Self-Sufficient Living: How to Become Self-Sufficient (and Why You Probably Shouldn't)

A Beginner's Guide to Self-Sufficient Living (and why you shouldn't try it), from SustainableBabySteps.com

Self-sufficient living is the ability and practice of providing for all of your own needs and the needs of your household without outside aid or resources. It relies on a myriad of knowledge and skills, as well as a spirit of independence and motivation. Its attempt is certainly not for everyone, but those who choose it tend to be passionate about their reasons.

"Freedom is the greatest fruit of self-sufficiency."
~ Epicurus

Reasons For Self-Sufficiency

Here are the common reasons why a person may choose to live self-sufficiently:

  • Preparedness: This is generally the main reason for self-sufficiency. A person feels the desire to be prepared for potential catastrophes, an end to cheap oil, or any political threats. Preparedness may also be a religious mandate. Learning how to become self-sufficient offers peace-of-mind and security in the event of a disaster.
  • Political: The stereotype is of a conspiracy-theorist that wants to "stick it to the man" by disappearing off the grid. That's usually not the case. Instead, most people see the real corruption in unconstitutional wars and powerful lobbyists and distrust the government to escape from its current political stature unscathed. Whatever comes down the road, they wish to be independent of assistance or oversight from shaky government agencies.
  • Social: A self-sufficient person may see the flaws within our current social structure. They may see that the food infrastructure relies too heavily on corn and long distance growers, and wish to not be a part of that unhealthy system. And they likely disagree with our cultural habit of over-consumption and waste. Learning how to become self-sufficient gives them a way to feel connected within a disconnected society.
  • Personal: Perhaps the simplest explanation for self-sufficiency is the personal satisfaction one gains from the lifestyle. Many people enjoy the practice of growing their own food and the accomplishment of learning something new. They may enjoy raising animals or building their home. And they likely take pride in providing for their family independently. For them it's about living a satisfying life, working hard and going to bed tired and fulfilled.
  • Environmental: A growing trend is the mitigation of environmental degradation through self-sufficient living. Your carbon footprint is diminished when your food is not shipped from around the world, your waste is reduced to almost nothing and your home is not powered by coal. You are prepared for environmental emergencies, changing political landscapes, and a breakdown in infrastructure with the coming climate changes. And you can take personal pride in your positive effects while also inspiring those around you.

becoming self-sufficient by growing your own tomatoes

How to Become Self-Sufficient

There is no definitive guide on how to become self-sufficient. Instead of specific steps, it's more important that you change the way you look at and think about your actions and dependency and seek alternatives in each area. Here are some areas to consider first:

  • Career: Your job should be the first area you consider. Look at your employer, their main client base and the longevity of their services or products. Is your career dependent on a robust economy or cheap oil? Is it dispensable, especially when times get tough?
  • Self-education and self-employment: Learning many skills that can diversify your income is important. Self-employment in a sustainable field is also a popular choice. Think about basic needs and worse case scenarios and decide what will be needed most: Food, shelter, clothing, repairs, and health care for humans and animals (especially alternative health care) all top the list. Diversify your skills and knowledge-base, change your career if necessary and ensure your future security.
  • Debt-Free: Debt has a serious crippling effect on self-sufficient living. Working toward financial freedom from debt is crucial for real self-sufficiency.
  • Housing: Shelter is a necessity. The location of your home is also very important. Do you have the yard and garden space you need (at least a quarter acre per person for truly self-sufficient living)? Are your laws friendly toward the addition of solar or wind energy? Can you drill your own well? These are all important things to consider when considering sustainable housing.
  • Food: Start by researching where your food comes from and how it affects your health. Is your diet healthy, whole and balanced? To live fully self-sufficiently, you'll need to produce your own food. This means installing an annual garden, planting trees or shrubs for perennial fruits, raising your own animals for milk, eggs or meat, savings seeds, canning excess garden yields, learning to fertilize sustainably and even doing your own butchering.
  • Transportation: If your driving habits are accustomed to cheap oil, it may be time to look for real alternatives. This is where real self-sufficient living gets tough. Unless you own an oil field or propane company, chances are the only way you'll reach full self-sufficiency is to forego automobiles and opt for animal transport, bicycling, or walking. Until you're ready to go this hard core, you can look into carpooling, car shares, or public transit to wean yourself off cheap oil.
  • Other: There are a hundred smaller and simpler things to consider when moving towards self-sufficient living. Some things, like cast iron cookware will last you a lifetime or longer, while other things like clothing will need regular repair or replacement. Learning how to make things last, buy real quality items, make repairs or do without is important. Some things to consider as you get started: shaving, composting toilets, home haircuts, sewing, hunting and fishing, homebirthing, homeschooling, and home cooking to name a few.

True self-sufficiency may take decades to fully reach, but that's okay because self-sufficiency shouldn't be your real goal anyway.

The Problem with Self-Sufficient Living

Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man
as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.
~ Mohandas Gandhi

The first problem with total self-sufficiency is that it assumes a person (or family) can do everything themselves. Burnout is a serious issue when we attempt to take on everything ourselves. We are, by our very nature, dabblers in everything and specialists only in certain areas. Our nature prefers diversity, but attempting that diversity alone is overwhelming at best and narcissistic at worst. Refusing to rely on anyone else will likely mean living a very boring, unsatisfying life, exhausting our bodies and resources quickly and lacking any real time or ability to enjoy the life we're creating for ourselves.

The next problem with self-sufficient living is that it can be a rather lonely existence. We are social creatures and science has shown our inter-dependency on others is crucial to our mental, emotional and physical health and well-being.

We are not islands unto ourselves. And moving off-grid with the intentions of self-sufficient living does little to mitigate the problems of sustainability, political stability or economic collapse.

Self-Sufficient Communities Are the Real Answer

A better way to approach how to become self-sufficient is to approach it within the workings of a small self-sufficient community.

Our resources shouldn't be sourced from thousands of miles away, nor should they be provided by a single entity. Real sustainability means diversity on a community level, as well as personal level. Within a self-sufficient community, needs are met easily, efficiently and sustainably through proper planning, collaboration and cooperation.

The responsibility of providing food can be shared within every member of the community through means of barter and exchange. Housing can be built and maintained by local craftspeople. Transportation is easily shared and exchange is rampant: One person may knit socks in exchange for fresh eggs; another person could build furniture as barter for garden shares.

On a larger scale the community may provide jobs that service and support the community members directly and as a whole with little or no exportation or importation. They can work toward total energy independence and plan neighborhoods based on walk-able communities.

Not only are tangible needs met, but social needs are met as well. Self-sufficient communities provide friendship, entertainment and support. They are dynamic: consisting of many small parts to create a whole sustainable system of self-sufficient living.

Ready To Get Stepping?

The ideas behind self-sufficient living and its connection to sustainability can be empowering. But they remain only ideas until you put them into action.

Talk doesn't cook rice.
~ Chinese Proverb

If you're ready to get started, I'd recommend the following Steps first:

  • Top Ways To Go Green: These should be your starting points. They are the no-duh things and most of them are very easy to implement.
  • Going Green At Home: For most of us, our homes are probably our biggest carbon footprint. Pop over there to learn easy ways to save water, energy and other resources.
  • Or you can head back to Why Go Green? to learn more.



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