We’ve lost the essential life skills that used to be commonplace in our world. Isn’t it time we reversed that trend?
We can all learn to embrace a more self-reliant lifestyle by tackling some basic life skills. Just remember that it’s a journey and may take some time!
When my eldest son left for college I got a kick out of hearing some of the daily dilemmas that he and his roommates faced. Basic survival skills are not being taught at home these days, folks.
This is quite possibly because in our shift toward outsourcing just about everything, these kids’ parents have never learned these basic survival skills themselves, the skills that used to be commonplace in our world. Isn’t it time we reversed that trend?
Quote from random college kid (not mine): “I can tell you one thing. Cup-o-Noodles are getting old really fast.”
Cooking skills we should know
- Learn what to stock a pantry with for uncertain times.
- Know how to make at least three inexpensive meals that don’t come from a box. Refried beans are cheap, easy, and a big batch will last for days. My white chicken chili is always a people pleaser, as is this chicken soup. And if you’re short on time, this sausage lentil soup is a fast fix. Note that I’m recommending recipes that make a pot full so there will be enough for several meals if you’re cooking for a small family.
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- Making dry beans from scratch is less expensive than starting with canned beans and creates less waste. Keep some on hand and learn how to cook them.
- Learn to flip a pancake. I don’t care if it’s a pancake you’ve made from scratch (and hey, here’s how to do that) or one that’s out of a box, but if you’re flipping it yourself, you’re not counting on IHOP for your stack. I can’t offer a tutorial on this one. You’ll just have to practice.
- Homemade pizza is totally doable, especially with my sneaky little shortcut.
- How to fry an egg.
- How to roast a chicken.
- Learn how to make broth or stock with that roasted chicken. If you have a big pot and access to water, there’s really no excuse for not knowing how to do this. Unless you’re vegetarian. You folks can learn to make a rich vegetable broth.
- Know how to sharpen a kitchen knife.
- Finding real food in a grocery store or supermarket takes a special skill and it seems to get harder and harder. The basic rule of thumb for shopping wisely is to stick to the outer edges of the store. This is where you’ll find the produce, the dairy section, and the meat counter. You’ll likely need to enter the central aisles for ingredients like beans and pasta, but for the most part these are just rows of junk and processed foods.
- Learn how to make oatmeal. Make it on the stovetop or with this simple canning jar hack, no matter. There’s nothing like a warm breakfast to get your day started.
- Knowing how to cut up a whole chicken is one of those essential life skills that will save you buckets of money. Instead of buying pieces, choose a whole roaster (or butcher your own) and cut it up yourself.
- How to bake a potato. If you can bake a potato, you won’t starve. They’re cheap and filling and versatile. You can eat them plain, or cut them up and add them to an egg scramble, fry them, or mash them.
- Rice and grains are an inexpensive way to feed the family. Here’s how to cook those. (And I’m not talking Minute Rice.)
- Know how to make the most of the food you buy. Peeling apples for a recipe? You can use the peels for more than just compost. You can use radish leaves to make pesto and transform beet greens, too.
- How to peel hard boiled eggs the easy way.
- Knowing how to bake without an oven will serve you well in case of emergency. Or in case of camping during someone’s birthday. And while you’re at it, learn to cook over an open fire.
Basic living skills we should know
- Thread breaks. Learn to sew on a button. This is where I confess that my own son left home without this skill. The boy made an entire chain mail hauberk, but somewhere along the line I forgot to teach him this simple skill. Oops.
- And while we’re talking about thread and needle, learn a few basic stitches for mending and hemming (and hey, if need be, stitching a wound).
- Know how to tell time on an analog clock. I’m amazed at how many people simply cannot tell time if their digital device is not working. It’s a bit embarrassing.
- How to balance a checkbook.
- Learn how to pound a nail.
- Check out these ten simple steps towards self-reliance that you can take today.
- Learn how to use wood as a source of heat.
- How to create a family budget.
- How to change a tire.
- Know how to do laundry. And learn to clean fabric-covered items that won’t fit in the washing machine.
- How to fuel a vehicle.
- Learn how to dry laundry on a clothesline. It will save you money and get you outside.
- Know how to calculate and make change. You might not ever work behind a cash register, but if you know how to do this you’ll be able to catch any mistakes that happen when you’re a customer.
- Be able to identify a credible source. With so much information and “news” flying around the web, it’s easy to get caught up and forget that anybody can write things on the web. Even though it’s on the internet, it just might not be true. Do your research.
- What to do when there’s a shortage of toilet paper.
Life skills we should know for survival
- Knowing how to perform the Heimlich maneuver is a skill you might not ever need, but one you should know.
- Make sure your car is ready in case of emergency.
- Learn first aid and CPR.
- Know how to start a fire in a wood stove as well as an open-air campfire. You could even learn how to make your own char cloth fire starters.
- Learn what edible and medicinal plants are available in your region and how to forage for them ethically.
- How to purify water for drinking.
- How to start seeds and grow vegetables, as well as how to save seeds from heirloom crops.
- Reading and using a compass.
Advanced life skills for uncertain times
- Know how to keep a flock of chickens or ducks for eggs or meat.
- Learn to butcher animals. It’s not one of the most palatable jobs, but knowing how to cull your chicken flock or harvest a wild animal will serve you well when times are tough.
- Growing a garden is a great way to put food on the table when times are tough, but be sure you’re growing enough calories to keep bellies full.
- Delve into home canning to preserve fruits and vegetables for your pantry. This used to be one of those essential life skills that everybody know, but no longer. A simple water bath method is good for fruit and pickles, but knowing how to use a pressure canner allows you to put up vegetables, meat, and fish. Fermentation is another way to extend the shelf life of fresh foods.
- A rocket stove is a great way to cook outdoors, whether camping for fun or survival.
Originally published 2016; this post has been updated.