19 New Steps for Living a Strategic Life

The number one question I am asked by new readers is “where do I start?”.  This is followed by a meek comment indicating “I have a job and a family and can not afford to move to a farm in the outback.”

Well first of all, let me say that no apologies are needed.  None.  Moving to a farm or even to the remote boonies is not for everyone, myself included. On the other hand, with some time, perseverance and a bit of hard work, we all can take steps to be self sufficient. And isn’t that what prepping is all about: being self sufficient so we can take care of our own needs no matter what?

Roche Harbor Afterglow Hike Sep 2012

In an idealized world, we would be 100% self-sufficient.  Alas, that is unrealistic for most of us and is something that is simply is not going to happen for most of us, desire notwithstanding.  I am just being honest and pragmatic here because honestly, that is the truth,

That does not mean that we can not have the ability to get by nicely on our own and satisfy 80% or more of our needs without outside help.  I am just saying that to set a goal of 100% self sufficiency is defeatist and a goal that is so difficult that giving up is likely.

Going back to that idealized world, if everything were perfect, we would have enough food, water, power, fuel, and money to live a well-rounded, healthy and comfortable life.  Hard work would be the norm but at the end of the day we would have the satisfaction of  being able to take care of ourselves without selling out to greedsters or taking a handout from the government.

Alas, everywhere you look there are roadblocks to achieving this state.  Not the least of these roadblocks is our dependency on transportation systems and the power infrastructure to deliver goods and energy products to our homes.  We depend on the government and insurance companies to rescue us if there is a natural disaster and we depend on organized medicine to keep us healthy.

The issue with these dependencies, of course, is that they may be unreliable, out of control or so fragile that a strong wind(or hurricane or earthquake) will shut them down, perhaps with dire consequences.  If you are smart enough to recognize this, you will strive for self sufficiency of one type or another.

Mapping a Road to Self-Sufficiency

Luckily, self-sufficiency is not an all or nothing proposition.  At one end of the spectrum is a total, off grid, agrarian lifestyle and at the other is a moderately self-sufficient lifestyle where steps are taken to move toward 20% to 50% self sufficiency.

Today I will share some easy steps you can take to to start becoming self-sufficient.  These are steps that do not require a farm, do not require acreage and do not require a lot of money.  They are practical steps that you can select from and embrace as your needs and desire for independence evolve over time.

Some are easy and others take a bit of skill and practice.  Some can be done for little or no cost and others will require an investment in time, labor, money or all three.  The good news is that there are lots of choices and the journey toward self sufficiency does not have to be done in a day, a month, a year or even a decade.

19 Baby Steps Toward a Self Sufficient Lifestyle

1.  Build up a emergency food supply

Stuff happens but you still have to eat.  Start by building up a cupboard full of food.  Although my method is a bit unconventional, I endorse filling up a cupboard or pantry with essentials that are hearty enough to fill bellies for a week, a month or longer without regard to the exact number of meals and the precise number of calories.  Trust me, by following the guidelines in 20 Items to Kick Start Your Food Storage Plan, you will have more emergency food than 95% of your friends and neighbors.

2.  Learn to cook without electricity or gas

There are numerous options to cooking on a traditional stove.  Build or buy a rocket stove that only requires biomass for fuel.  Learn to use it while cooking a variety of food items.  Also consider a propane stove; just make sure that you also stockpile extra propane tanks.

3.  Know how to build and start a fire

Just because you live in the city and have electricity does not mean you will never have to build a fire.  Learn how to build a fire and keep it lit for an extended period.  Collect biomass, dryer lint and other materials that can be used as tinder to help get a fire going then practice starting a fire without the benefit of matches or a lighter.  A good resource for learning how to build a fire is  Catching Fire: 21 Failsafe Fire-starting Methods.

4.  Install an alternate fuel source

You might be surprised by how little power you need to get by.  Start with an inexpensive portable generator or some solar panels.  Also think about those items that must have power when the grid is down, such as a well, medical devices and refrigeration.   Take care of providing power to those things and let the rest go for now.

5.  Grow a vegetable garden

This is a great first step to take toward taking care of yourself and some of your food needs.  There are some books to help you such as The Edible Garden, All New Square Foot Gardening, The Backyard Homestead and Seed to Seed.  You can also get tons of help from seed suppliers, Master Gardeners and friendly neighbors that will be glad to give you some regionally appropriate advice.

6.  Start a compost pile

Something many gardeners do not think about is that to be successful, they are going to need fertilizer for their crops.  Instead of creating a dependency on the garden center and chemical fertilizers (which also cost money), create your own fertilizer from food scraps and yard waste.  The end result will be a nutrient rich fertilizer that is not only free, but a form of “black gold” for your garden vegetables.

7.  Grow fruit trees and berries

Imagine growing hundreds of pounds of fruit each year literally for free and for very little work?  This can be done if you take the time, by asking around, to seek out native fruit trees that are natural to your area.  Once established, these trees will not require fertilizer or water (but if you want to feed them some of that compost, they will love it).

8.  Learn to preserve your bounty

Canning, freezing, drying and smoking are some of the ways your can preserve your bounty so that you will have it to feed your family during the off-season.  It does take time, yes, but the results in terms of food-saving costs are worth it.  As with gardening, once you get the hang of it, preserving your food can be fun as well.

9.  Take a first aid course and create a well-stocked first aid kit

Whether you take a course or not, you will need a well-stocked first aid kit.  In addition, you should have at least one printed medical reference such as The Survival Medicine Handbook or The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook.

10.  Take charge of your health

Do not wait until you are sick and desperate before learning how to take care of your own health needs.  Study how healing herbs and essential oils can resolve minor first aid and health annoyances (such as scrapes, insect bites, chest congestion due to a cold or the flu) and practice using these methods in daily life.  See Nine Healing Herbs You Can Grow Yourself in a Healing Garden.

11.  Acquire warm clothing and blankets to keep you warm without heat

To me this seems basic so it always surprises me to learn when folks freak out when there is no heat.  Granted, I live in a moderate climate but if there is no heat, the indoor temperature can drop into the 30s.  Down shirts, fleece vests, woolen socks, gloves. comforters and even sleeping bags will keep you warm if not toasty.  The best thing is that most of these items can be found for a reasonable price at thrift stores and second hand shops.  Keep your eyes peeled – especially in winter – and strike a bargain.

12.  Learn how to use weapons to hunt and for personal projection

When the SHTF, each man (or woman) will be on his or her own to find food and to defend what is theirs.  The weapon of choice is really up to you.  Whatever you choose, learn how to use it and be sure to stockpile ammunition (bullets, arrows, ball bearings or whatever).

13.  Start an emergency fund

It is a fact of life that emergencies happen.  I know people who have the means (and high paying jobs) yet still live paycheck to paycheck.  These are the people that scramble when their automobile needs major repairs or a family member gets sick and incurs a large medical bill.  Start an emergency fund and pay yourself each week.  Whether you put $5 or $50 a week into the fund, put something in the fund, even if it means you eat beans and rice two nights a week so that you have the money to do so.

14.  Learn to barter

Bartering your skills or excess goods is an easy way to become less dependent on others.  Need help?  Go back and read 40 Items to Barter in a Post-Collapse World and get yourself a copy of the book “Bartering With Desperate People”.

15.  Make your own cleaning supplies

This is one of my favorites.  Most of my own cleaning supplies are of the DIY type.  Get yourself some vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, alcohol, borax, washing soda and liquid Dawn and you can pretty much clean anything and everything, including your clothes and other laundry items.  Creating your own cleaners will  bring out the inner chemist in you, and save you a ton of money.

See Prepper Checklist: DIY Cleaning Supplies for some ideas to get you started.  Better yet, see my article in The Preparedness Review which is a free download.

16.  Cook from scratch and bake your own bread

Cooking tasty meals from the ingredients at hand will set you  free of processed foods and unpronounceable food additives.  By cooking from your pantry and your garden, you will save a ton of money and will begin to savor the real taste of various foods and not a taste manufactured in some food producer (or Monsanto’s) lab.

And then there is baking bread.  Baking is one of those fun things that will not only save you money, but will provide you delicious and wholesome results.  A loaf of homemade bread will cost you 50 cents versus upwards of $4.00 or more at the supermarket.  Plus, the basic ingredients of flour, yeast, salt and water are all things you can pronounce and spell.  No chemicals, no preservatives.  See Baking bread and why you should do it and just for kicks The Secret Art of Making Pizza At Home.

17.  Be a MacGyver and fix your stuff

Simple plumbing and electrical repairs can easily be learned (or bartered – see above).  Painting, deck building and other handyman activities will save you a ton of money and give you the satisfaction of knowing that you can, indeed, do it yourself.

18.  Become self-entertaining

Learn to play cards, work crosswords, or become an expert at Scrabble.  Learn to dance or play the harmonica.  Volunteer as an actor or singer at your local community the theater.  The point here is to become self-entertaining which means being able to relax and enjoy yourself without the computer, the television, the DVD player or other amusements that rely on electronic gizmos.

19.  Get to know your neighbors

We are not talking bosom buddies but a friendly hello from time to time.  Share your excess bounty or trade something you have for something they need.  There is a reason why borrowing a cup of sugar was so popular in the 50s.  The simple exchange of goods fostered trust and feeling of kinship that paid real dividends during times of need.  Need help opening that door?  How about a plate of brownies or a fresh load of bread when someone moves in or a pot of soup when someone is ill?

Part of self-sufficiency is knowing who you can trust and who you can call when you need some help.  What better time to start than now?  See 9 Simple Ways for Preppers to Be a Good Neighbor.

The Final Word

My own experience tells me that there is a special inner peace that comes from being mostly self-sufficient.  Not 100%, but mostly.  I have experienced that peace and calm myself when the power went out for an extended period and more recently, when we had no phone or internet service for days.

Then there is the joy in doing things that involve my hands and my mind rather than a shopping trip into town.  Others that I talk to also tell me that they too find great joy in the simple things in life that do not rely on excessive consumerism.

Take a look at the 19 items on this list.  What is your goal?  If it is 20% self-sufficiency, pick 3 or 4 and tackle them until you are satisfied you have done the best you can.  After that, pick another item or two and keep going as time, interest and budget allows.

You will find that taking these steps toward self sufficiency while doing things that you enjoy will help you get closer to an independent lifestyle more quickly than you can imagine.  Cows and goats and chickens are not required.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye


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  1. Gaye,
    A lot of our generation have lived like this since the beginning. I do worry about the younger generations that don’t know of the farming collapse in the 80’s, the gas rationing in the 70’s.
    My mom grew up on a large working farm in Ohio, we kids in turn learned how to crop rotate, bale hay, fix electric fences and raise chicken for meat and eggs.
    I’m a chef, most people couldn’t slaughter an animal to save their lives if they were starving. I remember the first time I watched my grandmother kill a chicken, pluck it and make it for dinner. They had a smoke house, how many could smoke meat to preserve it to have future meals.
    It’s a lifestyle, you grow up learning all the skills you need to survive. At 55 I am learning everyday to be prepared for whatever happens, that gives me great security and peace of mind for myself and loved ones.
    Thanks for providing this wonderful blog, it’s one of the first I ever commented on because I felt you were right on the money in learning along the way to being prepared.

  2. Gaye – thanks again for a great article that helps me make sure I have my bases covered. But is there a list of “pioneer” skills? Maybe you’ve covered this before or have a great reference? I can make candles, soaps and toothpaste, grow veggies and tend basic livestock. I grew up a tomboy so I can shoot, hunt, fish, and chop wood the right way. I still haven’t mastered crocheting, but I’m getting there. I’d like to learn more, and include my kids in the process, but again, I’d like to refer to a list to see what I know, what I think would be beneficial to learn, and what I’d rather barter with someone else for.

  3. Hi Gaye,

    I learned to sew on a treadle sewing machine over 50 years ago, but that machine is long gone. I recently bought a new Janome treadle machine and cabinet; the Zigzag stitch is very important to me and the older treadle machines do not have this feature. I plan to become proficient in using my new machine after I move this year. This purchase and my eventual proficiency in its use may become beneficial for barter purposes in the future.

    1. I also learned to sew on a treadle machine. We both must be older than dirt LOL. BTW, I have a portable sewing machine and it can be run using el cheapo solar panels from Harbor Freight. I really need to brush up on my skills, though. I may start with aprons, just like we did in high school.

      1. Yes, I will be 60 in a few days. 🙂

        I thoroughly enjoy every birthday I have. I am intentionally good to myself. I like to read a good fiction book, have my hot chocolate or tea or both, and relax for awhile. My husband will fix large scallops wrapped in bacon for us along with other favorite goodies instead of us spending too much money eating out.

        I had not thought about using solar power for a sewing machine. Solar power is on our “want” list. I have no clue as to how much electricity it takes to sew on a regular sewing machine. I have a 38 year old portable metal Pfaff 1212, but it can not be used as a treadle-type machine because of the belt and wheel design.

        I am going to practice with my new treadle machine by making aprons and pillowcases. I do like to wear aprons while I cook because I am definitely not the neatest cook. I am still looking for the “perfect for me” apron pattern that is easy to sew and easy to put on and take off.

  4. Great article, and taking it a step further, we not only need to live strategically, but also live strategically for the long haul, as in maybe, forever. It’s possible that if we diligently seek this route then when and if teotwawki hits, well, it won’t be such a traumatic event and not so long a fall to the bottom. Thanks for your efforts and Christ bless.

    PS: If allowed here is a little note for Gaye. I was raised as yourself, except down in South Georgia. We learned to do a lot on the farm, as you did too, but when a collapse does come, as in total collapse, will we be able to apply and hone those skills are will things be so bad from crime that we are reduced to foraging and hiding? It’s just a thot; glad you have the skills you have; keep on keeping on, thanks.

  5. Gaye,
    Thank you for the great information (and give-aways). I also have a treadle sewing maching, my great grandmothers, I sewed ALL my maternity clothes on it back in the 90’s. My treadle was made BEFORE the company invented a zipper foot attachment, believe me it was a bear trying to put the zippers in things LOL. Just one note though, make sure your cord is still taut, they tend to stretch, even sitting for awhile If there are repair places near you, you may be able to get replacement cords fairly cheaply or if someone is talented they may be able to make you one

  6. Hi Gaye,

    I have been lurking for several weeks now and finally think I have something to say about you blog.
    I just read this blog and 46 Pioneering Skills. Being in the process of moving from your neck of the woods to East Tennessee after retiring, I did an inventory of the pioneering skills I already have and others that I want to develop in the next few years. I came up with 12 skills I already possess at a fairly high level and 7 others where I have some competence and can readily improve with our move.

    I think there are 4 skills that everyone should have some level of competence:

    1. First Aid and emergency care. If you don’t have at least the fundamentals of taking care of injuries in teotwawki, you and those depending on you aren’t going to last very long. Even a slight injury, like a splinter, can cause serious problems if not treated properly.
    2. Fire starting. We need to know how to build a fire, in any conditions, to keep warm and for preparing meals. And we need to know how to do it whether it is dry, wet or in 3 feet of snow. In a teotwawki more people will die from exposure than disease during the first year, barring the event is a pandemic. Without heat (fire) getting soaked by rain at 60 degrees can lead to hypothermia. We just don’t think about that in our modern society.
    3. Getting grub. That can be hunting, fishing or/and gathering. We have to have the caloric intake and it has to have protein, carbohydrates and fat.
    4. Cooking over an open fire. It’s all well and good to have the wood burning stove, but what about if your out doing 3 for several days or have to bug out? No stove then.

    Well, that’s my thoughts on this. Come spring we will be putting in our first vegetable garden in more than forty years and polishing that skill, since this is first time in 15 years that we will have the space for a garden. Keep up the great blog, your doing a great service with your articles.

    Gordon
    KE5FJL

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