Self-reliance sounds like a lone wolf surviving in the woods, but is that what it really means? No matter where you live, it is possible to become a responsible producer and get off the consumer treadmill.

Self-reliance – it’s a big topic here on Just Plain Living – but it’s probably the most misunderstood part. You are probably quite clear on what sustainable means when you see my tagline – sustainable, self-reliant living – but self-reliance … that’s a different matter.

Self-reliance sounds like a lone wolf surviving in the woods, but is that what it really means? No matter where you live, it is possible to become a responsible producer and get off the consumer treadmill.

There is a huge myth out there about self-reliance. Far too many people believe that it means you exist only on what your two hands can grow or create, that it means living without other people, and that you basically have to do All The Things in order to be self-reliant. Can we bust that myth out of the water? Because too many of my people are beating themselves up because they can’t do that.

Why is Self-Reliance Important?

First, I want you to take a moment and consider what ‘self-reliant’ means to you. What images does that phrase conjure up in your mind?

You are probably seeing someone who lives on their own terms, with an independent attitude and a determination to take care of their own needs.

The person you envision may have a food garden and might raise animals for meat, eggs and milk. Perhaps they preserve their food at home, harvest the sun and wind for electricity. Your vision of a self-reliant person may include a rural lifestyle or at least a simple one and perhaps even a dwelling built by hand.

Self-reliance will look different depending on the stage of your life, where you live and your health, but it can include all of these things.

It could also include partnering with an established farm to buy – and preserve – unsold garden produce in bulk, buying into a herdshare so that you share a goat or cow with other urban dwellers, hiring local carpenters to build an eco-friendly home, and buying into a herd share program for fresh milk.

It might include campaigning to bring solar panels, back yard gardens and chickens into your suburb, working with your local government to turn empty lots into community gardens, or buying into Community Supported Agriculture so that you help a small farmer keep operating.

When you make lifestyle choices that remove your dependence on faceless corporations, no matter where you start, you are increasing your self-reliance. Those who do this tend to be drawn to a more simple and rural life since city life is often not flexible enough for the changes they want to make.

Don’t despair, though, city folks – self-reliance doesn’t actually require a back forty and livestock.

First and foremost, it’s an attitude, and it’s one that will serve you well no matter the circumstances in which you find yourself. A person in a wheelchair, or with health problems, a stay-at-home parent with multiple young children, or someone with a disabled dependent – self-reliance will look different in each and every case. (I have written before on the myth of Doing It All, and you might want to read that.)

What is the basis for this attraction to a self-reliant life, and why is self-reliance so important?

My grandfather was born in 1918, and I don’t remember ever hearing about him having a job, at least not once he was out of his teens.

What I did hear were stories of the pigs they slaughtered in the early winter, and the hay that had to be cut to feed the animals. My grandfather grew the hay that fed the cows, milked the cows and brought the milk in to Grandma to make cheese and butter, with the whey going back to the pigs. They also had a pressure canner that they used to preserve the meat! They weren’t unusual in all of this, since most of their neighbours lived similar lives.

The plain truth is that we have not always been so dependent upon technology and there has never been a time when so many have lived in huge cities. Our ancestors – like my grandfather – weren’t always tied to jobs that paid for technology and possessions that created even more dependence, and certainly debt has never been as prevalent or considered as normal as it is today.

Imagine it – there was a time when we didn’t all work hard to pay for things we didn’t need to impress people we didn’t like, with money that we didn’t have.

There was more, though, than just doing for themselves. My grandfather’s stories were full of neighbours working together. Hay was made as a community, children were birthed with the aid of neighbours, and everyone had their own special strength or skill to bring to the table.

Will Smith - too many people spend money they haven't earned to buy things they don't want to impress people they don't like.

There was a time when the majority of our ancestors created things with their own hands, for themselves and for those around them. Of course, there have always been things we need from other people, and certain segments of the population have been more dependent than others. Civilized people take responsibility for those who cannot care for themselves, after all.

But never before have we had entire cities full of people who clock in their hours at work, come home and then sit in front of mass entertainment while eating prepackaged and sometimes precooked food.

We were made for better than this!

We are so accustomed to the comforts of “I cannot”, “I do not want to” and “it is too difficult” that we forget to realize when we stop doing things for ourselves and expect others to dance around us, we are not achieving greatness. We have made ourselves weak. ― Pandora Poikilos

Self-reliance is a movement and idea that reminds us that we’re more than just dependent drones clocking in our hours. It reminds us that there is more to life than the rat race.

It reminds us that we can still take back that control.

My youngest son came up to me one day and said, “I know what you mean when you keep talking about self-reliance. It means that I can count on myself to do the things I need to, that I don’t ask you to do something that I can do for myself. And it means other people can count on me, too.”

Not bad for a seven year old.

Just Plain Living