Taking the First Steps
For many, just getting started seems overwhelming. You should start with baby steps to get you moving toward a more independent, self-sustaining lifestyle.
Reduce Your Energy Use
Look around you and unplug all of those unnecessary appliances. Use a hand-operated can opener instead of an electric one. Use a whisk instead of a mixer. Look for phantom electricity drains. The U.S. Department of Energy states, “Many appliances continue to draw a small amount of power when they are switched off. These phantom loads occur in many appliances, such as VCRs, televisions, stereos, computers, and kitchen appliances. This can be avoided by unplugging the appliance or using a power strip and using the switch on the power strip to cut all power to the appliance.”
In the average home, more than 50 percent of the electricity used to power electronics is consumed while the devices are turned off! In the United States alone, phantom load costs consumers more than $3 billion a year and adds up to the output of several full-size power plants.
Check the Energy Star ratings on your appliances and, if you can, replace older appliances with more efficient new ones. If you can’t afford to do that, inspect your current appliances. Be sure that seals are in good repair, or replace them.
Make sure your washing machine belts are tight so the engine doesn’t have to work harder to get your clothes clean and the spin cycles draw out a majority of the water. Be sure that filters in your furnace, air conditioner, refrigerator, and dryer are all clean and allow free-flowing air. Also, check the air vents from your dryer to the outside to be sure they are clean and free of obstructions.
Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that helps us all save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices. You may see Energy Star appliances at your local home-goods store; that seal means they are certified energy-efficient products.
Plant a Garden
Whether you have a spot in your yard that can be tilled or some potting soil, a collection of containers, and a room on your patio or porch, you can plant a garden. Start with some tomato plants in a five-gallon pail or some herbs on a sunny kitchen window. Begin to learn the joy of growing your own.
Many of the more urban communities have been promoting “community gardens,” or shared spaces in a public location, where residents can purchase a plot to use for gardening. This is a great solution if you live in a heavily populated city or simply don’t have the yard space for a large garden. Just be sure to have the soil tested before buying, as lead and other toxic heavy metals are present in some community gardens.
Stop Eating Out
When you are busy and running late, it’s so easy to fall into the habit of driving through, picking up, or eating out. To learn to be more self-sufficient and to have a healthier life, plan a menu and learn to cook from the basics. Make your own homemade pizza or taco salad. Substitute healthier alternatives to high-fat, high-sodium fast-food offerings.
If you are planning to be self-sufficient, you need to be physically fit. Begin taking daily walks or working out for fifteen or twenty minutes in your home. Park your car farther away from the store, so you’re forced to walk. Walk rather than ride, if possible. Have your family participate in outdoor sports together, rather than watch television.
A tip for a successful workout: prepare for your workout the night before by packing your gym bag or, if you work out at home, laying out your workout clothes so when you get home, you’re ready to go. You’d be really surprised the amount of ways you can talk yourself out of a workout routine, so it is best to have everything ready.
Making exercise a family activity can get everyone in on the action, and allows you to spend more time together. An after-dinner walk on a spring evening or a weekend hike in the mountains are great ways of getting yourself in shape and setting aside some time to spend with your loved ones.
Now is the time to take a class at the local Cooperative Extension System office or community college, or borrow books from your library about alternate energy sources, gardening, livestock, or any other area you need to brush up on. Sign up for seed catalogs and browse through the varieties available and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Organizations also occasionally offer workshops and classes on making the transition to a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Sign up for some, and make it a point to talk to the teacher—more likely than not, he or she lives off the grid and can give you some firsthand advice. Nothing beats the wisdom of experience!