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 went out for a month.
But more than that they create a foundation of simplicity 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 sure 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 use them.
These are all important facts, but here’s my favorite: 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 human 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?
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. What this isn't is a DIY instructional. For that, I link out 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. You can, it’s just 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.
Start a cookbook collection. Pick a few recipes a week and cook from scratch.
Make homemade condiments (mustard, mayo, ketchup, bbq sauce, salad dressings)
Make Shrubs (A fermented drink made with vinegar)
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:
DIY cleaning products
DIY shampoo, lotions, and deodorant.
Cultivate a ginger bug and make ginger beer.
Make root beer.
Make herbal liquors and infused alcohols.
Sew the doll from The Making of a Rag Doll.
Learn to knit or crochet squares and scarves.
Self-Sufficiency Level 3:
Learn how to make a quilt.
Learn to identify local edible and medicinal plants.
Can and preserve food.
Keep backyard chickens.
Raise worms for compost.
Grow fruit trees.
Expand your garden.
Keep branching out with your knit or crochet skills.
Self-Sufficiency Level 4 (I've never done these things):
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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