Very often I come across people who ask me how they can be self sufficient, but they either don’t want to go all out and live entirely off the land, or they want to gradually adjust to doing precisely that. I’m far from an expert, but in either case the usual advice I give to people is to break it down into as many small steps as possible, and then set a pace to do them. All a person really needs is just food, water, shelter, and clothing, right? Sooner or later if you keep changing one of your habits at a time you’ll find you’re already doing everything you need to do. After all, how many tasks do you actually do in the day? So this is just a list of easy habits you can change, say one a week. It might not seem like much, but at the end of the year it amounts to allot. And even though a year is along time, how many years have you spent wishing to be more self sufficient, and where are you now?
-Making your own toothpaste. Personally, I prefer to brush my teeth with just baking soda, but you can make more complex ones by adding hydrogen peroxide and mint or cinnamin to the baking soda to turn it into a paste like store bought toothpastes. It’s an awful lot cheaper (plus you know and can control exactly what goes in it), but you still would have to make the baking soda and hydrogen peroxide to be truely self sufficient. But atleast baking soda and hydrogen peroxide have allot more uses than toothpaste so it’s considerably more adaptable to stock up on them than to stock up on toothpaste. Same thing with baking powder- it’s just a mix of baking soda and cream of tartar. Why keep baking powder around seperate? If you leave it sit the ingredients slowly react together and lose their effectiveness.
-Dry your clothes on a line or rack. Dryers are one of the least sustainable appliances, they’re expensive, hard to make, and use up allot of electricity. And it’s so easy to dry your own clothes I don’t know why anyone bothers with them. Set up a clothesline or buy or build a drying rack. Once you have it and get into the habit of using it it’s easy to keep the habit going just like anything else on this list.
-Knit something. It only takes a couple hours to knit a hat or mittens or socks or boxers or a storage sack or a dishcloth, and every item that you use that you replace with something you made is a substantial step. Learning to knit is a big thing to do, but once you learn you’ve got it, it’s not something you need to learn again. Making larger projects like pants or shirts or blankets take a much longer time, but for them I recommend setting aside 15 minutes a day just to work on larger projects. Even on a large blanket you can probably knit two rows in 20 minutes, once you’ve got a feel for knitting, and on size 15 needles you would be done now if you’d started three months ago just 20 minutes a day! It’s not that demanding of attention either, so you can do it while reading a book or sitting around talking or at school or watching TV or whathaveyou.
-Make your silverware and dishes. Pretty much everyone knows how to whittle a spoon. I generally just go cut a pair of chopsticks whenever I need a new pair instead of keeping around any dedicated silverware, but I suppose most Westerners are probably more comfortable with forks and such. If you don’t have constant access to the woods, then stock up on materials when you’re out there so you can replace anything on the spot should you need to. The same with bowls. You can burn or carve them out of wood or collect clay and fire some terra cotta. Or forge some if you have access to a forge. If you’re in the city and can’t burn out a bowl or fire pottery in your back yard bring what you make to a kiln. Allot of them let you fire things you made on your own there, for a small fee. Plates are just a slab of wood or slate. It doesn’t need to look good to function perfectly, and you can always go out and grab another stone or piece of bark as yo need it easy enough.
-Wash your clothes by hand. Ok, this one might be a bit harder to swallow for some of you. It’s easy enough though, and doesn’t cost anything or take any longer than using a machine. I’m sure everyone already knows how, but I’ll go over it anyways cause it I feel funny leaving just one blank here. Just fill a sink or bucket with hot soapy water and rub your clothes violently in it until the dirt’s gone, then either empty and refill the bucket or sink clean water or stick them into a seperate rinse sink or bucket. If you’re doing allot of clothes you may have to refresh the water a couple times. Then you wring the clothes out to get rid of as much water as possible, and hang them to dry.
Start a kitchen garden. Just put a couple plant pots up in the window growing herbs. Grow things you already use and you’ll be much more likely to stick with it. Mints, thyme, basil, and oregano are all exceptionally easy to grow. A long rectangular pot can grow radishes or carrots in a window. You can also put trellises up on the sides of your house for things like grapes, squash, gourds, and cucumbers if you don’t have allot of space. Speaking of which, this farm is amazing: http://urbanhomestead.org/urban-homestead
Grow your own mushrooms. You can buy premade kits for growing mushrooms on the internet for about 25 dollars. It’s little more than a bag of straw and nutrients innoculated with mushroom spores, and you don’t really have to do anything to get them to produce brilliantly. Just stick it in a cabinet or closet when you get it and wait till it starts producing. It’s so foolishly simple I have no idea why everyone’s not doing it, but then again I think that about allot of things, like keeping chickens and making soap.
Raise chickens. Chickens are so easy to raise it’s crazy. Just set them outside and go collect the eggs, then butcher them in Fall. That assumes you have a porch or shed they can roose and get out of the rain under and enough land that they can roam around on without ending up on someone else’s property, and a stream or puddle or someplace they can get water. They’ll be able to find all the bugs they need to eat, so no need to feed them. If you don’t have ideal conditions then you can fence them in or build a chicken coop. Once you’ve set one up you’re all set though. They eat just about anything, kitchen scraps and leftovers, potato mash, oats. A big bag of cracked corn will last a very long time if you mix in some more nutritious stuff like leftovers and is cheap. Allot of times you can find people giving away chickens pretty easy too.
Raise rabbits. Rabbits are an amazing source of food, one doe from a meat breed like californians can produce 300 pounds of meat in one year, and they can live on pretty little. I once read that a 20 by 20 foot garden could supply enough food to raise one buck and three does for a whole year.
Compost. It’s pretty easy to keep an extra bucket next to your trash to throw decomposable odds and ends in. Vegetable ends, uneaten or old food, paper scrap, all sorts of things. Why not go get a bucket and stick it there now? Empty it in a pile outside, flip the pile over next to itself a couple times a year to let it aerate, and when it’s black soil it’s ready to stick on your garden or in pots.
Vermiculture. Both for your own food, and as a form of compost. If you want to eat them you have to set them in little wet cornmeal overnight so their system cleans out, then boil the mucus off their skin. Then you can cut them up and use them in any recipe that calls for very lean meat, since that’s all they are. They really do taste good, don’t take my word for it, go try some! You can grind them up and add a little tallow or lard to keep the burger together and do anything with it you’d do with burger if you don’t care for the sight of them whole on your plate. The liquid you pour off the worm colony periodically is also excellent nutritients for plants, so you can water your container plants with it whenever you get it.
Raise insects. A couple 2 gallon glass jars and you can raise a mealworms to eat. Take a look here for a good guide: http://abigalesedibles.com/mealworm-care/ Crickets are just as easy, but really hard to prevent escaping. I like to dry them and grind them into flour, adds an excellent flavour to breads and buscuits. Sorta like sardines or roasted pine nuts. Very very good.
Brush your teeth with a stick. I really have no idea why this is so unheard of in the U.S.. This is historically the most common method of cleaning teeth, and is still used in parts of the world. It’s no less effective than a toothbrush, either. My guess it it’s a marketing thing rather than any actual benefit of modern toothbrushes. Just chop off a stick and chew on the end for a while, it’ll eventually break up into fibers like a brush. Pretty near any tree will work, but there’s some trees they sell specifically because in addition to turning into small fibers they also have chemicals in them good for the teeth. I don’t know if any of the local varieties have the same chemicals or not, but they still work. If you don’t have steady access to the woods, just take a big handful of sticks home next time you find some good trees. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teeth_cleaning_twig
Bake bread once a week. The actual working parts involved don’t take all that long. I’d say 20 to 30 minutes at most, combining the ingredients, kneading the dough, putting it on a pan and into the oven, and then taking it out of the oven. The vast majourity of it is just waiting for the bread to rise and then for it to bake. Besides, the more often you do it, the better you’ll be at making good bread and the quicker you’ll be. And flat breads or bisquits can be made even quicker because they don’t need to take the time to rise.
Start using candles or oil lamps for light. Candles are very cheap and easy to come by, and oil for oil lamps isn’t very cheap 3but it still works out to cheaper than electric lights. It can take a bit of adjusting, since you can’t just sit down anywhere in the room and expect to be able to read a book at night, but once you get used to it you don’t even notice. And with different reflectors oil lamps and candle lamps can be really quite bright in a limited area.
Keep bees. I’ve never kept bees myself, and there’s already allot of very good comprehensive guides out there on it. Startup is expensive, from what I gather if you were to buy everything and make none of the equipment yourself, it would cost nearly 700$ to get initially set up completely for two hives, the tools and outfit, and the starting bee colonies. But once you have it going, you have them going. You could get away with never having to put any money into it again if you do it right. The great thing about bees is you don’t need hardly any land to raise them, you could keep them on a balcony or a rooftop if you wanted. The other great thing is they make your garden produce so much better. And the greatest thing is all the honey! And you can get bee pollen, royal jelly, wax, you can collect bee venom for it’s medicinal uses (or just use the bees), and you can eat the larvae. It’s pretty win-win. Then again I feel the same about almost everything on this list.
Raise your own sugar. If you live in an area with sugar maples you probably already know how to do this. If not, you can always raise sugar beets. This blog: https://lastoneeating.wordpress.com/2010/04/26/the-beet-goes-on-ann-arbor-sugar-beet-project-2010/ says a 5 foot square patch of garden can grow 5-10 pounds of sugar with sugar beets. I’ve never succeeded in this myself (I can’t get them to grow right in my swamp…I need to make some raised beds for next year) but it’s supposed to be fairly easy, just boilig shredded root until you have syrup, and crystalising it the same way you would maple syrup.
Raise your own flour. Wheat is the all around most versatile grain in my opinion. It grows in the widest range of conditions and has enough gluten in it to make anything wihout mixing it with other flours.