The number one question I am asked by new readers is “where do I start?”. This is followed by a meekcomment indicating “I have a job and a family and can not afford to move to a farm in the outback.”
Well first of all, let me say that no apologies are needed. None. Moving to a farm or even to the remote boonies is not for everyone, myself included. On the other hand, with some time, perseverance and a bit of hard work, we all can take steps to be self sufficient. And isn’t that what prepping is all about: being self sufficient so we can take care of our own needs no matter what?
In an idealized world, we would be 100% self-sufficient. Alas, that is unrealistic for most of us and is something that is simply is not going to happen for most of us, desire notwithstanding. I am just being honest and pragmatic here because honestly, that is the truth,
That does not mean that we can not have the ability to get by nicely on our own and satisfy 80% or more of our needs without outside help. I am just saying that to set a goal of 100% self sufficiency is defeatist and a goal that is so difficult that giving up is likely.
Going back to that idealized world, if everything were perfect, we would have enough food, water, power, fuel, and money to live a well-rounded, healthy and comfortable life. Hard work would be the norm but at the end of the day we would have the satisfaction of being able to take care of ourselves without selling out to greedsters or taking a handout from the government.
Alas, everywhere you look there are roadblocks to achieving this state. Not the least of these roadblocks is our dependency on transportation systems and the power infrastructure to deliver goods and energy products to our homes. We depend on the government and insurance companies to rescue us if there is a natural disaster and we depend on organized medicine to keep us healthy.
The issue with these dependencies, of course, is that they may be unreliable, out of control or so fragile that a strong wind(or hurricane or earthquake) will shut them down, perhaps with dire consequences. If you are smart enough to recognize this, you will strive for self sufficiency of one type or another.
Mapping a Road to Self-Sufficiency
Luckily, self-sufficiency is not an all or nothing proposition. At one end of the spectrum is a total, off grid, agrarian lifestyle and at the other is a moderately self-sufficient lifestyle where steps are taken to move toward 20% to 50% self sufficiency.
Today I will share some easy steps you can take to to start becoming self-sufficient. These are steps that do not require a farm, do not require acreage and do not require a lot of money. They are practical steps that you can select from and embrace as your needs and desire for independence evolve over time.
Some are easy and others take a bit of skill and practice. Some can be done for little or no cost and others will require an investment in time, labor, money or all three. The good news is that there are lots of choices and the journey toward self sufficiency does not have to be done in a day, a month, a year or even a decade.
19 Baby Steps Toward a Self Sufficient Lifestyle
1. Build up a emergency food supply
Stuff happens but you still have to eat. Start by building up a cupboard full of food. Although my method is a bit unconventional, I endorse filling up a cupboard or pantry with essentials that are hearty enough to fill bellies for a week, a month or longer without regard to the exact number of meals and the precise number of calories. Trust me, by following the guidelines in 20 Items to Kick Start Your Food Storage Plan, you will have more emergency food than 95% of your friends and neighbors.
2. Learn to cook without electricity or gas
There are numerous options to cooking on a traditional stove. Build or buy a rocket stove that only requires biomass for fuel. Learn to use it while cooking a variety of food items. Also consider a propane stove; just make sure that you also stockpile extra propane tanks.
3. Know how to build and start a fire
Just because you live in the city and have electricity does not mean you will never have to build a fire. Learn how to build a fire and keep it lit for an extended period. Collect biomass, dryer lint and other materials that can be used as tinder to help get a fire going then practice starting a fire without the benefit of matches or a lighter. A good resource for learning how to build a fire is Catching Fire: 21 Failsafe Fire-starting Methods.
4. Install an alternate fuel source
You might be surprised by how little power you need to get by. Start with an inexpensive portable generator or some solar panels. Also think about those items that must have power when the grid is down, such as a well, medical devices and refrigeration. Take care of providing power to those things and let the rest go for now.
5. Grow a vegetable garden
This is a great first step to take toward taking care of yourself and some of your food needs. There are some books to help you such as the All New Square Foot Gardening plus you can get tons of help from seed suppliers, Master Gardeners and friendly neighbors that will be glad to give you some regionally appropriate advice.
6. Start a compost pile
Something many gardeners do not think about is that to be successful, they are going to need fertilizer for their crops. Instead of creating a dependency on the garden center and chemical fertilizers (which also cost money), create your own fertilizer from food scraps and yard waste. The end result will be a nutrient rich fertilizer that is not only free, but a form of “black gold” for your garden vegetables.
7. Grow fruit trees and berries
Imagine growing hundreds of pounds of fruit each year literally for free and for very little work? This can be done if you take the time, by asking around, to seek out native fruit trees that are natural to your area. Once established, these trees will not require fertilizer or water (but if you want to feed them some of that compost, they will love it).
8. Learn to preserve your bounty
Canning, freezing, drying and smoking are some of the ways your can preserve your bounty so that you will have it to feed your family during the off-season. It does take time, yes, but the results in terms of food-saving costs are worth it. As with gardening, once you get the hang of it, preserving your food can be fun as well.
9. Take a first aid course and create a well-stocked first aid kit
Whether you take a course or not, you will need a well-stocked first aid kit. In addition, you should have at least one printed medical reference such as The Survival Medicine Handbook or The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook.
10. Take charge of your health
Do not wait until you are sick and desperate before learning how to take care of your own health needs. Study how healing herbs and essential oils can resolve minor first aid and health annoyances (such as scrapes, insect bites, chest congestion due to a cold or the flu) and practice using these methods in daily life. See Nine Healing Herbs You Can Grow Yourself in a Healing Garden.