Merissa Alink teaches others frugal homesteading
We all come across tough times but for some, that’s the jumping off point for something better. That was the case for Merissa Alink. When her family hit such a rough patch, she used it as an opportunity to start homesteading.
Inspired in part by the “Little House on a Prairie” book series, Alink began writing Little House Living when her family was going through financial struggles, focusing on homesteading simply on a budget. After moving back and forth from RVs to homes, Alink and her family have settled in a home in South Dakota (though they plan on moving to another house before the end of the year). Her decluttered attitude resonated with readers. Her popular blog even landed her a book deal, and in 2015, she published “Little House Living: The Make-Your-Own Guide to a Frugal, Simple, and Self-Sufficient Life.”
Alink talked to us about how life’s challenges have made her a better homesteaders and why she doesn’t care about keeping up with the Joneses for our Behind the Homestead Blog Q&A series.
Hello Homestead: Tell me about your background. How did you get started homesteading?
Merissa Alink: My husband and I lived in rentals in town for about nine months before we moved into our first RV. We lived in that for an additional nine months and paid off all our debt before we moved into our first home in the country. During this time, we both worked average jobs in town, and we were newly married so we didn’t have any children yet.
[Homesteading] was something we had both always wanted to do. My husband and I had both grown up in the country and had no desire to live in town or live a “town-centered” life.
We first needed to get our home in decent condition [because] it was a foreclosure. That involved re-doing a bathroom, kitchen, flooring and more. I started experimenting with DIY foods right away, such as making my own butter. We also moved a small shed that we purchased for $50 onto our property and fixed it up to become a chicken house.
HH: According to your website, have moved several times over the course of the past decade or so — from a house, to an RV, and back again. What is the most challenging part of these transitions?
MA: The moves never really were challenging until we had more children. This last move was particularly difficult, as we had no help to pack things up and we had a ten-month-old at the time. We also didn’t really know our plans after moving so that made it more stressful. I’m thankful that the direction we are to go in has finally been apparent to us now, but it’s been almost a year since we made that decision to move.
HH: How does your approach to homesteading change with each move?
MA: We now know what we want and what we don’t. We know what we can live with and live without. We also have almost no attachment to our material possessions. There are some things that we keep because they serve us well right now, but otherwise, we’ve become quite adept at getting rid of clutter.
HH: How did you continue to homestead from an RV?
MA: We’ve lived the same simple lifestyle in every RV, whether it was in a campground or on a piece of land we had to ourselves. I’ve canned in an RV, we’ve homeschooled, we learned how to be more self-sufficient by not having running water at certain times. I’ve even had a garden made by using totes and flower pots while on our own land or in a campground.
HH: When and why did you decide to start your blog?
MA: I started my blog in 2009 after we had been living in our first homestead for a while. We’d gone through a very difficult time in our lives and barely had a penny to our name. I was doing a lot of experimenting with making my own products and living as simple of a life as we could. I wanted to share those ideas with others and encourage them as they walk through similar journeys.
HH: You have a section on your blog called Living Like Little House, which has content that matches up with sections of the book. When did you first read the Little House series, and how did they inspire you?
MA: I read the books more times than I could count when I was growing up. I still have my very worn copies today but they are in such bad condition, I’ve had to re-buy the books to read to my children!
They’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, as have many many other historical fiction and non-fiction books. The people in them were incredibly hard-working and had such a strong spirit to get them through even the most difficult times.
I’ve always loved the values presented and the slowness that came with a simple life. Those things continue to be an inspiration to us.
HH: You write about the financial struggles that you and your family have faced. What are the most important considerations for homesteading on a budget?
MA: I think the most important thing in any lifestyle, homesteading or not, is to live your own life. Not someone else’s. If Betty Blogger has a beautiful set of cast iron pans at her homestead and new pans are something you can’t afford right now, that doesn’t make you any less of a homesteader.
So many money issues today are caused by our desire to want something we don’t actually need to live. Some purchases can be nice, but if we don’t need them at the time, it’s just unnecessary spending. Since our family has become debt free, we’ve become even more aware of our spending and how much can be wasted on things that we can easily do without.
HH: What are your biggest expenditures on your homestead?
MA: We don’t really have any big expenditures at the moment. We did butcher our cow last fall which was a big expense for us and we purchased a yearling to begin growing. Our other recent big expenditure was our homeschool curriculum. But all are planned expenses and all help us continue living this life we’ve been planning and been enjoying.
We have no desire to keep up with the Jones[es] in things that we purchase. That alone is probably the biggest way that we save money with our life.
HH: You also write about homesteading with kids. What are the greatest challenges and joys of homesteading with young children?
MA: One of the greatest challenges for us is that we have children with special needs and special allergies. This means that things don’t always look the way we picture them in our minds to be! But this also means that our children are growing up in this beautiful, slow way of living. It’s a lifestyle that they thrive in and that gives us a chance to teach them skills that we might not otherwise have time for — skills that are important!
HH: What advice would you give to homesteaders going through personal challenges to manage stress along with daily homesteading tasks?
MA: Focus on the tasks that really need to be done. Do not create extra tasks for yourself when you are going through a season when it’s going to be too much for you. Finding alternatives is OK!
For example, right now, we’ve chosen not to have any chickens. I am working in the evenings, homeschooling during the day, and my husband is currently attending school to become a pastor. Life is busy enough without having to take care of 20 [to] 25 feathered friends! We are still able to enjoy fresh eggs from our neighbor’s chickens as well as broth [and] meat from their old laying hens that we barter for.
Don’t give yourself more than you can handle just to keep up with a lifestyle that you feel needs to be a certain way. Do only what works for your family in the season that you are in.
HH: What are you doing on your homestead right now that you really enjoy?
MA: At this time, we are in a bit of a season of rest since it’s winter, so I’m enjoying growing a few herbs in my kitchen windowsill and reading as many books on my bookshelf that I possibly can before the busyness of summer arrives.
HH: What do you hope for the future of your homestead?
MA: At this time, we are waiting for God’s leading. We know that our current home is only for now, it’s not forever. We are not sure of where our future will be taking us but we look forward to living a slow, simple life wherever that may be.
This Q&A was edited for clarity and length.