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In a utopian world, we would be 100% self-sufficient. We would have enough food, enough water, enough power, and enough fuel, and perhaps most important, enough money to live a well-rounded, healthy and comfortable life. We would have to work hard, yes, 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 and homesteads. And then there are the entitlements such as social security and Medicare for the older members of our population and disability and Medicaid for the disabled and the sick. Over the years, these systems have been set up – for better or for worse – to create dependencies rather than self-sufficiency’s. (And by the way, the names may be different but these dependencies exist in all Western countries, not just the United States.)
Luckily, though, 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 10% or 20% self sufficiency. Not a lot. But something.
Today I will share some easy steps you can take to to start moving toward that 10 or 20% percent mark. These are steps that do not require a farm, do not require acreage and do not require a lot of money to begin with. They are practical steps that you can start with and that you can select from and embrace as you needs and desire for independence change and grow 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 in 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 is a day, a month, a year or even a decade.
10 Baby Steps Toward a Self Sufficient Lifestyle
1. 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.
Growing a vegetable garden is also fun.
2. Build 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.
3. 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).
4. 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.
5. Start an emergency fund
It is a fact of life that emergencies happen. I know people who have the means (and high paying jobs) that 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 each beans and rice two nights a week so that you have the money to do so.
And by the way, beans and rice, well prepared, is delicious!
6. 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”.
7. Make your own cleaning supplies
This is one of my favorites. All of my own cleaning supplies are the DIY type. Get yourself some vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, alcohol, pine cleaner and possibly some borax and you will have this covered. Not only will this bring out the inner chemist in you, but imagine paying 50 cents for a bottle of effective and planet-friendly household cleaner instead of $3.00 or more. A bit outdated (with an update coming), the article “So what is in your cleaning bucket?” will give you some ideas to get started.
8. Bake your own bread
This is also 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, year, 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.
9. Be your own handyman and fix-it yourself
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.
10. 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. You just might find that you don’t need that boob-tube after all.
The Final Word
My own experience tells me that there is a special inner peace that comes from being self-sufficient. I experienced that myself last year when our power went out for an extended period. 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.
Taking baby 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.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Spotlight Item: Some may think it is radical but the idea of becoming self-sufficient in an alternate domicile is fascinating to me. I am actually thinking about this as a retirement option since I had no idea ex-pats had it so good, even if they only spend part of the year in their secondary location. If you have any interest at all in this, check out The New Five Flags (especially module #1 and #3 which get in to establishing a residence in a second country as well as the nitty gritty of where why and how).
Bargain Bin: Survival is all about learning to fend for yourself and food self-sufficiency is at the top of everyone’s list.
Canning: If you are interested in learning how to can and want the basics, the bible is the USDA Home Canning Guide. I have compiled all of the various sections into a single document and made it available for download here or if you prefer, you can download the individual sections at the USDA site.
Solar Dehydrator: Want to learn more about how you go about dehydrating crops? Here is a free download on Solar Dehydrator technologies including how to dry fruits an vegetables.
Presto 23-Quart Pressure Canner: If you are looking for just the right food preservation gear, check out this pressure canner and cooker. It is constructed of warp-resistant, heavy-gauge aluminum for fast, even heating and works on both regular and smooth-top ranges.
Nesco American Harvest Food Dehydrator: This food dehydrator is highly rated yet inexpensive. Be forewarned, though. One you are hooked on drying your home grown fruits and veggies, you just might want a dehydrator with a larger capacity.
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 recommended books include The Edible Garden, The Backyard Homestead and Seed to Seed.
Microfiber Cloths: I call these Magic Rags because that is exactly what they are. They wash up great and will last for years. Dampen a magic rag with plain water or your vinegar cleaner then wipe away. You will be amazed at how clean things get with a minimum of elbow grease.
Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things: I use this book as a bible whenever I need to tackle my toughest household chores.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking: At an average cost of 50 cents a loaf, this bread is easy, delicious and inexpensive to make. 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!
Mylar bags & Oxygen Absorbers: What I love about Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers is they protect against every single one of the food storage enemies. Prices do vary but for the most part, they are inexpensive and easy to keep on hand. And while you can seal them up with a FoodSaver, some tubing and a common clothes iron, I find it infinitely easier with a cheap hair straightening iron that you can pick up for very cheap.
60 – 300cc Oxygen Absorbers: This is one area where you want to make sure you are getting a quality product.
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Are you looking for some motivation to get started or stay on track with a self-reliant life? 11 Steps to Living a Strategic Life, co-authored with my long time pal, George Ure, was recently launched on our websites and on Amazon. The website version is a PDF that works great on iPads, Nooks and other mobile devices. I think you will like it!