Full on Self Sufficient Living is a pretty tall bar to set.
Semi Self Sufficient Living is a much, much easier approach to take and I think a more rational one too.
The best thing about it, is it takes the pressure off.
If you decide that you want to be fully self sufficient, there's an awful lot that you have to do.
Some people certainly are doing as much as they can to be fully self sufficient, whether out of a desire for a much simpler, less complicated life or out of fear that the system that supports modern life will soon collapse, but like I said, that's a heck of a lot of pressure to put on yourself.
I think it's a good thing to be able to provide for some of your basic needs yourself. But for me there just aren't enough hours in the day to do it all. And more importantly I don't want to do it all.
I don't want the life of a subsistence farmer, dropping into bed exhausted at the end of every day. I want to do things that enhance the quality of my life.
I Choose Semi Self Sufficient Living Because...
I choose semi self sufficient living because it gives me a better quality of life and it has a lower impact on our planets finite resources.
It's a good idea to look at your reasons for wanting to become self sufficient in certain aspects of your life, that way you can narrow your focus and concentrate on what's really important to you.
I'll run through some of my thought process that led to the choices we made, to illustrate what I mean. Your thought processes and choices will inevitably be different to mine.
#1 Clean Food
I grow a vegetable garden and a fruit orchard because I want to eat clean, nutritious food.
Food that is grown in naturally rich soil without the use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
Organic food in the supermarket is far too expensive for my budget and thanks to the meddling of big business, the organic standard doesn't actually mean much anymore.
I don't mind spending some of my time working in my garden, because I know that I'll get lots of super nutritious food in return, that has cost me next to nothing to produce.
I keep chickens for eggs. The taste of fresh, free range eggs can't be beaten (no pun intended). They are a world apart from even so called free range eggs at the store. I actually save money by keeping my own chickens, so raising chickens for eggs is a no brainer for me.
I don't raise chickens for meat. For one thing I can't get past the whole 'killing an animal that I have been caring for' part. I used to get cross with myself about this, thinking that if you are going to eat an animal you should at least give it an excellent life and then a quick, clean death.
A friend dispatched three roosters for us and showed us how it was done, so we would be able to do the same in the future. Those birds sat in my freezer untouched for over a year before I finally fed them to the dogs.
I can't eat a creature I've raised. I'm a big baby in that respect, but I accept that part of myself now and don't beat my self up about it any more.
If circumstances change in the future and I have no choice but to raise animals for meat, then I will reluctantly do it and probably get used to it, but for now, I prefer to get my meat from animals that have been raised locally and slaughtered humanely by some one else.
#2 Independence From The Power Grid
We have solar panels and a wind turbine.
There was no power hooked up to this property when we purchased it and it seemed silly to spend the money on getting hooked up when our main concern was to have our own power source.
Our reasons for wanting to be power independent?
- concerns about peak oil causing major interruptions to power generation in the future
- concerns about rising prices due to peak oil, inflation and supply disruptions due to wars
- concerns about black outs due to ageing infrastructure and extreme weather events
If power had already been in place, we would have kept the mains supply as a back up, no question about that. Sometimes the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow, making things just a touch annoying!
We've got used to living with minimal power on some days, so it's not that big of a deal anymore. Even on the worst days I can run my freezer, have lights on and use my laptop for most of the day.
#3 A Low Cost Way To Keep Warm
If you've ever turned your heating down or off when you were already cold, then you know what it's like to worry about paying your heating bill.
I don't like being cold and was determined that my families comfort would not be affected by any future lack of money in my pocket.
We heat our home with wood that we grow.
We burn that wood in an inexpensive rocket mass heater that we built ourselves.
This means that we don't have an annual bill for heat produced from gas, electricity or oil. Nor do we have to buy wood.
As a rocket mass heater uses only one third of the amount of wood that a conventional wood stove burns. We don't really have to produce that much firewood at all.
We grow willow, which grows quickly and is perfect for a rocket heater. The thin willow poles are easy to cut with regular garden loppers, making it easy to harvest.
There is no need for dangerous chain saws, no lugging heavy logs around or splitting wood with an axe to do.
If we do have some bigger wood, from a fallen tree for example, then of course we will use it and we have a chain saw and log splitter to deal with that. But the main resource for our heating is the easy to deal with willow.
#4 Water Without Worry
Water is essential for life. I don't want to face big bills that I may not be able to pay one day.
Utility companies keep raising prices and there are only so many measures that you can implement to keep your consumption down.
With a garden to grow, it would be easy to use a huge amount of water in a dry growing season and we didn't want to worry about an unpleasant bill arriving.
There was no mains water supply here, but there was a spring fed stream running across the bottom corner of our property and winter/spring time usually sees plenty of rainfall.
We opted to capture rain water from the roof and store and filter it for household use. We located our first garden next to the stream so that we could water it if we needed to.
Later we found out that we could pipe water up hill to the house from the spring without any need for pumps, so we began the process of moving our garden up next to the house.
Since we now have a never ending supply of free water we don't have to be so careful with our use of it, BUT two years of frugal water use meant that we developed habits that we see no need to change.
- We have a low flow shower head and take short showers.
- Our grey water is sent out to the orchard.
- Our washing machine uses only 15 gallons /55 litres of water for a 15 pound / 7 kilo load.
- We use hand towels to dry off after a shower to cut down on loads of laundry, as well as wearing clothes more than once (undies excluded).
I did make one mistake where water use is concerned.
As our house is small, I wanted to see if we could manage without a washing machine, which would take up valuable space in the kitchen, no doubt break down and need repairing in a few years time, use more power than we could supply with our small system and use, I mistakenly thought, a lot of water.
I tried washing in a plastic tub with a plunger for 12 months before I finally said, what the hell am I doing? This is crazy! I got a high efficiency washer instead.
#5 Knowing When Low Tech Or No Tech is The Best Option And When It's Not
We do use a compost toilet. It's a matter of personal philosophy(not wishing to contribute to the pollution of rivers and oceans with poorly treated waste from municipal sewerage treatment plants) and a matter of hating septic systems.
By using a compost toilet we turn 'waste' into a resource.
The composted toilet material turns into a rich compost, just like the manure from every other creature on the planet. Our Humanure belongs on the soil, not in rivers and oceans.
We also use a scythe to cut grass instead of a mower. A bit old fashioned and labor intensive, but as ever there is a good reason here.
The cost of the scythe and maintenance equipment for it (peening anvil and hammer, sharpening stones)was pretty close to the price of a mower.
But a mower needs fuel to run it and that fuel gets more expensive every year (remember peak oil). From experience I know that mowers break down and need repairing or usually replacing.
A scythe doesn't break down and with simple maintenance will last for a lifetime.
A mower will only cope with fairly short grass to begin with. I have no use here for fairly short grass. I do however have use for grass that is a foot high or even two feet high. And a mower can't cut that for me.
- My scythe can cut that grass for use as hay for my goats and chickens and mulch for my garden and orchard
- It cuts material for use in the compost toilet system that we use
- It's silent aside from a gentle swish
- It doesn't smell
- I can carry it over my shoulder
- I can use it on slopes that no mower is going to tackle
- It cuts under fencing easily
- I can pretend that I'm The Grim Reaper!
Summing Up My Approach To Semi Self Sufficient Living
Growing a garden, is for me pleasant and not too time consuming.
The chickens pretty much take care of themselves.
Fruit trees and bushes do their thing with no help from me and give me masses of delicious fruit.
My firewood grows itself and a few hours with loppers is a small price to pay for free heat.
My solar power needs nothing from me, except positioning for optimum solar gain twice a year and occasional battery equalizing.
Water comes out of my taps with no effort or cost on my part.
My scythe can do what a mower can't.
I make soap from ingredients that I buy.
I make perfume from ingredients that I buy.
I weave from yarn that I buy.
These are all handmade products but I don't consider them parts of a self sufficient life. These are my hobbies and they give me a high quality product at a low price. So frugal - yes, self sufficient - no.
I'm not into semi self sufficient living because I'm part of any back to the land or old style country living movement.
I will provide by my own hand those things which it makes sense to.
I'll use the technology that centuries of human ingenuity have made possible, but I'll be selective about the resources that I use, endeavoring to keep my ecological footprint tight.
And when peak oil really starts to hit I'll adapt.