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The Myth of Self Sufficiency & How To Set Realistic Goals In Town & Country

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: February 26, 2019
The Myth of Self Sufficiency & How To Set Realistic Goals In Town & Country

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`A question I have been asked a lot over the years is “are you self sufficient?

The answer is no and furthermore; we will never be. I have grown to realize that the idea of self-sufficiency drives a lot of people, but the important thing to realize is that while you can try to be as self-sufficient as possible, it is almost impossible to be entirely self-sufficient.

Fact: The amount of land most have access to is not enough to produce everything they need. Even with 11 acres, it would be very difficult to produce everything Matt, and I would need for the year.

Even in the old days, most people had inputs that they needed to keep their farms going. For example, keeping a few pigs would require corn if you could not free range. Coffee, sugar, tea, salt, etc were always store bought.

The goal should be to produce an excess of a limited number of items so that you can sell them to get cash to buy things you cannot produce. In a barter economy, the goal would be to produce useful trade items and necessities that could be traded with others for what else was needed. Many years ago people would use small livestock and more to pay bills such as the doctor or to trade at a general store or trading post.

The Drovers Road system here in western North Carolina had stock stands and trading posts every 10 miles or so because that was as far as hog would walk in a day. You really cannot move a hog if they are very much done for the day and they don’t move fast for extended periods of time. People would either operate on credit and pay their bills after they got paid for their pigs or they would trade a pig to the merchant for what was needed. The stock stands were hotels and boarding houses so they had a need for fresh meat to feed those passing by. Since the drovers needed corn to feed their flock, they may trade for feed they needed, their lodging, and the meals and drinks they and their hired hands, the drivers, needed on the long walk to Augusta or the middle parts of North Carolina and the many plantations that desired pork, turkeys, geese, and cattle.

The myth of self-sufficiency leads to people being very disappointed when they don’t reach the level they are striving for.

Homesteaders and preppers can achieve a lot and still suffer from depression and disappointment at an extreme level when after years of work, they are not anywhere near self-sufficient.  Remember that when you set unachievable goals or too high standards than it is easy to get in the mode of always feeling like you are not doing enough or that nothing ever works out.

Set reasonable goals and the if you surpass them than that is great and you can feel awesome about it. Feeling like you are at least meeting expectations is far better than always feeling like a failure

Do not listen to the haters.

There are all types out there. While the prepper and homesteading communities have a lot of good people within them and are generally quite welcoming, there are some out there that try to make people feel like they are not hardcore enough or they are not “all in”. Well the heck with them. I think that someone that takes just a few small steps towards being self-sufficient is doing a great thing. Everyone has to start somewhere and doing something is far better than nothing at all.

A lot of the arrogant and nasty types out there may not fare so well in a real emergency where self-sufficiency can make the difference. All gear and little or no skills or common sense is not a winning combination.

What can you do?

Skills can turn into a lucrative business or at least a supplemental income.

There is nothing wrong with having a lot of small products or side businesses that add up to a living but be careful about stretching yourself too thin. It is best to concentrate on what is most rewarding and better for long term income, food, shelter, etc. If you feel too stretched to the point where you cannot do anything well, that can be very self-defeating.

It can take a while to figure out what is the best things to focus on

Matt and I started out up here on the mountain 11 years ago.  All we had was an old Honda Civic and later on a $300 camper.

We raised Dexter cattle, dairy steers, chickens, ducks, geese, pastured pigs, meat chickens, gardens, etc. We realized that trying to raise too many things took up too much of our lives and it was going to be impossible to make a living on 11 acres just raising a few animals. The volume required to have a grass-fed meat business and the added costs for butchering and inspection made it even less of a realistic option. Instead, we have settled for raising some meat for the table ourselves and growing grapes. The value-added product, wine, is enough that we may be able to have at least a decent business one day.

Neither of us really care about getting super rich. Being comfortable is one thing but I know that setting a goal of being super wealthy is not realistic and it very well may not add to our overall happiness as much as one might think. I will be happy if we one day can get these grapes producing a lot and have a little winery building that produces 10K-20K bottles of wine tops! It will take us quite a few years of hard work but I believe with hard work and a little luck we can get there. A lot of luck you make yourself.

Take a look at your home, property, yard, etc

What you can do to produce useful things to be more self-sufficient depends on so many factors. You should consider the following.

  • Space
  • Topography
  • Climate
  • Amount of time you have
  • How much help do you have?
  • What is the startup costs?

Is this something you can do long term or do you plan to make it grow enough to hire someone?

All too many people seem to think the first thing they need to do when they start a business is to hire one or more employees. This is a terrible mistake in many cases. Unless you have a lot of money to throw around, it is best to get a venture up and running a bit and not rush into the complications and expense that hiring someone involves. It can take some time to show any profit at all and it will take a lot longer if you are paying someone else.

Make sure your significant other is on board at least a little bit

It is very hard to work at home if your significant other is not in agreement or at least will stay out of it a little bit. Ideally, some of your self-sufficiency planning involves you working together. There may be times when you also need someone to stand in for you if you are ill. For example, if you keep livestock, it is easier if you split up the work or have it set up where one person can handle things.

There is work from home opportunities that allow you more time to pursue self-sufficiency at home.

Consider how much time and money you spend getting too and from work. This needs to be considered when you are comparing jobs at home versus a job in town. The following example is based on two people working and raising a family. If one person’s job in town pays $2500 per month but they have to spend $200 on gas, and childcare costs of $1,000 versus working at home and having no childcare costs and no huge gas bill, and no 2 hours spent commuting every day, a job that pays far less but can be done at home may actually be more profitable and that person may be happier to have the extra time for family.

You may even be able to homeschool, especially if you have older kids that can be easily directed to complete work. This can make some kids happier if they have a really long bus ride. My husband had to spend 2 hours per day round trip on the school bus in the 90s. That is a lot of time that could be spent doing something else. Kids that live remotely have to deal with this type of thing and it can be a real drag and it is not usually a productive way for kids to spend their time.

A single parent may find it easier to juggle life and work if they have a flexible job at home. If a child is school age, the parent would have a big chunk of time to get work done and no commute.

These are just a few examples, and I realize that not everyone can do work from home or even wants their work and home life to blend together but it is worth considering in some cases.

Being more self-sufficient in urban environments

I want to address self-sufficiency in cities because I think a lot of the time people just think that urban areas mean you cannot achieve much in the way of self-sufficiency.

Sure you may be more limited in what you can do, but that doesn’t mean you cannot do quite a bit. Here are some examples that you can practice in more towns and cities to increase your self-sufficiency.

The linked items are to articles we have at Backdoor Survival that will give you detailed information on how to get started.

  • Edible landscaping
  • Container gardens and indoor planters
  • Window box gardens
  • Sewing some high-value items like nice blankets, dresses, and other clothing
  • Backyard chickens for meat and eggs
  • Raise quail
  • Rabbits
  • Root cellaring
  • Beekeeping
  • Make some of your own skincare products like lip balm, skin salves, etc.
  • Alternative cooking methods like a grill, if allowed, or a small propane powered stove that can be used inside like the Camp Chef oven.
  • Work at home jobs and freelance gigs for some added financial cushion or a job that you can fall back on a bit if you cannot work your regular job or you lose the one you have.
  • Canning and value-added food products
  • Making your own beer or wine
  • Learning to cook meals or a bigger variety of meals. If you are really busy, learning the art of the 30-minute healthy meal makes it easier to not just buy expensive carryout or convenience foods. Cooking skills are important and not learned often enough in modern times, especially by those under 40.
  • Learn how to fix your own stuff. During an extended emergency, you may need to do some minor home repairs. Learning skills that can get you through is a major part of self-sufficiency.
  • Add solar panels to your roof to produce some of your own power. I suggest not having a grid-tied solar system because it means that when the grid is down your panels are not giving you power.
  • Water catchment- Rules and setups can vary but lack of water is an issue that can be addressed in town or country. During urban conflicts, a lot of people got their water by using tarps or anything that they had on hand that they could use to direct rooftop water into a container. Yes, the water will need to be filtered or boiled but at least you have it.
  • Composting- I imagine there are a ton of different composters that you can buy and plenty of people just have a bin that they have made. One reason we don’t compost out where we live is that we have very little food waste between the dogs, chickens, and geese. If you have urban chickens, many of your food scraps can be given to them.

Final thoughts

  • Remember to do what you can but don’t feel like you have to do it all.
  • Allow yourself time to learn things. One of the biggest lessons I learned helping my husband build our house is that skills take time to learn and you need to go slow enough to learn safely.
  • Involve your family if possible. You can do more as a group and get some time together that you may not otherwise have.
  • Start small and work your way up. Prepping and self-sufficiency don’t have to start out with you spending a lot of money or trying to take on learning something major right away.
  • Realize the strengths and weaknesses that you and others in your family have. Some people are better at some things than others and the vast majority of people have some type of skill or contribution that they can make towards being self-sufficient. Appreciate the value of each other and you can do great things as a family unit.
  • Understand that some things are not going to work out the way you would like regardless of how well planned. Learning to roll with the punches is part of embracing a more self-sufficient lifestyle.
  • Evaluate what you are doing that is working and what is not every so often so you don’t get stuck in a rut that doesn’t do you or anyone around you as much good as concentrating on other things might.

What are you doing to be more self-sufficient? What challenges have you faced from others on your quest to do more things for yourself?

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7 Responses to “The Myth of Self Sufficiency & How To Set Realistic Goals In Town & Country”

  1. You make a good point about the ideal of total self-sufficiency. It is more than an individual or family unit is practically able to achieve. Even back in the 1800s, farms were “semi-subsistence” in the sense that they grew or raised much of what they needed, but not all. For the rest, they traded what they could grow in excess of their needs.

    Communities, however, can get closer to the goal. Individuals can specialize in what they do well, or more efficiently.

    For prepping, figure out what you could produce that your neighbors would need. Make yourself a useful part of the broader community.

  2. Excellent article. One thing to remember is we will not be able to replace a lot of items we currently enjoy today. You will have to substitute, improvise and adapt since running into town will most likely not be an option. Items that serve as multi-functional will be in high demand and the skills you learn today will be invaluable in the future.

  3. Have a skill or learn one wh others will buy it need. Are you a carpenter? Doctor? Surveyor? Nurse? Gunsmith? Etc.can you mJe whiskey…good barter item.
    Do you know how to reload ammo? Did you remember to buy reloading supplies when they were cheap? Ammo will be top dollar item after shtf

  4. I remember with great relish, the first day that I looked around the table and it hit me that we had raised and grown everything on the dinner table, except for the salt and pepper. Yet, we were still not truly self-sufficient. We had to buy local grains and hay to feed out the critters. I often traded hogs and moos for that hay and grain. You cannot live in a vacuum. Great article!

  5. There was a time when people were self-sufficient ( native indigenous tribes, for instance); it’s just that most of us are not willing to live that rough and/or die that young.I agree that slowly mastering skills is the way to go. I have always enjoyed working at home but it can bring with it a certain financial insecurity. Some folks really can’t let go of that paycheck they perceive to be guaranteed. Others really seem to need the day to day interaction of the workplace. You’ve written an excellent article.

  6. No doubt prepping can be a pain, but it won’t kill you. On the other hand, not being prepared ,well we all know how that works out.ITS UP TO you!

  7. Why can’t I pin anymore? As a nurse I don’t always have time to read it right away. Pinning it makes it easy to come back to. Also I can always go back to it for reference. I love your site by the way.

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