Back In The Day
Fast Forward to Modern Times
How You Can Do it!
Well, what is it? Self-sufficiency is being able to do things on your own. The term is frequently applied to a person being able to perform basic chores on their own, like cooking, cleaning, and bathing. A person who is not self sufficient is requires care in a nursing home or hospice care. My idea of being self-sufficient however travels far beyond this and into how we as fully able-bodied people carry out our every day tasks. In this modern society, we are more dependent upon our fellow humans than we ever have been in the past. This, at times, can be a very bad thing, because of the influence that individuals, governments, and even corporations have on our well being.
Now, before I go any further into the subject, I would like to clarify that being self-sufficient does not mean separating yourself from social interaction from other human beings. We all still need friends and family, and a significant other of the opposite sex in our lives. In fact, as you learn to reduce the amount of necessary "business" with others, you will find yourself more open for casual and social relationships with others. This is something that I think anybody can definitely appreciate!
I have figured humans have some basic physical needs that must always be fulfilled to survive:
Clothing (Not always needed during good climate, but necessary to protect against the elements when not)
Back in the Day…
During colonial times, and even before then, Humans were perhaps the most self-sufficient they could ever be. People moved to the "New World", which eventually became the United States, in search of prosperity, and relief of government tyranny. At this time, land was bought for an acre on the penny. People needed this land, for they were farmers. At this time, families stayed together and lived in the same house even after the children grew up. The family was the pool of labor to run the farm, and perform many of the tasks that we take for granted today. The family survived off of each other, with each member having a specific set of tasks that they specialized in. Now this does not sound very self-sufficient does it? Well, when you consider that a family could go for months without seeing another group of humans, this changes the picture quite dramatically! The only time that interaction with others around the area would occur was at church. If the farm produced a surplus of goods, or if a tool was needed, sometimes the family would to a market to barter, but this was very infrequent. Now, not everyone lived like this, but the majority of the population lived on farms, and not in city areas.
The farm is what a family would survive off of. There was no Food Lion down at the corner to go get your food at, you grew it yourself! Water was obtained from streams, creeks, rivers, etc, so it was imperative that the land be located near a fresh water source. Food was stored in the winter through various means. For example, meats were smoked and salted, and fruits were canned. Enough food needed to be produced so that the family could continue eating throughout the winter. Just think about the amount of food that you consume in a week, and multiply this out by a large family. Now consider that all this food needed to be stored for months at a time, and without the aid of mechanical refrigeration!
When it came to building a house to live in, people built them on his or her own. When a house was needed, the entire family pitched in, with maybe a little bit of help from others in the community, but by and large, the labor was done on there own. Another factor to consider is that the houses of this time were all built using hand tools. We must also consider the fact that there was not Lowe's or Home Depot to go buy a stack of lumber at either. The wood and other materials used to not only build the house, but to furnish it was obtained directly from the area that it was built in.
The ancient home required very little energy to operate in. Much of this energy was obtained from wood. Enough wood needed to be chopped down to provide the house with sufficient heat during the winter months. Wood fire was also the source of energy used to cook foods. For lighting, oil lanterns were used. The oil for these lanterns could be bought at market, but was rather expensive. This oil frequently came from whales. A family could produce its own oil for lighting though by using fats extracted from slaughtered animals. The rest of the energy used in the home was either human produced, or animal produced, such as the pulling of plows, wagons, and other tools necessary to farm work.
Now, people of this time still needed ways to protect themselves from the elements, since weather is rarely perfect. Protection was also necessary to protect against injury while performing the many physical tasks necessary to surviving. Clothing was produced to handle these needs from the hides or fur of the animals that were raised on the farm. Spinning materials like cotton and wool produced thread. This thread was hand woven into fabric, and stitched together to make clothing. There was no shopping mall to go buy the latest fashion at. In fact, fashion was rarely an issue with early farm clothing. What mattered was how effective it did its job of protecting the body it covered. When clothing was damaged, it was repaired, and when the clothing got dirty, it was washed by hand. A chore that would in fact take several hours to perform
Several conclusions can now be made from reading this. First of all, our ancestors were in great physical condition, considering that everything that was done to survive was done without the use of modern power tools and machinery, and also considering that the typical person had to survive a wide range of climate conditions. Another thing is that people were very knowledgeable in the ways and means of survival, and performing many different tasks. The last thing is that humans of this time had very little spare time.
Fast-Forward to Modern times:
Now, you argue that humans today can be more self-sufficient than in any other time because of modern appliances and technology that have been developed. In fact, a single person like myself can survive perfectly fine in a house by himself without much interaction or problems right? WRONG!!! Let's take a look at my own simple life as the only person in my household, and look at how many people I interact with either directly, or indirectly to maintain my life.
First, the matter of food needs to be taken care of. That's easy today, because the grocery store is about a mile down the road. I can come home with a feast of fresh, safe food of any type and variety after only a few minutes shopping, and a few dollars lost. Let's look at the grocery store starting at the top of the food chain however. Today, farms mass-produce food. With the technology of fertilizers and machinery, fewer people are needed to grow tremendous amounts of food. The farm however does not feed its members directly like in years past, much of the food is sold at market for money. Most farms today specialize in only one type of product. After the food is produced, more people are involved in the packing, and transporting the food thousands of miles with modern machinery helping to get to the local grocery store fresh. Then there's the grocery store itself. It employs several people on location, and many people off site for administrative duties. Your grocery store can always be counted on for supplying you with the same foods year round. All the food you see there does not always grow in the same places, or even come from the same places all year. A complex network of transportation is used to move foods that are being produced to areas that are not producing it either due to seasonal, and climate factors. So the act of getting a hamburger for dinner is rather involved!
Next is the issue of the house. I did not build the house myself, or with the help of family members, I bought it. Let's look at the top of the chain just as I did with the grocery store to find out where the house comes from. A modern house is not just simply a structure of stone or wood, it is composed of many specialty systems. For each of these special systems, like electrical, plumbing, climate controls, etc requires a person, or a group of people known as a contractor that know that particular trade specifically. Even for building the different sections of the house, like the foundation, walls, and roof, a different contractor is used. Let's also look at the materials. A modern home is constructed with wood just like ancient homes were. The difference is that the wood used to build a modern home can come from all over the country, and be transported in the same way food is shuttled around. More involved components of the house can frequently come from overseas.
To purchase a modern house requires money, far more money than the typical person earns in a year's time. To solve this problem, money needs to be borrowed from a lending institution such as a bank, or credit union, and paid back over a period of time. In fact, the money is frequently loaned to the builder to construct the house to start off with. Only after the house is finished and sold is the money paid back to the bank. When it comes to shelter, financial institutions are very important, and involve many people making many decisions that determine where the money comes from, and where it goes. The process of buying not only houses, but many other products in modern life is based on taking out loans and paying them back.
Now, a modern house requires energy…a lot of it! Energy is used for many things in the home from lighting, cooking, performing chores, entertaining us, and keeping us comfortable. I can go flip a switch, the furnace lights, and warm air comes out a hole in the ceiling. I can flip the switch the other way and a myriad of mechanical machinery starts up, and cold air comes out the same hole. There is no need to chop and haul wood. So, it sounds so easy, just flip a switch and the energy's there right? Well, it didn't get there on it's own! Most homes today power their appliances with electricity. An effective medium for transporting energy. Electricity is produced at plants far away. Many people are needed to run the plant, and to maintain the lines that transport the power you and others use. Electricity however is just a transport medium of energy, other fuels, like gas and oil are frequently used to produce electricity. These fuels can also be delivered directly to the home as well. These fuels however are only produced in specialized areas of the world, and are frequently traded for other necessary commodities. Even electricity can be traded between areas.
Everyone needs clothing right? Well, you would think with the technology of climate control, and cushy office jobs that clothing would not be such a necessity anymore in modern life. However, through the art of advertising, and many other factors, the apparel industry is alive and well in modern society. In fact, most clothing today is not even designed to protect the wearer for any adverse conditions, and in fact the clothing can be harmed when faced with these conditions. Today however, the reason for wearing clothing is not about protection from the elements, it is all about projecting an image to others. The apparel industry has created its demand that thrives on the replacement of clothing not because it is worn out, but because it is out of style. Try as we might in modern society to break the binds of prejudices, it always seems to rear it's ugly head. Clothing today is used as a symbol of what a person is. Trade people, to indicate what type of service they perform wear uniforms. For sales people and other business professionals, how much you spend on your suit, is frequently directly determined on how much you make.
The clothing industry involves people from all over the world. Today, many of the products we wear are made of synthetic materials that do not even begin from organic plant or animal material. The production of modern clothing material itself involves several steps, and many people. Now, the price of clothing is rather interesting, because it does not directly reflect the cost of producing it. What it does reflect is supply and demand. The problem is how to create a demand for something that everyone basically has. This involves another entire industry, called advertising. Weather you shop at the local thrift store, or shop at the fanciest department store, the act of getting the clothing on your body.
Well, all of the above mentioned things to live off of require money. So how do you do to get the money? Well, many ways to get money were mentioned too if your sort of read between the lines a little. Some people sell products that others need, while others perform tasks that others may need. In many of the needs, I mention the amount of people involved in getting a particular product to you so that you can use. Well, each one of those persons earns their living off that task, so everyone is all inter-related in their own survival. Basically put, to get money, you need a job! Today, instead of each of our elders teaching us how to do a variety of tasks, we specialize in learning a very specific task, usually called a career or trade by learning it at a school or university. Again, even the task of us learning and choosing a career involves many people too!
As you can see, people all around the world affect even my simple life. You may also see that this can be a serious problem. As mentioned before, money is the medium in which all trade occurs. In the past, humans fought the elements to survive. Humans had to survive harsh winters, droughts, and other climate problems along with diseaes, pests, and many other environmental issues. Most of the problems one faced in the past could be dealt with by simply being prepared. Today, climate is hardly an issue in our lives, but many other issues abound, and unfortunately, we cannot always be prepared for every last thing that comes our way, and many things, we cannot even prepare for at all. My flow of money for instance can be cut off at the stroke of a pen, within seconds! This would obviously put a devastating blow to my lifestyle.
Many other factors can influence our modern life. I just mentioned how I can loose my job at a moment's notice. Jobs are lost and gained everyday in society. Job demands are driven by supply and demand of the market. Some supplies simply aren't in demand anymore, and if it's your specialty that is not in demand, you either starve, or must find another trade. A person not even directly involved in a particular trade, can have profound influence. For instance, when a group of scientist created the transistor, it was not that much longer when jobs producing vacuum tubes were lost, and jobs producing the transistor were created. If you made your living in a vacuum tube factory, you were out of work. Governments, both here and abroad also have profound influence over job demand as well. Governments have the power to shut off an industry at the stroke of a pen, or cut off the sale of a particular good. The backlash from these actions are frequently lost jobs in one trade, sometimes job gains in other trades, and maybe even a creation of new jobs. But by and large, it is readily apparent that forces beyond our control can greatly affect our lives the more we let it.
OK, so I admit, I am a Boy Scout…and Eagle Scout at that, and our motto is " Be Prepared". The act of being self-sufficient is simply making your life less susceptible to the whims of the outside world, and to make sure you can survive when things get a little rough. By now, you may be thinking that I long for the days of living on a farm with the family 200 years ago, and that I would like to dispose of all modern technology like electricity and appliances. This however, can't be farther from the truth! Although technology can make us very dependent on the outside world, it can also help us become very independent at the same time. Self-sufficiency also does not mean giving up on the conformable modern lifestyle we have grown to love. Here are some ways that you can become more self-sufficient:
Reduce Energy & resource usage:
Forces in world trade and governments can dramatically affect the amount of money you spend to carry out daily activities that require energy
One of the simplest ways to save energy is to not use it in the first place!
Turn off those lights in the rooms that aren't being used.
Hang your clothing out on a clothesline instead of using a dryer
Open the windows and doors on days the weather is nice.
Open the shade, instead of turning on a lamp (you wouldn't believe how many people I know DON'T do this!)
Use a sailboat, instead of a powerboat
Watch out for "leaky" appliances! Many new electronic devices today don't really turn off when you hit the off button! Devices that have remote controls must have a few components running at all times so that they will respond to your command when you hit the remote. Any device that has a clock in it also requires a few watts of power to keep it running. While these appliances only consume a few watts each, having a house full of them can really add up quick to a lot of power being wasted!
Make sure your appliances and other energy consuming devices are maintained in top-notch condition. Also, make sure your home is properly sealed and insulated to keep your hard-earned heat and cool from escaping.
Today's technology has brought many products onto the market that can save you energy. For example, Compact fluorescent lamps are perhaps one of the biggest things to hit the market lately when it comes to energy savings. They consume about a forth of the amount of power of an incandescent lamp to produce the same amount of light, and they last almost 10 times longer! A microwave oven may consume the same amount of power as a regular oven, but since it is used for a much shorter period of time, means that it is more efficient. There are many more examples of this.
How about producing your own power! Technology has produced many devices that can create energy. Solar panels have come down in price recently, and can be used in many low power applications. Remember I mentioned all those leaky appliances. Well, solar panels are great for running gadgets like battery chargers and clocks that need to stay on all the time. Technology has also improved the efficiency and reliability of solar hot water heating systems. These systems use a solar panel to directly heat water that is used in your home for bathing and cleaning. This source of hot water can also be used to supplement a hot-water based heating system. While these systems can cost considerably more than conventional sources of energy, they can pay for themselves in power not purchased.
Reduce your Transportation needs
Everyone needs to get about town, but wouldn't it be nice if you could do less traveling! Unfortunately, here in the United States, our governments have just about ignored the fact that there is other means to get around besides automobiles. They have chosen to design our communities so that we must use a car to perform daily chores and errands. Even worse than that, If you are in a big family, an SUV or van is required to haul all the members around.
When looking for a neighborhood to live in, look at where your job is located, and the typical mainstream path of the commuters in your area. Choosing a neighborhood that will have you driving opposite the flow of traffic will make your commute shorter and easier.
By choosing to live in older communities, you can minimize the amount of distance needed to travel. This is because these neighborhoods were designed with necessary places like schools, post offices, groceries, and etc closer together. Many people are returning to downtown communities and getting rid of their cars completely! These people are simply using their own two feet to get them around, or are using public transportation such as buses and subways to get around.
Pick a location that the kids can either walk to school, or ride a school bus, that way, you won't need to shuttle them to school with your own vehicle.
Use your bicycle and you're own two feet to get you to nearby locations. An automobile is the least efficient, and produces the most emissions when the engine is cold, or is used in stop-and-go situations.
See if you can Tele-commute. Some jobs nowadays, you do not need to actually be in the office, but you can be linked electronically to it. With a job like this, you simply eliminate the need to drive by car to your office…it's right down the hallway! Best of all, you can be at home with your kids, and you don't need to dress in fancy clothes.
Not only does reducing car usage save you money in fuel, but by using your own human power to transport yourself, you also improve your health as well.
Grow your own food:
Start your own backyard garden! Growing plants can be a great hobby, and an excellent way to eat healthy too. Check with your local zoning laws and find out what types, and how much livestock you can raise in your neighborhood. I found out that raising chickens is actually legal in my urban neighborhood!
When you raise your own food, you are in much more control over its quality and handling. If you are worried about unusual chemicals used on your fruits and vegetables, or growth hormones used on livestock, you can assure yourself that the food you raised does not contain these.
Go fishing or hunting! I have not found a person yet that does not like to go fishing. This is a great way to not only relax, but also to obtain a great healthy source of protein. Hunting deer, while many people say is an inhumane sport, does help reduce over-abundant populations. Vincent (deer meat) is very tasty meat. The outlay of supplies for these sports can sometimes be expensive (boats, fishing rods, bait, guns, etc) however.
Get rid of Debt:
One of the easiest ways that you can be influenced in this world is buy purchasing things and paying for them later. Add up your interest rates, and you will find out that after all is said and done, you will be paying much more for something than if you saved up to buy it first!
If you own your own home, you can use it's equity to get a loan with a much lower interest rate than what you have on your credit cards. After transferring the balance, cancel the credit card accounts!
In simple reality, interest on debt is a tremendous part of our expenses. By getting rid of debt, you get rid of this money which you will never see again!
Access your true needs and wants. Do you really need that huge house in the fancy neighborhood, or that new luxury SUV? You would be surprised how much money simply "scaling back" can save. How much television do you watch? Well, if you don't watch much, how about disconnecting the cable?
Buy, instead of renting your dwelling. Around my town, rents are extremely high on apartments, and frequently are even higher in mortgages. While taking out a mortgage on a home is acquiring debt, the money you pay towards a house you will get back, less the interest. This compares to rent, which you will never see again! Not to mention the fact that the landlord your rent from can choose to throw you out any time they please!
Many products you may want or need can be purchased used. Check the classified section, thrift stores, or garage and yard sales for items that could be of use. Mentioned next, I talk about learning how to perform simple repairs yourself, Many times after others learn that you can repair things, you will be simply given malfunctioning products that need only simple repairs.
Learn to do things yourself:
Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the more you can do yourself. This can be anything from maintaining your home and automobiles. Take classes at the local community college on how to perform routine maintenance and repairs on the everyday products you own, like your house, car, appliances, etc.
Even better than taking a class is asking friends or family members that are knowledgeable in skills you desire to do for yourself to demonstrate how they are done, and ask them to let you try your hand at it while they supervise. For instance, if you know someone that is skilled with cars, have them supervise you while you change your oil so that you can learn how to do it yourself.
Many times, products are thrown away because they are too expensive to repair, or have become old and worn out. Frequently, only simple repairs are needed to bring the device back to good working condition. Learning how basic appliances and other devices work can certainly be beneficial because you can "scavenge" products thrown out by others, and restore them to working order for your own use.
Performing jobs yourself is beneficial in two ways. First, it will save you money, and second, you can control the quality and craftsmanship that goes into the job performed. So you know it will be done right!
Learning how to do things can actually make you money when the word gets out that you are skilled at a particular task. You can be asked by friends and family to do work for them.
Learn to sew your own clothes. This can be a very gratifying hobby, and once you become a bit skilled at it, you can design your own clothing to fit your own personal style, but you can make sure the apparel you make yourself is tailored exactly to your own body!
Tools are your friends! Tools can be anything from a simple screwdriver to a piece of precision machinery. Many times however, the price of an expensive tool needed to perform a job is less than the price to hire a professional to perform the job for you. The best part of this is that tools can be used many times, and pay for themselves after the first use.
Maintain your health:
The health care industry these days is a multi-billion dollar industry that makes up almost 17% of the United States economy. This can be anything from a bottle of aspirin, to major trauma care. Healthcare prices have increased several times the rate of inflation, and the only people that have benefited from this price surge are doctors, hospital chains, and lawyers handling malpractice suits. Healthcare prices are out of control…so try not to fund it!
Maintain your health. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The human body is quite a remarkable machine in that it actually gets better with usage…don't you wish your car was like that! So get out and exercise, enjoy the fresh air with a walk or jog around the block. Eat a good, healthy diet with carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Are you trying to loose weight? Well, that's a good thing, but you won't do it by simply dieting alone. Your best weapons on the war against weight are your own muscles, since good muscles burn calories even at rest! Exercise and eating right can frequently clear up many health problems without even needing the help of a doctor.
Minimize the pill popping. Taking a drug is not the best way to cure most aliments. You've probably been bombarded with pharmaceutical ads all over the place lately just as much as I have from drugs that promise miracles. About the only thing they do however is give you side effects, and get you hooked! The pharmaceutical companies love it because the money is guaranteed as easy as a subscription service once you are hooked. Doctors get paybacks for prescribing specific medications from the drug companies, and they are off the hook if the drug does not work in the first place. Painkiller drugs can be a real problem too because pain is your body's way of telling you something is wrong. Taking a painkiller is like cutting the wires to the OIL light in your car. Yes, it gets rid of the annoying light, but your engine will eventually burn out. Get the real cause of the pain checked out and fixed!
Pick up a trade you enjoy doing, and make money at it! Running your own business can be challenging, but you at least know that you won't be fired, you can set your own hours.
I myself do not know a tremendous amount about the paperwork and management skills necessary for running my own business, but this is a topic in which I am currently studying. A considerable amount of information exists on this topic on the Internet, in books, and many other sources.
Although the reason for being self-sufficient is not so much for being environmentally friendly, this is an added side benefit of many of the reasons to become more self-sufficient.
These are just a few ways, examples, and reasons of being able to free yourself from the influence of outside forces that are out of your control. YOU CAN CONTROL YOUR LIFE! Some of these things I practice myself, while some I am striving to achieve. These are basically goals to achieve, and I feel that by striving to achieve these will make your life easier to live and manage. You may feel different about this whole entire topic than I do, or you may simply feel that some of these ideas are not so good. Others of you may even have ideas to add. This is simply a topic which I am continuing to learn about, and add to as time progresses!