It Isn’t Easy Or Quick, But The Benefits Are Huge!
Nothing that’s worth doing well is easy. That’s especially true when we discuss becoming self-sufficient. The road can be long and bumpy, with many hurdles. If this is what you want to do, you have to stick with it. The key is to set goals—both long and short term—make a plan and be flexible. You’ll find that both your goals and plans will change over time, and there’ll be roadblocks that’ll cause you to deviate from your original course. That’s OK; that’s life. Get back on track and push on.
My friend and fellow writer, Christopher Nyerges, who literally wrote the book on this subject, is quick to point out that in this day and age, total self-sufficiency isn’t obtainable. I have to agree. We’ve become so dependent on “stuff” that we can’t live without some of it.
I fall into this category. For instance, I can’t get this article written and then sent along with the photos to ASG Editor Mike McCourt without using my laptop and the Internet, which means I also need electricity. It’s just a fact of life.
Money is another thing we can’t do without. You’ll need money to purchase seed, ammunition and fuel. You’ll need money to pay your taxes and rent or mortgage, and you’ll need it to purchase those things you can’t make or barter for. Despite all of that, there are things, even small things, you can do to make yourself less dependent on the powers that be.
We’ve been setting goals for ourselves our whole lives—whether it was to get married and have kids, go to college for a higher education, or buy a home.
When it comes to living a more sustainable, self-sufficient life, you also have to set goals. Do you want to save money or have more control about the food you eat? Perhaps you want to cut yourself off from the grid. These goals are all doable. You just have to think it through and do it one step at a time.
When it comes to goals, make them obtainable and realistic. If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Think about those New Year’s resolutions to quit smoking, go on a diet or a host of other things. How long do they last? Not long, right? Why? Because they aren’t realistic.
Another example is my dream of raising my own cattle. Because of numerous factors— the greatest of which is time—I know that probably won’t happen. If I pushed on with this, it would be a waste of valuable time spent on an unobtainable goal. Be honest with yourself. Being self-sufficient in any part of your life is a big step. Think it through.
As you make your goals, take into consideration a few things: your position in life, money available and potential money available, where you live and the other people involved, to name just a few. If you’re independently wealthy, the world is your oyster. If not, you need to seriously consider your situation. Regarding other people involved: You have to consider your spouse and any children. Are you willing to stake their well-being on your ideas of a better life? If it works, great. However, if not, what then?
If you push forward, what you can do and how you do it will differ if you live in an urban area or out in the country. One of your goals might be to have a few chickens, but you might find that the regulations where you live don’t allow them. Unless you want to move to an area where chickens are allowed, you might have to scratch chickens off your list.
You’ll find that your goals will change as you move forward. Don’t let that stop you, because there are plenty of things you can do—no matter where you live. As you achieve your goals, make new ones. Keep moving forward.
Review your goals, prioritize them and, taking one at a time, make a plan for how to achieve each one. For example, perhaps your first goal is to ween yourself off the power grid. How would you do that? Would you just throw the switch and shut down your power, or would you start small? The correct answer is obvious: Start small.
Let’s dive deeper into this exact goal. Ask yourself why you want to get off the grid. Is it to save money? Is it to save the environment? Is it to have the satisfaction of being in control of your own future? Is it a combination of all three, as well as some other reasons? No matter what your reasoning is, it’s still a lofty goal.
Ultimately, to get off the grid, you’ll need some way to generate your own power if you plan on using freezers or need to recharge batteries. That power source could be wind, solar or water or some combination of these sources, and they all require at least some outlay of money. Where do you get that money? You do what most people do: You save.
Do your homework and figure out what power-generating options you want to use. Read everything you can find about those options. Talk to people who’ve already made the step. Find out all the pros and cons and what kinds of problems you can expect to have. You might find you’ll want to use multiple options. It all starts by becoming informed and heading off any potential problems before they arise.
Working toward your goal doesn’t happen overnight. In the case of moving off the grid, you can start by just using less energy. Purchase Energy Star-rated appliances when you have to buy new. Simple things, such as turning off the lights when you leave the room, turning off the television, unplugging electronic devices and unplugging appliances when not in use, all save energy; thus, they save you money. Even when not in use, any device that’s plugged in still draws power, power you’re paying for. Another step is to change all the light bulbs in your home to energy-saving ones. Move to battery-operated devices and use rechargeable batteries. It’ll save you money in the long run.
Before you start, determine what your monthly electric bill is. After you start your transition, take a look at your energy bill and figure out how much money you’re saving each month. Take the money you’re saving and put it aside. You’d be surprised how quickly it’ll build up! Use that money to go on to the next step for achieving your goal; this might be purchasing a solar panel or a small wind turbine.
Self-sufficiency isn’t just about getting off the grid. There are other goals you should have, and there’s no reason you can’t work on more than one goal at the same time.
Another one of your goals should be geared toward food production. Once again, you need to do your homework. Do you want to raise chickens and/or livestock or just have a garden? The first thing you need to do—especially if you’re in an urban environment—is look at what kind of space you have to work with. Are you in an apartment, or do you own your own home? Is there enough space for a garden or perhaps a few chickens?
Once you have those answers, you need to check with your landlord, municipality or other zoning authority to see what you’re allowed to do. Every place is different. Many urban areas won’t allow chickens or livestock, but I’ve never heard of an area that prevented someone from having a garden. In addition, even if you’re allowed to have chickens, get a sense of how your neighbors feel about it (offering them eggs could soften the edges a bit!).
A garden is the easiest and least expensive way to produce your own food. The best thing is that you don’t need a large area. Many people grow plenty of food by using containers that sit on their porches. This is an effective garden approach for people living in apartments. Because most of the items you’ll need can be obtained free of charge, for the cost of seeds, you can start producing fresh food. Every squash, cucumber or tomato you grow is one less you need to purchase. In no time, the garden will pay for itself, and you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing where and how it was grown.
Becoming substantially self-sufficient is a long process that takes serious planning and dedication. In fact, I’ve been moving in that direction for more than 30 years and still have goals to achieve!
The effort has also taught me a great deal about planning, self-discipline and patience. Those who don’t make plans and adjust them as needed are doomed to fail. There’ll be many obstacles you’ll need to address before moving forward; however, new opportunities are just as likely to pop up. It’s critical to have realistic expectations.
Most of what you’ll learn will come to you via trial and error. Knowing that, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Don’t repeat the same mistakes already made by others. Do your homework, and use the resources available to you.
As much as I hate technology, I have to admit that pulling up “how-to” sites on YouTube has saved me a great deal of time, aggravation and money. Don’t overlook this resource. ASGMAG.com is a great resource with more than 1,000 articles available to read free of charge.
It’s funny, but I’ve picked up a great deal of useful information by watching some of the home improvement shows on television.
Granted, much of it is fluff, but occasionally, you’ll gather something you can use. Another good source is programs that deal with homesteading, such as Alaska: The Last Frontier and Homestead Rescue, both of which can be found on the Discovery Channel.
There are many books available- some are good, some not so much. Some give broad overviews, while others are task specific.
Christopher Nyerges literally wrote the book on this type of lifestyle; and, while all his books are excellent, there are two you should have in your library: The Self-Sufficient Home (published by Stackpole Books; available from Amazon) and Extreme Simplicity (published by, and available from, Dover).
Two other books I recommend are A Year in the Maine Woods, by Bernd Heinrich (published by Da Capo Press; available from Amazon) and Call of the American Wild by Guy Grieve (published by, and available from, Skyhorse Publishing).
Food and water will need to be a part of your plan, no matter how far you take your self-sufficiency initiative. Small things do make a big difference.
Water is a valuable resource, so you can’t afford to waste it. Use “gray water” (water from washing machines, dish-washing, etc.) to water your garden. I have a dehumidifier and use the water collected to water my garden. Develop a water catchment system to use any rainwater running off your roof. This water can be used as is to water your garden. However, it must be processed before it can be consumed.
Raise chickens and livestock when and where possible. Legally harvest wild game and fish. Plant a garden, concentrating on plants that do well in your area and that your family will eat. Join with your neighbors and start a community garden in a vacant lot; with the owner’s permission. Save the seeds from the plants that did well and use them for the next season; alternatively, trade them with fellow growers for others.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the November, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.