What Does Being Self Sufficient Mean?

I was talking about this with Mrs. Dirty Boots last night.

What exactly does being self sufficient mean?

I guess it means different things to different people. I would love for you to leave a comment after this post and let me know what it means to you.

EDIT: Please note that this is a long post. I seem to have got a little carried away. I believe it IS important though. Please read it and leave a comment about how you feel about it.

This article kind of sums up at least my attitude to the way we live here on our Spanish mountain. I talk about what it means for me to be more self sufficient and how we got to where we are now. Personally it is not about being a green guru but being more self reliant and although it is about frugal living in part, it is more about making the most of what we have, and changing it if we don’t like it.

What Being Self Sufficient Means To Me

Unfortunately a lot of it comes down to money. One of the larges problems with leading a more self sufficient life is the mortgage. Many of us own our own homes, or at least the bank does in reality, until we pay them off just before death.

Not to boast but we nailed that one when we were 31. We bought our first house when we were about 26 or so and then spent no money for the next 4 or 5 years.

This is something a lot of people are not prepared to do. We saved, we renovated and then we did the same thing another 2 times. Becoming mortgage free early in life meant a lot of sacrifices. We didn’t go out drinking or partying much. We put our money (yes we had jobs then) back in to renovating rough old houses and sold them. From making £5000 or so on the first one we jumped massively on our second one and made what seemed like a fortune.

Of course this is not so easy to do now but I wanted to point something out.

We had friends who always moaned that they couldn’t afford to buy houses yet they would be out every night peeing their money up the wall.


Was what I always thought, and said.

People simply aren’t willing to make sacrifices to get where they want to be. We have.

If you haven’t got money, don’t spend it. Yes I would love a compost tumbler or three but times are hard at the moment. We need to make sacrifices to get where we want and this is something many people do not do. Spending money is great, and trust me, if we had it we would spend some. What it comes down to is your priorities.

Do you want to buy a spanish stone cottage and live off grid like we do?

If you do, then why not work towards it. A sacrifice of a few or even five years could mean that you live the rest of your life how you really want to.

It is now the best part of a year since our money finally began to run out. Since then I spent countless hours learning how to make money writing online. You may remember the post the other day about how to make money writing. That took me nearly half a year to learn but learn it I did. It seems so obvious now but that’s life.

What Do You Want To Do?

I don’t often get too philosophical but this is it guys. No second go.

Do you want to sail around the world?

Do you just want to grow some veggies and spend a little less on trying to forget your working week on the weekend?

Change the job, save for the trip of a lifetime, or pack it all in and become a world wide traveller working on fruit farms for the next few years.

Whatever it is there is no reason why you can’t do it. Is there?

I don’t know your situation but you do. For us, we sacrificed spending and going out for a dream. Okay, our house is a long way from being finished but it will get there. We wake up to mountain views instead of another terraced house across the street and the fear of getting another brick through the window.

This is what being self sufficent means to us:

Growing Vegetables And Fruit

This is not just about saving money. We know where the majority of our fruit and veg comes from because we grow it. Well, maybe not the fruit yet but we are getting there.

Growing your own vegetables means you taste what food should really be like. You get funny shaped carrots, odd looking tomatoes and it tastes of something. This really does ground you and make you feel a part of nature. It is the best.

No Mortgage

Of course, this is next to impossible in the present climate. The days of renovating and selling on for lots of cash are behind us for the most part. But, is your house too big? Could you work less if you moved to something smaller or in a less affluent area?

Would that make life better or worse? I don’t know but you do.

Many people work all the hours they can (and hate it) just to pay off a mortgage. For me personally I hated going to work. It was like someone was sucking the life from me. I would rather work less and own a smaller house. Of course, now we work a lot of hours but we work for ourselves.

Working From Home

Many people enjoy their jobs and like going to work. For us a work from home lifestyle is perfect. We can spend time shouting at the Dogs, wondering why the chickens keep being scared of bread, cry because the tomatoes look funny again and all other joys of being on our own land when we wish.

If going to work for someone else fills youwith despair then get out of it.

Either follow what I wrote about and link to (top left) or find something else. For a few years I made a second full time income selling DVDs on Ebay. It is not possible now because it is too competitive but there are other ways to work from home selling on sites like ebay and Amazon.

Find a dropshipper and put things up for sale. You don’t need to spend a penny unless they sell. Become a Dog walker, use your imagination. There are a million ways to earn a living for yourself if you really hate going to work for others.

Learning New Skills To Be More Self Sufficient

Learning how to do things for yourself gives a tremendous sense of satisfaction. It also saves money. We have learnt how to install solar systems, build stone walls, plumb and wire a house.

Lay concrete, tile roofs, install windows, install septic tanks, grow vegetables, preserve produce, make a chicken house………….

Kill the chickens and eat them (never again, gave me nightmares).

A lot of the work would not garner much love from a profesional but it is satisfying to be able to do things for yourself.

Just trying something really can surprise you.

What Else Being Self Sufficient Means

Stop Wasting Water

In the UK I never really thought about water usage. Turn on the tap, magic. I love baths but now they are a total no no.

Why? Well partly because we have not got the room and mainly because we pay for our water as we use it. We have all our water delivered on a tractor. We pay 60 euros for 7 thousand litres so we try not to waste it.

But do you know what? Without even being frugal we don’t have to buy water for 8 or 9 months of the year. This is simply because we collect the rain water of the roof in a large 7 thousand litre tank under the living room. When it is full we pump it up to our holding tanks at the top of the land.

And this is in Spain.

Surely people in other countries could collect rain water in tanks or a collection of water butts and use it to service the house?

I never thought about it in the UK but now I we ever moved back (no way) I would dig a massive hole in the garden and get off the main water supply. Anywhere where it rains even a little can be almost self sufficient in water quite easily.

All you need is a pump to pump it back to the house. Easy.

When you find out how things really work it is amazing how conscious of waste and cost you are.

Being Self Sufficient In Electricity

I won’t even pretend that those in many areas or countries can be self sufficient in electricity. The cost of the initial installation makes it impossible. Our system is far from perfect and if I could do it over again I would make considerable changes. However, with four panels we have had plenty of electricity all Summer, and that means a laptop running all day and the TV in the evenings.

Maybe you can’t be self sufficient for all your power but you can get inexpensive solar panels and at least generate some of your own electric.

Eating Seasonally

When we lived in the UK we had a routine much like everyone else. Go to the supermarket every week and buy the same old stuff every week. Boring.

It meant we ate the same type of meals all year round. You can buy the same vegetables and fruits from supermarkets whatever the time of year.

It leads to un-inspiring cooking and a set number of meals.

Growing your own vegetable really changes that. You want to eat what you grow so you look at different menu ideas and you end up cooking a much larger range of meals (well, I mostly do the eating). The cook books are always out to search for a new menu for whatever  is ready in the veg plot at the moment.

It really does make such a difference to try to be selff sufficient in vegetables. You eat seasonally and we feel kind of like we let ourselves down if we buy more than a few potatoes and the odd pepper from the local market.

Try to grow your own if you can. Apart from anything else it really does open up a whole new world of recipe ideas, and the taste is fantastic.

Being Self Sufficient Means Not Throwing Food Away, Ever

I watched something the other day and it said that in the UK about a third of  all food purchased was thrown away. Don’t quote me on that but is was a ridiculous number.

We have composted for years and this just seems crazy. I know lots of new initiatives are coming in that try to get people to put their food waste seperately so it can be composted by local councils but why do we not do it ourselves?

Either give left over food to the Dog, get some Chickens, or make a compost bin. Better yet, buy the best composter and let me make some money. Which brings me on the the next point.

Being Honest To Earn A Living?

Many people involved in becoming more self sufficient seem to be almost evangelical in their supposed purity of purpose. Never mind that they spend their lives driving to and from work every day, spend their money getting hammered on the weekends to get over the weeks work, which is for some planet consuming producer of unnecessary goods.

I try not to judge people, each  to their own. I just find it dishonest. Some people have seen TV shows where someone wants to build an environmentally friendly house. They buy a plot of land with a house on it, knock it down, and build an eco friendly house made from knitting and locally grown organic grass.

It’s dishonest. That person has gone to work every day in a high paying job, knocked down a property and wasted money on a new build and they say they want to be more ecologically sound. Why not be honest and upfront and state that

“Yes, I know this is not eco or part of being self sufficient but I want a new big house and I would rather it had a lower impact on the climate and resources.”

For me it does not add up.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not honest in what I/we do either. Any regulars will now know that we make our money writing blogs etc and trying to make money from writing in general. Life is a contradicition isn’t it?

I talk about things that I have no real interest in on occasion as it brings in the money. I know this though. I see it as working in a shop and selling stuff that I don’t like personally.

I don’t pretend I am helping to save the planet by getting people to buy stuff but it is them or us I am afraid. What seems to be happening is that people want to preach about the virtues of being self sufficient but still spend stupid amounts of money on everything apart from the vegetables that they grow.

I know this may come across as slightly superior but it is not my intention. I just wish we could be more honest about what we really think. If we simply like growing veg or being off grid why can’t we simply say that without having to tell everyone else that they MUST do the same. We all have our own philosophies about life. Let’s just be honest about it.

Are We Self Sufficient?

Fairly. I don’t know if anyone can be really. We all rely on the modern world and the many ways it can improve our lives. We need money to get by.

We do pretty well at providing for ourselves but we are totally broke and loving it. We love our veggies, our composting, being off grid and now working for ourselves. The Internet may not be exactly green but personally I am not so much intersted in being green as being self reliant.

You won’t like this but I am still totally undecided about the whole environmental issue full stop. Are we ruining the planet , in some ways yes. Are our actions going to destroy it? I just do not know.

For me at least leading a self sufficient lifestyle was partially an accident because of where we live. It really brings it home to you when you have to order water in a foreign language just to have a shower and when you actually now know how much electric you consume because you have a little meter telling you how low your batteries are getting.

So, what is your world view. Want to share your plans on becoming more self reliant?

Anyway, just wondered.

What does being self sufficient mean to you? Do you have a plan to get there?

For a more self sufficient future

21 Responses to “What Does Being Self Sufficient Mean?”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Chris says:

    Your post made me thoughtful.

    Can’t say I disagree with it.

  2. Goo says:

    Wow! That was an interesting and honest (and brave!) post. I agreed with a great deal of what you said, like you we paid off our mortgage through sheer grit and determination even if it meant making sacrifices. We didn’t like the feeling of being owned. What does interest me is that your concept of self-sufficiency doesn’t ever really mention community. I like being part of my community – we couldn’t ever be truly self-sufficient by ourselves but it is a more realistic goal at a community level with so many more resources -including human ones to pool.

    Thanks again for such candid writing.

    • Hi Goo,

      I guess we are a bit isolated here although we do do some communal stuff. Mostly when it comes to killing chickens, which I don’t really want to do any more.

  3. Goo says:

    Can’t say I blame you.

  4. Justin says:

    I also think being self sufficient is as they say “in the eyes of the beholder”.

    If you think you are self sufficient, then you are. For example, I may live on $20,000 dollars a year and my neighbor lives on $2000. We can both consider ourselves self sufficient and both be right. It’s about your own perception and personal goals.

    Another great post that gets us all thinking, thanks

    • Justin,

      Too true, we all need to live within our means. The thing is when people spend what they do not have for items that are superfluous. Trying to live within whatever means you have is key.Reminds me of a tv program we saw on satellite recently where they were talking about families that were classed as living beneath the poverty line in the UK. They all had big flat screen tv’s! And here we are with a small portable.

  5. Living says:


    We live in an interdependent world. Since our beginning, coming down out of the trees and beginning to walk across the savanna, to survive, we lived in groups.

    Today we can live alone and be completely isolated in a giant metropolis.

    Many decades have gone by for me. More than six. In that time I have done what my family, peers, government said I should do. I worked hard, too hard. I had over forty different jobs putting myself through advanced education. Eight Universities, twelve years, culminating in a Ph.D.

    Along the way I worked for the government behind the iron curtain. I spied, I was shot at. I became a Child Protection Officer for the state, I saw mans inhumanity to man. The arrogance and failure of government. Worked with mean lazy arrogant doctors in emergency rooms, with police, and judges who did not care, and in many ways were more threatening and harmful than the abusive parents. And the social administration was a cold harsh uncaring bureaucracy, that did little to help people in need.

    I got sick. Took my heart out and put it back. I finally retired. I bought a big sailboat and sailed long distances and learned that large ships on computer auto-pilot will run you down. That ports, docking, and food cost way too much money, and that storms can sink a sailboat, even if it is 45 feet long.

    I lived on a 1500 acre ranch in the Colorado mountains for two years. I packed in supplies up onto the mountain, and with limited electricity, I lived alone and did not speak to another human being in two years.

    Being alone and isolated and totally self sufficient isn’t what one dreams it could be. Not for me. I finally screamed out loud at my own constant thoughts, and climbed back down off the mountain.

    Always eccentric, always a loner, always independent, always following the beat of my own drum, in this life, when able and free from other peoples orders, I have always done what I wanted to do.

    I traveled the world. I met people of many languages. I lived in Germany for five years. I worked, worked, worked, at many jobs, and now I eke out an existence in sin city. Packed in crowded rooms and surrounded with 40 years of writing. Manuscripts completed, work already performed, now being edited and published for the world to read.

    Am I self sufficient? Do I raise my own vegetables, own my own land mortgage free? Yes and no. I have several places I could go to live, but most have a mortgage. Some do not. On the ranch I could live totally isolated and self sufficient. I tried that, and my thoughts brought me back to people.

    Does one need companionship to survive? The answer is yes. No one I know can live without a friend or companion. To sustain ones mental health, one must have at least one good friend. I found that out.

    How many people do you talk to or really have? So impersonal to use the internet for an added companion. I have one.

    We put on a persona, an image, but is it a real one? I speak to no one in person, live completely isolated except for my friend. Yet the name I go under and the stories that are published are read by many.

    As an artist, a part of me will live on. The rest of me will soon disappear.

    To be self sufficient, truely self sufficient is an impossibility.


    • bets says:

      Self sufficient to me would not be living alone. Its the way of doing things on your own. Not counting on everyone else to do things for you. I do believe we need people. Kind of how families used to always help out there families years ago. Now its more like you move away from home and you forget who your family is. I truly want to learn as much as possible. I do not mean learning from text books. I mean learning how to live. Learn how I can help out my family on something as simple as making my own breads. It shoulden’t mean you have to put on a image, its just your helping everyone out by sharing your knowlege that people used to know years ago and have forgotten. I dont like the thought of working hard at a job to give that money away to someone else for something I can do on my own. People tend to think if you don’t have an education you don’t have good advise to share because your not smart enough. Well instead of filling my head with what textbooks tell me what is the right way to think (which most of those end up wrong) I want to do what I know is right. Which right now Im NOT close to being self sufficient as some would call it. Im just trying to really educate myself on the right path to go down. Baby steps I say I am taking. I make my own laundry soap, garden and have chickens. Stuff like that. I am not into making money, I know that sounds crazy. Yes people say we NEED money to live. To a point. People get so caught up in needing money they forget about living life. Don’t forget to help others, and truly help others. Not the kind of thing where you help someone and then hold out your hand and expect something in return. Which I not at all saying you do this, I don’t even know you I just happened to hit reply on your page cause I found it interesting. Its easy to tell people what they should do but we all should know we cant do that because we have no idea how it is to be them. Well Im just writting to much now, there is way to much in my head to write down. If anyone has any great webpages to go to please let me know. This one is great, thank you Mr. Dirty Boots for sharing. I love the rain water idea. Right now I just use smaller jugs to save my rain water. I need to think on a larger scale like you did.

    • Sherald says:


  6. t&z says:

    Did you speak Spanish before you chose Spain?
    How did you choose your location (wherever that is) ? Did you think about local water sources, position above sea level, amount of sun versus rain, suitability of the soil, proximity to neighbors and amenities (especially hospitals), social acceptance (assuming you’re not Spanish), potential legal issues (land, taxes etc), schooling (if you [will]have kids) ?
    Have you been tempted to move back to “civilization” ?
    What happens when you’re a bit old to till the land ?
    How much bandwidth do you get ? (hey, these things are important!)

    We’re on the cusp of making the kinds of change you already have. Any help appreciated. It’s pretty daunting.


    • T and Z, we kind of just jumped in. We were just over thirty and were just “Hey, if we don’t like it we will move somewhere else”.

      We wanted somewhere in the mountains with no neighbours and that was about it. Soil can always be improved although ours is very good luckily. We beagn learning Spanish before we came but are still learning now, which needs to be sorted out.

      Never been tempted to move back, urgh.

      We use Iberbanda which seems to be everywhere now. We get 512kbs which is more than good enough, and you are right it is important.

      But honestly we just jumped in and did it, life is too short to put it off if you want to make a change. I say just go for it.

      Hope you do decide to go for it if that is what you want.

      Let me know how it goes.

      All the best.

  7. Paul Stevens says:

    Hello, I just wanted to introduce you to our back to basics General Store at http://www.cottagecrafworks.com We were just featured in the March issue of Outdoor Life, but we also carry over 1000 back to basic Amish and Cottage made products to help live a more self sufficient lifestyle.

  8. bill davis usa says:

    being self-sufficienct is working to live not living to work

  9. CharityP says:

    Most of what you said is how I feel about it too. I have been a dabbler and hobbyist for years but this last year I took the leap toward making major changes in our lifestyle. A big part of that was getting my husband on board. The biggest challenge for us has not been eating seasonally, conserving water or energy, making, baking or preserving etc. It has been removing ourselves from the consumer culture.

    My husband is a techno-geek. He likes all the latest and greatest gadgets and loves to spend on credit. By impressing upon him how important it is for us to get out of debt, he has scaled back and is more receptive to more eco-friendly alternatives (solar panels are gadgets too!) and spending smartly.

    Something charles said in his comment also resonated with me. Being self-sufficient is about doing things for yourself but it doesn’t mean doing it alone. For me it’s about community and helping our whole community become more resilient. I also happen to be very lucky that I live in a small town near lush farmland and the ocean in a warm maritime climate where everyone has a garden, chickens and knows how to preserve food.

    I belong to a group that gathers regularly to share knowledge, seeds and extra produce, barter for goods or provide services via the time bank. We have free skilling workshops so anyone can learn about topics from fermenting to installing a cistern. Becoming an active member in my community has given me more satisfaction and sense of security than any of my other projects combined.

    I could go on and on but that’s what is currently on my mind 🙂

  10. Heather says:

    Thanks for writing this! Lots to think about! Being self sufficient isn’t black and white…it’s not a do-it-all or don’t-bother situation,

    I am a stay at home Mom with three lovely homeschooled children, two dogs, and a hard working husband (who, thankfully, loves his job). We live in a modest sized home, our two girls do share a bedroom so that the extra room can be used for a sewing/arts/crafts/school supply room. We homeschool, and we garden (more and more every year), and we are gradually becoming more and more self sufficient.

    I am finding that the more we become self-sufficient, the less stress we seem to feel. We are young parents, and we are on pace to have our mortgage paid off before either of us turn 40. We have actually lost friends over our choices not to give in to peer pressure and move into the bigger house, and send me to work and the kids back to public school just to get by! That said, we have now started to pick up like-minded friends who are eager to share produce and share in ours (one family can only eat so many apricots!) My husband has started buying our farm fresh eggs from a co-worker, as we aren’t allowed to have chickens within city limits.

    One of the best and most rewarding things we do to be self-sufficient is canning! I find that when people hear ‘canning’ they assume I am making oodles of pickles and jams and that’s it! Though we do make a variety of jams, we also make black forest preserves, bbq sauces, HP sauce, Ketchup, relish, fruit canned in local honey, chicken wing sauce, and much much more. All of this is made from produce created on our 1/3 of an acre…I maybe a quarter of our property for food production.

    It’s really satisfying to have friends over to bbq in the summer, and serve burgers made from pork or beef from the animals we purchase from 4H auctions in the fall for meat, lettuce, onion, and tomatoes from our garden, relish and ketchup made from produce from our garden, and bbq sauce from my own canning recipe! They RAVE about the flavours!

    This years’ project is building three 4ftx8ft raised cold frames, so we can grow cold tolerant vegetables year round!

  11. Kiki says:

    This is something I want to do. I live in a small city and hate it. I planted a garden and will can as much as possible. I had always been a country girl growing up but after a bad marriage that I stayed in for 27 years and then 5 years later finding the man of my dreams we live in the home he grew up in but the area has changed and not for the better. We are debt free now and saying to get land and a small home to live as close to off the grid as we can.

  12. diana says:

    After reading your posts on living self suffiently I was intrigued I am going to give it a go we have a space to run chooks and ducks and a vege patch .

  13. Angela says:

    I enjoyed reading your post! I’m learning there are many ways to be self-sufficient, but I too realize that’s defined differently for everyone. For some, it’s going to a 9-5 job, spending frugally, and laying up supplies. For others it’s living off-grid and working towards the kind of self-sufficiency that has them completely off-grid, i.e. growing textile crops to weave their own cloth for clothing, making their own shoes, growing all of their food, blacksmithing to make tools, etc. As far as eco-friendly living goes, being your own black-smith, for example, means you have to do some mining to get the metals you need. If everyone across the globe did this, would it possibly balance out to be the same as all of the industrialized mining and metal factories? Maybe we’d do better because we’re not doing it to amass wealth for ourselves as these factories do for the few at the top… I don’t know. While I do wonder at times about the validity of the science that forcasts global warming doom-and-gloom, I’m not a scientist studying climate change. Whether the scientists have it right or wrong, it seems like a good idea to be good stewarts over this one planet we call home. If we do the best we can, enjoy life, whether alone or with others, and treat everyone the way we want to be treated, regardless of physical or philisophical differences, I think we’ll be okay. Unfortunately, we still have a ways to go when it comes to living the “Golden Rule” – or let’s say, to account for all versions of the golden rule across the globe, “The Ethics of Reciprocity.” Maybe I’m foolishly optimistic, but I have hope that we will get there, living in a peaceful, self-sufficint, ecofriendly, even scientifically/technically advanced way.

  14. Iuval Clejan says:

    Gandhi and his compatriots saw that it was important to be inter-sufficient with a village, not self-sufficient, which is impossible. Imagine instead of relying on industrial global technology, that a few hundred people commit to producing everything for themselves and each other. That is a different mindset than the homesteading mindset. You have to think about producing lumber, nails, screws, glass, window screens, toilet paper, tools, etc (or substitutes). But that is the easy part, since it just requires pre-industrial skills and the ability to network people. The had part is getting the commitment from others to produce for each other and to buy/trade/gift from each other.

  15. Iuval Clejan says:

    Angela, not everyone has to be a blacksmith. One blacksmith for a village of a few hundred or even a few thousand should be enough. Also, the metals don’t necessarily have to be mined. They can be recycled from junkyards.