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What is Self-Reliance? (and How To Build It At Home)

Self-reliance is a simple concept, but it is often misunderstood. In this post, we'll take a look at what self-reliance really means, and how we can build it at home.

What Does Self-Reliance Mean?

Self-reliance means that, as much as possible, we do not have to depend on others to provide us with what we need to live and to thrive. The goal of self-reliance to work as much as we can with our own internal resources, skills, knowledge and abilities to live well and meet our life goals.

It is important to understand that self-reliance is not the same as self-sufficiency. No man is an island and it is highly unlikely that many of us will truly find that we gain real self-sufficiency. We'll almost always need other people and outside resources in some way, shape or form.

Working towards self-reliance does not mean that we are trying to work entirely alone. It does not mean that we are cutting ourselves off from wider society altogether, or saying that we don't need other people at all.

Most assuredly, it is not about looking selfishly to our own needs and not caring for others. Making sure we do all we can to meet our own need does not mean forgetting about the importance of kindness. It still involves thinking carefully about other people, and about this planet we call home.

Building Self Reliance at Home (On a Household Scale)

Building self-reliance at home means thinking about what you need, then working out how you and other members of your household could work to meet those needs with resources at your disposal. It is all about capacity building.

Whether you are looking at improving an existing home, or at building a new home from scratch, there are certain key categories to look at when trying to build self reliance. These following areas are a good place to start:

- Food

- Water

- Energy

- Shelter and Comfort


One of the most obvious ways to build self-reliance at home is to start growing at least some of your own food. You can still grow at least a little food even in the smallest area. You can even grow some food if you don't have any outside space at all.

Permaculture is a design system that can help us design food producing systems that optimize yield for our particular needs and wishes, in our particular locations. The design process begins with observation – looking at how sunlight, wind and water move/across through a site. We then look at how the site can be laid out, not only to maximize yield, but to make our own lives as easy as possible. We zone areas depending on how often we need to visit them, and look at the inputs, outputs and characteristics of different elements to think carefully about where they should be placed.

There are a number of different food growing systems that might be considered, depending on the features, restrictions and characteristics of a particular place. For example, growing your own food might involve:

- Using windowsill space and other marginal areas and implementing vertical gardening techniques and container gardening methods.

- Growing in the soil, in forest gardens and perennial polyculture growing areas. (Using an organic approach to boost biodiversity as much as possible.)

- Growing in raised beds, hugelkultur mounds, or even straw bales. (Using a 'no dig' gardening approach.)

- Hydroponic growing (growing plants in water rather than soil). Or even aquaponic systems (sustainable systems that involve keeping fish as well as growing plants hydroponically).

Finding the right method or methods for you can help you find ways to grow more of your own food at home. Often, you will be able to grow far more than you ever thought possible.


Water is, of course, crucial for growing your own. But it is also crucial for drinking and sanitation. Learning how to harvest, store and manage water wisely in your home and garden is essential. It will boost your self-reliance and make it easier to live in an earth-conscious and sustainable way.

You should make sure you harvest rainwater by catching it from your roof, and the roofs of any structures like sheds or greenhouses in your garden. More than this, however, you should also think about how rainwater can be caught and stored in your garden in plants and soil. Rain that falls on drives and paved areas can also be directed – to vegetated swales or rain gardens that will filter out contaminants before they reach rivers, seas and oceans.

Rainwater that is harvested from a roof can be stored in butts, barrels, tanks or cisterns. It can also be directed to sustainable garden irrigation, or to ponds or reservoirs. Rainwater can also be filtered and used within your home. And grey water from your sinks and showers can be channeled into a garden.

There are also a range of ways to conserve water, both in your garden and your home. Simple steps like mulching, water-wise irrigation, turning off taps when brushing or shaving, and choosing low flow fittings and appliances can all make a big difference.

Think carefully about water and you will find that there are many ways to boost self-reliance in this arena in and around your home.


Of course, installing solar panels, wind turbines or other means of renewable power generation will help you avoid reliance on an energy grid.

But it is also important to think about passive solar design, and other ways to use renewable energy that don't require costly investment. For example, you might make a DIY solar oven, solar water heater or solar dehydrator. And you can also convert the sun's energy to fuel for you – as you grow food in your garden.

Shelter and Comfort

If you are building your own home, sustainable natural building methods can be used which mean anyone can take construction into their own hands.

But even if your home is already built, you can boost self-reliance by making do and mending, and making a range of items for your shelter and comfort. Once you start down this path, there is no end to the skills you can learn, and the things you can try.



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