Becoming Self Sufficient

Self-sufficiency is about taking care of your basic needs all by yourself. As with any lifestyle, there’s a broad spectrum of what it means to be self-sufficient. Some people are content to simply grow their own vegetables and cook their meals from scratch. Others generate their own electricity, collect their own rainwater, and live without gasoline. The totally self-sufficient person, however, can survive entirely apart from human civilization. He does everything himself, from building his own shelter to making his own furniture to growing his own wheat.

The path to self-sufficiency can be broken down into five major categories:

  1. Shelter — Shelter can range anywhere from a primitive teepee to a rustic log cabin to a two-story house to a luxury mansion. Most homesteaders buy land to construct their house on. Some will build their own houses with local materials such as wood or clay, whereas others contract the work out to professionals. Ultimately, the luxury and comfort-level of your shelter depends on your expertise, effort, and budget.
  2. Energy — This includes all the energy you’ll need for cooking, heating water, lighting, powering appliances, and heating and cooling. Energy solutions range from high-tech photovoltaic cells and biodiesel-powered electric generators to low-tech solar-cookers and firewood (1).
  3. Food — You can forage, hunt, or grow your own food (2). If you don’t own any land, community gardens are a great way to start your first vegetable garden (3). However, for those who desire total self-sufficiency, there’s no substitute for owning your own property. With your own land, you can grow fruit trees and staple crops like wheat, potatoes, and rice. You could even raise your own livestock for meat and milk (4).
  4. Water — You’ll need to collect your own water for drinking, cooking, hygiene, and possibly irrigation. In moist climates, rain catchment systems can provide enough drinking water for the entire year (5). You can also drill wells to tap into groundwater. You’ll probably need a water purification system and a system to treat sewage. Your set-up can include luxurious indoor plumbing for sinks, showers, and toilets; or, you can build a sustainable composting toilet and collect rainwater with a simple barrel.
  5. Transportation — Self-sufficiency does not imply isolation. You’ll still want to meet with other people, so consider walking, riding a bike, taking public transit, or producing biodiesel for your car (1).

Self-sufficiency is simply a guiding principle, so your own execution will vary depending on what best fits you. Most modern homesteaders aren’t totally self-sufficient: many of them own cars, shop for clothes, and use satellite internet. You can include modern technology if it makes the transition more enjoyable. Homesteaders today often own laptops, refrigerators, and photovoltaic solar panels. Many of them even hold regular jobs while living full-time in the woods.


Why have so many people opted to live the self-sufficient life? Besides enjoying the romantic, pastoral lifestyle, there are plenty of practical benefits for being self-sufficient. Here are just a few:

  • You’ll pollute less. By being self-sufficient, you’ll learn to compost food scraps, grow your own organic food, build with local materials, generate renewable energy, and avoid shopping. Each step makes a difference towards lowering your environmental impact.

  • You’ll save lots of money. Imagine if you didn’t have any more expenses: no more car payments, no more auto insurance, no more utility bills, and free food and housing. If you practice extreme self-sufficiency, you could literally live without any money.

    You don’t need to do everything yourself, nor do you need to quit your job. If gardening is too much hassle, for example, you could always buy produce from the farmers market. Likewise, it may be prudent to keep your job to help build savings. However, the more self-sufficient you become, the more you’ll save, and the fewer financial obligations you’ll have. Every little bit of self-sufficient frugality can increase your freedom.

  • You’ll pay off your debts quickly. If you work full-time in addition to homesteading, you’ll have an income with virtually no expenses. Undeveloped land is cheap, so you can often purchase it without a mortgage. After a few short years of hard work, you’ll own a house debt-free. A self-sufficient homestead can provide freedom from the turbulent state of the economy. After all, wouldn’t you rather spend your mornings gathering firewood than worrying about loan payments?

  • You’ll be more independent. Once you learn self-sufficiency skills, you’ll no longer depend on modern conveniences like restaurants, department stores, and gas stations. You’ll also no longer need the utilities company for water and power. Not only is self-sufficiency convenient, it could save your life during an emergency. During a serious crisis, such as a hurricane, earthquake, or a terrorist attack, you might be left stranded for weeks without basic necessities. By being self-sufficient today, your family will be much better prepared for future emergencies.

  • You’ll learn to be more resourceful. Many of us today can’t survive without cappuccinos and WiFi internet, let alone life in the rural countryside. But if you’ve ever wanted to explore different parts of the world or buy back-country property, it helps to learn self-sufficiency skills. As a benefit, the cost of living will be far cheaper. You can combine this with a telecommuting job to build savings.

  • You’ll enjoy the learning experience (hopefully). As you become self-sufficient, you’ll acquire practical skills that teach you about the environment and sustainable development. Up until the last century, these primitive skills were mostly common knowledge; we’re merely re-learning them today. This knowledge can help us better understand both historical cultures and the world around us.

Self-sufficiency is a fusion of many related ideas. It’s half low-cost lifestyle and part do-it-yourself ingenuity, mixed in with sustainable development and a touch of emergency preparedness. Really, it can be a lot of fun.


There are plenty of books available on self-sufficient living online, with much of it totally free. Not surprisingly, self-sufficient living hasn’t changed much in the last two hundred years. As a result, there are many useful books that have fallen into the public domain. There are also many e-books that have been donated by governments and NGOs to help the developing world. Today, we literally have thousands of books at our very fingertips.

Here are some books that have made it into my summer reading list:

Paid:

Free:

  1. Learn to make your own biodiesel and build your own solar cooker. Biodiesel is only green if you grow your own crops using no outside energy inputs. Biodiesel produced from biomass raised in conventional farms might be worse than gasoline.
  2. The US Army Survival Handbook teaches you how to hunt and forage wild foods. Just make sure to follow your community’s local laws!
  3. Search for a community garden near you!
  4. The Backyard Homestead provides a gentle introduction for newcomers. You’ll learn to grow and cooking your own food.
  5. Catching rainwater is quite simple, really.
  6. Photo credits: anoldent, CC BY-SA. Hardworkinghippy, CC BY-SA.

9 thoughts on “Becoming Self Sufficient

  1. the_1006

    Good post. Bet you aren’t living this life yet tho. Takes a surprising amount of conventional money to life the self sustaining life! Best wishes 1–6.

    Reply
  2. Caroline

    Agreed. We are in the process of building this life and the cost is enormous. Strict standards set by local government laws in Australia mean that we will have spent around 10K before we even start building. Unless you are prepared to live a fairly precarious existence by squatting or live an isolated life a long way from basic infrastructure, the cost of land alone prices all but the relatively wealthy out of this lifestyle.

    Reply
  3. aaronjlin Post author

    @Caroline (and @the_1006): Interesting point. I hadn’t thought about costs related to licensing and standards. However, I still think homesteading can be done cheaply if I make a lot of sacrifices. I’m considering buying a piece of undeveloped land in the backwoods where I could build a log cabin. I’m thinking of an extremely simple life, with no roads, electricity, or plumbing; it’ll be almost like camping. Maybe I’ll write a follow-up posts on the cost of building a log cabin homestead.

    Reply
    1. aaronjlin Post author

      @Lucas: Just last week, Hsinya and I moved out to the country to start our first garden. We’re hoping to grow 100% of our own vegetables by the end of this year. I’ll have the latest update online by tomorrow morning.

      Reply
  4. Art

    nice. however what about when you have a baby. like vaccines and stuff like that. would that be extreme. um…what else. making a Faraday cage for lightning. then as you age will you have thought of a plan. just some thoughts that pass thought my mind. all in all this is good info.

    Reply
    1. Chris

      Art: While vaccines have done great things in the past, these days it looks like they are more dangerous than helpful to health and well-being. Loading up babies with vaccines only permanently damages our immune systems. I remember someone’s account of talking to a person in some remote tribe, and he asked ‘what about getting sick?’, and the person replied ‘we don’t get sick’. As long as we aren’t malnourished, the human mind/body can do amazing things. Science calls it the “placebo effect”, when they should call it what it is, the mind healing the body! It’s amazing what we can do if we only believe, like the man who made his brain tumor disappear by imagining it shrinking every day.

      Reply
  5. Amar

    I’m very glad with these posting on becoming self sustainable. I have had these thoughts for many years and I’m currently planning to go toward a transition period. The biodiesel is a very good one. Important is to use only natural materials for construction. I’m currently working on a system where my waste water is filtered in a natural way (sand, drain layers, and reed). Also for the sewage I’m working out a natural system, but it is a bit harder.

    How will you be able to have 100% food supply? I guess I need to grow what is just possible in the climate. My plan is Argentina, temperate climate, with rivers, forests, and healthy soil as part of my land…
    How about making cloths? Have you thought about getting only original seeds for your garden. Don’t use the monsanto-poisend ones.

    What could you recommend? I got a few thoughts about this.

    I think it should be possible to forget about money, but only when you become fully self sufficient… so ironically . With the upcoming word default, I think the best thing is to be prepared.

    Reply
  6. Jeanbat Busisi

    This is a great Idea, mostly for rural inhabitants, hopewith this info, one can sustain his /her life though it needs commitment and forgeting things we have got familiar with such as good infrastructures and so on.

    Reply

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