What exactly is self sufficiency, anyway? Why might community be important? What products can your character make at home? What will your character need to ask themself? Find out on this episode. 

Welcome to Writing Rural with Alley, the fiction writer’s weekly inspiration station for rural life and lifestyles, from historical to post-apocalyptic, helping you bring your rural stories to life! I’m Alley, and this is episode #65, Self-Sufficiency, The Mindset (Part 1). Stick around to the end to find out all the ways things could possibly go wrong. Now, let’s get into this.

Self-sufficiency is defined as not relying on the government, grocery store, family, friends, or anyone else to meet your character’s needs. Your character can or will at least try their best to do all they can for themselves. 

Now true self-sufficiency is almost impossible in modern times, and a group of like-minded people joining together to help each other out is often what happens. This is called community sufficiency. The best example of this is the Amish communities. Other examples I have heard of are farmers plowing and planting for their follow farmer that is injured, and couldn’t do that for a few weeks. Even a community coming together to help after a house fire is an example. 

That said, it is physically possible to be fully self-sufficient, but many times this looks like doing without in some area. In history, people bartered and traded. So maybe your character has eggs and their neighbor makes candles. Logically, trading would give each of them what they needed, but if they did not trade, one would have to eat and bake with something other than eggs, while the other might not have light in the winter.

Now, I’m going to talk about this in a more modern sense, but this can easily apply in history. Adjust however your story needs. 

First up on the mindset list is to minimize. Ok, I know it is a trend at the moment, but you do not truly need 872 nick-knacks and 82 color coded bins that no one uses. Of course there are things you need, but if you have not used it in the last year, you likely don’t need it. Your character can donate what they don’t need. 

Now there are some things that this rule doesn’t apply to. There are seasonal clothing options. Another is baby stuff. If your character already had a baby, and plans to have more, they might store it until it is needed again. A crib will work for many more years than one child would use it. Personally, I can’t stand to get rid of blankets. Unless that thing has a giant whole, it can still be used, and even then, it can still be repurposed. More on repurposing in part two of this series. 

Only you can decide what your character will need. Why do I feel like I just gave a Smoky the Bear line? One of the best ways for your character to decide is to have them ask two important questions. “do I need this?” and, “Do I need this, REALLY?” Your character might think they need the bigger, newer, shinier one, but many times the one at home works just fine. 

Now, don’t let that keep your character from trying new things to see if they are of better quality. My best example of this is my husband. I am the one forever saying, “yeah, but we already have that,” or “why get that when I can get it for cheaper?” A lot of times I am right, but a lot of times he is too. 

In my early 20s with three kids, and no internet or cable, I found myself entertaining the kids outside a lot! That led to the side effect of needing new shoes every month or two because they kept tearing up, and getting holes. It was crazy! One day, my husband decided we were going to splurge and order some 511 shoes that were over $50. I was paying $12ish for shoes at Wal-mart, and that price made me worry we would just be wasting money. But at his insistence, and because we had the money to spare, I agreed. It was worth every single penny. Those shoes lasted ten years, until it wore thin, and I got replacements, but I can still wear them for working in, if I want. All that is to say, sometimes spending a little more gets you a lot better quality. 

Next on the minimizing list is to use less. Every time your character goes to buy something, have them ask themselves, “do I need this? Do I need this REALLY?” Do they REALLY need the coffee on the way to work? Do they REALLY need Netflix? This works historically, too. Do they REALLY need the new cloth to make a dress when they already have a dress they love? Do they REALLY need a new straight razer for shaving, or do they need to take the time to sharpen what they have more often? If they don’t bring it home, they clearly won’t use it. 

Next on the mind set list is; I’ll just make it myself. There are many things that can be made at home for pennies on the dollar, that are just as good if not better than store bought. Candles are something simple they could make. Ok, they can get complicated, but they do not have to be. Nor do your characters need new fancy things. Functional is perfectly fine. 

They can learn to cook their own meals. YouTube has a ton of beginner tutorials. Elderly neighbors most often love teaching the younger generations things. All they have to do is ask. In fact, my husband’s grandmother knew how to use the things in her kitchen to take care of diaper rash that the modern stuff was not helping. 

Other things that can be made at home include, but are definitely not limited to soap, shaving cream, face creams, body wash, laundry soap, home cleaners, dog food, bug spray, deodorant, lotion, diaper rash cream, toothpaste, mouth wash, shampoo, clothing, rugs, children’s toys, and so much more! 

Next on the list is do it yourself. Self-sufficient people don’t want others doing what they are perfectly capable of, and if they don’t know how, they are not scared to learn. Again, the same places as I already stated are great places to learn new skills. I learned how to flare copper pipeing in my 20s when our propane line got a leak. 

Your character can change their own oil and spark plugs. It’s not hard, and most owners manuals tell you how. In fact, if you ask the guys at the auto parts store, most of the time they will do it for you free of charge. At least in my area. It’s one of the reasons people are very loyal to their chosen store. They go above and beyond, making the customer want to come back. Ok, that got off topic, back to the point. 

Your character can raise their own chickens for meat and eggs. They can keep rain barrels to water the garden, and animals to save on water they pay for, or to keep the reservoirs of the well from running dry in the summer. They can mow their own grass. It’s not as hard as you’d think. Basic home repairs and basic mechanics will come in handy for many things so they don’t have to find someone else to fix them. 

Likely the most well-known one in the self sufficient community is growing and canning your own food. With enough land, your character can feed a whole community, but with a smaller plot they may have to supplement. Growing their own food isn’t enough if they don’t know how to store it for winter. From canning and dehydrating, to root cellars and more. I have several episodes devoted to those topics if you’d like to learn more. 

Fun fact: A 2017 survey showed that about 20% of people who are driving age in the United States do not know how to change their own tire. However, of those who know how to change a tire, 90% said they would be willing to teach someone else how to change a tire. Personally, all I see standing between knowing how to change a tire and how not to change a tire is simply asking. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

Before we get to the best part, if you enjoy this podcast, I hope you’ll take a minute to follow, rate, and review on your favorite podcasting platform. And if you are listening on YouTube, subscribe, hit the like button, and drop me a comment; I love to hear from you! Don’t forget to share with a friend. As always, you can find episode show notes and helpful links to learn more on my website, alleyhart.com. Now for everyone’s favorite part! 

Likely to go wrong: While learning to change oil in their tractor, your character accidentally gets in the draining oil stream, spilling it all over themselves. 

Likely to go wrong: Your character is self sufficient in their off the grid home. However, now many of the people in their life want them to share all their things. They expect it to be free, because if they can do it, why wouldn’t they help? They do not take your character’s needs, family, or even the expense of helping into account. This leaves your character angry and resentful. 

Likely to go wrong: Your character is learning how to do things on their own, and struggles to grasp something. They assume everyone knows how to do it, except them, and mentally rages at themself for not doing better. 

Possible to go wrong: Your character is learning how to can, and some of the lids do not seal correctly. When they try to eat the food in winter, they get food poisoning. 

Possible to go wrong: Your character is determined to be fully self sufficient and doesn’t ask for help when they really do need it. While working on the tractor, they have an accident. With no help nearby, this could be deadly. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character is so concerned with doing everything themself, they are willing to make a poorer quality blanket than one they can buy to keep them warmer. When winter comes, they are very cold. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character is mad at the mechanic and yells at them that they will just do it themselves, and the mechanic tells them to go for it. However, they have no idea how to work on their own car, and no one to help them. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character refuses to have anything to do with anyone after the apocalypse because they don’t need anyone. The other survivors make a community without him. When they become ill and need a doctor, the community refuses to help him. They throw his own words back at him, that he can do it himself. He doesn’t need them. 

Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character makes their child a toy. A small part breaks off choking the child. They will have to do the Heimlich maneuver to save the child. 

Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character asks their neighbor if they could teach them how to compost as they can see their very good compost. The neighbor says no and slams the door in their face. 

Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character is learning how to cook watching YouTube tutorials. However, they did not first look into kitchen safety. When they have a grease fire, they throw water on it. This expands the fire, and their whole home burns down. 

Thanks for listening! Until next time, happy wordsmithing.