Self-sufficient Living : 23 skills that help


Many people are drawn to the attractive notion of a self-sufficient life-style, and while it sounds wonderful, it is not as straight forward or as easy as you might think. We have been on this path for over 10 years now and can see where someone new to the concept could use help with where to start, so this post is for you.

Some Useful Skills for Self Sufficiency are..

  1. Take a PDC.
  2. Build Soil the natural way.
  3. Learn about making good compost from local materials.
  4. Collect books on edible plants found in your area.
  5. Get creative in the garden. See the empty spaces easily.
  6. Learn about plants that suit where you live.
  7. Water harvesting and storage.
  8. Learn about sun angles and how that applies to your location.
  9. Plan and go to secondhand stores and buy books on home maintenance.
  10. Put together a tool kit of hand tools.
  11. Wood carving.
  12. Sharpen knives and cutting tools.
  13. Basic plumbing
  14. Growing fish for protein.
  15. Learn how to weld steel, plastic.
  16. Learn how to process food for long shelf life.
  17. Basic leather work.
  18. Learn basic first aid and get yourself a quality first aid/trauma kit.
  19. Basic motor mechanics and repair.
  20. Keep and feed chickens for less.
  21. Make handmade products that can sell at local markets/fairs/online.
  22. Learn about websites and start a blog.
  23. Teach what you are good at.

1. Take a Permaculture Design Certificate Course.

This is the skill to chase after if there is only one that you get. It is all-encompassing of the rest of this list in one way or another. It can be costly but is well worth the effort.

If money is a problem, there is a heap of information and lessons online for free. You can pick up 1/2 to 3/4 of the taught information from the internet. We have an article that may help you with direction titled “Exploring Permaculture in Urban Environments : a Beginners Guide”.

We took our PDC in 2015 and never looked back. The wealth of knowledge that you gain is really the basis for a self-sufficient life. It just takes effort on your part to put it all into action. There are several books that can be a great resource and the best is the original written for teachers of permaculture.

The book is titled “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual” by Bill Mollison. It is an incredible resource.

2. Building soil the natural way. How to Start.

This is a critical life skill that you will carry forever. Good soil is the foundation to food security, and a stable flow of quality food crops into your kitchen. The funny thing is that this skill is not hard to learn. It is the basis of everything that revolves around homesteading and sustainable living, and it should be taught in schools.

We build our soil with the help of our chickens and we have a series of in-depth articles on the subject of soil. A good starter pack for you is below.

The key lesson with compost making is that anything that ever lived before can be composted and broken down into its component parts that are the basis of plant life. Learn how this is done. This subject has a dedicated post on compost for self-sufficient gardening here.

4. Collect books that teach about plants in your local area.

Herbal healing books are very useful items and can often be found in secondhand bookstores or the usual online haunts. Don’t walk past the older books. They often have forgotten information in them.

This list item cannot be finished off without a mention of the book “Minerals for the genetic code” because the information within its pages bridges the gap between what grows locally where you are, and the minerals that any plant you are researching holds. Very valuable information indeed.

5. Grow food everywhere.

This is a reflection of the way things grow in the natural world. Next time you are walking in the woods or bush, just stop along the path and sit and look. See how the plants all interact with each other.

There is a constant competition for light and nutrients that we see, but research shows that the forests are one symbiotic system that communicates between it’s members. This is the best classroom on the planet. Sit and look.

This subject is taught in the PDC and shows you how to see the missed opportunities within your yard. There is space everywhere, once you see your yard through the eyes of a plant wanting to grow as it does best.

A vine wants to climb, so plant passionfruit vine beneath a low tree and let it go. Did you know that pumpkins will climb up a tree?

6. Learn what food plants grow naturally in your zone.

This is really useful information because it is far easier to grow a food plant that wants to grow where you are, rather than attempting to force a strange plant to acclimatize unnaturally.

It is a setup for failure almost every time. You are wanting resilience and robust dependable results to help you become self-sufficient. Don’t fight nature. We have an article titled “Growing Hibiscus Sabdariffa : leaving the seeds to self sow” that explains resilience via plant selection.

7. Harvesting rainwater and how to store it.

This really is important. Food, shelter, water. The three dominoes that you need to set up straight. Learn how water moves through the landscape when it rains. Learn how to store water in the ground with swales and terra-forming. Become a land custodian. A great book on water and homesteading/farming is “Water for every farm” by P.A.Yeomans. Add this to your library.

8. Sun mapping and why it helps.

Learn how sun movement can help or harm your garden yield. Set that garden bed in the right location first go. You will never look at the sun/shade dynamic through the same eyes again.

To get a good idea on just how much effect the sun can have on a garden bed, “Does the soil in metal raised garden beds get hot?” has temperature data that shows the variations. It is paramount to get this one right. Google is your friend.

With this information you can easily double your harvest from the same amount of land, just by putting the garden beds in the best position possible. We mapped our yard and more than doubled the returns. We wrote this article titled “Sun mapping your yard (how this fits into self sufficiency)” that you might find useful.

9. Get hold of books on home maintenance.

Basic carpentry skills are very desirable because they set you up to make all sorts of things, from kitchen tables to rocking chairs. How to fix a door that jams shut each time it rains.

While you are at it, get a hand tool kit together that includes a good handsaw, hammer, chisels, tape measures, and rules. Protractors are also handy for angles. A tool belt might also be worth getting.

10. Put together a comprehensive tool kit of hand tools and practice how to use them.

This sounds a simple task but it is astounding how many people have trouble using a handsaw, or how to drive a nail home in wood. Youtube is a treasure trove of information on so many subjects. Download the best of the things you want to learn then go and practice. Building a chicken coop by hand is a project worth looking at. You can use power tools if you like but some don’t last like they used to. Hand tools never go flat.

11. Take up wood carving with hand tools.

Hand-carved spoons and bowls are good easily replaceable items that can have a wonderful feel and texture to them. A good knife and the skill to sharpen it are worth adding to your quiver. Many items can be replaced or repaired with a simple piece of wood.

Break the plastic habit. A good old drawknife and spoke-shave are wonderful start to any tool kit.

12. Learn how to sharpen knives and chisels.

Scissors are another tool that needs sharpening from time to time. Get yourself a few different grits of diamond stone plates and practice with a blunt knife. It is already blunt so there can only be improvement.

This is an important skill that carries over to axes, tomahawks and hatchets. Sharp blades make for easier butchering of game and fish if you hunt. Youtube is good here. It really is an incredible place for information.

13. Basic plumbing.

Water runs down hill. Pipes can steer it for you. Learn how to join pvc pipe to help set up water storage systems. This is valuable as it is one of the three life support items, along with food and shelter.

14. Learn about growing fish in a pool or pond.

It is a handy thing having a store of protein swimming nearby that you have access to at a moments notice. Aquaponics is worth investigating if you are into biological processes.

Chemistry also plays a part but don’t be concerned about the tech side. It is a solid activity that you can learn. I did, and I was a poor student. We have personally grown fish in the backyard pool with success, but there were many challenges along the way that we were not aware of.

We wrote a series of articles about our 6 years of having fish in our pool that you should find useful, and the first post is titled “Putting fish in a swimming pool : 12 tips to consider“.

Once the fish were in the pool we had to figure out how to feed them sustainably, and this article titled “Growing sustainable aquaponics fish food” details our adventures and successes.

The last post we wrote on this system was one that dealt with the water filtration to extract the poo that was used as fertilizer and it is titled “Building a pool aquaponics filtration system : what worked for us“.

15. Learn how to weld.

How to repair things is required knowledge for a self-sufficient lifestyle. Sometimes you are in a situation where there is no one around with the skills required to get that machine fixed so it falls on you.

Welding steel, plastic, and other metals is not that difficult and there is plenty of information on youtube on how to weld all sorts of things. Many want to sell you a course but watch a few different channels and you will get all the info you need.

This it comes down to practice. Use scrap to practice before you move to actual important things. Small inverter welders with a quality helmet and gloves will get you going.

16. Learn how to process food for long shelf life.

This is a must learn. Repeat after me. This . is . a . must . learn. There are several methods of food storage and each has it’s own benefits and methods. We use many methods here and we would be lost without them.

The upfront cost can be expensive but the equipment is with you for life. It isn’t a cost. It’s a lifetime investment. Get started on this right away because you need these skills when your first bumper crop comes into the kitchen you need to be ready.

Get going. To help get you started with preserving produce, Tui wrote these posts. The first post is about Rosellas, and is titled “Using Rosellas“. The next recommendation is an article titled “Freezing raw kale“. The final recommendation is a post on “Canning snake beans“.

17. Discover leather work.

Good boots are often made from quality leather and sometimes need repair. Get a leather work tool kit together with awls and strong needles with wax thread and some sharp knifes. Maybe get hold of a book on leather rope making.

Green-hide ropes are incredibly strong. Plaiting thin leather strips is a handy skill to learn also; it can be used in many places instead of nylon rope and is better looking.

18. Learn First Aid.

This should be something everyone learns. If you are living a self sufficient life there are many times when you are often alone with your family. If one of you were to be injured it is better to be able to apply first aid as soon as is possible.

Snake bites happen as well. Learn how to deal with that situation and put a plan in place to get help if needed. first aid kitLearn how to use this equipment.

19. Motor repairs and servicing.

This skill can save you a ton of money. It is expensive to get a good tool kit together but once bought, they tend to last forever. Repair your own vehicles when they break down. Youtube is wonderful for this. Search your vehicle and the problem and there is a good chance a video is already up and waiting for you.

20. Keep and Feed chickens for less.

Buying chicken feed can be costly if there is little return back in eggs. Learn how to grow food that the chickens love and create a circle of constant return. Understanding this is a big step towards self-sufficiency.

We wrote an article about keeping chickens titled “Sustainable gardening with chickens : do they need locking up?” and details when you can get away with less feed costs but lose out in lower real returns. It is directed to the person who is considering to free range the chickens and gives an alternative point of view on the possible outcomes.

21. Make handmade products from home.

Everyone requires some amount of cash. If you buy everything you need far more cash than the person who grows most of the food that is required and some or all of the fruit. The cash needed to top up the accounts can come from selling handcrafts made in the backyard and sold at local craft fairs or markets.

We have a small family business that is exactly what we are describing here, and the spoons below are just one of our products that we hand-craft at home. The wood off-cuts are used as fuel in the oven shown below.

We even have a few articles on how to sell these products at markets and “How to sell handmade products at markets” is recommended for a start. Other articles can be found on the blog that are related.

This doesn’t mean that they are of poor quality though, as some are very well made. wooden spoonsRecycled floorboards make great hardwood spoons.

22. Start a blog.

Technology has come a long way and it has never been easier to share your story and knowledge with others. Everyone has a skill set, and many people will not have the skills that you have. Share what you know, and make a little money on the side.

It can be a hard slog to get to a stage where you get results that can make a difference, but the idea is one that has been proven time after time.

23. Start teaching others about your skills.

We sell handmade products at a local market/fair and are sometimes asked if we teach or hold classes on what we do. While it is great to get these requests, the message here for you is that people look for people to learn off of. Your skill may allow you to set up as a teacher or trainer.


This post is a reflection of a part of our journey into the lifestyle of living as sustainably as we can without being radical. If we can do it then many others are also able to create a bit of food insurance, income stability, and a happier life.

It really is worth the effort. If there is anything you think should be on the list, let us know.