They say that no man is an island, and in the modern world, we rely on many different resources to maintain our lifestyle. The electricity that powers your devices comes from a collective grid. If you live in a city, your water, sewage and garbage are often all handled by the same company. Massive agricultural conglomerates grow your food and raise the livestock you consume.
Currently, most of the country isn’t designed to support individuals who want to try self-sufficient living, but it’s not impossible to accomplish. What do you need to live a self-sufficient life?
What Does It Mean to Be Self Sufficient?
In today’s world, what does self-sufficiency mean? The dictionary defines the term as “being able to supply one’s own needs without external assistance,” but how do we apply that to everyday life? To understand this, we need to understand the basic necessities for life, the things that we all need to survive.
At life’s most simplistic level, all we need to survive is food, water and shelter. Everything else on top of that helps make life comfortable, but outside of very specific circumstances, you don’t need it to keep you alive. Let’s look at the necessities first, and then we can explore the creature comforts we’ve become accustomed to.
When we think of obtaining food, most of us just picture a trip to the nearest grocery store. While this is convenient, it’s not generally self-sufficient. On the journey to self-sufficient living, food is usually the first step, both because it’s a necessity and because it’s the easiest thing to start. You can approach this particular need in a few different ways when creating your self-sufficient lifestyle.
When you’re trying to become self-sufficient, the first step is often growing your own food. The exact details of this will vary depending on numerous things, from your location to the length of your growing season and even your property’s soil quality.
You’ll need to consider water and sunlight, as well as soil nutrition. Homes closer to the equator will have a longer growing season, and it will be easier to grow enough food to become self-sufficient. You don’t necessarily need to relocate, though. You can grow food nearly anywhere. You just need to learn how to navigate the seasons, regardless of where you are.
Learning how to rotate crops can help you keep your fields productive without artificial fertilizers. Of course, if you raise livestock, you will have all the fertilizer you could need right at your fingertips. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is a great way to improve your diet and health, but stocking up on out-of-season produce can be expensive. Plus, shipping fruits and vegetables across the world releases a large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
Stick to seasonal produce, both in what you grow and what you obtain from farmers markets or other local sources. It will taste better than what you might find at the grocery store, and fresh seasonal produce has the highest nutritional value. Augmented canned or frozen produce might have higher numbers, but those nutrients come from artificial sources. Nothing feels and tastes as good as walking into your garden and picking fruits and vegetables you’ve grown yourself.
Unless you’re planning to switch to a vegan diet, one cannot live on produce alone. Raising livestock is a bit more intensive than farming and gardening, but it can be the best and most cost-effective way to supplement your diet with dairy products, eggs and meat.
We don’t recommend starting with cows or other large animals, at least not when you’re first starting your self-sufficiency journey. Instead, begin raising livestock on a smaller level with chickens or other fowl and work your way up to the larger animals. The only major challenge you might face with birds is the threat of salmonella on your eggs and in your backyard flock. Thankfully, you can easily overcome this by simply keeping your coop clean and collecting your eggs often.
Raising large animals, especially for food, can be challenging, both when keeping them alive and butchering them. You do have the option of butchering your own animals, but if that doesn’t sound like something that’s in your wheelhouse, consider making a deal with a local butcher. You may find one who is willing to trade their services for a portion of your animal.
Unless you live on the equator or in the jungle, there will be a season where your fields will lie fallow and you won’t be actively harvesting. You’ll need to store plenty of food to feed yourself and your family during the cooler months. That’s where canning and other forms of food storage come into play.
Learning how to can and preserve food can turn your fresh crops into hearty meals that will last you through everything from a long winter to a natural disaster. Be sure to keep your canned foods out of sunlight and away from heat sources to maintain their quality for longer periods.
[Editor’s note: I have an entire book on the best food storage foods, if you want to get started now.
The next step toward becoming self-sufficient is getting off the local water grid and providing your own water. There are several different ways to do that, depending on your location and the available water resources. Wells are your best option in areas where drilling one will give you potable water, but they aren’t your only choice.
Rainwater collection is suitable if you live in an area that sees a lot of annual rainfall. It will require purification if you’re going to use it for drinking, but you can use it untreated for anything from filling toilet tanks to watering your gardens.
In a survival situation, tapping into and purifying natural water sources like lakes and rivers can also help you slake your thirst. You should also have water stored in the event of a natural disaster, though the latter is less for self-sufficiency and more so that you’re prepared for anything.
Finally, of the major things you need to survive, there’s shelter. You need to have a roof over your head and walls surrounding you to protect you from the elements and predators. Plus, it’s just more comfortable than sleeping out in the wilderness most of the time.
You don’t necessarily need the largest house possible when you’re trying to become self-sufficient. You’ll probably want to downsize your existing home in favor of something easier to maintain. Trade in a large house for more property, especially if you’re planning to keep livestock and grow crops. The land will be more valuable than a large home. Choose a residence that will be comfortable, and spend more time developing your property instead.
Now, we’ll start getting into the creature comforts we’ve grown so accustomed to. Self-sufficient living doesn’t mean you have to move back to the Stone Age. We’ve got plenty of power generation options available today that don’t rely on the energy grid.
Making Your Home Energy-Efficient
Start by making your home as energy-efficient as possible. If you’re generating your own power, you’ll be limited in the number of appliances and things you can use before you start running out of energy. Begin the process by going through your home and seeing where you can make changes. Replace your single-pane windows with energy-efficient double-pane options. Seal all windows and door frames with weatherstripping to prevent heat or cooling loss.
Replace all your existing old appliances with new Energy Star alternatives to lower the amount of electricity they draw. Swap out old incandescent bulbs with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to reduce your energy usage.
You can do plenty of things to make your home more efficient. This is something you should do before moving on to the next step, which is getting yourself off the grid.
Switch to Green Energy Sources
Once you’ve pared down your energy usage as much as possible, it’s time to disconnect from the grid and become more self-sufficient. You will need something to replace the grid energy, though. Modern technology gives us plenty of options, from solar panels that turn sunlight into electricity to wind turbines that do the same with wind power.
Take the time to figure out what will work best for your neck of the woods. Some places don’t get enough sunlight to use solar panels. Tapping into wind or water power can help you keep your lights on and your cellphone charged even if you disconnect from the local power grid.
We do need more things to survive and stay healthy and comfortable than food and water, such as medicine and furniture. Being self-sufficient doesn’t mean you’re relegated to chewing on willow bark if you have a headache, but you don’t want to have to head to the store every time you need something.
Learn to DIY
Becoming a DIYer can take some practice, but being able to do everything from building a bedframe to repairing a toilet does more than save you money. It’s also incredibly satisfying. It will take some time to perfect your skills, but you might be surprised by the kinds of things you can do at home without needing assistance from anyone.
One of the biggest benefits of living in the modern age is that we have everything we need to learn nearly any skill right at our fingertips. You can look up how to do just about anything on YouTube or in the various corners of the internet. If you want to do any particular task, someone has most likely created an instructional video you can utilize.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The average person in the United States produces upward of 2,000 pounds of waste every year. If you’re aiming for self-sufficiency, you should be trying to send as little waste to the landfill as possible. We all grew up hearing the three R’s — reduce, reuse and recycle — and that’s another way to make your lifestyle more self-sufficient.
Put organic waste in your compost pile and use it to fertilize your crops. Reuse anything you can, and reduce the amount of single-use items in your household — especially those made of plastic.
Self-sufficiency doesn’t magically do away with a need for money, especially in today’s world. The goal here doesn’t have to be quitting your job and living off the land. For many, self-sufficiency is as simple as growing your own food and reducing your overall expenses. You need to work on shedding your debt so you’re not relying on creditors or funneling your hard-earned cash into their pockets.
See what you can do to reduce your expenses, such as following the steps listed above or not eating out as often. You can also think about using your homestead to make money, such as renting out your land to hunters or campers or selling some of your crops.
If self-sufficient living is your goal, the best thing you can do is embrace simplicity. This lifestyle isn’t about buying all the newest toys or spending all your money. It’s about living simply, doing what you can do to live off the land, reducing your impact on the planet and doing everything you can without relying on anyone or anything else.
Stop wasting time binging shows on Netflix or mindlessly scrolling through social media. Embrace a simple life, care for your plants and animals and enjoy yourself.
Creating a Self-Sufficient Lifestyle
Self-sufficient living isn’t easy in today’s world. We’re taught from an early age to rely on grocery stores for our food, the electric company for our power and other utilities for water. It can take a long time to rewrite those instincts so you can create the lifestyle you want to live. Don’t start by trying to disconnect from everything immediately. Begin slowly and change one aspect of your life at a time, and eventually, you’ll have the truly self-sufficient life you desire.
Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.