What is self-reliant living?
Throughout history, indigenous peoples, subsistence farmers, religious groups and back-to-the-land utopians have all demonstrated their definition. Broadly put, self-reliance simply means taking care of the vast majority of one’s basic material needs: food, water, shelter, clothing, medicine. The current wave of self-reliant pioneers in the US may trace their roots back to Henry David Thoreau, a rebellious, Transcendentalist writer and social critic, whose 1854 book, Walden, documents his laconic existence farming at a secluded cabin and the economy he used to make his project come to life.
Many groups that practice self-reliant living do so in a rural setting. The benefit of this is the sense of isolation and tranquility, as well as the sense of possibility that this kind of existence provokes. Some groups, however, live in urban settings, in so-called “eco-villages,” cooperative housing units that desire a less-impactful city existence. Since the community must provide for its members an economy has to be envisioned. Single people or family units who homestead can forego this consideration, but, unless isolation is the most important thing, this approach can be lonely.
Self reliant living can take many forms. Growing your own food is a great start.
Learning basic, seasonal agriculture is of utmost importance. Also, tending livestock like goats or sheep, for meat or milk, or cultivating beans or nuts (to cover one’s protein needs), is important. While a human may survive on a limited variety of food, covering your nutritional needs is extremely important for your well-being. You may only be capable of small-scale farming techniques, so familiarize yourself with them and get ready to sweat.
Readily available water, either from tapping an aquifer or digging a well, is important. A person can’t live more than a couple days without water and crops and livestock depend on it as well. Depending on the climate of the spot you are considering living on, you have to find out where to get water. Read up on irrigation and always treat your water-table with utmost respect.
Learning simple building techniques, plant medicine, as well as hunting and trapping, such as indigenous people utilized, are tremendous skills to have. Learning how to tan hides or weave wool will serve you well, to make clothes. Beekeeping can be invaluable, as their wax, honey and pollinating abilities are incredibly useful. A solar-energy setup can help provide for appropriate power needs, as well as a gas-powered generator. Knowledge of passive solar water heating can give you hot water.
As mentioned before, community and culture are things people may not consider when pursuing a self-sufficient life. Without television, or surplus electricity to play recorded music, an isolated life may be initially unnerving. Without accessible neighbors to talk, or people who can come to your aid, self-reliance may turn into hermitage. If you are isolated from people, you must consider what to do in an emergency. Having a truck with four-wheel-drive, for sporadic trips to town, or to use in an emergency, is extremely valuable.
Never underestimate the seeming fact that human beings have evolved as social animals. Many of us want to escape the pressures and difficult moral dilemmas of our regular existence, but the sooner you learn that you are never alone, the better. Homesteading is challenging and can be rewarding. Sitting around a campfire, with a guitar, some food you grew and prepared yourself, in the company of a like-minded community is much more rewarding than being alone.