— Chinese Proverb
When you mention “self-reliance,” it tends to conjure up images of an off-grid homestead on 10 to 20 acres, growing most (if not all) your own food, drinking pure water from your own well, and having a great place to hunker down while weathering the coming storms as the world goes through trying times. However wonderful this image of self-reliance may be, and much as it may be a terrific goal to strive for, for one reason or another it is probably out of reach for many of us.
If you are one of those that has made this vision a reality for themselves and family, that is terrific. However, if your job, finances, family commitments, etc., have thwarted or delayed your dreams for this kind of total self-reliance, you don’t have to wait until you can afford that 20 acre parcel. You can start working where you are now to build and nurture self-reliant living skills that are sure to provide you with more peace of mind and improved health, and will most likely be of great personal benefit during the coming decades of global challenge and change (see The Perfect Storm: Six Trends Converging on Collapse).
There are a number of obviously valuable self-reliant skills and tools one might develop, such as growing a vegetable garden or installing a renewable energy system on your home or business. But there are also many other less obvious ways in which you can develop and nurture your self-reliant skills. A good place to start is by learning how to fix things yourself, rather than simply throw them away. When I was a child in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, pretty much everything we used and consumed in our daily life were still made in America, and almost all of that was made to be repaired, not just thrown away. When an item is manufactured, far greater inputs in the form of energy and raw materials go into making most items than meets the eye, and far more waste is generated in manufacturing and refining these raw materials than just that item sitting in front of you. For example, according to a UN University study, 1.8 tons of raw materials are used to manufacture the average PC, and most of these materials are dumped somewhere as waste. So, when you repair an item rather than throwing it “away,” you are reducing your consumption and ecological footprint on the planet. It often seems hardly worth your time to sew a split seam on an item of clothing, upgrade a computer, or repair an appliance, but fixing something yourself, or spending a few bucks for someone else to fix it, is one more way of Doing the Right Thing. Another area of self-reliance that most of us can easily incorporate into our daily life, and improve upon, is taking responsibility for our own health and healing. Rather than waiting for our health to degenerate, then running to the doctor for drugs and procedures to fix the problem, we can develop our natural and alternative healing repertoire of tools and techniques while working in parallel on a building a lifestyle based upon healthy whole fresh organic foods, exercise, and cleansing routines (such as fasting) to help insure that we will have the strength, stamina, and balanced health to be self-reliant when we need it. In today’s world of nearly instantaneous jet travel from all corners of the world, combined with the gross overuse of antibiotics among the general population as well as the animals grown in modern factory farms, the risk may be greater than ever for global pandemic due to emerging viruses or antibiotic resistant super bugs. Building a repertoire of alternative healing skills and herbal remedies may very well someday save your life or the life of your loved ones (see When a Superbug Strikes Close to Home, How Can You Deal With It?). A third area of self-reliance that is rather inexpensive and simple to develop is the field of disaster prep and emergency preparedness. In many ways, emergency preparedness is like car insurance. No one drives down the freeway thinking, “Gee, I think I want to get into a head on collision today!” But if an accident should happen (perhaps someone is talking on their cell phone, runs a red light, and broadsides your car?) you thank God you have insurance to cover the situation. With disaster prep, it is much the same—few of us want a disaster to happen, but if we have put together a simple 72 hour grab-and-run kit, along with a disaster plan (don’t just plan, but practice it too!) then we will be far ahead of the crowd. And if that day should ever come when we need it, you won’t have to risk drinking scummy unfiltered and unsafe ditch water and may well be able to provide help to many others along your path. I also highly recommend you take a first aid and CPR class, if you have not done so already. Luckily I have never had to use my CPR skills, but my fist aid skills have come in handy on numerous occasions! Another area of self-reliant skills that is relatively easy and fun to develop is your back country skills. There is nothing like backpacking for a weekend (or longer) to quickly teach you which items are critical and which are unnecessary. In many disasters, the luxuries that we take for granted quickly disappear, like automotive transportation, hot and cold running water, and local groceries stores stocked with plentiful provisions. It is at these times that back country skills and the ability to forage for food, while carrying basic supplies and provisions on your back, can make the difference between life and death, or extreme suffering and relative ease/comfort. If you have never camped or backpacked, or have not done so since you were a child, I suggest you take it slow by starting with some easy car camping before attempting an overnight backpacking trip. There is nothing like spending some quality time in the wilderness to rekindle your connection with Mother Earth, building awe and respect for the natural world that surrounds us, and upon which all life depends! I encourage you to make the development of your self-reliant skills, tools, and supplies a fun, satisfying, and personally empowering life-long adventure! This article appeared originally on Mother Earth News. Mat Stein is the author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency.