In the modern world, becoming ‘self-sufficient’ typically implies successfully finding employment that allows you to acquire your own place to live, transportation, etc., effectively severing your dependency on and financial ties to your parents. By this commonly accepted definition, a 23-year-old accounting apprentice able to support himself financially would be considered self-sufficient.
However, taking a closer look at his life we find that he really hasn’t acquired any useful skills for, well, living. After work, he spends most of his free time playing video games. He typically eats frozen pizza or orders in, having never taken the time to learn to cook. If anything in his house breaks or stops working, he calls a repair person, having little to no knowledge himself of how the items he depends on daily actually work.
Perhaps by society’s definition this young man is self-sufficient, but not by ours.
Consider for a second if all the conveniences and luxuries you’ve come not only to enjoy, but also depend upon in your life, suddenly ceased to exist? What would you do? Would you have the skills to meet your basic needs such as food, water and shelter? Would you be physically fit enough to endure a long-term scenario – possibly even forever – without these modern miracles?
If you’re uncertain about any of the above, the bad news is you are not yet self-sufficient, but the good news is that making yourself more self sufficient is easier than you think and can actually improve the quality of your life right now.
There are two steps you need to take in becoming self-sufficient: learning new, productive habits; and dropping old, harmful habits. This article will take you through both and provide you with the information you need to teach yourself how to be self-sufficient.
Learning New, Productive Habits
While the multitude of modern conveniences available affords us the luxury of not having to learn every little skill required to get through our daily lives, there are certain skills that you should nevertheless have the ability to perform. These skills, while seemingly time-consuming in today’s society, become essential and life-saving in a scenario where modern conveniences cease to be an option.
The essential skills you will want to learn and master are as follows: fixing and repairing; gardening; cooking; first aid; repurposing; thriftiness; and fitness.
Fixing and Repairing
We’ve become so accustomed to the ease of availability of consumer goods that instead of focusing on repairing old or broken items, we simply throw them away and buy new ones. Learning how to repair everyday items will not only increase your self-sufficiency, but also help you save money and conserve resources.
To start, take a look online where you will find an infinite amount of resources dedicated to teaching Do-It-Yourself (DIY) fixes. Additionally, you can spend time studying an item to discover how it works, which will help you to decipher what may be wrong should it stop working properly. We recommend you stock up on glue, duct tape, a quality sewing kit, and start experimenting!
Here are some common fixes and repairs you can learn to get started:
Very handy for tents, packs and clothing. Typically, if the zipper coils are no longer catching properly, the slider may simply need an adjustment. To adjust, zip open as far as possible, fit a small block of wood with a notch carved into it over the arch, and then tap it gently with a hammer to push the sliders together. A few taps will usually do it – be careful not to go too far. You can also use pliers to gently reshape the slider, as seen in this video:
Sewing Broken Backpack Straps
To repair a broken backpack strap, sew three parallel lines of small, tight stitches across the width of the strap and then overlay those with two lines, making an ‘X’ in the same small stitching. This is called a “Box X” pattern and it creates a very strong seam. The videos below show both the concept of the “Box X” stitch, as well as how to perform basic stitches by hand.
Learning how to sew a seam by hand will enable you to repair your garments and gear, which is especially important when resources are limited.
Waterproofing Your Clothing
We recommend checking out this great article discussing four ways to waterproof your clothing by homesteading blog Living Green and Frugally. Being able to waterproof your clothing and shelter with both manmade and natural materials is an invaluable skill.
Knife Repair and Maintenance
To keep your knife in tip-top condition, learn the basics of replacing the handle and properly sharpening the blade.
This can be a tough one to practice if you don’t have acres of land to cultivate, but there are ways you can learn and develop the basic skills of keeping plants alive and yielding healthy harvests on a small scale.
Try to get heirloom seeds to start with and begin saving your seeds to ensure an endless supply. Seeds should be taken from ripe vegetables and then rinsed and set on a glass plate to dry – don’t use paper towel as the seeds will stick to it. Ensure the temperature stays below 95℉ and keep the seeds away from sunlight.
To dry the seeds evenly, make sure to stir them twice a day and gently separate any clumps. If you want some additional information on saving seeds for specific varieties of plants, check out Beginner’s Guide to Seed Saving from Rodale’s Organic Life.
Location, Soil and Water
When selecting your seeds, make sure to choose plant varieties that will grow well in your particular climate as well as your soil conditions.
To ensure a supply of nutrient-rich soil for next year’s harvest, compost foliage at the very end of the growing season – if you’re just starting out, check with your local municipal waste facility for composted soil from yard clippings.
An easy, and free, source of water for your garden is rainwater, which can be collected in specially built barrels; you can either purchase these barrels or make them yourself, however, for DIY barrels just ensure the container you’re using didn’t previously contain any oils or other harmful chemicals.
Tending and Harvesting
There are some plants, such as tomatoes, that are self-pollinating while others will need the help of insects or a gardener to encourage pollination. The flower of the plant will be the site of the vegetable growth, so ensure to continually check leaves for the presence of fungus or pests.
When a vegetable reaches its full size and color, it is ready for harvesting. While your first few harvests may not be ideal, keep in mind that it is a learned skill and practice makes perfect. Check out this helpful resource for determining when is the best time to harvest for various plants.
If you are lucky enough to have a bountiful harvest producing more than you can consume, you’ll be thankful you learnt some basic preservation skills so that the food can be stored and used later. Typically, most vegetables and fruits can be canned (you can even get creative with preserves, sauces and stews) or alternatively you can use a dehydrator for preserving fruits and berries and making your own energy-rich snacks.
|Beginner’s Illustrated Guide to Gardening: Techniques to Help You Get Started
|Simple text and photos provide step by step instruction from breaking ground through harvesting
Learn how to read plant tags, seed packets, and zone maps to choose the best plant varieties for your climate
Also covers gardening tools, lawn care basics, container gardens, and more
|The Ultimate Gardening Book: 5 Gardening Books in 1
|Teaches container, vertical, and urban gardening techniques perfect for small spaces
Complete guide to starting straw bale or square foot gardens for vegetables
Rain collection, compost, and fertilizer tips for maintaining your garden
|All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More In Less Space
|An in-depth guide that includes money and time saving tips
Learn how to make planting mix to provide the right nutrients to your plants
Square foot method works well in small and large scale gardens
Cooking from scratch is the best way to ensure your meals are healthy and free of any preservatives or artificial ingredients prevalent in processed and pre-cooked foods. The best way to learn to cook from scratch is to simply roll up your sleeves and try! The Science of Good Cooking is a great book to experiment with as it explains each step of the recipe and why the desired result was produced.
The best cookware to learn to cook with is cast iron cookware as it can be used on a stovetop, in an oven, or even over an outdoor fire. Become familiar with the use and care of cast iron cookware and make sure to take it outside every now and again to practice preparing meals over an open fire. For more information on building an outdoor fire, check out Survival Topic’s article on building a Dakota Fire Hole.
Additionally, you should learn and practice several different methods for building a fire so that you aren’t limited to certain conditions or available resources – fire building is a vital skill that goes hand-in-hand with self-sufficient cooking. We wrote a great article detailing six ways you can start a fire without matches, which you can read here.
Once you’ve got the basics of cooking and fire-building down pat, try experimenting with more challenging skills such as making your own cheese or cider, or learning to dress different types of game and fish. By developing a solid skill set, you will have confidence in any situation and be able to prepare a self-sufficient meal with whatever happens to be available.
Achieving your CPR certification is a great step towards self-sufficiency. Having the knowledge of what to do in the first moments of any emergency is vital and will help you to remain calm and successfully administer care.
In the event an injured person needs to be moved, you will want to be familiar with several different carry options. The option you choose will depend on your own strength, the size of the victim and the extent of their injuries, the distance that needs to be traveled, and how many others are available to provide help. The most common carry options employed by rescue teams are as follows:
- Firefighter carry
- One person lift
- Pack strap carry
- Ankle or shoulder drag
- Two person carry
- Four person carry
- Equipment assisted carry – build a sled or gurney using two sturdy bars secured with rope and cloth
- Chair carry
Having a reliable first aid kit is another essential part of being prepared. For information on picking out or building your own first aid kit, you can check out our in-depth article HERE.
Repurposing is a creative means to turn the items you have into the items you need. The ability to brainstorm alternative uses for different objects is extremely valuable in a survival situation. Some ideas include making cookers from scraps, turning soda tabs into fishhooks, using garbage bags as windbreakers, and making skis into a bow. We go into detail on repurposing common items while prepping in this article on “Prepping For Pennies”, as well as a bunch of other ideas.
The ability to meet your daily needs on any budget can go a long way towards self-sufficient living. To increase your thriftiness, start by tracking and examining your spending and then look for ways where you can cut back. The following are several ideas on how to cut spending and make your current resources go further:
- Monitor your heating / cooling – even a few degrees can make a difference in your energy bill
- Buy food in bulk – freeze or can excess perishables
- Perform your own repairs and maintenance
- Repurpose items you already have, trade in used goods, shop consignment and garage sales
- Make your own soaps and detergents – not only is this cheaper, but also better for you
- Consider splitting the cost of garbage collection or seasonal lawn care equipment with a neighbor
Everyone’s favorite New Year’s resolution – get in shape. But fitness has a much greater impact on your health and overall well-being than simply making you look better. To maximize your fitness training, consider a mix of cardio, strength training and martial arts.
Cardio is essential for maintaining a healthy heart and endurance. To build your endurance, gradually increase your activity level over time. A variety of activities provide cardio exercise including running, swimming, movement classes, etc. Choose an activity that you enjoy to ensure you stay interested and motivated.
Strength training will build your muscles and keep you fit. Work towards building strength in areas such as climbing, lifting, carrying a heavy pack over long distances, and rescue swimming. A well-rounded system that works a variety of muscle groups will serve you better than just straight lifting.
Martial arts are not only beneficial for overall fitness, but also help in building self-discipline and self-defense skills.
If you’re having trouble finding time to be active, start doing more productive chores yourself, such as mowing the lawn, washing the car, chopping wood, and repairing and maintaining your home. By performing these activities yourself, you’ll be able to stay in shape and be productive at the same time.
Dropping Old, Harmful Habits
There are four habits common to many people that will impede their ability to become self-sufficient: addictions; poor diet; low activity level; and a negative attitude.
Chemical dependence on a substance will limit your self-sufficiency efforts and your chances of survival will be weakened as chemical dependency clouds thinking and can have detrimental effects on your health.
If you are a smoker, try quitting cold turkey or with the help of medications, such as Chantix. You could also take a gradual approach by setting a schedule limiting the amount you smoke each week until you can give it up entirely. E-cigs have also become a popular way to quit recently, but they still contain nicotine and the FDA has yet to provide any conclusive evidence as to their long-term health effects.
If you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, consider seeking out a local AA group for support and help in beating your addiction. A dependence on alcohol or drugs (legal or otherwise) affects your physical and emotional health; learning to cope with intense situations without chemical intervention will lead to a healthier, more self-sufficient you.
As the saying goes, ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ Your body is a machine and its performance, much like a sports car, depends on the type of fuel (food) you put in it. Overeating and poor nutrition limit your potential and have a negative impact on your overall health and well-being.
Seek out foods that pack the nutrients your body needs to thrive and learn to cook meals with them you will enjoy; you can even grow your own healthy ingredients using the gardening skills discussed in the previous section. When shopping for groceries, take the time to thoroughly examine nutrition labels and stick to foods that have natural ingredients.
Low Activity Level
In today’s modern society there are myriad temptations that encourage a sedentary life including the infinite entertainment options available on TV and online. While it would be almost impossible to banish these technologies completely, do try to balance your downtime with activity.
Strength and endurance play a vital role in self-sufficiency and once achieved, they can only be sustained through maintenance. If you are just beginning, search out some low-impact activities suitable for your fitness level and gradually work your way up to more advanced training.
Sometimes your biggest hurdle can be your own mind. When in a survival situation, a negative attitude will hinder your ability to think on your feet and make effective decisions. To develop a better attitude, try looking for optimistic approaches to situations, expressing gratitude on a regular basis, and using meditation as a means to inspire positive thinking.
With all the modern conveniences and luxuries we’ve come to depend on in modern society, the thought of becoming self-sufficient can seem overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be. Start gradually by choosing one area to begin with and work your way up. A great way to keep yourself motivated is to set goals and track your progress as well as to include others in your training and trade skills. When it comes to being self-sufficient, the most important tool you can have is your brain; get the knowledge you need now so that when disaster strikes, you’ll be ready.
Always remember – chance favors the well-prepared.
What is the one skill you think everyone should learn? Have you recently taken steps toward self-sufficiency? How do you overcome intimidation and find motivation to learn new skills or beat bad habits? Share your experience in the Comments section below, thanks!