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Deciding to homestead is a very personal decision. It’s a decision that only a family, couple, or individual can make, and it is a complicated one. The definitions and ideas behind homesteading can be confusing, especially since the legal terminology behind homesteading is not at all the same as what we tend to imagine it means.
Furthermore, there is a big difference between homesteading and off-grid living. This difference matters when it comes to state law. While you can ‘homestead’ in any state, you cannot necessarily live ‘off-grid”. Understanding the difference requires going all the way back to the early expansion of Americans into the American West.
The Homestead Act
The Federal government incentivized people to move further west and settle in areas where there was little but open prairie. If you’d never borne arms against the US Army and were an adult citizen or intended citizen, then in 1862, the Homestead Act said you could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land as long as you improved it by building a home and cultivating it.
Over time as the supply of land dwindled, the Homestead Act was repealed in 1976 with some provisions left in place for Alaska until the late ’80s, but then the idea of homesteading started to take hold in the hearts and minds of people while legally homesteading turned towards exemptions in taxes and creditor judgments. In fact, a quick internet search of homesteading almost overwhelming turns up legal page after legal page of discussion on homestead exemptions. While those are certainly important, they’re not really what most of us are looking for.
Most of us are looking for information on homesteading as a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. For some of us, this means living off-grid with no reliance on the world outside their land. For others, it means making changes in their lifestyle to cut back on their reliance on commercial products. Because the level and depth of your homesteading and pursuit of self-sufficiency is entirely personal and unique to you, no one can tell you that you’re doing it ‘wrong.’
While the homesteading lifestyle is allowed in every state, and you may even be able to apply for a homesteading exemption, off-grid living and some self-sufficiency forms are not allowed or may be carefully regulated depending on your state or municipality. For example, owning livestock may be allowed in your state, but it might be prohibited if you live within the city limits.
The best states for homesteading provide the greatest benefits via homesteading exemptions for families and individuals pursuing a self-sufficiency lifestyle. This is especially important as many of them try to turn a profit with their homesteads, and this has the potential to lead to financial difficulties. The tax breaks and protections from creditor judgments are hugely helpful in these cases as homesteaders work on sustainability. Also, these states have laws that tend to favor self-sufficiency in varying degrees.
The top 10 states for homesteading are:
- North Carolina