A Guide to Self-Sufficient Living

Self-sufficient living isn’t just for manifesto-writing, backwoods cabin dwellers. Our tips will help you explore ways to grow and produce your own food, use less energy and water, live healthier and save money, no matter where you live.

| September/October 2012

Environmental concerns, uncertain financial markets and general burnout from overwork and consumption have created a recent surge of interest in self-sufficient living. Who among us hasn’t daydreamed of living off the grid in an efficient, mortgage-free house, generating everything we need to sustain ourselves, unfettered by the bills, pressures and responsibilities of modern life?

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” was a common credo just two generations ago, when most women knew skills such as sewing and food preservation while men routinely handled home repairs and chores such as changing the oil in the family car. Modern conveniences and consumerism have largely replaced our society’s self-reliant spirit, creating an endless cycle of spending, overextending and debt—and accompanying stress and dissatisfaction.

Self-sufficient living can be labor-intensive, but the tenets are simple: Slash expenses, eliminate reliance on fossil fuels and municipal utilities, and maximize what you grow and produce. The good news is that even if you’re a suburban homeowner or an urban apartment dweller, you can take steps toward a more independent lifestyle.

Home, Sweet Self-Sufficient Home

Acquiring do-it-yourself skills is one of the best investments you can make in your own independence. Familiarize yourself with how the systems of your home operate, and learn the basics of maintenance and repair. Many home improvement centers offer free classes, and online tutorials are available for everything from repairing a toilet to replacing roof shingles. Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore and Craigslist are excellent sources for low-cost building materials.

You can also gain more independence in your home by generating or collecting some of your own resources. Creating your own power with a solar energy system or residential wind turbine is the ultimate “off-the-grid” solution, but even if you can’t afford a full-scale installation, you can still tap into free energy with a less-expensive solar hot water heater or solar outdoor lights. Energy audits and energy management monitors can help you evaluate and run your home’s systems more efficiently to use less power. As appliances wear out, make energy rating your top priority with replacements. Even small improvements such as increasing attic insulation, weatherproofing, installing skylights for natural light and hanging insulated drapes and awnings on windows can significantly reduce overall energy costs—enhancing both your energy and financial independence.

Whenever possible, opt for manual systems over automated. Sweep the floor instead of powering on the vacuum. Hang your clothes on a clothesline instead of using the dryer. Crank an egg beater instead of the food processor. Let dishes air dry, and use cloth napkins and dish towels instead of paper towels and disposable napkins. Eat dinner by candlelight. Over time, these small changes combined can add up to big savings.

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