What is Self Reliance: It Might Not Be What You This It Is

Self Reliance

Self reliance is such a misunderstood concept. Some people automatically think of survivalists in fatigues. Others think of  people like Euell Gibbons. If you’re old enough to remember him, he was a heavy promoter for eating forest food.

Below is a spoof from the Carol Burnett Show. Does anyone remember this one?

Thankfully, it’s a big world and we have the option of choosing our own path without extremes.

My form of self reliance is a little more dull and commonplace–which is why you’ll never see the likes of me on television. There’s no drama in my life. Their tv ratings would drop like a rock because my day-to-day life is too boring for adrenaline rush viewers.

For me, self reliance is about being independent. I still socialize, shop, vote, and perform my civic duties as instructed. But I don’t have to depend on store-bought food if I don’t want to. I don’t have to depend on government intervention if my lights go out. And I don’t require government assistance if I became unemployed.

This all came about for some pretty solid reasons.

  • We made getting out of debt a priority.
  • We grow our own fruits and vegetables, and raise our own meat.
  • We grew our savings, putting all raises, bonuses, and tax refunds into the kitty.
  • We spend less than we make.
  • We fix our stuff until it’s no longer usable.
  • We buy used or remodel what we have.
  • Husband is a wiz at building and alternative energy

Any single one of these things will get you one step closer to independence. Doing all of them makes you pretty near self reliant.

There’s still plenty I don’t do for myself. For example, I don’t make my own oil, nor do I raise nuts or avocados (a staple for me).

We don’t make our own fuel. I know Greg can do it if he wanted to. He has experience with the process, but it’s smelly and dangerous. That’s something I’m fine buying like everyone else.

Nurses, midwives, farmers, and cops all have practical and useful know-how. Consider yourself lucky to have any one of these people in your circle of friends because they are experts in their fields. I’m only an intern in this life.

I’ll never forget what an art teacher once told me when we pulled our clay pots out of the kiln. He said, now you have more knowledge about being self sufficient than the average person walking down the street. It was true. I didn’t just learn the chemistry and physics of pottery building, glazing and firing. I learned where the clay came from in the earth. I knew how to dig it out, refine it, slurry it, then pound it into a usable slab for making something useful.

It was a defining moment for me, like discovering fire, because now I knew how to do something completely from scratch.

We’ve truly lost touch with our ancestors. They knew all this stuff, learning it from when they were children. Sure, we can program a tv or make videos from our phones, but unless you do that for a living, how does that help you in the real world?

The world isn’t so much smarter as it is compartmentalized. We each of us know one or two things really, really well, but that’s where our knowledge base peters out.

Self reliance is about doing more for yourself and your family. I don’t expect a zombie apocalypse, aliens, or a worldwide nuclear holocaust, but I’m wary when it comes to natural disasters, flu epidemics, and unemployment. These are the things I think about when I talk about self reliance.

Lose your job once and you’ll know how important it is to have an emergency fund. Live through a major hurricane, and you’ll come to realize how poorly you were prepared. These are lessons I didn’t want to learn the hard way. I did, and maybe that’s why I wrote this post.

If I can get one person to try to do something for himself, maybe he won’t have to learn things the way I did.

Most people reading this will blow me off. They’ll think nothing bad will ever happen to them, or worse, think that some government authority will help them out. When Hurricane Rita nearly wiped us out we applied for FEMA help twice. Never heard from them even once. In the end, we rebuilt all by ourselves. That’s reality.

So what’s your take on self reliance? Do you think of fatigues or Euell Gibbons?

You don’t have to live my lifestyle to be self reliant, but you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead if you do only one thing: get out of debt. That’s the first step to independence.

My life isn’t for everyone, but it’s got far less stress than the decades I spent in an office. For that, I’m thankful.


For the month of May, I’ve joined other like-minded bloggers for the Self Reliance Challenge where we share some of the things we do to live a more sustainable lifestyle. I hope you’ll go and visit them.

Here is a list of some of the bloggers joining us.

AnnMarie – 15 Acre Homestead

Nancy – Nancy On The Homefront

Kathi – Oak Hill Homestead

Robin – A Life in the Wild

Candy – Candy’s Farm House Pantry

Farmgal – Just another Day on the Farm

Ashley – Practical Self Reliance

ShawnaLee – Homegrown Self Reliance

Frank – My Green Terra

Lisa Lynn, our Host – The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

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All original content copyrighted by Maria Zannini 2016 - 2018.


  1. I really like your practical approach to self-reliance, Maria. I know myself well enough to know that I’m not going to do most of those things – remember, plants pick up their roots and run screaming from me, and my husband and I always tack on an extra hour or more to complete any kind of handyman project. But the financial aspect is something we can and are already doing. 🙂

    • Madeline: I came from a family that couldn’t tell you the difference between a flat head screw driver from a Phillips. I just learned by watching, and I did stuff out of necessity and lack of funds.

      Actually, it was lack of funds that started me on this path.

  2. Angela Brown

    You give a very practical and logical list of reasons to work towards self-reliance. I am moving at a sloth’s pace, but moving forward working on the prospect of getting out of debt. I would really like to position myself so that I don’t become a financial burden on my daughter in my old age.

  3. This is a strong and useful post, Maria. The points you make are very important, and the best thing about your list is they are things most of us can attempt to learn. We all won’t be able to do everything, but we don’t need to. As you say, we need to join with others who have their own skills and who have the understanding that those skills can help the wider group. I think we will all need this before the century is through.

  4. The only real debt we have is our car and new house. And technically, both could be paid for in cash. But the car loan was 0% finance and we don’t want to drain our savings for the house (which we expect will be paid off in less than 5 years). It is nice to know, though, that if something should happen, we’re ready.

  5. I remember old Euell. He did a show or segment on fiddlehead ferns that has stuck with me for forty-odd years. I don’t think I’d ever want to live off the land, but if I had to I probably could in my own area. At least I know what’s edible and what isn’t. 🙂

    We’ve always preferred to stay debt-free and self-reliant (for the most part. I don’t weave my fabrics or spin my own thread, for example.) It’s not a glitzy lifestyle, but it removes 90% of the stress that comes along with living paycheck to paycheck and thoughtless spending. We may not have new cars or go on luxurious vacations, but we’re able to live simply and comfortably without the anxiety of wondering if we can pay for it.

    I think being able to look after yourself and your family in a crisis is so important. During the 2004 hurricane season we fared much better than most of our neighbors simply because we had prepared enough stored water and non-perishable foods to live for two month cut off from civilization. No one thought we would be left to fend for ourselves for 21 days, so we ended up helping a lot of other people, too. After what I saw post-Katrina I make it a point to be ultra-prepared for storm season, and I’ve never regretted it.

    As for the fatigues, I have mine in storage. 🙂 I don’t believe in being armed to the teeth and expecting zombies to attack, but I think everyone should have a plan in the event a major/extended disaster strikes.

    Angela, because we’re older parents we made a conscious effort to stay out of debt and also tuck away enough to provide for our care when we’re elderly. Now our kids don’t have to worry about that anymore, and it’s really a loving thing to do for your family.

    • Lynn: Welcome back, Lynn!

      People used to think old Euell was crazy but he was way ahead of his time when it came to living off available resources. I caught a tv show where a young person was foraging for wild food in the city. I’m not sure how safe it was considering it grew along congested city streets, but apparently some of Euell’s teachings caught on with a few people.

      Re: hurricane
      I hear ya on that. Greg was feeding dogs and cats from the neighborhood. People had left them behind. I don’t think I was ever so angry. I was glad Greg was there to help them out until their owners came back.

      On the other hand those who came right back were out helping each other. It was nice to see a sense of community.

      re: aging parents
      That was our plan too. We have no children so it’s all on us.

  6. Jenny Schwartz

    Great post. I’d never really considered how self-reliance means different things to different people – and different things at different times in our lives. I don’t think I could live off-grid, but it’s inspiring to read about others who do.

    • Jenny: It’s all about context. I like Greg’s off grid shop. I’m not sure it’s a good idea for the house, but I wouldn’t mind having it on emergency back up. It gets complicated though when you’re attached to the grid so I don’t know how doable it is.

    • Betty: It’s a work in progress. Years down the road when we think we’re too old for animals we might switch to just gardening and alternative energy, but I don’t think we’ll ever quit taking care of ourselves short of a life threatening illness.

  7. I so enjoyed this and I agree GET OUT OF DEBT should be #1. So before I ramble let me say I think an episode of Carol Burnett might be #2 because what a kick… I needed that laughter this morning… I do agree with you about self reliance being independent. Just this week after dealing with septic people I decided at my next property I’m going with a composting toilet. This maybe a weird thought for more independence but after waiting and waiting and still waiting for the septic people to come and clean up their mess after installing both systems I’m tired of waiting on other people to do their job. It’s just easier to get things done when you do it yourself. So I’m on a new path of even greater independence. I love this Maria…..

    • Carole: Getting out of debt was the best thing we ever did. I wish we had done it sooner, but at least we recognized that goal early on.

      re: composting toilet
      I used one once in a National Forest. I can’t remember which one, but it was surprisingly clean and fresh smelling. If you do this I’d be very interested in hearing how you like it.

    • Mike: Amen to that. I truly feel sorry for the young people in the work force today. Debt slave is right. Unless they start saving right from the start the newest generation will never be able to retire.

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