the beginner's guide to self-sufficiency

the beginner's guide to urban homesteading

Last week I wrote a post about minimalist prepping, and since then I’ve been thinking a lot about self-sufficiency and urban homesteading. Skills are life. In tough times, they literally can make the difference between who lives and dies, or less dramatically who will fare better if the power goes out for a month.

But more than that they create a wonderful foundation because there’s a wonderful simplicity in knowing how to make what you need. You don’t even need to use that knowledge to DIY your entire life. I don’t. But I could if I needed or wanted to, and that’s what matters. I’m not completely dependent on the systems set up in the world, although I still like and use them.

Besides this, self-sufficiency skills also connect us to all the people that came before who made stuff with their own hands. They are our lineage. I view us as living record keepers, learning from the previous generations and passing on what we know to the younger ones. But as time goes on this seems to become less and less true. We’re losing touch with our roots. I didn’t use to care anything about this, but since having R it’s become a near obsession of mine. Without roots, what do we really have?

Interestingly, there are 3 parts that make up our understanding of time: past, present, and future. We usually have the present and future part down perfectly. The past not so much. Learning skills can change this. They are the doorway to the stories, the people, the places, the times that have come and gone. We keep them alive by using our hands and making. This is our privilege and dare I say responsibility as mothers. I’ll dare.

I don’t know how far along the journey of learning traditional skills you are. Maybe you haven’t yet begun. Or maybe you’re like most people and don’t know where to start. I started a decade ago knowing only how to bake bread and sew a straight line on a sewing machine. Step by little step I built up my knowledge. That’s all it takes.

I did some looking back over the last decade and figured out the exact steps I took to get to where I am today. I thought it might be a tad-bit helpful to give you a map of sorts: start here, go here, then here, and there, and on and on. This isn't is a DIY or set of instructions- just a little roadmap with links to the exact books that I used at different stages of my learning.

I divided the skills into a hierarchy, and while you don't have to follow a bit of it, each level naturally builds on the one before it. You don’t really want to plant a garden before you’ve learned to sprout seeds, or sew a quilt before you can make a simple doll. Of course you can do whatever you want. You can take this list and work backwards if that’s more your style, but for most people it’s probably not the best progression :)

Self-Sufficiency Level 1:

  • Collect a few foundational pieces of cast iron. This is what I own here.

  • Buy a mortar and pestle. This is the one I have here.

  • Buy an apron just because.

  • Read Made from Scratch by Jenna Woganrich (This is what got me started with everything)

  • Read Urban Homesteading and Making It (The next 2 books I used), and Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide.

  • Read Shrubs.

  • Start a cookbook collection. Pick a few recipes a week and cook from scratch.

  • Bake bread.

  • Make homemade condiments (mustard, mayo, ketchup, bbq sauce, salad dressings)

  • Make Shrubs (A fermented drink made with vinegar)

  • Sprout seeds

  • Sew Steve the Cat from the book Denyse Schmidt Quilts (My first completed project on a sewing machine)

  • Learn to hand-stitch (wool felt and embroidery thread).

  • Make lip balm.

  • Make basic herbal medicines (infused honey, elderberry syrup, herbal infusions, simple tinctures, Fire Cider)

  • Start a small herb garden.

  • Learn to knit or crochet simple chains.

Self-Sufficiency Level 2:

Self-Sufficiency Level 3:

Self-Sufficiency Level 4 (I've never done these things):

  • Hunt

  • Fish

  • Raise rabbits for meat and fiber.

  • Keep growing larger and larger gardens.

Now it’s your turn to tell me what I missed. What are your go-to self-sufficiency skills? Let me know in the comments below :)

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