More and more homeowners are taking self-sufficiency seriously. While most people aren’t looking to build a homestead straight out of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, many are looking to become less reliant on the outside world. Whether the goal is self-confidence, a healthier lifestyle, greater independence, or a slimmer budget, becoming a little more resourceful is always a good thing.
Plant a Garden
This first suggestion is the most obvious; its many potential benefits make it practically a no-brainer. Starting a garden in your backyard, on your rooftop or balcony, or in any spare space you have is an excellent way to eat healthier, cut down on your reliance on grocery stores, and spend more time outside. Veggies, fruits, and herbs grown in your own garden foster a great sense of pride, and their flavor is usually superior to anything you can find at your local grocers. Plus, you don’t have to leave your home to get your veggie fix.
Learn to Can Food
A healthy garden often leads to a bountiful harvest. In fact, sometimes it may seem impossible to eat all those fresh fruits and vegetables before they go bad. If you learn to can your excess produce, you'll be able to make your harvest last all year. Fruits like peaches, apples, and berries can be turned into jams and sauces, while veggies like cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes will keep for a long time when prepared properly. Don’t forget that herbs can be dried and stored for use all year long as well.
Start a Compost Pile
For the fruits and vegetables that do start to turn before you can get to them, consider making a compost pile. All those leftover food scraps will break down into nutrient-rich organic matter that you can use to enhance your garden soil. With a compost pile, you'll cut down on the amount of food waste that goes into the trash, and you won't have to make as many trips to the store to buy bags of fertilizer or topsoil for your garden. It's a self-sustaining food cycle that only gets better over time.
Catch the Rain
A rain barrel can be an awesome way to irrigate your garden, particularly in times of drought or enforced water conservation. During a drought, heavy rain tends either to soak into the ground quickly or just run off the hard-packed soil. You can catch much of the water that would otherwise go to waste by setting up a rain barrel that ties into your gutter system. You'll end up with a cache of water that you can use as needed on your garden all season long.
Learn to Bake
Having the skills and knowledge to whip up a few loaves of bread can be incredibly satisfying, but it can also loosen the grip of the grocery store. The benefits of baking don't end there. Bread is a staple in most families’ diets, and making your own is less expensive than buying it. Homemade bread also tends to be healthier, because you can choose exactly what ingredients make their way into your loaves. If you really get into bread-making, consider growing and maintaining your own live yeast; it's an easy way to avoid running short on supplies.
Cook and Prep Your Own Meals
You can’t be self-sufficient if you’re ordering in or dining out several times a week. Eating out is not only expensive, but it also doesn't give you a chance to hone your culinary skills. Learning to cook and prepare meals, especially if you're using ingredients from your own garden, is as self-sufficient as it comes. When you whip up a fresh, delicious meal at home, you exercise your self-reliance and creativity, and you save a little money while you're at it.
Take a deep breath: Beekeeping isn’t as scary as it sounds. These naturally docile creatures work very hard all through the warmer months to create wax and honey, and they normally don’t mind sharing a bit with their benevolent keeper. The health benefits of raw honey are well documented, but the sweet substance is also a delicious way to get some low-cost nourishment. As well, extracted wax can be used to create candles, soaps, lotions, and lip balms—products that you can make for yourself or even sell to pay for bees and equipment. And given declining bee populations and the ongoing need for pollinators, beekeeping is one self-sufficient pursuit that benefits everyone.
If you'd like an endless supply of fresh eggs, want to shave a bit from your grocery bills, and aren't afraid of chores, raising chickens may be right up your alley. It may take a while to recover the initial costs of building a coop and run, but the convenience of having fresh eggs every day without having to run to the store helps to offset the investment. If you find you can't eat the eggs as fast as your hens lay them, you can even make a little money by selling the extras. But before you rush out to order chicks, check local regulations, which sometimes limit the number of chickens you can keep or completely ban raising chickens altogether.
Make Your Own Household Cleaning Supplies
It can be challenging at times to find some of your favorite cleaning products. Also, not everyone is comfortable with spraying commercially manufactured chemicals on surfaces in their homes. Well, you don't have to settle for what's in the stores. You can ensure a steady supply of cleansers and control what goes into them by learning to create your own laundry detergents and disinfecting surface sprays. When you make your own, you won't need to run to the store as frequently, and you'll rest easy knowing that you're using the safest possible products.
Related: 20 Handy Household Uses for Vinegar
Learn to Sew and Make Your Own Alterations
Clothes today may not be as durable as those produced in years gone by, but if you learn to make your own alterations and repairs, you can significantly improve the usable lifespan of your clothing. For example, mending a pocket or tear in a pair of work pants is a great way to save a few dollars, and if you learn to hem your own pants, you won't need to rely on (or pay) a tailor or seamstress to make necessary adjustments.
Procure a Good Set of Tools
When you have “the right tool for the job,” as the old adage says, you greatly increase the number of jobs you can tackle yourself. Admittedly, it’s no small task—or expense—to go out and purchase every tool you need all at once. Instead, add tools to your arsenal gradually, buying the best-quality tools you can afford—within reason, of course. Having these tools on hand will make it easier for you to fix or build something when the need arises, without having to borrow from a neighbor.
Maintain Your Own Landscaping
If you're hiring a landscaper to maintain your lawn and garden, you're sacrificing some of your self-sufficiency. Mowing your own lawn and weeding, feeding, and pruning your own garden are wonderful ways to get some exercise and fresh air while also saving money. Even if you’re not a great gardener at first, you'll soon get the hang of it. With practice and research, you'll eventually be able to produce professional-quality results without the monthly bill from the lawn service.
Handle Your Own Automotive Repairs and Maintenance
Learning to handle minor automotive repairs yourself will help you keep your car out of the shop, saving you from paying hefty labor rates and markups on parts. While you may not feel comfortable making all of your own repairs, some regular maintenance is certainly within most DIYers’ capabilities. There’s a host of information available in various auto repair forums, so running a question through a search engine should get you on the right track.
DIY Your Home Improvements
If you have DIY skills, you can save a ton of money by tackling your own home repairs and renovations. Contractors' expertise and time can come with a steep price tag, and they often have difficulty working projects into their schedules and are subject to delays. Avoid the hassle altogether by taking on some projects yourself, after researching techniques and gathering necessary materials. If you're new to the DIY world, start small and give yourself time to develop your skills.
Mill Your Own Lumber
Self-sufficiency relies on making good use of resources, and for the determined DIYer, milling your own lumber gets you up close and personal with one of the most basic resources. There are several chainsaw mills on the market that put producing your own boards within the realm of possibility. The big windfall here is the money you can save on hardwoods, which are tremendously useful for home projects but expensive to purchase. You can save cash by milling your own hardwoods, and you could even make some money on the side by selling your excess boards.
Look Into Renewable Energy
Utility bills are monthly reality checks on our reliance on the grid. Consider bolstering your self-sufficiency by adding some renewable energy sources into the mix. Wind power can be expensive to get into and makes sense only in areas with high wind speeds, but solar has become more accessible than ever. You may not be able to go completely off the grid, but a few solar panels can help lighten your utility load.
Commute by Bike
Pedal-power transportation is an inherently self-sufficient way to get around. It requires no fuel and very little maintenance. Better yet, bicycling doesn't have a negative impact on the environment, and you'll even be able to cancel your gym membership. In some communities, there are trails and paths available to cyclists that cars can’t access, which can cut down the length of an urban commute. Finally, when you're bicycling around, there’s no need to pay for parking when you reach your destination: A simple bike lock and a sturdy pole is all it takes.
Staying healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally is paramount to self-sufficiency. Make sure that you’re eating well, getting exercise, and engaging in life-enriching activities and pursuits. Maintaining a healthy, active, and fulfilling lifestyle will lessen your reliance on outside medical care and expensive entertainments, and keep you connected to your community. (Remember, self-sufficient shouldn't mean lonely!)
Plan Your Outings
Not everyone focusing on self-sufficiency can, or even wants to, go completely off the grid. Most people are willing to make some compromises, and these often involve running errands or going shopping. Make the most of these trips by planning them carefully. Before you head out, figure out how you can take care of everything on your shopping/to-do list in one trip. When you run to the bank, grocery store, home center, dry cleaner, and anywhere else you need to go in a single outing, you maximize the rest of your time. As you rush about, however, don't miss opportunities to grab lunch or a coffee with a friend. When you're already out and about, take some time to socialize with those closest to you. The interaction will be good for your mental and emotional health.
Learn a Marketable Skill
It’s been hinted at a few times already, but having something valuable to sell, either a marketable skill or a useful product, is a key component of self-sufficiency. Diversifying your income with a side hustle, or honing a trade or skill that you can translate into a service or product, will greatly increase your self-sufficiency. With the extra cash, you can invest in some of the self-sufficiency tips mentioned here and reduce your reliance on outside employment.
Self Sufficient and Sustainable
A sustainable lifestyle is achievable one small step at a time.
Give the special gardener in your life a little love this holiday season! Go now to see Bob Vila's best gifts for green thumbs.