self-sustainability for everyone: revamp

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A while back I did a series on self-sustainability for the every-day-joe. It was a great idea, but it was kind of lame, and maybe a little too scattered. I would love a do-over, and since this is my blog…I can do that! Ha!

I believe the first step on that path to self-suffinciency is to figure out your reason you are doing it. Here you are in good company. About 10 years ago I met my husband, and he and I started talking about doing just this. It started off as an idealistic dream, but now that we are into six years of  marriage, we are fleshing out that reality more and more. It is looking more and more like a reality, and less and less like the fantasy it appeared to be way back when.

If you are interested in this way of life, and are yourself planning to take on the “self-sufficient life,” you may be looking into seeing what is involved, what it will cost you, and if it’s really a worthwhile endeavor. I’m here to tell you there is a lot to the process, it will require a huge sacrifice of yourself (one that I’m still having a hard time with if I’m being honest), but if you truly want this for your life and you can make the sacrifice, it will be worthwhile.

I am far from having arrived at “self-sufficiency,” and everyone who has is doing it a bit differently. I can merely offer you my thoughts. These thoughts are for folks who want to live a simpler life where they are…right…now.

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Where to Start: Find Your Reason

The first step on the road to self-sufficiency is to find your reason. I find our list of reasons for becoming self-sufficient are piling up. I don’t know if I have even had the chance to write them out before this. This is a short list of what matters to my family.

  • To not be dependent on modern luxuries / /  The words “self-sufficient” indicate independence. We would not need to be dependent on government hand-outs, grocery stores, fossil fuels, electricity, sewage, import/export of commodities, modern technology, public or private education, etc. I’m not saying that we would never take advantage of any of these things, but they are luxuries and not necessities.
  • Spiritual/Environmental / /  For me, being a Christian makes the environment a spiritual issue. If you read the first version of this series, you know that I used text from the Bible to show why I believe this. God charged humankind in the beginning of the world to take dominion over the earth (air, land, water, plants, animals). As a Christian, I take that to mean that we should practice responsible stewardship and use only what we need. The things we don’t use should be tended to, and cared for. We should treat animals humanely, not pillage the earth by over-farming with monoculture (the same thing in the same soil year after year strips the soil of its nutrients) and drilling for oil, keep our waters clean for the life that lives inside of it, and also as drinking sources, etc. It would seem that a lot of Christians have not been taking this charge with much seriousness, but it was the very first job ever tasked to people, and deserves our much needed attention. I believe that it is possible to renew the earth and with enough generations of responsible living, the earth could potentially be brought back to its original Edenic state. “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)
    • As a Christian, I believe in a world created by God and not by happenstance. Its cool if you don’t. You don’t have to see the world the way I do. But it certainly affects the way I treat environmental issues.
    • This can very easily bunny trail into Christianity’s perspectives on the apocalypse, but for the most part I reject the eschatological doctrines that teach that there will yet be an AntiChrist/False Prophet, that the world will go to hell in a hand basket, and that the Christ swoops in at the last minute to Rapture His people from tribulation. For those who care, I take the postmillennial mindset.
  • Finances / /  Startup for most things takes a substantial monetary investment. However, the tools you need to sustain your investment can last indefinitely. In this throwaway world, its hard to transition into a mindset of having something forever. You might even think to yourself, “I’ll try this self-sustenance thing, but if it doesn’t work out, no big deal.” However, if you can invest in quality tools, and learn the necessary skills, there are very few things that you will need to continue to purchase. Being content to do without may be a huge sacrifice in the short term, but end up padding your wallet in the long run. For example I plan to have my cast iron skillets forever. Hand tools will require the upkeep of staying clean, and some of them sharp, so learning the skills to use and maintain your possessions will help you become more and more financially secure. Also, get yourself out of debt as soon as possible. Owing money to a lender is not self-sustaining.
  • Health / /  By growing, raising, and hunting and/or trapping your own food, you will find your diet improve greatly. As an added benefit, the hard work your body will be putting in will be a great work-out, and all the planning required from year to year will strengthen your mind. Win, win, win!
  • Education / /  This is two-fold.
    • By getting away from a lot of the conveniences this world has to offer, we will need to/get to relearn and teach ourselves and our children old-world skills. A lot of these skills were lost when people started relying on machines, modern technology, indoor plumbing, etc.
      • For example: crop rotations, threshing and grinding grain, soap making, hand-milking, hand-shearing, spinning, basic carpentry, seed saving, and a multitude of other things.
    • Good parents do the best they can for their children. Part of being a good parent is to make sure your child has an education that will help them succeed at life. For us, that education is homeschooling, and homeschooling is also a self-sufficient task.
  • Legacy / /  A self-sustained life isn’t something we are doing exclusively for ourselves as a hobby, a whim, or a romantic dream. We are doing these things in the hopes that the skills we learn, and the benefits we obtain might be passed down to our children, grandchildren, and many generations to come. We want them to know the task of setting the world right lies in their hands, and that it is a big responsibility. We want them to be equipped to take on that responsibility with the necessary knowledge, skills, and values. We also want them to be equipped with these abilities as a safeguard for the future. With the corrupt governments of the world (our own included), and not knowing if hard times are theirs to face, they will be far more capable to get by in the event of a economic collapse.
  • Community / / When you endeavor to do a thing, find the community of people who are doing that thing too. If you are learning to knit, find other knitters to talk to. If you are learning to hunt or trap, find other hunters and trappers. If you are trying to figure out how to indoor garden because you rent an apartment, find other people who are doing the same. Someone is going to be there to offer a tip or help you out along the way, and when your practice becomes “perfect,” you will be there to help a person out who needs advice. Community is one of the best things about trying out a new thing. Community is one of the things we were made for, and without community there is something missing our lives. So whatever route you take on the path to self-sufficiency, find your community.
  • Your Reason Here / /  Your reasons and my reasons for going down this path don’t have to be the same as those I’ve listed. You may not even have the same vision of what self-sufficiency is to you. Whatever your reasons, figure out what they are, because that is what will motivate you. If you don’t have a good enough reason to go for it, then you will end up giving up.

Over the next while, I’ll try and come up with some easy tips to motivate and inspire you do this self sustained life right where you are before you have it all together!


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self-sustainability for everyone #8

passing on our values / /

Something I’m learning is very important to the self-sustained lifestyle is to pass on our values to the next generation. There is so much knowledge and skill that for the most part has been lost within the past two generations, and now as adults we are trying to relearn things that most people learned as children a hundred years ago.

My grandmother was born in 1913 and raised in a home, like all of us. Unlike all of us, she knew how to get by without indoor plumbing and without her family having to run to the grocery store every week. As a child, her family didn’t even own a car. Her father was a butcher and when she grew up she married my grandfather, who was also a butcher. However, her father was the sort of man who raised his own meat, while my grandfather butchered meat off a truck in a grocery store. My grandfather didn’t want his children to learn butchery because he wanted them to get a “good job” and make “good lives.” In one generation so much had changed! Not that there was anything wrong with wanting a better life for his kids, but society’s idea of what defines a “good life” had shifted.

When Joe and I talk I know for the most part he feels like a lot of the stuff we do, or that we have desires to do, that he should already have learned as a child. He is frustrated that the country boys of the 1800’s learned woodworking and animal husbandry and farming as children from their fathers. Young girls were taught very young how to cook and plan meals based on what was grown and fed in their yards, they knew how to sew, mend, knit, embroider, clean, and make a lovely home with very little. Now we live in an industrial, materialistic, hoarding, money hungry, rat race that has left most people feeling empty and unfulfilled.

Joe and I talk a lot about the things we will teach Piper as soon as she is able to put her hand to the task. She is already helping me make the bed by passing me the pillows. Soon I will teach her to bake and cook by measuring ingredients and chopping vegetables. Eventually she will have indoor and outdoor chores. She will be taught to milk the goat, and help plant seeds and then transplant the sprouts. She will one day be allowed to go out hunting with her father when she has developed the patience to be still and quiet. We will teach all our children these things.

But teaching skills isn’t enough. We have to teach them why it is important. If when they get older they see it is easier to push pencils than to till fields, they may abandon the things they are taught as children if they do not have the foundation of values to show them why it is a better life to be self reliant.

the values we teach / /

Everyone pursuing a self-sufficient lifestyle will have different reasons for doing so. I assume health is probably the big one, but the rest of the reasons may vary from person to person. Whatever your values are, explain them in detail and often.

Joe and I believe it is God’s call on our life. We believe that God created the world and left humanity with the responsibility to care for the land, plants, animals and environment. We will teach our children that it is God’s call on their life to continue to carry out that responsibility.

We also believe that parents have the greatest influence on their children. Good parents will have a positive influence and bad parents a negative influence, but either way, it is a strong influence. The more time a parent spends with their child the more lasting the influence. So we plan to school our children at home and keep enforcing the positive influence of our own values. We plan to teach them about the world, but we also plan to monitor the influence that society would have in causing our children to be influenced contrary to our values. Once they reach the age to be able to reason for themselves and make their own life decisions we will let them go. If they choose to reject our influence at that point, it will be their decision, but by then at least they will hopefully have skills and values to fall back on. Or maybe they will choose to carry on the legacy we have fostered for them.

self-sustainability for everyone #7

I bet you all thought I was done with my self-sustainability posts.

False.

I still plan to do them sporadically.

natural home and body cleaners / /

This post goes out to Melissa of Inspired. She has been posting a lot about switching her family from store bought chemical and synthetic cleaning and body products to more green and natural homemade products. What a perfect name for her blog because I find myself constantly inspired by her posts. Go on over and leave her a comment if you like what you read.

I have a confession: I backslid on my baking soda/acv hair washing last weekend. My sister was having her bridal shower and I felt like my hair was so “icky.” I thought, I’ll just shampoo my hair this once and cross my fingers that it doesn’t mess up all of my progress (since I’m still going through my greasy transition period).

What a let down! My hair did look clean but it was completely flat and I still felt icky. So I went back to the baking soda/acv and my hair feels clean again.

Last summer Joe switched from toothpaste to a baking soda tooth scrub. We got the recipe from the book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World. I just recently made the switch myself. Let me tell you that this scrub is better than toothpaste. Every time I brush, I feel almost as if I’ve been to a cleaning at the dentist. That’s how smooth and clean my teeth feel. This book also has other natural tricks for cleaning and flossing teeth. Incredible.

Homemade Tooth Powder / /

found on p. 14

You’ll Need:

  • baby food jar (or lidded jar similar in size)
  • baking soda (approx. ¼ cup)
  • peppermint (or anise) essential oil

Fill jar with baking soda and add essential oils for flavor. Shake well.

The book recommend you let your nose be your guide for the amount of drops needed. But it also says 10 drops. Do as you like.

I love this book because it is close to being the bible of self-sustained tricks. It has everything from the baking soda/acv wash and the tooth powder, to home grown medicines, DIY olive oil lamps, beekeeping, slaughtering chickens, and making mead.

But there are all sorts of resources you can find without buying books. Check out your library or Pinterest. It’s amazing how much info there is out there, and this stuff is so simple and so cheap to do. Well…maybe not the chicken slaughtering 😉

self-sustainability for everyone #6

plant / /

There is not much else more satisfying than using something you made with your own hands, or eating something you grew yourself. How comforting it is to not run out to the grocery store every time you need something, but rather going out and snipping some herbs or plucking fresh tomatoes and cucumbers for your lunch is less time consuming and less costly (toward both produce and gas).

Whether you live on a farm, have lots of land, have a landlord, aren’t allowed to plant in your yard, or don’t have any yard to plant in, you can plant a garden. Ideally, yes, having that acreage for a complete garden that will feed you year round would be nice. However, I know that some of us don’t have that luxury. Those that don’t still have sun that shines and rain that falls, though (even if it’s only through your window).

Over the next couple of months you’re going to want to start planting seeds. Joe just planted onions, which, once sprouted, and after becoming small plants will be transplanted into our garden plot. But just because you don’t have a space outside to plant anything doesn’t mean you cant get some large pots, set them by a south window for some sun, and grow something inside of them. Maybe your landlord will let you have an area outside to plant in and you could make a raised bed or 2 or 3 or 4… Take full advantage of the resources you have around you.

Ideally I want to plant an herb garden outside, full of perennial herbs so that all I have to do in years to come is weed, and fertilize as needed. Practically speaking, I don’t know if that will happen this year. I plan on planting herbs anyway; inside. As long as they do well, I will have lovely fresh herbs all spring, summer, and early fall. Whatever’s left I can dry and put in jars for using this winter!

(happykoby?)

If you have never planted a garden before and feel so overwhelmed by your own unpreparedness, don’t worry. You don’t have to have a year round garden on your first try. You don’t have to be perfect at it at all. Just sit down and decide what kinds of things you eat regularly, and maybe a few things you’d like to try. Plant those things. Raised beds are great for beginner gardeners.

Also, no matter what stage of the game you’re in, it never hurts to become more educated. Your library probably has some great resources on gardening vegetables. I personally recommend learning about companion planting and crop rotations. These things will help you keep healthy soil, cutting back on plant disease, and keeping those garden pests away in a “green” way.

A note about seeds: Not all seeds are created equal. Just because it says “organic” on the package doesn’t mean your seeds have not been genetically modified. If you aren’t planning on saving seeds at the end of the year, I wouldn’t worry too much about this. Just grow what you can. However, if you’re feeling ambitious and  you want to save seeds from the lovely plants you are growing, I would recommend you buy seeds that are “heirloom” or better yet “open pollinated”

recommended reads / /

There is most likely an exhaustive list of resources you can tap into, but these are from the shelves of our home and local public library.

Anything by John Jeavons, John Seymour, and Eliot Coleman

For How-To Gardening

The Backyard Homestead 

Carrots Love Tomatoes

Roses Love Garlic

Four Season Harvest

The New Organic Grower

The New Self-Sufficient Gardener

Seed to Seed

For Inspiration

The Fat of the Land

Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life

Hay Fever

The Good Life

For DIY

Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World

Make your place: Affordable & Sustainable Nesting Skills

Buying Seeds

Bountiful Gardens

Nichols Garden Nursury

Happy Planting!

self-sustainability for everyone #5

being content / /

I know this doesn’t seem homesteader-y at all. I mean, contentment is something you feel, not something you do. But it is so important to the self-sustained lifestyle!

It is so easy to look at what you’re doing and know it is so worthwhile, and you are going to be healthier, smarter, more resourceful, etc. This is probably what motivates you to stick with it. But once the honeymoon period is over…

When you become self sustained, you have to make sacrifices. It’s just something that has to happen. Some sacrifices that you make you won’t have a choice over, some you will. But sacrifice isn’t fun. That’s the kind of stuff that will make you look at this life and really ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” You will have to constantly remind yourself why it is you do what you do. You may get depressed from time to time.

The goats and the pigs are going to escape. Your chickens are going to get eaten by foxes, raccoons, and fisher cats. The cow is going to get out and find the grain and you are going to worry if it overate and will bloat itself to death. The milking will be much harder that you thought and your hands will cramp. You won’t be able to go on those family vacations because nobody knows how to take care of your plants and animals like you do. There will be drought. There will be frost. You won’t be able to dress as fashionably as your friends because you can’t afford it, or it’s too frivolous, or you never go anywhere worth dressing up for.

You know it’s worth it though. Make the choice to be content. No matter what the circumstances. Make lists of the positive things that are going on, in order to remind yourself of where you are going and where you want to be.You are making progress toward your goals of getting out of debt, or building your own post & beam or log cabin home. Maybe you are getting fresh herbs from window boxes, or getting fresh eggs and milk daily that are giving you more of what your body needs! Whatever it is you are succeeding at, make note of it and be happy. Do not get discouraged by the things that aren’t happening, or that are going wrong. You’ll get better at those things over time and with patience.

Look at this is your life-long adventure, and a heritage to pass on to your family. What are you currently working on that his helping you become more self-sustained (don’t worry, nothing is too small)?

Next week we’ll get our hands dirty since March is time for planting!

self-sustainability for everyone #4

As a treat, I’ve decided to have my husband do the self-sustainability posts here and there. That being said, I will turn my blog over to him!

Being Resourceful / /

Bam! So working toward self-sufficiency isn’t about every single aspect of your life instantly being self-made/self-taught/self-awesome. You’ll spend a lot of time drawing off of others’ experience and knowledge. You’ll find yourself trying to acquire the tools and materials necessary to make your homestead productive. To put up fences to keep your animals in, or to keep other animals out of your garden. Seed boxes for planting and transplanting. Tools for cultivating or for storing up firewood. You’ll find very quickly that it’s not so straightforward and minimalist as your reading of Thoreau might have led you to believe. And that’s when you go, “Oh crap…”

In The Fat of the Land, John Seymour proposes that we are at a tremendous disadvantage living in this last century not having been part of the peasant’s economy. We no longer have the peasant’s inheritance of the tools and experience necessary to carry out farm life or to produce our own wares and goods. Instead, many of us are just now turning from a very “safe” notion of work and livelihood, and trading it for an entirely new definition. One that we are ill equipped for. One that, if we are truly going to call self-reliant, cannot so heavily depend on the retail economy we’re used to. So how do we approach this overwhelming need of redefining, re-equipping, and re-learning?

You start with what you do have. And while I do mean that in terms of taking stock of the tools and resources you do have, I also mean starting with your mind. I mean, I’ve been researching and collecting tools for a few years now, and I’m still not milling my own lumber, or making my own clothes. But you have to do what you can right now in order to get anywhere. And only now is it becoming clear to me, if you want to be self-reliant, you have to start by sharpening yourself. Not with building a log cabin, but you have to start seeing things differently, and thinking differently. You have to be resourceful. Wouldn’t it be better to have a shower stall flipped upside down with 4 lovely porkers sleeping inside, instead of no bacon come winter just because you don’t have a perfect barn? Try to exploit what you have available, or what you find in your travels to accomplish the tasks you have before you.

I don’t know if you can effectively homestead without being resourceful and adaptive. Or maybe it would be better to say, I don’t know if you can effectively homestead without becoming more resourceful and adaptive than you were when you started. I came into all of this as green as you can imagine, and I’m definitely not the most handy person you ever met. But when you pick up a new goat, and she slips right between the strands of electric fence an hour before you’re supposed to be in to work, you have to get creative. This life just demands that flexibility of you, and after you screw things up enough, you start to adapt. You start to do, instead of waiting around to have all your ducks in a row. (Seriously, read The Fat of the Land. It might inspire you to just start doing something with what little you already have, and get you on the road to bigger and farmy-er things.)

This whole way of life is one of stewardship, and though that does mean tending the earth, caring for animals, and providing for yourself and your family, none of it happens without exercising the mind. And while gardening, beekeeping, milking and all that stuff are fairly obvious ways to work toward self-sufficiency, being creative and seeing new purpose for old things or new ways of doing things can be just as important. Being able to recognize the assets you have rather than focusing on what you don’t have can be liberating and encouraging. I’ve spent a few years now neglecting to take time to search out and see those assets, and as a result I’ve tied my hands on numerous occasions, instead of getting them dirty, and making progress toward said gardening, beekeeping, and milking.

Thoreau did offer one bit of advice which I think we can run with. He said never to take a job that required a change of wardrobe. I find that relevant, because there is a romance to the “country life/simple life/farm life.” And there are lots of fun new toys to acquire and learn to use. It’s fun to wear that new outfit. Be aware, though, that it is easy to think you’re just gonna wake up one day and be cruising around on your tractor, and after you come in from your perfectly planted fields and orchards, the smoke will be gently rising from the chimney of your wood fire cook stove and you’ll come in and your wife will have your pipe filled with your favorite tobacco. So, naturally, you go out and buy a tractor and a pipe. But I say to you, do yourself a favor, and forego the tractor, and start with the practical. Learn to tie knots. Start patching your clothes. Start making grocery bags or baby hats from old tee shirts. Start collecting pallets. Get on pinterest so you can find all the magical uses for said pallets (or if you’re a male, find a girlfriend/wife so she can, and you can glean ideas shame-free). Just develop a sense for what assets are already available to you, and run with them. Discern between junk collecting and asset building. Understand also that I am not proposing you go out and make a fool of yourself by trying to homestead all half-cocked. There are a lot of things to consider, but when you do make that decision, find creative and resourceful ways of making your place productive and awesome. You’ll find a new sense of accomplishment and mastery when that frankenstein project you’ve been piecing together from scavenged materials works out.

A couple of good books to try and get your hands on (check your library) are:

The Fat of the Land by John Seymour

Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne

ohheycarolyn.

self-sustainability for everyone #3

make it homemade / /

This should be a no-brainer. To be self-sustained is all about doing it yourself! There are so many things that can be made at home. Just take a look at Etsy to find out!

I understand that it can be intimidating to do something yourself for the first time; especially when there are ready-made things out there that can be had right away for a price. However, there is nothing so satisfying as making something yourself and seeing/using the finished project made by your own hands.

Taking on and learning a new skill is good for your self esteem, for your brain function, and for your home. Maybe this week you could start researching something new.

Knitting
Spinning
Sewing
Quilting
Embroidery
Soap Making
Wood Carving
Beer Brewing
Bread Making
Pottery
Herbology
Cheese Making
Basket Weaving
Etc.

There are so many things that can be learned which are forgotten arts that everyone used to be able to do.  There are free tutorials, recipes, and and YouTube videos for these things all over the internet. What have you always wanted to do but haven’t had the courage to try?

You can do it!