Self Sufficiency is Impossible-yet Essential

True self sufficiency is impossible-yet it is essential. In many ways self sufficiency is directly connected to sustainability. But again, true self sufficiency is also impossible to attain. So, how do we get around that?

When I was growing up in north Georgia and Tennessee, both of my grandparents had working farms. And I spent a lot of time on those farms when I was younger. We had horses, cattle, pigs, chickens, rabbits, a huge garden, and numerous fruit and nut trees. And for an added treat, we would often forage for berries, especially black berries, and go fishing for trout. I am sure that at some point in time in my childhood I actually ate store bought meat but is was so infrequent that I do not remember.

My point being is that self sufficiency was never anything we actually talked about. It was simply how we lived.

Now fast forward into our present time, when you mention self sufficiency in front of a group of people, I can almost guarantee that 10 different people will have 10 different visions of what that means. That is simply because there are no hard and fast rules, no real guidelines, no universal definition, and when you venture out you are pretty much on your own. And to make it even more complicated, there are so many different things you could do.

But, here’s the catch. Our world has changed in less than a century from everyone being pretty much self sufficient to everyone being dependent on the vast and complicated infrastructure that we neither understand nor control. Many people these days have the mistaken belief that their meat comes from the supermarket. They have no concept that someone has to actually raise those animals, slaughter them, process them, before the meat actually appears in the nice clean, package with a styro-foam tray that you see on the shelf in the supermarket. This is something I am keenly aware of because I raise and process my own chickens and turkeys.

My point here is that in our modern society most people are completely disconnected from the concepts of self sufficiency, sustainability, and how that is vital to our survival. Now I am not saying that we should reverse the clock by 100 years and emulate the pioneers. Those folks were certainly self sufficient in many ways but they also lead very difficult and short lives.

The simple fact is that if you want to be self sufficient, it is now possible to do that in the city and still be close to cafes, museums, the farmers market, and high speed internet. The simple fact is that we now live in a much different world and we face very different challenges. Furthermore, it would be irresponsible today to talk about self sufficiency outside the context of the general state of the planet.

The fact is that people are pursuing self sufficiency in different ways simply because there are different ways to be. Just as there are different ways to live off the grid. In fact, if you talk to some people about being off the grid, they would ask “To which grid do you refer?”

For example, I have lived off the grid for over 20 years. But I also use the banking systems, a debit card, I purchase gasoline, go to the supermarket, and have satellite internet. If I did not have some of these things I would not be doing the writing and publishing that I do. But there are those that live off the grid that would think I commit sacrilege everyday because of some of the things I do. But, just saying, there are different ways to be off the grid just as there are different versions of self sufficiency.

While the basic concept of self sufficiency is simple, which is providing for your own needs, it is in fact impossible. If we were all truly self sufficient, we would always be busy hunting, fishing, skinning, processing, preserving, making every effort to use every single thing at our disposal.

But in modern times, it is easier to purchase an axe instead of making one. It is easier to use a chainsaw to cut timber instead of an axe. It is easier and more practical to assembly a solar array than it is to render the animal tallow necessary to make candles. In this sense, you are taking steps toward self sufficiency yet you are dependent on others for the tools to get you there. So, you get the picture.

Now if you look at this on a planetary scale, we have to be self sufficient because there is no other planet to live on, at least not in the our present age. All we have is right here on good ‘ole planet Earth and we have to make the best of it or we don’t survive at all.

We have finally reached a point in human history to where there are no new frontiers. We can no longer hack, slash, and burn. We can no longer abuse the land until it is useless and move on. We can no longer afford to destroy the oceans and go somewhere else because there is no where to go. Our only option for long-term survival is to take care of what we have right here and now. Otherwise, we’re done for.

Funny thing is that we have the technology to do it right now. And I have no doubt that big business and big government has a lot more on their plates than what us little insignificant citizens are privy too. Moreover, how do you break up a marriage between government and business that is highly profitable and wants to protect those profits instead of focusing on the good of the people?

But we could all sit back and simply enjoy what it is and let someone else worry about it.

But, as I have said before, sustainability comes down to the kind of future we are leaving the next generation. So instead of blissful ignorance we need to admit that there IS in fact a problem.

Okay, the world is in trouble. And we are better off being self sufficient. Yet self sufficiency is impossible. Do we just live in our blissful ignorance and lay down and die.

Well, not exactly.

While self sufficiency in the true sense of the word, is almost impossible, striving for some level of self reliance is not. And there are some important concepts here that are closely tied to sustainability.

The underlying concepts of self sufficiency and sustainability demands that we make the most of the resources that we have and we care for the environment around us because that is what supplies us with the necessary resources to go on about life. Living in such a way is also easy on the environment.

So, what is a person to do?

As it turns out, there are many different ways to accomplish the same thing. This is good because not every person wants to live the same way and each person has a different vision of what they would call “the good life”.

So, all this being said, what exactly are the options? While true self sufficiency is impossible, self reliance is not. If we don’t learn to be self sufficient on a global scale we are literally doomed. So what can we do?

Six Versions of Self Sufficiency

Basic Survival

There are plenty of people that like to focus on the impending apocalypse. They are waiting for the sudden and irreversible collapse of societal structure and the resultant chaos. They have underground bunkers, concrete homes up in the hills, stock piles of ammunition, and a three year supply of food.

Personally I think the end of the world is only going to happen once. In the mean time, severe drought, devastating forest fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disaster that put people in survival mode are much more frequent.

I mention this only because this is part of what some people focus on when you mention self sufficiency. I just place more importance on incorporating the skills of self reliance in my everyday life. But, that is next.

Self Reliance

This is likely the category that I fall into. Self reliant folks make attempts to depend on the infrastructure as little as possible. They strive to be in control of as many of their resources as possible. As for me, I live off of solar energy, haul in and filter my own water, compost waste, have a green house, raise my own chickens and turkeys, and cut my own firewood.

I am not 100% self sufficient but no one argue with my high level of self reliance. I am proud to say that after careful analysis, I discovered that my environmental impact is about 70% less than the average American. Yet, I do not expect anyone to live the way I do. What I do is my personal choice.

But, the underlying concept of self reliance dictates that you make the most of every resource available. This means you reduce your demand for and manage your available resources very carefully. By default, you also reduce your consumption of resources, which of course is good for the environment.

Green Living

The most simplistic definition of green living is making lifestyle choices and engaging in various practices that reduce your environmental impact. Minimizing your waste production, avoiding your use of plastics, taking reusable tote bags to the supermarket, and recycling all fall under this category. Obviously, these things are good for the environment.

Simply Living

Voluntary simplicity is aimed at avoiding our overly consumptive society by having a minimalist lifestyle, reducing your overall need for resources, and perhaps even living in a smaller home. People do this in various ways. I know people that do not even own a vehicle. They walk or take public transportation. But others approach this by dressing simply, eating simply, limiting their entertainment expenses, etc. I have even met people that sold their home and choose to live in a RV because it is simple and inexpensive.

Of course, a focus on simply living can be accomplished no matter where you are.

Again, all of these things are good for the environment. If you want to learn more about simplifying your life, then read my post The Importance of Simplifying Your Life. There are a number of good tips in that post that will point you in the right direction of simplifying your life.


When you mention this word people often conjure up the image of the pioneers roughing it out in the wilderness. However, as I stated earlier, we live in a very different world with very different challenges. Consequently, modern homesteading is often a marriage between old country skills and modern technology.

For example, I often refer to my place as a homestead. There is the original log cabin, built in true pioneer fashion, and there is the much more modern cabin. We also have a green house and a chicken barn. Everything is run off of solar and we have hot water and modern appliances.

Another version of this urban homesteading. Due to space limitations and maybe even municipal regulations, people will focus on intensive gardening techniques, conservative use of water, and plus or minus the chickens.

Living on the edge

This is a lifestyle where, by personal choice, people decide to live on the fringe so to speak. They may live in a small RV, a makeshift shelter, or a tent. The point being, their lifestyle is what I would call subsistence living. Life is extremely basic with essentially, there is nothing extra, and they are the epitome of frugality.

This is what I did when I first bought my property. I lived in a homemade 200 sq foot tent for 6 months until I built the log cabin. I was very poor at the time and lived this way out of necessity. But, over time I have continued to make improvements and now live off grid with a very high standard of living.

Final Comments

As you can plainly see, there are several versions of self sufficiency or self reliance. whatever term you want to use because both are often used interchangeably.

The important point here, there is no one size fits all. There is no right answer for everyone because people have different likes, dislikes, limitations, personal preferences, maybe even specific medical needs.

But, the bottom line here is that each of these lifestyles is good for the environment, it reduces your overall consumption of resources, and promotes a keen focus on sustainability.

The other important point here, and I make this abundantly clear in several of my blog posts. Whatever lifestyle you choose, if you are going to be in it for the long haul, you must focus on a reasonable standard of living. Otherwise, you will not stay with it.

I was just recently contacted by a guy through my blog who had some questions about living off the grid. And this guy was having some personal challenges. This is the point I made to him. If you are going to do this long term, you have to establish a decent standard of living. If not, you will get burned out and give up.

Additionally, it is that standard of living that gives each of us some feeling of security. Because at a subconscious level, all humans crave normalcy, routine, and familiarity. This is especially true during a disaster or some other stressful event. Small children carry stuffed animals and security blankets for comfort. As adults we mentally carry security blankets in the form of “having our own place”, or “waking up in our own bed”. We also find security in starting our day with our favorite coffee, tea, or some other food item.

My point here is that you can still have your security blanket while making some important changes in your lifestyle that promotes sustainability and self reliance

There are obviously options. Self reliance, green living, simply living, homesteading, even living on the edge and flat out focusing on the zombie apocalypse. Take your pick. There is something here for everyone.

Meaningful change starts with the individual. Then it grows to the community, then the state, then the nation and finally the entire planet.

While true self sufficiency may be impossible, self reliance is not. And the bottom line is that no matter what choice you make, a move toward self reliance is a move toward sustainability.

Not only that, it is a move toward more personal security. As some of you may know, I am adamant about maintaining the lifestyle that I have for a number of reasons. One of which is the simple fact that I do not want someone else to be in complete control of all of my resources.

What I am saying here, is that by making the choice for simple living, green living, homesteading, self reliance, or even living on the edge, you are making a move toward sustainability, personal security, and building a better future for our planet.

Self sufficiency may be impossible but it is also essential. True self sufficiency may be impossible but self reliance is not.

Go off grid and live well,


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