Disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. I may earn money or products from any of the companies mentioned in this post. I only recommend products and services I trust to serve you. Purchasing through an affiliate link comes at no extra cost to you. You can learn more here
Being more self-sufficient is not only a good idea in today’s world with all of the economic challenges, but it’s all the rage as well! Self-sufficiency makes you less dependent upon the grid and the food system, while you provide for many of your own needs. Whether a natural disaster hits or you lose your job, becoming more self-sufficient will lessen the severity of these life events on your family! Let’s take a look at “Self-Sufficiency for Beginners”!
Some of these ideas you can start today, other’s will take a little time to implement, but all of them are worthy of your time and energy! Start slow, but start! Let it all sink in as you learn and grow in sustainability!
Become an Excellent Student
Becoming a “student of sustainability” is truly what it takes to master any of these skills. I’ll be honest, I didn’t grow up on a farm. I didn’t see a real-live farm animal until I was about 14 years old (it was a horse and I was terrified!). I couldn’t keep a houseplant alive…I’m serious! I was a mess.
I confess all of this to say that if I can do this, YOU can do this!
Everything I’ve learned about sustainability has been in books (LOTS of books), the internet and from the previous two generations. I am reading several books at a time, all the time. They lay stacked on my coffee table so that whatever mood I’m in, I can grab one and read for a bit. Books follow me to my car and I read everytime I’m forced to sit still, at a Dr’s appointment or even standing in line at the store.
Read. Study. Take notes. Go to classes. Talk to grandma and grandpa, while you still can. Save up and buy those books that truly need to be in every homesteader’s home library.
Minimize your Possessions/Downsize
Major downsizing has a name these days, it’s called Minimalism. Minimalism is simply ridding yourself and your home of things that have little functionality and that do nothing to bring you joy.
There’s an old saying “The more you own, the more it owns you”. This is very true.
Owning less means less to manage, less to clean, less to sort and less to move.
Could you live in a smaller home if you didn’t have so many possessions? Have you even considered that you pay rent/mortgage, as well as heating/cooling to give a home to your stuff? This isn’t a guilt trip, but it is an attempt at a “paradigm shift” away from too many belongings.
Selling excess furniture, clothes and belongings might just generate enough cash to pay some bills off or put into savings for something you really need and want.
Eliminate consumerism from Your Life as Much as Possible
We Americans are born and bred to consume.
From the time we’re born, advertisers are bombarding our parents in the hospital to buy this and that for their new baby. This pattern continues at different levels for our entire lives, and it’s hard to see life any differently. When we need something, most of us will just go buy it.
I get it, I did that for many decades. I actually was a shopaholic in my 20’s, and shopped for entertainment. Looking back, I shopped a lot because I was bored. We should shop when we need to, not when we’re bored!
When I became aware of the sustainability/homesteading community about 25 years ago, my thinking began to change. I became interested in learning how to garden and how to preserve food. Then I wanted to know about herbs and how they could improve our lives. My appetite for knowledge about how to be more self-sufficient consumed me, and it still does today.
May I challenge you to consider becoming more of a “producer” than a “consumer”? Think twice before you purchase something. Ask yourself why you’re buying it, and if there’s another way to accomplish what you need.
Retrain Your Consumption Habits
At the end of the day, we all have to shop at some point. There’s no crime in consuming what we need and can afford. Where we get into trouble is when we find ourselves shopping when we really don’t need anything. Mindless wondering through malls and shopping centers will get you to spend money every time. Surfing through websites, looking at sales will likely cause you to part with some money as well – without needing a thing.
Creating some new boundaries about when and how you’ll shop could help you to be more mindful about your consumption, and thereby make better choices. Choices based on need, not want….
Make a deal with yourself to only grocery shop one day a week. All other needs that come up will be put on a list for shopping day. Those frequent “one or two item” shopping trips will add up and cause you to spend more than you need to.
Avoid shopping when you’re bored, hungry or lonely. Create a diversion for yourself when you feel tempted…take a walk, go organize something or call a friend. Better yet, grab that book about sustainability, curl up on the couch and dig into it!
Reduce Your Energy Needs
Turning off lights and unplugging appliances and lights that aren’t in use make a huge difference in your electric bill! Money that you can save on your electric/gas bill is money that can stay in your pocket, purchase things you really need or go to pay off debt! The less you depend upon the utility companies, the more self-sufficient you will become.
Start by tracking your electric meter and see how much energy (kilowatts) you’re using each day. Take notice of why you have higher usage some days, and take steps to correct. Challenge yourself to use less energy overall each day.
Turn the thermostat down when you’re not at home. Keep it a degree or two less than you’re used to and see if you can adjust.
Light candles instead of turning on all the lights.
Put on another layer when you’re chilly, or grab a blanket (I even wear a scarf around the house in the winter!). We keep quilts and blankets on every couch and chair for easy use.
Have an “off grid” evening once in a while, where everyone in the house entertains themselves with something that doesn’t require electricity i.e. reading, sewing, crossword puzzles, etc.
Use the sun to dry clothes by using a clothesline.
Lessen the amount of hot water you use. Showers can be shorter and laundry can almost always be done on cold.
Cook dinner outside when you can.
Garden in Whatever Way Works Best for You
If you live in the city, then container gardening along with a community garden is going to be your best bet. In the suburbs, you might be able to remove your landscaping and integrate “edible landscaping”, in addition to raised beds. If you’re in the country, you’re good to go, but don’t make the garden larger than you can realistically manage.
You don’t have to know everything about gardening to get started, just do it! Plant something! Go ahead and get comfortable with making mistakes, we all do it. Just get your hands dirty!
I’m telling you, there’s nothing more empowering that growing something that makes it to your dinner table! SECRET: No one lives long enough to know everything about gardening, so go easy on yourself!
Why compost? You’ll eliminate the need for two things when you compost.
First, you’ll no longer need artificial fertilizer for your garden. Compost was the first, and remains the best fertilizer! An added benefit is that you won’t have smelly trash because of all of your food scraps.
Second, you’ll find that your trash volume will go down considerably when you compost. You can compost not only food scraps, but cardboard (toilet paper rolls and shipping boxes come to mind), leaves, dryer lint and old cotton socks.
Learn to Preserve Food
This one is really critical. Without stored food, whether it be canned, dehydrated or frozen, you are a prisoner to the grocery store. Preserving food is so satisfying and the quality of the food that you put up is usually superior to anything you could buy!
If you have no experience with preserving food, start with freezing. No, you don’t need a large chest freezer, but you will want to clean out your freezer and organize. Grab some freezer bags next time you’re at the store and start setting aside fruit, that’s really easy. Here’s “How to Freeze Cantaloupe” as well as “How to Freeze Strawberries“.
Next, look into dehydrating. This is a very simple and fast way to preserve food. All you really need is a dehydrator and a sharp knife. See how easy it is to dehydrate tomatoes, for example.
Learning to can is one of the best skills you can ever learn. Maybe you grew up with a mother and grandmother who canned, definitely give them a call and ask them to teach you! There are a lot of books and videos out there about canning, but I think canning is one of those things you need to be shown, at least that was the case with me.
Actually, an elderly neighbor lady taught me many years ago. She could barely stand, so she sat in my postage-stamp sized kitchen at the time and told me what to do. We were on a very tight budget at the time, so I looked at garage sales for a water bath canner and a pressure canner until I found them. Her name was Norma and I’ll forever be grateful for teaching me this awesome skill.
Check out your extension office for classes or maybe someone at your place of worship would teach a class. Keep looking and asking!
Start a list of things you need to preserve food and make sure family members know what you need for birthdays and Christmas. If you have to spend money, spend it on things that help you to be more self-sufficient and to eat better!
It takes time to master these skills, but it is so worth the time! When you have the ability to take food from it’s fresh state and make it last for years, you have a gift!
Foraging and Gleaning
Where do you find free food?
Let me introduce you to foraging. Foraging is a wonderful skill that I continue to grow in. Just a few years ago, I couldn’t have imagined feeling safe eating foods that I had gathered in a field or in the woods somewhere.
Dude, my perspective on foraging has changed completely!
This year alone, we picked wild black raspberries, mulberries, apples, dandelion and elderberry, plus more herbs than I can list. My freezer is full of bags of gorgeous, organic fruit for smoothies, pies or jam all winter long! I strongly encourage you to get a couple of books and get acquainted with what wild edibles grow in your part of the country. What a shame to not take advantage of this highly nutritious, free food source!
Another way to find free food to put up for winter is to pick from other people’s gardens…with permission of course.
Let it be known among your friends and on Facebook ( just your friends) and a “Buy Nothing” page that you are looking for excess fruits and vegetables, and that you’re willing to come pick. People go on vacations during the summer and don’t always manage their gardens the way they thought they would. Folks often under-estimate how many vegetables they will get from their gardens and have plenty to share…..take it! Put your name out there as someone who is looking to glean some nice vegetables and you will get calls! Make sure you take people up on their offers, so that they call you again, and leave the area nicer than you found it. When I pick from someone else’s trees, I make sure to toss any rotten fruit over by the trunk of the tree and clean up a bit. People really appreciate this and you gain trust.
Un-managed fruit trees grow all over the place, there’s a gorgeous apple tree right in front of a Lowe’s nearby that no one picks from (expect me!). The fruit just drops all over the ground, what a waste!! I spoke with the store manager at Lowe’s and I was told that they don’t own that property, but that I had permission to pick. Score! Free fruit.
I also use this method to feed my chickens, by stopping at a local farmer’s market and picking up some over-ripened fruits and vegetables. Establishing a relationship with folks is key, and I always make sure I buy a little something from them, as to not appear to be “too moochy”. I come home with tubs and buckets of produce! Free chicken food means free eggs!
Take Advantage of Loss Leader Deals
Look for “Loss Leader” items at the stores, when fruits and veggies are in season, and stock up!
My rock bottom produce price, that gets me motivated to buy, is under $1 per pound.
Recently, Meijer had apples on sale for .88 per pound! I bought a case, came home and canned them. Earlier in the season, Kroger had peaches on sale for .69 per pound. I think we got 4 cases total! We froze a ton of them, plus made wonderful jam! We caught a sale on blueberries for .99 a pound!
You may only get one shot at these kinds of prices, and you need to be looking for them. Get to know what comes in season during the year in your neck of the woods. In Ohio, May is strawberry and asparagus season, so I’m looking for that “rock bottom” price. I’m ready for them, with freezer bags and plenty of sugar and jars to make jam. Planning ahead is the only way to do this.
June means peaches around here, and July ushers in all the berries. See what I mean? Grab these deals and feed your family well!
Build and eat from a working pantry
I love my pantry. It’s not fancy or even that big, but I use it all the time. In our last house, my little pantry was under the basement steps, but it worked.
My pantry includes my home-canned food, but it also holds basics that we use all the time. This would include coffee, peanut butter and pasta. When I see something on sale, or have a little extra money in my budget, I’ll stock up on staples.
I read about people’s reasons for having a well-stocked pantry, which includes job loss and zombie apocalypse. But I have a confession to make: I hate shopping. I absolutely HATE going to the store. My pantry can keep me from having to the grocery any more often than is absolutely necessary!
Cook at Home
Americans spend nearly half of their food budget eating out. Can you imagine how much more money we could have in our bank accounts if we just made the effort to eat at home? I think sometimes we make eating at home harder than it has to be.
Basic meal planning is simply deciding ahead of time what meals you plan to make, so that the decision has already been made. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated!
Some nights, I have time to make a full meal for the family. Other nights, we have soup and sandwiches for dinner or we’ll just scramble a bunch of eggs and make toast.
If you’re not used to eating a home, you might think about talking to your family about ways you could eat at home more. Brainstorm about meal ideas and what you might need to pick up at the store to make this work. Buy-in from your family is key with this. Make meals that they will enjoy!
Develop Home Keeping Skills
This is paramount. Everything about being self-sufficient is rooted in the home.
Once again, I grew up in the “women’s liberation” decade of the 1970’s, when it was insulting to do house work. Consequently, I didn’t learn how to do much of anything domestic, putting me at a great disadvantage once I decided to stay home with my children and run my home and farm.
But I found ways to learn! (See #1)
You can too! Home management is so important that quite frankly, nothing on this list is possible without it!
Hone in on your weaknesses and improve. Celebrate what you’re learning and how you’re growing, and keep looking for those women to come along side of you!
I continue to be amazed how much money I save by not buying (very many) paper products. Every once in a while, I’ll peruse the prices of paper napkins and paper towels….yowza! That’s crazy! Paying that kind of money for single use items just doesn’t seem necessary or wise.
Consider how many paper products you use in your home, and then look for ways to replace them, one by one.
Paper towels can largely be done away with by replacing them with kitchen towels. However, I do reserve the right to use a paper towel to drain bacon.
Paper napkins can be replaced with cloth napkins, which are fun to make! Just throw them in with your regular wash!
My babies used cloth diapers, keeping disposables for times when I knew we would be away from home for a while. Today, the cloth diaper has come a long way, baby! While they can be a bit of an investment at first, the dividends are certainly there, both for your baby and the earth.
Feminine products have come a long way as well! Making cloth pads is a simple project, saving you hundreds of dollars a year on disposable pads. Sometimes a combination of the two is the best way to go, but you’ll still save. Have you seen the Diva cup? It completely eliminates the need for expensive tampons!
Finally, yes I’m going there….toilet paper. Now, maybe you’ve heard of the “family cloth”, which sounds completely disgusting to me and probably to most people.
But, here’s how I would explain the best way to minimize your need for expensive toilet paper….only use it for #2.
For #1, keep a personal wash cloth (that is yours alone) near the toilet (or in a small container of soapy water) and use that during the day. Simply toss it in the wash with the rest of your laundry and replace daily. Simple.
Limit Your Need for Driving a Car
I could go on for hours about all the ways cars frustrate me.
Cars are a very expensive mode of transportation, all things considered. Even if you pay cash for a car, there’s still so many expenses related to a car. Fuel, oil changes, tires, insurance, licensing fees, title fees and then there’s maintenance. AAA recently came out with a figure that shocked even me, that it costs the average person $9,800 a year to maintain a car!
If you want to me more self-reliant, look into other ways of getting around.
Urban dwellers have the advantage of taking the subway, the bus or even riding a bike. And if I were a city girl, I would make sure I lived near the farmer’s market, the school and the grocery!
Car-pooling is still a great idea, I’m always amazed at how many parents drive to the same venue to watch the same game driving 30 different cars.
I live in the country, so my options are limited. However, I can stretch a tank of gas like nobody’s business! I will deny even myself gas if the price hikes up, just because I don’t want to pay for it. Yeah, I’m like that.
Raise some meat
Raising domestic meat is a great way to provide your own food, whether it be rabbits, chickens or fish in a tank. Don’t feel bad if you can’t quite imagine yourself killing an animal to eat, I get it. But the conclusion I came to was that by raising my own meat, at least I know how the animal lived and what it ate.
I can make sure that my animals have a great life, with lots of sunshine, good food and affection. Most meat animals can’t say that, sadly. They live horrible lives and come to a horrible end. When you raise your own meat, your animals can have wonderful lives…and just one bad morning (really, just a bad minute). I can live with that.
Learn to hunt or become friends with a hunter. I’m working on this, as I do not come from a family that hunted.
If you have close friends or family members who hunt, by all means, figure out a way to go on a hunting trip with them! That’s the best way to learn! There are field skills that are best experienced “on the job” so to speak.
Plant an Herb Garden
Learning “How to Grow an Herb Garden” is surprisingly simple to do!
Choose just a few herbs to get started with, if you are unfamiliar with them. Parsley, basil and chives are easy to do! Find ways in the kitchen to incorporate them into your meals. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how herbs can take a plain meal to fabulous!
Get Some Basic Herbal Education and Learn to Treat Minor Ailments Yourself
Let’s face it, health care is expensive. Some Americans simply can’t afford it. I feel that we have lost (or sacrificed) our own common sense ability to take care of common ailments at home. When I was a kid, we hardly ever went to the doctor! Our moms knew how to take care of things!
What happened to that?
There are very few incidents in our home that warrant a trip to the doctor. I use essential oils and basic herbal salves quite a lot around here, but most importantly I’m educating my kids about how to take care of themselves.
Harvest rain water
Taking advantage of rain shows up at your place automatically and costs you nothing seems like a pretty good idea to me! This saves money on your water bill and will definitely put you at an advantage!
Start slow and just fill a bucket or pot by sitting it under your downspout when it rains for a few minutes. You could use this water for your garden or to flush a toilet!
You can go to the next step of harvesting rain water with a rain barrel! My extension office gave these away for free by coming to a class about how to harvest rain, so check around!
Make Your Own Personal Products
I am a big believer in making your own personal products! Here’s a fabulous book with over 101 Easy Homemade Products that I’m just lovin’ right now! You can check out Pinterest for a ton of ideas as well.
Make Your Own Cleaning Products
I am even a bigger believer in making your own cleaning products, avoid toxins and save a bundle!!! Check out my Pinterest board!
Get a Side Hustle
Finding a side hustle is almost a necessity to get ahead these days. There is great vulnerability in the job market, and having a few different “lines in the water” in terms of ability to earn a living is very wise. You might enjoy 85 Ways to Make Money Homesteading!
Learn to Barter
Bartering is an ancient form of exchange that is making a comeback! Bartering is nothing more than a non-monetary exchange of items of value.
It’s a simple as exchanging a couple of dozen eggs that your chickens laid for some jam that someone else made. You can exchange services as well, perhaps someone is willing to do some yard clean up in exchange for babysitting.
While I prefer local bartering relationships, there are websites dedicated to bartering that you might want to check out. Barteronly.com is another website that looked interesting to me, but I haven’t had the need to use it. Always be careful and check people out before doing any kind of business with them or exchanging information.
Buy Good, Used Clothes
By purchasing good quality, used clothing and avoiding “fast fashion” (with all the human rights violations and environmental effects) you are doing you and your family a wonderful service.
Build community of like-minded folks
Having some “like minded” friends to walk this sustainability journey with you is so important. Otherwise, you feel like the only “weirdo” out there! Not everyone will see the point of using cloth napkins or foraging for food, but believe me, there’s someone out there who is just as interested in self-reliance as you are! Seek out people who have a craft that you want to learn more about. Join the quilting guild, go on nature walks with your extension office, hang out with knitters on a “girls night out”, just keep putting yourself out there! You’ll find your peeps!
Self-reliance is a journey, not an event. Come along for the ride!