How to be More Self-Reliant Every Day
Through my writing on this blog, I stress the importance of making many small changes over time, rather than a few sudden, massive shifts, because it’s our daily habits that shape our lifestyle and, in turn, our state of mind.
In the opening line of The Dhammapada, the Buddha tells us that “Experiences are preceded by mind, led by mind, and produced by mind.” Therefore, if we wish to live in a way that’s more self-reliant, we must cultivate a state of mind that is open and ready to take personal responsibility for whatever lies ahead.
We must develop many small daily habits of providing for our own needs. Over time, the accumulation of these daily acts, along with bigger weekly or monthly projects, allows us to build trust in ourselves – confidence.
We come to believe that we can take care of ourselves, and then it becomes our reality.
This is liberation.
If you’re starting more or less from scratch – like I did – then trust me when I say it’s going to take a lot of time, sacrifice, patience, and critical self-assessment to get there, but the sense of satisfaction that follows every success, however minor, is second to none.
I can’t pretend to say that Brooke and I practice every single suggestion I will propose about how to be more self-reliant, but as I stress again and again, this is an ongoing process. It takes time.
We all have to start somewhere, and we can’t do it all at once. Some of it, we probably can’t or don’t want to do at all – and that’s another place where the importance of community comes in.
But really, I would highly discourage anyone from attempting to tackle all of these at once, or even more than a few at a time. You’ll burn yourself out if you try to dive in headfirst.
If you’re like us and your finances are especially tight, it can take a lot of time, energy, and creativity to build up the resources to move a project along. This transition that we’re undergoing, it has to be gradual, informed, and practiced if it’s going to be resilient.
It doesn’t matter your background, or the baggage that you bring with you from the modern world. Most of the things that I propose we all work on to become more self-reliant are skills that humans have been passing down for many thousands of years, until we mostly all just sort of stopped doing it very, very recently.
If your ancestors could do it 8,000 years ago, you can probably figure it out, too.
Goals, habits, and skills for greater self-reliance:
1. Producing and procuring your own food
The quest for good food is an hourly pursuit and thus it forms the foundation upon which all of our other activities must be scheduled around. The products sold in stores scarcely resemble food anymore, so it’s up to us to seek out the real thing.
Grow your own fruits and vegetables.
- Grow herbs in a sunny window in your house.
- Plant some cherry tomatoes in 5-gal buckets on your fire escape in the city.
- Build some raised beds in your backyard.
- Compost kitchen scraps with worms or chickens.
- Save seeds.
- Propagate edible perennials.
- Build cold frames, hoop houses and greenhouses to produce year-round.
- Trade with others for things you can’t grow yourself.
- Spend some time working or volunteering on a farm.
Forage (responsibly) for wild foods like berries, herbs, flowers, and mushrooms.
Raise your own livestock for meat, eggs, and dairy.
- Get a few laying hens or ducks and build a tractor to move around your yard.
- Raise rabbits for meat, or quail for meat and eggs in a small space where noise is a concern.
- Raise a few goats for meat and milk, or pigs for meat to store for the whole year if you have some space.
Hunt and fish (responsibly) for wild game.
2. Minimizing water needs
Fresh, clean drinking water isn’t always easy to access when leaving the municipal grid, and that system is becoming quite brittle all around the world. Therefore we ought to minimize our use of potable water for things other than consumption, and be creative about how we use the water that we can’t drink.
Use less potable water for non-drinking purposes.
- Shower less frequently; use less hot water; use less water with each visit.
- Urinate outside (if you don’t live in the city) – feed your trees and bushes!
- Replace your flush toilet with a composting toilet.
- Reuse graywater produced by household chores.
Store water for all purposes.
- Catch rainwater for gardening and animals.
- Dig a pond and build swales to capture, store, and move water across land.
- Invest in a cistern to store water for household use.
3. Reclaiming traditional skills
Just a couple of generations back, your grandparents or great-grandparents probably knew how to build a decent barn, if not a livable house for themselves. They could also fix a tear in a pair of pants, swap out a carburetor in a tractor, and fell a tree. You can, too.
Develop basic carpentry and construction skills.
- Learn the use of hand tools, power tools.
- Understand different materials and fasteners and their applications.
- Learn about upkeep and maintenance of tools.
- Resolve to fix basic problems around the home by yourself rather than falling back on a parent, friend, landlord, or contractor.
- Educate yourself about the skilled trades like electrical and plumbing – but know when it’s time to seek professional help.
- Volunteer to help with community building projects.
- Learn the basics of design and estimating material costs.
- Learn how to source materials from the local environment.
- Learn about alternative building methods.
Learn homemaking, homesteading, and survival skills.
- Cook your own meals.
- Preserve your harvests by canning, fermenting, drying, and freezing.
- Practice sewing and knitting.
- Repair clothing rather than replacing.
- Invest in high-quality materials and learn how to make them last.
- Make your own soaps and cleaning solvents for different purposes.
- Learn how to make natural alternatives to personal hygiene products.
- Split wood.
- Build a fire in different ways for different uses.
- Learn about wilderness survival and emergency preparedness.
- Practice basic mechanical skills like automotive maintenance.
- Learn about landscape design.
- Learn how to inoculate, incubate, raise, cull, butcher, process, cook, and store livestock. (You’ll learn more about your own mortality than you ever imagined if you can make your way through some of this process.)
4. Minimizing energy needs
The way we use non-renewable energy in the developed world isn’t going to last much longer – in fact, it’s not unreasonable to believe that this system could begin collapsing later this century.
I'm not dogmatic about completely avoiding all fossil fuel use at all costs while it's still readily available – especially because of how exceedingly difficult it can be to make our way through the modern world without it – but if we don't like it, then it’s up to us to design a lifestyle that doesn’t rely on this brittle, destructive, and toxic infrastructure.
Minimize the use of fossil fuels.
- Drive less. Walk or ride a bike.
- Set the heater in your home to a lower temperature in the winter, and set the air conditioner to a higher temperature in the summer.
- Wean yourself off of air conditioning and electric/gas heat.
- Build a house that utilizes passive solar design to minimize heating and cooling needs.
- Use less electricity in your home.
- Use less hot water.
- Build a cellar to cut down on refrigeration needs.
- Convert your vehicle to biodiesel.
- Make use of a wood stove for heating and cooking.
- Cook over a fire.
- Wash clothing by hand; hang laundry to dry.
- Avoid goods, services, and businesses that are not local whenever possible.
Seek alternative energy sources like solar and wind (when you have the means and it makes good financial sense).
5. Maintaining personal health
Maintaining a healthy body, mind and soul may appear more abstract and also a little more intimidating, but it is just as critical to a self-reliant individual as any of the previous points.
You have to be open and honest with yourself about what you’re feeling, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, in order to determine what to do when problems arise. An unhealthy mind or spirit can slow you down far more profoundly than an unhealthy body.
Be good to your body.
- Eat clean, nourishing whole foods, and avoid packaged, processed food products.
- Maintain a daily regimen of physical activity.
- Stretch often, and allow yourself to take pleasure in it.
- Be mindful of the needs of your digestive system.
- Be consistent and liberal in sleeping.
- Seek herbal remedies and holistic approaches to aches, pains, and minor illnesses.
- Avoid pharmaceuticals and antibiotics, except as a last resort.
Be good to your mind.
- Remain open to ideas and perspectives, whether or not they align with your own.
- Resolve to never stop learning.
- Trust in yourself, and be confident in your actions and decisions.
- Meditate, and cultivate a daily state of mindfulness.
- Read often.
- Always ask “Why?” five times to get to the root of a problem.
Be good to your soul.
- Openly give and receive love, kindness, and compassion.
- Empathize or sympathize with those who mistreat you or do you wrong.
- Engage and exchange with others, and build bonds based on openly sharing whatever you can offer without expecting anything in return.
- Purchase what you need from people whom you know and respect.
- Seek out meaningful daily work that invigorates and fulfills you.
- Do not seek validation from others.
- Let go of profit- and status-driven thoughts and behaviors.
- Remember that we live in abundance, and let go of fear.
- Set aside ample quality time outdoors throughout the week, whether alone or in good company.
This is what I mean when I say we are living in a period of transition. We recognize that we, as a society, can't keep living the way that we are. And the lifestyle design possibilities that I've laid out, however crude my sketches may be, don't look much like any lifestyles that we are commonly exposed to or encouraged to pursue.
But the primary goals of this way of life were normal until very recently, and realigning my goals and pursuits in this direction is the only way I know how to sensibly respond to our current cultural climate.
I believe that this gives us a solid outline for focusing our energy on actionable steps we can take towards greater self-reliance, resilience, confidence, and personal liberty. We all have a long way to go, but we can do it every day.
Just as our broken industrial food system can only be replaced by millions of family farms serving local communities around the world, so the answers to many of our biggest global, cultural, and ecological problems require billions of small, incremental solutions.
You may not be able to change the world, but you can definitely change your world. By becoming a little more self-reliant every day, you make the world a better place for all of us. Keep going.