With more lockdowns looming, more restrictions, and the chance for us to move out of this covid world getting bleaker and bleaker, many people will be thinking about how to be more self-sufficient, and what that actually means.
If you’ve been thinking about taking that idealistic step away from the mainstream and moving towards self-sufficiency, then you’re not alone. It’s a term we’ve heard a lot more this past year and a bit, and has become a lot more mainstream itself. So how realistic is it these days? With a cultural shift evolving and lots of us re-evaluating and changing priorities, we seem to be gleefully stepping further and further away, or so it seems, from the benefits of modern life. Not entirely – because we will never be able to reverse globalization or the digital technology advances that we’ve made – but we can definitely reduce how much and when and for how long we do use these digital technologies and what we do in the spare time using less of those.
So, can self-sufficiency work with modern life? And what might that look like? What changes can we make to ensure we are moving toward living in a more self-sufficient way?
First, let’s break down what it actually means. In its most basic form, many of us probably understand it to mean that we are self-reliant. And being self-reliant means being able to support yourself in a number of ways. I think we probably tend to lean toward growing your own food, but it can extend much more than that. Anytime you are producing on your homestead, whether you’re building from scratch, recycling, repairing something, fixing or repurposing, you are being self-sufficient.
Self-sufficiency comes part and parcel with homesteading. It’s an ideology and not just an action. It suggests living simply – physically or philosophically – and staying within financial means that are comfortable for you. This can be as far as being debt free or living off-grid, but again, self-sufficiency, like homesteading is an arc and a spectrum of involvement. You can be as involved as much or as little as you want, and can take snippets from what you feel comfortable doing. Not every homesteader or self-sufficient person will grow their own food. Some may chop and sell trees for logs and firewood, or barter it for chicken, or eggs or honey.
It also often means being someone who says no to popular trends, and who isn’t afraid of taking a different path to their friends. Your journey and role in self-sufficiency will be personal and adaptive and flexible to what you need, and you can change it whenever you like.
And once you’ve decided self-sufficiency is for you, the next step is to turn that into reality.
Clarifying your goals is a good place to start. First you need to know what you want to achieve. As Simon Sinek says, what is your why? Why do you want to do this? What is spurring you on to change to this lifestyle?
If moving, what kind of area or community do I want? Isolated, close-knit, suburban, small acreage or rural?
What does my financial future look like now? What do I want it to look like? Do I need to change anything significantly to achieve a certain goal? This could mean selling a big house, down-sizing, moving to a different area or even considering moving onto a place with two dwellings and sharing costs and childcare with another family or grandparents.
Will I stay in employment or can self-sufficiency support me? If that is the case, what is my plan to transition to move from corporate work to being self-employed and what steps will you need to take?
What size land and what kind of dwelling suits me? Could I build, or buy something existing? Can I go and try before I buy? Does a friend have a farm I could stay at to get a feel for it and what size would best suit me and my family?
What kind of garden do I want? Commercial, market or personal? Do I want a flower garden? Does something grow better in this area than another area?
Are farm animals part of my vision? If so which ones, and am I aware of the applicable local laws in relation to them. Will I sell meat or eggs? Will I grow baby chickens, or will I sell fertile eggs for other homesteaders?
Once your vision starts to become clear, you can break it down even further on a practical level in order to make it become reality. Make sure you are completely honest with yourself, keeping in mind any permanent limitations or constraints you might have.
What skills do I have, and what skills do I need to acquire? What tools will I need? What can I repurpose, or what can I sell and purchase instead?
What kind of climate is best for me? Do I want a short or long growing season? This will determine how much energy and time you need to contribute.
And most importantly, how genuine is my enthusiasm, and will it last long-term??
Taking the First Step
A quick and easy way to start self-sufficiency or homesteading, is usually with gardening. If starting a full vegetable garden seems daunting, or you feel you want to do some more research, then herb gardens or flower gardens are just as fun and also easy to step into. It’s a great way to step into both lifestyles without it costing a lot and most importantly teaches you a new skill with a low entry threshold. Once you’ve grown a few things, and particularly things you’ve used in a meal, you’ll be hooked. There is no greater joy than being able to go into the garden to pluck something out fresh for dinner. All that hard work weeding and watering and caring for your garden really does pay dividends greater than any tiredness or hard work you endured to make the garden in the first place!
If by that point you haven’t already delved into compost creation, then I highly suggest you do so. Homemade compost is so much better, cleaner and cost effective compared to anything you can buy externally. In fact, in many instances maybe getting the compost pile started before the garden might be better. You don’t need a huge composting bay to do so either – you can always repurpose something from the shed to turn it into a manual crank turn barrel to turn your compost as needed. You can start a biochar batch, or if you have horses, cows or chickens, collect the manure for later use. Everything from old cardboard to kitchen scraps can be used in compost. Not only does it contribute to a low waste/zero waste philosophy, but ensures you have the best possible fertilizer you can have.
Once you’ve taken the first couple of steps, you’ll find that it kind of snowballs. You may branch out into farm fowl, like chickens, ducks, geese, quails or guinea fowl. All produce eggs, can be raised as meat hens, and are excellent natural pest repellers in the yard (of course, you may need to keep them out of the garden unless you’re planning a permaculture setup because they may eat your vegies!). You’ll also soon find that no job is too big, or too small. Suddenly, you have an innate curiosity to try your hand at building something, or mending something. Where once you may have been tempted to pay someone else to do the work, you now do a costs analysis and realise you can do it yourself for half the price. Granted, it won’t be done in a day, but Rome wasn’t built in a day either. So if it takes you a week to do something a professional takes a day to you, but you learn a new skill and reduce your costs significantly then I think that’s the epitome of self-sufficiency.
Of course, it then continues to grow. Your curiosity and your skill base. Now you are considering harvesting, storing, canning and otherwise preserving all that wonderful food you’ve grown, you have a glut of eggs you can now barter or sell, and you’re considering a beehive to compliment your garden and also give you wax and honey.
This is the way the journey goes. Without fail, you start one thing and end up down a rabbit hole. Soon enough, things you never thought you’d like, you enjoy more than anything else. I was chatting to the neighbour over the fence the other day and said how I’d better get going so I could clean up horse poo and he said, “Yeh, me too. Although, there’s something therapeutic about it”.
And I’d agree.
So, don’t be afraid of the word self-sufficiency. It’s not all doomsday preppers and MREs (though if you are inclined to take that route, then power to you). Self-sufficiency to me simply ties in with the greater ideology of homesteading and simple living. And once you’re part of the club there’s no going back!
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