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Mapping a Road to Self-Sufficiency

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: August 1, 2022
Mapping a Road to Self-Sufficiency

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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 All New Square Foot Gardening plus you can 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!

If you have not done so already, please be sure to like Facebook which is updated every time there is an awesome new article, news byte, or link to a free survival, prepping or homesteading book on Amazon.  You can also follow Backdoor Survival on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Spotlight Item:  Go to the Resources page on Backdoor Survival to download a complete copy of the USDA Canning Guide and more 100% free documents for your survival and prepping library.  Do you know of something that should be included on this page?  Leave me a note in the comments area below.

Bargain Bin:  Survival is all about learning to fend for yourself and food self-sufficiency is at the top of everyone’s list.  Here some items to guide you along the way,

The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: This is the book that got me started baking my own artisan breads.  Newly revised, this book should be in your library if you truly do want to make delicious, hand crafted breads with very little effort.  For whole grains bread, there is Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients. Don’t forget the dough whisk!

Coleman PefectFlow 1-Burner Stove: This Coleman One-burner Propane Stove is an easy-to-use portable stove that should meet almost any camp cooking need. The PerfectFlow regulator provides consistent cooking performance by producing a steady fuel stream, even in cold weather, high altitudes, or when fuel is low. Equipped with one 10,000 BTU burner, this fully adjustable stove will last for 2.2 hours on high or up to nine hours on low.

Catching Fire: 21 Failsafe Fire-starting Methods:  This e-Book is simple to read and a valuable resource for learning about the various ways to build a fire when traditional matches and lighters are not available.

BIC Disposable Classic Lighter With Child Guard:  This six pack of Bic lighters is reasonably priced but check around since these often go on sale locally.  BICs just work – every time.

Swedish Firesteel:  Using this basic pocket fire-starter, you can get a nice fire going under almost any conditions. This is a small, compact version.

Nesco American Harvest Food Dehydrator: This food dehydrator is highly rated yet inexpensive. I started with a fancier, more expensive dehydrator and was sorry.  I wish I had purchased this one.

All New Square Foot Gardening: You do not need a lot of space to grow your own food. Start with some awesome greens and branch out from there. This method works.  Other books popular with BDS readers include The Edible Garden, The Backyard Homestead and Seed to Seed.

Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets: Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets make questionable water bacteriologically suitable to drink. Easy to use and the water is ready to drink in 30 minutes. One 50 tablet bottle treats 25 quarts of water.

Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials

The monthly specials at Emergency Essentials feature discounts of up to 35% off sometimes a bit more.

Fruit Combo

I eat a lot of fruit (usually three whole fruits a night as a bedtime snack) and in a SHTF situation, fruits will be something I will really miss. The Freeze-Dried Fruit Favorites Combo from Emergency Essentials is something I use all year round. With the grocery store a 20 mile round trip journey, I like the thought of being able to rehydrate my own fruit, in the quantity I want, at a moments notice.

But not to be left out, there are veggies too. The deluxe supply of Freeze Dried Vegetables includes 18 #10 tins of the following veggies in various quantities: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Sweet Corn, Green Beans, Green Peppers, Green Peas, Mushrooms, Potato Dices, Spinach, and White Onions.  Lately I have been using FD veggies instead of fresh for my homemade soups.  There is not fuss, no waste and in the long run – given local prices – the cost is less.


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22 Responses to “Mapping a Road to Self-Sufficiency”

  1. I notice this article/comments are a couple years old but I’m hoping someone who questions preparing for when SHTF, will see this, and hopefully NOT end up in FEMA camp.

    I’ve quite often lived in areas with severe cold winter climates that required a family be prepared for the inevitable loss of power (electricity) and heat (natural gas). One winter, I had brought my newborn daughter home from the hospital just two weeks before an exceptionably brutal cold snap hit. The plastic on the inside of the windows we used for extra insulation got so cold it froze and cracked. To top everything off we suddenly found ourselves without running water because the well pump froze. At the time we lived almost 20 miles outside of a small town. So it was well over a month before we could get a new pump ordered and shipped. Then we had to wait for the weather to moderate enough to work outside to change the well pump out. In the meantime, I melted snow and boiled it for my daughter’s formula since getting to a store was simply out of the question, we were snowed in.

    Had we not planned ahead and had plenty of food in the house, including the makings for my daughter’s formula from scratch, we might have had a starving child on our hands. As it was we had enough food and supplies for well over six months and by the time running water was restored we had a well-fed plump little girl on our hands.

    I learned all this from watching my grandmother and great-grandmother who both lived through the depression and WWII where rationing was common place. So planning ahead has never been new to me but homesteading is somewhat new for me. Yes, when space allowed I’ve always had a garden to raise some of my own food but how to preserve that food long term is something I’m just becoming comfortable with. I’m trying to learn as I go with ONE GOAL in mind. NEVER, if I can help it, ever end up in a FEMA camp. If I’ve learned nothing else about my government, I’ve learned to NEVER trust even one word my government says (be it Dem or Repub). Regardless of how great sounding the message might be, it will no doubt be a lie.

  2. I’ll let the others debate the “doomsday” stuff. BUT I think you must add to your list: establish a way to collect/store water.

  3. That was one step andit pertains to guns and ammo. the final step said to get to know your need to read the whole thing beore passing judgement on us

    • #12 pertains also to finding “food”, hence the word “food”, and to defending everything, e.g. “food”, that is one’s own. #19 recommends getting to know the neighbors as a step before taking other actions through which they will come to trust the prepper.

      Perhaps you need to take your own advice “before passing judgement”. That would be consistent with cultivating trust.

      It’s by the way that the rocket stove is a good idea. In fact, the directions are so clear and easy to follow that it seems that I hardly need to practice making my own.

      Also, if you are composting, it’s better not to include and animal products or byproducts, so not to attract unwanted critters like raccoons or flies. The former might be desirable if your goal is to use the compost as hunting bait, but the best that one can expect from flies is maggots.

    • I understand that you’re doing your very best to undermine the stereotype of the backtalking prepper kook who resists correction. Alas, it hasn’t been enough. The stereotype remains instact, and this in spite of your snide innuendo, “bipolar much?”.

      Stop being so predictable.

  4. “When the SHTF, each man (or woman) will be on his or her own to find food and to defend what is theirs”?

    Really? I won’t have any friends or allies? None at all? I’ll be completely on my own?

    Your world is dark. Very, very dark.

  5. We have a deep well, but it needs power that may not be available long-term, so we have cisterns that are just covered above-ground pools. During the rainy season, I filled one with 5,000 gallons in just 2 weeks with a gutter system. I found it interesting that clean rainwater usually tests between 0 and 10 PPM for contaminants. My well water tests around 160 PPM. (Some Walmart stores have PPM meters in their RV section for about $12.) We have a garden and fruit trees, but not big enough for all our needs. We are learning to forage on our 10 acres to supplement, since those plants are abundant and don’t need tending.

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