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10 Simple Steps Toward Self Reliance You Can Take TODAY

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Sometimes the concept of self reliance and simple living is hard. And sometimes people like to argue about the exactness of the idea. The other day, someone over on my Facebook page said:

“Surprised you advocate eating meat at all.”

And, well. That’s just not true. I don’t advocate eating meat. I don’t advocate not eating meat. The story I shared was simply one that I thought would interest some of the people within that community. That comment, while it felt a little nitpicky to me, did make me think.

WILD food on a white plate - self reliance at it's best!

What IS self-reliance?

From figuring out how to spend less of our money to support corporations to doing more of our own cooking and repairing and growing in-house, our versions of self-reliance may vary from person to person.

And that’s okay! Simple living doesn’t have to look exactly the same in every household.

But when it comes to self-reliance, these are a few things I bet most of us can agree on.

Eat a diet that’s healthy for you and healthy for the planet

I don’t care if you’re vegetarian or omnivoregluten free or grain freepaleo or keto. Your diet needs to suit you, not me. But I think we can all agree that aiming to eat a diet free of Lunchables, soda, Mickey D’s, and fake ingredients will make for a healthier you and a healthier, less wasteful world.

Support farmers

I’ve been accused of hatin’ on farmers because of my stance on transgenic crops. Not so. I’m a farm girl from way back; my dad was an apple grower. I like farmers. I love my dad. It’s just that I don’t like food crops being scientifically fiddled with so that they can be doused in chemicals and then sold to unsuspecting consumers.

Self reliance helps keep it local

A guy once told me that when you do the math, it actually takes less fuel to move a shipload of produce from Chile to a U.S. port than for small farmers to transport their goods between the fields and the market, and that we should buy our produce from afar.

Frankly, I did not do the math because that’s crazy talk. Simple living does not mean shipping food halfway across the world.

Buying from local growers is always my first choice. I can talk to them about how they manage pests on the farm, my dollars go directly in their pocket, and supporting farmers means keeping local lands in agriculture rather than McMansions. Plus, produce sold locally isn’t irradiated.

homemade bread on table with butter -- the most flavorful self-reliance skill??

Learn to cook– this is self reliance at its best!

If we outsource the job of cooking and preparing food for our families, we give over control of what we eat. Learn some kitchen skills!

I’m not talking about your much-loved girls’ night out or the special occasion restaurant dinners that you love. I’m talking about day in, day out feeding your family. If you know how to cook food from scratch—or even almost from scratch—you know what’s going into your family’s bellies and you can make choices about ingredients.

Self reliance at the dinner table often means making it yourself.

Grow something

If you’re an avid gardener, you know how empowering it is to grow some (or all) of the food that you put on your table. If you’re not, it can seem daunting but give it a try.

Growing your own food is a huge step in self reliance. Pick up a basil plant to keep on your windowsill. Fill a planter outside with soil and plant Swiss chard. Cut the roots off green onions and stick them in the ground–they’ll grow again. Once you’ve managed to successfully grow one thing, you might be tempted to try another.

grow bags planted with green leaf lettuce and potatoes

Learn new skills for self reliance

The new skills that interest you may not interest me. But I’ll give you a big, giant standing ovation for getting out there and trying something new and simplifying your life. Self reliance depends on us being able to do some of our own skilled labor. That labor can be traded with other homesteaders, too, if you embrace the idea of bartering.

Educate yourself to simplify your life

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. None of us do. We’re all just floundering around in this crazy world trying to make the best choices for our family—or coming to the realization that there are choices to make.

Whether it’s genetically modified foods, the controversial topic of vaccinations, or any number of other issues that face us in the modern world, we can educate ourselves instead of blindly following the “norm.”

Get outside

How can you go wrong with stepping outside to take a nice big breath of fresh air? While you’re there, take off your shoes and feel the earth under your feet. If you know someone who’s knowledgable about foraging for local food, take them along and learn to find some edible — and free — foods in your region.

red berries on a tree stump - foraging for food is self reliance!

 

Make small changes

It’s easy to look at how much work there is to do and panic. That’s not going to do anybody any good. Instead, determine one place in your household where you’d like to change and focus on that. I’m not talking about installing solar, here.

I’m talking about simple tactics like using bath towels for more than one shower, saying no to plastic straws, or getting one last sandwich out of the peanut butter jar. Go here for a long list of ideas for making small changes at your place as you embrace simple living and better self reliance!

berries on a branch

Originally published in September 2013; it has been updated.

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

18 comments… add one
  • Kerry Dexter Sep 18, 2013, 2:31 am

    a thoughful and well thought out list, Kris. has me thinking about making such a list of my own — a good way to check up on how I’m living out my values, I think.

  • Sheryl Sep 18, 2013, 4:17 am

    Perfect list and fabulous reminders! A good way to know what really matters.

  • Sheryl Sep 18, 2013, 4:17 am

    Perfect list and fabulous reminders! A good way to know and remember what really matters.

  • HeatherL Sep 18, 2013, 4:39 am

    I agree with almost everything on your list. I love supporting local farmers and just went on a press trip that was all about that.

  • Merrilee Sep 18, 2013, 7:23 am

    This is a good idea- putting to paper (ok, internet) what we hold most dear. I consider this a challenge to write my own list!

  • Ruth Pennebaker Sep 18, 2013, 9:39 am

    What a lovely, civil, and sane group of rules. Thank you.

  • Jane Boursaw Sep 18, 2013, 11:47 am

    I think so often people just fall into a whole black and white scenario, and that’s rarely ever the case. I mean, I *might be a vegetarian if left to my own devices, but since my husband does all the cooking around here, I eat whatever he feeds us. I’m more than ok with that.

    And I’m against harmful chemicals, but my brothers still farm a thousand acres of cherries and apples, and at that volume, they need some of those chemicals to get their fruit to market.

    Most things aren’t black and white – they’re gray, and we just do the best we can.

  • Denise @ 'small 1 enterprises Sep 18, 2013, 4:32 pm

    I like the idea of all of this. I have been trying to start a community garden here in our little town. I even said we could use my big side yyard. So far I haven’t gotten much response. I am hoping next Sping people will “get into the swing” of it more.

    • Mary Ann peel Mar 29, 2018, 5:07 pm

      See if one of your local elementary schools are interested in starting a garden. The teachers can use a garden for all sorts of classroom teaching and the children can cook what they grow or take home fresh produce home.

  • Jennifer Margulis Sep 18, 2013, 6:31 pm

    you go girl. I love this list. I advocate also regularly reading your blog and liking your FB page. I learn so much from it. (And we are growing a garden after 3 years of failure with some success!)

  • Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart Sep 23, 2013, 12:33 pm

    Totally pinning this. Thanks.

  • Donna Hull Sep 24, 2013, 3:41 pm

    I like your positive approach. All of us should make a list like this.

  • Living Large Sep 30, 2013, 3:13 am

    Excellent approach. I, too, have gotten comments from either the pro meat/hunting crowd (I’ve never hunted) or the pro vegetable crowd about “advocating” eating a certain way. I agree that we all need to find what’s best for us, but think your list is a great resource for how to get there.

  • Gill Apr 11, 2014, 2:25 am

    I’m reminded of the Hippie Credo… Do what you want to do, but be who you are. 😉

    I just followed a link from Lloyds Blog to yours, and I am so impressed. You and yours seem like such nice people. I’m greatful for finding your words here.

    Peace Gill

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 11, 2014, 6:45 am

      I had to look up Lloyd’s Blog – that wasn’t one I was familiar with! Thanks for the pointer.

  • Deb Felumlee Nov 21, 2016, 1:35 pm

    Thank you for sharing your rich worthwhile tips. We all need inspirational ideas. I thought I was not going to put in a backyard garden next year, because of all the time I spent in my garden this year, but I am inspired and reminded about how much we do not know is in our food.

  • Katha Horton Mar 17, 2017, 3:23 am

    A big hooray for you! At last, a voice of reason! You go girl.

  • [email protected] Acres Jan 14, 2018, 3:00 am

    These are great suggestions, and the perfect place to start for anyone seeking a life of increased self-sufficiency! Thanks for sharing!

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