Help me live with less stuff while increasing my self-sufficiency.
April 26, 2013 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Over the past few years, I have successfully simplified my life by getting rid of a lot of stuff. Now my new goal is to increase my self-sufficiency, but I’m finding that my previous efforts of uncluttering have made me more dependent on outside resources and services. How should I balance simplicity and self-sufficiency?

For example: Starting a garden would require shovels, shears and trowels. I would probably need a sewing machine to start repairing and crafting clothes.
posted by racingjs to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It's always a balance.

How simple do you want things to be? How many hobbies do you want to indulge?

Yes, if you want to garden, then you'll need some stuff to do that. If you want to get into sewing, there are things you'll need for that.

Now that you've purged, you need to put thought into how much stuff you're willing to bring into your environment to allow you to pursue your interests.

Perhaps you can work in a community garden for awhile to see if it's something you want to continue with in your own house. I love having a pretty garden, I'm not big on gardening. I have a lady for that.

Take some sewing classes first, see if it's up your alley, then decide.

The other thing you could do is to find other people who feel the same way you do. You can then share the implements, and spread the stuff associated with your hobbies around. You keep the sewing machine, your friend keeps the gardeing equipment.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:16 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris

I always look at my Grandparents. They were adults during the great depression, and believed strongly in the "make it, make do, or do without" philosophy. To them, certainly, all the things you mentioned would fall in the category of "necessary tools" to them vs. frivolous stuff.

Now, if you were to buy, say, three different shovels, and two different styles of trowel, and a special edger, and some other single purpose tool, that would be going against the idea of simplicity. Don't confuse "having nothing" with "living simply". Living simply is about having only what you need, not about doing without.
posted by anastasiav at 8:24 AM on April 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

If you're looking to essentially homestead, yeah, you or your neighbors are going to need some stuff. Borrowing is sometimes tricky, so depending on your relationship with your neighbors and close friends, I would own what I need.

I have a small "urban farm". I keep chickens, grow veggies and do a lot of my own sewing. I have a sewing machine, but I don't really need a serger/overlock machine. I have plenty of garden equipment but not more than I need. Everything gets used. I have a ton of bakeware and cooking stuff because I cook a lot, but again, not more than I need. I need a Kitchenaid mixer. You might not, but in order to get your self-sufficiency into actual sufficiency, you are going to need a few implements.

On preview, I love the William Morris quote from anastasiav.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:29 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Speaking of tools, in Philly there's this - Anything like it in your location?
posted by citygirl at 8:30 AM on April 26, 2013

If you're just starting out with self sufficiency, I'd advise against buying much at this point, even if you weren't trying to reduce clutter. Do you have a tool library in your area? A friend or neighbor who could loan you a pressure canner or shovel? You don't yet know which new habits are going to feel worthwhile enough, or enjoyable enough to stick.
posted by latkes at 8:38 AM on April 26, 2013

Check out There seems to be plenty of sharing going on in Montreal.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:41 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can't actually be self-sufficient. If you want, for instance, to start a garden, and that requires a shovel, you are now dependent on an entire supply chain that starts with mining and refining ore, and ends up with an actual shovel made of metal and wood for sale on a store shelf.

You are no less dependent on others for a shovel than you are for a tomato, except insofar as the time between shovel purchases is longer.

You might as well just focus on your other goal, since owning fewer things is actually possible.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:42 AM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

For example: Starting a garden would require shovels, shears and trowels. I would probably need a sewing machine to start repairing and crafting clothes.

Focus on getting good at just a few such pursuits rather than dabbling in many. I know that I find all sorts of hobbies interesting, but if I actually try do do them all then I end up buying tools for all of them, but my time and energy gets spread too thin so that none of the tools gets used much and they become clutter. Resist the urge for constant novelty; go for depth rather than breadth.
posted by jon1270 at 8:44 AM on April 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

A sewing machine is useful but not entirely necessary if you are not sewing tons of stuff. I sewed my couch pillows by hand. I know a lady who hand-sewed a lovely suit for herself. Simple clothing and linens would not be hard to do by hand, I don't think. You will need to keep on hand good scissors, a variety of needles, pins, thread, etc. most of which could live in a nice sewing basket on a shelf.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:46 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

You don't have to "go big or go home." Start simply. Instead of a big garden, do a container garden or two - which doesn't require lots of big tools or effort. Mend your socks, by hand (doesn't require a sewing machine). Bake 1 loaf of bread a week. There are lots of little "self-sufficiency" tasks you can do and accomplish with very basic tools (needle, thread, dirt, seeds, flour, yeast).
posted by Sassyfras at 9:07 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you need to figure out for yourself where your personal tolerance level is between uncluttered-ness and dependency. If you live the way the houses in the design magazines imply, then you are very dependent on a lot of outside sources to get things done. If you attempt to be as self-sufficient as possible, that's going to require a lot of stuff.

Personally, I derive great satisfaction out of making things myself that I could just as easily buy. I get a better appreciation for things that I would otherwise take for granted that way, and I learn new skills. But no-one who comes into my house would say I live simply. There's stuff squirrelled away everywhere in here. But that's my tolerance level. What's yours?
posted by LN at 9:12 AM on April 26, 2013

You are no less dependent on others for a shovel than you are for a tomato, except insofar as the time between shovel purchases is longer.

That's not even reasonable. A well kept shovel will last you a lifetime. Buying tools and learning how to use them improves self sufficiency in a way that buying consumables does not: a tomato vs a theoretically infinite number of tomatoes.

Learn a skill (ie. gardening, seed saving, homesteading) and put it to good use, even if it requires a few dedicated tools.
posted by lydhre at 9:36 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's not even reasonable. A well kept shovel will last you a lifetime. Buying tools and learning how to use them improves self sufficiency in a way that buying consumables does not: a tomato vs a theoretically infinite number of tomatoes.

Ok, fine, a shovel is not the best example, but how about water for the plants? Can you get water without relying on other people to keep the supply working? Only if you live by a river or lake. Or clothing: even if you can sew clothing, can you make your own fabric and thread? There is not going to be a time when you can buy fabric but not clothing. When there is no practical difference in your level of self-sufficiency what is it you're gaining? If you are already reliant upon the industry that produces fabric, what are you losing by relying on them to produce clothing from that fabric? If you want to make clothing for the sake of knowing how to do it, that's fine, but it seems fallacious to imply that this makes you less reliant on society as a whole. The same thing is true of "survivalists" who load their own bullets using commercially manufactured gunpowder or whatever.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:56 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

OK, I don't know for sure but I don't think the OP was talking about going off the grid type self-sufficiency. On reading the OQ, s/he was asking about balancing the need for stuff to help with living simply, which, at outset seems paradoxical, but actually isn't. Let's not parse words for the sake of it.

As for me, there is something quite wonderful in knowing all the things I own are useful.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:11 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

You know that Jeff Foxworthy bit where you might be a redneck if your tools are worth more than your car? My tools weigh more than my car. Heck, I've even made a car part out of a chunk of steel rod before*. So, now that you know what kind of nut I am, I think it is would be insane to try and live independently in the modern world. Don't take my word for this, though.

The thing you have to ask yourself on anything is, "how much are the tools?", "what skills do I need to develop to use the tools?", "how much enjoyment/satisfaction will I gain in doing things myself?" and "how likely am I to screw up and how much more will it cost me if I do?". At some point I ran across a great quote that went something like, "The skills we gain fixing things that don't matter serve us well when we are called upon to fix things that do." That said, sometimes it's best to just call a pro. Other times the cost of failure is replacing a thing that was broken anyway.

*This was done because I had to buy a huge assembly but only one, relatively simple bit had an issue and I inherited a metal lathe from my Grandfather and was looking for an excuse to learn how to use it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:33 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can borrow or rent tools, depending on how big the garden is. And if you want to sew, buy a used, all metal machine, and have at it. Not having the right tools for the job is a good way to sabotage any long term commitment or satisfaction in doing that job.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:34 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could own a property with a well or install rain collection vessels, for example. It's not impossible to not have to rely on city water, and even if you did need city water, there is not a particularly stupendous chance of it not existing any longer.

We're not talking worst-case-scenario apocalypse survival here, I don't think, just growing your own vegetables or making a dress in a design that you like but that nobody seems to manufacture.
posted by lydhre at 12:03 PM on April 26, 2013

You might find "Early Retirement Extreme" (blog and book) to be a good resource for this kind of thing.
posted by hishtafel at 5:13 PM on April 26, 2013

For repairing clothes, or even altering them, you don't need a sewing machine. Start with hand sewing, and get a machine if you decide you want to start making your own clothes. Or make friends with someone who has one.
posted by kjs4 at 6:35 AM on April 27, 2013

Your question, "How should I balance simplicity and self-sufficiency?," is difficult for me to parse without knowing your specific goals. If you choose, say, baking, gardening, and sewing, generating a list of essential tools and less-expensive resources is a simpler task.

This previously -- "What things are worth the time and cost of doing/making myself?" -- might help you think through which areas of DIY you're most interested in, and whether they're worth doing from the ground up.

Speaking as one who is interested in both self-reliance and decluttering, I can say this: I'm not an island. I often need my neighbors to pull the machines out of the mud. I need a supplier for my wheat berries. Even when I make cheese, there's stuff I send away for. To my dismay, I'm not an electrician and need to hire that out. I'm part of formal and informal webs, and I'm OK with that because I have only so much energy, only so many resources, and only so many hours. Compromise at self-sufficiency is part of the deal. At the same time, I can be more self-reliant because I my tool kit has evolved in a way specific to my place and needs. There is no replacement for certain single-use tools, like a post-pounder or a post-puller (both of which I need and use), but what those particular tools are will vary by situation and project. I have bought tools from the hardware store and from craigslist and from auction, resigning myself to outsourcing (and storage and care) of necessity. I have tried to balance that, at least for my own peace of mind, with trying to buy locally, to achieve zero food waste, to garden and preserve, to raise my own meat, to mend what I can, and to donate what I don't need to thrift shops. I do what I can; I can't do it alone.

So, how do you want to increase your self-reliance?
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:07 AM on April 27, 2013

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