wasn’t really into the sustainability at that time. I don’t know what I would do now, and I wouldn’t say that I wouldn’t use them. If that’s gonna make your life easier and better, better that you be sane than not.
I think sometimes you have to give yourself a break. Whether it’s that or whether you choose to get the pizza, you know, or whether you choose to just to take a whole day to watch movies. Just to give yourself that freedom sometimes, to take a break and it’ll get you going for the next quarter. Just one day will get you going for a long time. Just having that one day of freedom.
Stacy: Unexpected interruptions are going to happen. You think, “Okay, today I’m going to be able to can all of my blueberries,” and then something happens. You gotta take one of your little ones to the doctor, or your husband needs you to take care of the phone because the phone’s not working. There’s going to be all these unexpected interruptions, and for you to expect them really makes a big difference. To be able to say, “Okay, so are the blueberries the priority today or is this other coming first?” And to be able to say, “I can set aside my plan. The other does come first.” Taking the child to the doctor obviously comes first. So you would have to realize, okay, I’m just going to have to wait to do that until tomorrow. Then, if they spoil, they do. I don’t think that will happen, but you know, if that happens, that happens.
I think some people get in their head, “This is the way that it needs to be done. I have to do this today. If I don’t, then there’s this horrible consequence.” And then something comes up and it puts you in a bad mood the rest of your day. Instead of being able to look at it and go, “Hey, today, this is the priority.” And it changed within five minutes. Just to expect that to happen because it is going to happen.
Melissa: So, you guys raise quite a few chickens for your eggs, but the majority of your meat production is from hunting, which I love. My husband does some hunting and usually we get venison, but we don’t have wild boar around here and on this side of the mountains, we don’t really have turkey either. We get grouse, which is actually my favorite meat in the whole wide world. But we don’t do a ton of hunting here. You guys pretty much provide for your whole family with hunting. I wanted to talk about that a little bit. Do your sons hunt or is it mainly your husband?
Stacy: Everybody does! I’m not a huge hunter, but my girls have. They’re interested in it as well. And all of my boys do. In fact, we would give them the option: do you want to play football or baseball or anything? And they were like, “Not if it’s in hunting season.” They all love it, which is a miracle because I started out really hating hunting when I first got married. I was a lawyer and he was an engineer, and then he went to dental school and I wanted to stay home because I had a baby a year and a month after we were married. I didn’t know how all of that was gonna work out, but I wanted to stay home.
I really started thinking, how can I join in with hunting when I don’t hunt? That’s how my first book developed. I didn’t actually print it until years later, but I wanted to help younger women know how to cook the wild game that their husbands brought home. Now I feel like I’m teaching a lot of men how to do it. I’m on the Sportsman Channel on Sundays on the The Sporting Chef, because that’s what I love to do. That’s how this all started in my life. Even the garden and everything kind of bloomed out of the fact that we were getting organic, non-GMO, healthy meat.
They usually get about 13 deer a year between them. And that’s a lot of meat. Then we’ll get a couple of wild boar, because if you have one pig on your land, you’ve got a lot of pigs, and they will completely ruin your land. They will kill all of your babies, both turkeys and deer. And you don’t want your wild game to be extinct on your land. So you have to get rid of your predators and things that overtake your land. I’m assuming you’ve got pheasant up there– that is an amazing bird– and we have quail and dove. Every hunting season they are hunting pretty much every day of the weekend and, if they can, some during the week.
We have a freezer-full. Actually, before my speaking event last week, it went out. That was one of the unexpected interruptions that happened. We had a power surge. The entire freezer thawed out and I had to make all of that because it wasn’t completely bad yet. It was still the right temperature to cook. So I refroze some of it and we’ve eaten most of it. If I had canned it, I would not have been in that shape, but I don’t usually can it. I usually put it up in the freezer.
Melissa: With our venison, we never can the back strap because that’s the prime. The back strap goes straight into the freezer. We already freeze our beef and pork and whole meat chickens in there and then crab and salmon– we do smoke some of our salmon. Usually I freeze the venison back strap and then I usually cube and pressure can the rest of the venison. I really like having that.
I was trying not to laugh when you were telling your story because our fridge just went out two weeks ago. Thankfully we had these other freezers. Primarily my freezers are for our meat. Almost all of our fruit and vegetables get processed, either dehydrating or canning them. I’ll keep a few bags of frozen fruit just to eat as a snack or put into smoothies. Pretty much everything else does get canned just because we use the freezers for a lot of our meat. When the fridge went out, it was actually the little freezer in the fridge. And it was the same thing. It was unexpected. It was not at a convenient time, but it’s something that had to be with dealt with. It’s never a convenient time. There must have been something with appliances going out the past couple of weeks, because that totally happened.
Stacy: It was unreal. We had so much meat in there. We had 300 pounds of meat that we had to cook. But I have kind of a set thing when that happens. That’s the fourth time that it’s happened since we’ve been married, so I know what to do with everything to put it up. It ends up being fine. We were done cooking it all by 10 o’clock that night. We realized it went out at about five. I think we cooked for about five hours. But it ended up being okay because you kinda know.
Stacy: That’s one thing I love about homesteading. You kinda know what to do with everything. It’s not like I had to go looking up, “What temperature does this need to be?” A lot of the guesswork is out. You can handle the emergency things a lot better. That’s one thing I really love about homesteading and being in a time of crisis. You’re okay. And the kids are okay. I think that’s really cool, because that gives you so much confidence. I think about our world and what we could actually be doing. We could be inventors, we are movers and shakers, we can change the world, because we take risks. I think about all of the ingenuity you have to use on the homestead. Something breaks on your tractor or on your tiller, and you have to use something to get by. And I love that aspect of things.
Melissa: I completely agree. In the homesteading lifestyle– beyond the obvious of having your own food that is healthy and you know exactly what’s been put on it and what’s in the soil and all of that– there is a confidence. I grew up as a homesteader. My Dad was a homesteader. My grandparents were homesteaders. I was really fortunate to grow up in this lifestyle. But, I also still get excited when everything in a meal is something that we have grown or raised on our own. It never gets old. I think that’s so awesome. It makes me sad to think of how many people have never experienced that feeling. We get to be in this space and in this day and age where there are so many people who are learning and getting to experience that, that have never had it before. And so I felt really blessed to be a part of that.
Stacy: It is. I would not have ever thought about it, growing up in a business. I did not grow up in this kind of world. My mom raised me to be a career woman, because she wanted me to be prepared for anything, just in case something happened to my husband or whatever. And so, I was very career minded. Then, to do a 180 and to want to live off of the land… But the thing is, I’m seeing the confidence that it gives you. You’re willing to take a risk because you know that you’re going to be okay no matter what. You’re going to be able to survive, you’re going to be able to make it, because you know how to grow food. You know how to build a shelter. You know how to do things.
You grew up on a homestead, and you started this incredible business that only an independent, confident person would ever have done. That, to me, shows what homesteading does for a person. I think it’s a great lifestyle that we have. No matter what you’re doing. My husband’s a dentist, and no matter what you do– whether you’re a mechanic, a dentist, a hairstylist, it doesn’t matter– if you’re able to grow any kind of garden and put it on the table, there’s a confidence. There’s a feeling and there’s no way to describe it. You have grown your own food and you’re eating things that came from a tiny little seed that you started in the ground. And it grew and you watched it develop and did what you needed to do to create that food that went on your table. And your kids are seeing the work that you put into it. They’re seeing the lesson. You sow a seed and you get a harvest. You work a little bit and you gain. It’s consequences, you’re getting to see a result. It’s one of the most amazing things that never gets old. It just seems impossible, and yet, it isn’t. I just think it’s so cool.
Melissa: I agree with you, 100%. Thank you so much for coming on today. I’ve had so much fun. Where some of the best places for people to connect with you online if they want to learn more about you and see more of what you’re doing?
Stacy: My website is stacylynharris.com and right now, if you subscribe to that website, I’m giving away a book. It’s a Preserving 101 book. And you’ll get a weekly newsletter that tells you where I’m going to be and gives you great recipes and tells you what’s going on in our garden and gardening tips and different things like that. If you want my book, it’s called Stacy Lyn’s Harvest Cookbook, and I’ve got another one called Tracking the Outdoors In. You can find me on all social media under Stacy Lyn Harris, and I would love if you would let me know that you found me here so that I can get back with Melissa and let her know.
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.