In a perfect world, we’d all have plenty of time to prepare for emergencies and increase our self-sufficiency to be more resilient. The reality is that we have limited time available to devote to homesteading since our responsibilities to our families and employers get preference.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be totally self-sufficient to be better prepared to navigate challenging times. But you do need to be creative and open to new ideas. If you battle being creative, we share a few self-sufficiency hacks that you can follow right away.
Ensure Your Food Supply
In difficult times, most people immediately think of growing a garden for food as a self-sufficiency hack. But if you don’t already have great soil and all the tools and seeds you need sitting around waiting to be used, this is not easy to do in an emergency. Luckily there are some great alternatives.
1. Join a CSA
Rather than racing to start a garden, form a relationship with a local farmer. Many farmers offer CSA’s or community-supported agriculture shares.
Basically, you buy a subscription to fresh vegetables in the same way you would a magazine. You pay in advance, then each week for the duration of the CSA, you get a box of in-season vegetables.
Sometimes you even get more in your subscription that you can use in a week. By freezing any extras you can start to create a back-up food supply.
2. Find Farmer’s Seconds
CSA members, ora farmer’s best customers, will also be first on the list for farmer’s seconds. These are the less than perfect vegetables and fruits that don’t make it to market but can be perfect for canning or freezing.
These are usually sold at a discounted price. If you properly preserve them, they can keep for up to a year and save you from extra trips to the supermarket.
3. Order Meat in Advance
After starting a garden, lots of people also think of buying livestock. This is a great idea, except it takes several months to get livestock to maturity. Plus, you may need to build shelters, and find breeding stock, which can take a while.
In the meantime, consider ordering your meat from local farms in advance and in bulk as a self-sufficiency hack.
Livestock farmers who sell products at the farmers’ markets are often willing to sell you half a hog or a quarter of a cow. You can get those portions whole and make your own cuts. Or you can still have them pre-packaged as you would usually get at the store. You’ll just get bulk packages of all the cuts that came from the part of the animal you purchased.
Making large orders stocks your freezer quickly. Also, you can get things like lard and organ meat to begin learning how to use all the parts of an animal.
Chicken sellers also often take pre-orders on whole birds. Whole birds are usually a little cheaper than packaged cuts. Plus, since they are small, it’s easy enough to do the cutting yourself. Those bones are awesome for bone stock too, which we explain in this article how to make chicken stock, and its benefits and versatility.
4. Grow Your Greens
Even though it will take you some time to get a full staple garden in place, growing some green things like sprouts on the counter, come and cut lettuce, and herbs is a great way to get started.
Mustard greens, cilantro, arugula, radish, and baby lettuce can be ready to harvest in four weeks. These won’t contribute all your calories, but they can give you a constant supply of phytonutrients and vitamins.
Read our post on fast-growing vegetables to get started right away.
Self-sufficiency hacks isn’t all about doing it yourself. It’s mostly about creating mutually beneficial co-dependent relationships. For example, when you garden, you don’t actually grow your plants. Nature does, but you facilitate the conditions to make nature’s job easy.
5. Be a Good Neighbor
Similar to cultivating a garden, one of the best ways to improve your self-sufficiency in a hurry is to cultivate good relationships. Just like it’s better to have your garden right outside your door, local relationships tend to be better for building self-sufficiency. So, think about your near neighbors, your local officials, retailers in your area, and more.
Recently we had an abundance of cucumber and it was a pleasure sharing it with my neighbors. No doubt when they have an abundance of something or hear of a big bargain such as bread being thrown out, they will notify us in turn. Read this post on feeding bread to pigs.
Create Barter Networks
Money is about the least self-sufficient tool I know of. If you lose your job or can’t report to work, and suddenly find yourself without cash, you’ll know what I mean. But in real emergencies and even in daily self-sufficient life, having lots of money doesn’t have to be a necessity.
If you set up barter networks within your local community then you can trade in other currencies such as time, skills, things you have extra of, and more.
6. Barter Your Time
For example, in Japan, time is so precious that people often set up care share networks. They trade off taking care of each other’s kids and even elderly parents.
7. Barter Your Skills
Among my group of friends, we use our homesteading skills to provide shiitake mushrooms, eggs, and dairy products. Other friends do the wood-working, auto repairs, and tool repair. Even though we may not be able to meet up, we use email and designated drop-off procedures to continue sharing our skills.
8. Barter Your Extras
I grow a huge garden. Most of my staple crops I keep and store. But non-durable things like lettuce and herbs, plus seeds, plant starts, and more, I love to share with others. Meanwhile, since I’m not much of a shopper, people in my network tend to pass along things to me like nearly new clothing, electronics, and other stuff I can’t afford on my homestead budget.
We don’t tend to do strict accounting when sharing goods because it can be hard to value you these things. In fact, we often just call our network a gift economy because we give each other what we have to give. Remarkably, I often end up with exactly what I need when I need it.
During some emergencies, direct contact may not be possible. But drop locations and safe handling protocols can be established.
Think Outside the Box
One of the things that always amazes me when I am broke, or can’t get the things through normal routes, is how narrow my thinking is. Toilet paper, for example, is scarce these days. So, people are suddenly coming up with all sorts of alternatives. Homemade bidets, reused cloth diapers and old t-shirts, the endless leaf supply, and more – all can be used as self-sufficiency hacks.
If you take a little time to get creative, you can find great solutions to meet ordinary needs without going to the store.
9. Pet Care Toys and Treats
People spend inordinate amounts of money on their pets. But in an emergency, pet care items might be scarce. Though we may think our pets are so picky that they can’t adapt, the truth is they do, and usually within a week or two.
Make Pet Toys
Old shoes, knotted ropes, felted sweaters, and more can all be repurposed into pet toys to entertain your animals. See our post on how to repurpose a T-shirt for a couple of great ideas.
Make Pet Treats
Save the juice from those cans of tuna you are eating to aromatize the cooked high-protein eggs cats won’t otherwise eat. Use the broth from your dinner to improve the flavor of non-preferred dog food or home-baked dog bones. Dehydrate leftover fish or grisly meat parts using your oven to create chew treats.
For more ideas, we share 21 healthy homemade dog food ideas.
10. Kick the Cat Litter Habit
You can make your own cat litter by using all your junk mail, computer paper, newspapers and cardboard. Have your kids tear it into strips to keep them busy. Wet it, tamp it dry, then coat it with baking soda to absorb odors. Let it dry, then tear it into smaller bits pieces and use it as a litter substitute.
In industrialized countries, medical care is so easy to get, and many people have such low co-payments, that we often outsource even basic home medical care. We see doctors for things like colds, sprains, cuts, and more.
If you increase your medical knowledge to be able to identify when you really need a doctor and when it’s safe to self-treat, you can cut down on doctor visits while building your confidence.
11. Learn Herbal Medicine
Reputable herbal medicine instructors will tell you clearly what you can and can’t heal at home. They’ll also often teach you how to use products you already have such as garlic, honey, alcohol, and more so you don’t have to buy lots of expensive herbs to increase self-sufficiency.
Many herbal schools have a free introduction to herbal medicine courses available online. These are teasers to help you decide if that school of thought is right for you. Even if you don’t pursue higher learning, those free basic courses can make you more capable of treating minor ailments at home, which is a perfect self-sufficiency hack.
12. Learn First Aid
There are also lots of online first aid classes you can take to teach you how to address and triage wounds.
13. Stock Your Alternative First Aid Kit
Once you know the basics of first aid and home health care, then you can also stock your own first aid kit with homemade products. For example, the point of a bandage is to stop blood flow and protect a wound. Sterile t-shirt strips can work just as well as store-bought stuff in an emergency. Homemade salves can heal burns.
It’s better to prepare some first aid supplies early, rather than during an emergency. So, take a look at what you’ve got, determine what you need, then find suitable substitutes using things you already have on hand.
We do have a review on survivalist emergency kits if you want to order one online to supplement the substitutes you created, although I admit, some of these kits are more suited to a Zombie Apocolypse than a virus pandemic!
Self-Sufficiency Hacks for Personal Care
Taking good care of yourself is one of the best things you can do to become more self-sufficient. You don’t need memberships at fancy gyms or expensive products to be healthy.
14. Free Workouts
Some of the most effective workouts require no equipment at all. Squats, push-ups, sit-ups and more can all be done in just a few square feet of space and a couple of minutes of free time. Stretching too can be done anywhere without any tools except time.
15. Vitamin D
Getting enough sunlight is a critical component in long-term good health. Roll up your sleeves and let your arms soak up 15 minutes of sunlight so your body can make free vitamin D. Even just sitting in a south-facing window or stepping outside for a few minutes of light can make a big difference in how you feel.
16. Practice Aromatherapy
This is a lovely self-sufficiency hack – you don’t need expensive essential oils or aerosolized diffusers to enjoy a wide variety of aromas. Just hit your spice rack.
Smell a different spice each day. Savor the aroma, describe it, think about where it was grown, its history. Recall happy memories that you have related to that spice.
Our sense of smell is often overlooked when we spend so much time on our computers staring at monitors. Taking an aromatherapy break using things you already have can help you relax and escape even when you don’t have the time or means for travel.
Value What You Have
Most of us have so much in our homes that might help us along the path to self-sufficiency already. We stuff things in closets, garages, and basements and forget that we even have them.
We also throw so much away that might otherwise be useful. These can all be tools to be used as self-sufficiency hacks.
17. Take Stock
Before you worry about trying to start new projects or buying more things, take stock of what you have. Do a Marie Kondo style clean-up to organize what you have on hand. But rather than throwing out what you don’t need, or that doesn’t spark joy, re-purpose it.
Turn old clothes into cleaning supplies, curtains, even pant leg planters. Random containers can be drilled with drainage holes and used as pots. Things you can’t be used can be bartered among your community.
18. Trim the Trash
Single-use plastics can have a new life if you clean them. No bread bag leaves our homestead without being reused multiple times to hold leftovers, our own home-baked bread or to insulate plants while they are germinating.
An easy self-sufficiency hack is to turn tin cans into scoops for garden supplies or even kitchen supplies like beans and flowers that are bought in bulk.
19. Compost like Crazy
If you aren’t already composting, there’s no time like the present. All that paper you are putting into the trash can be used as your browns. Kitchen scraps are your greens. Even if you don’t use it, compost is garden gold and can be bartered just like other items.
Our Last Self-Sufficiency Hack – Gratitude
My final tip was inspired by a friend. In tough times, her family has a morning gratitude conversation. They share the things they are grateful to have rather than focusing on what they don’t have.
20. Focus on the Positive
My mom grew up dirt poor. But she didn’t know it because her mother never talked about what they didn’t have. She made a big deal about what they did have.
If you focus on all the things you don’t have or can’t do, you’ll be miserable. If you instead celebrate what you are capable of and can do, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.
A large part of self-sufficiency hacks is simply letting go of unnecessary wants to make time for meeting real needs. If you practice shifting your focus to the positive – what you have to work with – you’ll discover you are already much further along the path to self-sufficiency than you originally thought.