prairie.jpg When it comes to being sustainable, the best possible course of action is to look back at how settlers lived. No, they weren’t paragons of sustainability, what with their history of hunting buffalo to near extinction and all, but settlers knew a thing or two about making the most of what you already have. When running to the store any time of the day isn’t an option because you live in the middle of nowhere, you get real creative and waste becomes taboo. Husked corn becomes dolls, and food preservation is key. You might think you need to live in the middle of nowhere and have tons of space. like the folks in Little House on the Prairie, but you can apply some of the old practices to even the tiniest apartment, if you have to – or want to.

Apply homesteading skills, no matter where you are

You’ll probably be surprised to learn that homesteading tips can be applied to any lifestyle, even if you live in an apartment. Natural Living Mama has some good tips for living the prairie life, no matter where you reside. The best method to get going right off the bat is to start a porch or container garden. That way you can grow your own food to cook, your own medicinal herbs if you choose to go that rout and you’ll have the ultimate in locally grown produce. Some other homesteading tips for apartment life involve buying local produce, making your own natural cleaning products (The Chemical-Free Home”), remembering to repurpose old items and drying your clothes on the balcony, if possible. For those of you who have smaller properties, you can still homestead as well. The Prepper Project has some good tips. Since you don’t have much space, the Prepper Project recommends getting creative with your garden, although you have some more options than apartment dwellers. You can use a garden tactic called the square foot garden. You basically plant vegetables that don’t need a lot of space to thrive. Here’s a good tool for planning your garden based on the amount of space you have.

Make your own entertainment

Sometimes it’s shocking how complicated we’ve made our entertainment over the years. When video games require extra plastic toys wrapped in more plastic, personally, I’m out. Plus, small children will play with anything, and the settlers knew this. Little House Living has a wonderful tutorial on how to make a corncob doll. All you need is a dried corncob, a scrap of cloth, some string and a dried cornhusk. You basically wrap the fabric around the cob so it looks like a dress, then wrap the husk over the end of the cob so it looks like hair. It’s a fun, easy project to do with kids. A great option for being more sustainable and frugal is to bring back family night. Play board games you found at a rummage sale, just talk, play music or do crafts involving upcycled items like the pioneers. It’s a good way to remember you don’t always have to spend money to have a good time.

Fashion your own clothes

Nothing will make you feel more like a settler than sewing your own clothes. There are tons of classes, books and websites out there to get you started. Sewing patterns come in a wide array of trendy outfits now, and you can customize your look based on what fabric you choose. Even better? You can use upcycled fabrics from old clothes for a more sustainable outfit. You can even make your own shoes. If you want something warm and durable, Earth and Living has an interesting photo tutorial on how to make Viking shoes out of leather and thick wool. It’s an interesting pattern that has a lot of cutting, lacing and folding, rather than sewing. For a warm, slipper feel, you can knit your own shoes with this tutorial here.

Preserve your food

Perhaps the most applicable and versatile skill from prairie life is canning and preserving food. You don’t need a ton of space to do it, it helps you buy locally and in season and allows you to purchase food in bulk when it’s on sale (your budget will thank you). You can preserve just about anything, from meats to vegetables. For meat, the pressure canning method is pretty popular. It’s a little involved and has some solid safety warnings, so you can view a full tutorial here. Basically, you cook the meat in boiling water right in the jar. Go here for a full view of canning recipes, which vary wildly based on the type of food used and taste desired. You can also consider drying your food. You’ll need a food dehydrator or drying rack. Make sure to cut your food into thin, even slices for quicker and more reliable drying. You can dry just about anything, including meats, fish, fruits and vegetables. Items can take hours to days to dry, but when stored in mason jars will keep a long time.

Keep some animals

Another major component of prairie life was to raise livestock. It made the home supremely self-sufficient. A trip to the barn yielded eggs, milk, wool and meat. Keeping chickens has taken off in the last several years, but be warned they only produce eggs for a limited amount of time, depending on the breed and care. sThe Humane Society of the United States has some good information on raising and adopting chickens. It’s not a decision to make lightly. If you choose to make the time commitment and take on the responsibility, some of the best starter animals to have on a homestead include chickens (eggs), sheep (wool), goats (milk and cheese) and dairy cows (milk, cheese, yogurt and cream). Pigs and beef steer can be a little harder to control. Plus, then you’re getting into the slaughtering game, and that’s a very personal choice.