February 15, 2021

Appropriate Self-Sufficiency

Those of you who have read my books or blog know that I frequently use the word "self-sufficiency." It's a hold-over term from my back-to-the-land days, when it was a widely used term to describe the goal of the movement. When I started my homestead blog back in 2009, I picked up the familiar term to describe our primary goal. What surprised me at the time, was how people reacted to it. Some people got it, but it was almost startling that so many others scolded me for it, declaring it was impossible or isolationist (in their thinking). Then, I found myself trying to explain how I was using the word and started to say "as self-sufficient as we are able." Eventually, I switched to "self-reliant" which seemed acceptable, even though it meant the same thing to me. 

Recently, I've been reading Carol Deppe's The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. Here, I was introduced to the term "appropriate self-sufficiency." Brilliant! Except that she never exactly defines it, other than to distinguish personal independence from "honorable interdependence," i.e. developing skills that will be useful to an interconnected community. That's great if one has such a community. Unfortunately, many of us who seek a less consumer dependent lifestyle are often considered oddballs by those around us. Because of that, I want appropriate self-sufficiency to be applicable to me too.

What came to mind is the term "appropriate technology," which Merriam-Webster defines as "technology that is suitable to the social and economic conditions of the geographic area in which it is to be applied, is environmentally sound, and promotes self-sufficiency on the part of those using it." Other definers relegate it to third world scenarios, but those of us who understand that hard times happen everywhere, may rightfully define the geographic area as being our own homestead, even our own backyard. Dan and I certainly do, and is why we make lifestyle choices that we feel are environmentally and economically reasonable (for us), though others think our choices are nuts. A good example would be our decision to give up air conditioning

How could we define appropriate self-sufficiency? Perhaps as self-sufficiency that is suitable to my economic conditions and social concerns within the geographic area in which it is to be applied (i.e. my homestead). I think one thing adding "appropriate" does, is allow the term to be customized according to individual goals. What's appropriate for me, may be entirely different for you. 

If appropriate self-sufficiency allows me to define my own parameters, then what would they be? Certainly, that would include anything that allows us to live in relative security and comfort during hard times, whether those hard times are related to weather, health, income, political upheaval, or economic disaster. What areas are realistic for me to consider?

  • Food?
  • Shelter?
  • Water?
  • Energy?
  • Safety?

So, how do I go about achieving greater self-reliance in all of these areas? Well, that's what I've spent the past 12 years writing about. That's what fills the pages of my books and the posts of my blog. Most of it isn't spectacular, profound, alarmist, or even emotionally motivating. Most of it is a rather slow, mundane plodding in a particular direction that isn't of much interest to the majority of folks. Yet, I do it—Dan and I do it—because learning to be less dependent on a dubious consumer system and fickle government feels like the prudent thing to do. 

On the one hand, it's kind of fun to find a word that fits my world so well. On the other hand, so what? Words are constantly evolving; sometimes arbitrarily, sometimes deliberately. How they are perceived can make communication easy or difficult, but it doesn't really change me. As a writer, of course I always hope to use words in ways that have meaning to others and encourage them. I don't always expect to succeed, but I enjoy trying.


tpals said...

It's curious how word choices can skew other's perceptions. Fortunately, you have a way of getting your point across.

SmartAlex said...

People get so hung up on words these days. Which is probably a good thing because maybe it means our vocabulary isn't shrinking as much as I fear it is.
The other day I saw a post on a FB group where a woman was being shamed by her friends for cooking and baking from scratch and spring cleaning her house and shoveling snow and splitting firewood. Are we all supposed to pick up prepared dinners at the deli and bakery? What happens when that's not available? As we all have seen is a possibility. I'm not saying we all have to learn to grow our own wheat, but when did domestic skills become un-cool? We're not Preppers or Survivalists. We're Real Housewives. And not the kind that live in Beverly Hills.

wyomingheart said...

You do promote a lot of thinking to most of us, who read your written words, Leigh. Again, you are right in that what is appropriate for you, may not be appropriate for all. I love the fact that there has never been judgements from you, nor most of your reading community, on what might be appropriate...it’s always been, this is what has worked for me, and give it a try if one wants to. We are putting in place, the things on our farm, that are appropriate for our goals of becoming more self reliant. I agree with you, that regardless of the calamity, we strive to have the resources in place to come through what ever event may befall upon us. I believe that we are all very courageous for choosing to rely on ourselves, to get through this “throw away world of commercialism “. I am personally very happy to have found in you and your reading community, the honest sharing and caring, for what is appropriate to our Ridge Tails Farm! Here’s hoping that the best in our lives is yet to come!

Leigh said...

Tpals, I agree. And it seems to me, that over the past several years, perceptions of words are increasingly used to manipulate people. It's so easy to set some folks off with "hot button" words, because these words are emotionally charged without regard to definition and context.

Alex, I agree our vocabulary seems to be shrinking. Maybe I'm wrong, but it also seems to be simplifying in the sense that how words are defined seems to be narrowing to whatever the current group-think is. Your example is sad but common. I can't help but wonder what motivates it. It almost seems as though people find self-validation through doing what others are doing. When an individual is comfortable doing something different, it triggers insecurity. Why else attack people for being different?????

Wyomingheart, well, I think the key to good communication is respect. I think it's extremely important to respect the beliefs, ideas, and opinions of others. That doesn't mean I have to agree with them, but even when they rankle my sensibilities, I remind myself that they have the right to their beliefs and opinions. I think that kind of respect is very rare nowadays, which is why Alex's example is so common.

I really treasure my readers. Together, we do form a type of community, close in spirit even if far in distance. Those who disagreed have pretty much drifted away or moved on, although occasionally, I still get those drive-by digs I mentioned. Too bad they don't come back to read my response!

Mama Pea said...

So difficult to share your meaning and/or gut-level feelings using words or a specific phrase because to each person it probably means a different thing. I find that the loudest and greatest "objections" we receive when we try to explain or describe our way of life truly don't relate to the words we use, but to the unease the words bring to those not comprehending or wanting to understand. That may sound negative, but I've found it to be true over and over again. And that's okay because I still believe everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, desires, needs and wants. For some, to me anyway, certain beliefs are a surefire trip to hell in a hand basket but as long as I'm allowed to live my life in the best way for me . . . :o)

Kathy said...

We live in an "instant gratification" era (internet, portable devices, social media) where people can spit out words and have that reach billions of people in an instant... before they THINK about what they're saying, how it will be perceived/received or interpreted. Maybe they don't care?! Very unfortunate that people don't think before speaking 98% of the time.
Leigh, I think you do a marvy job of conveying your thoughts (but that's just my interpretation - LOL). I don't know why some people feel the urge to rain on others' parades in a mean or unthinking way. There are a gazillion blogs out there. If you don't like this one, go elsewhere. (Feel the same about social media - if you don't like what someone posts, unfollow/unfriend, but keep your negativity to yourself.) Frankly, I'd love to be your neighbor. We could swap produce & skills. That's the kind of community it's fun to live in and interact with.

Leigh said...

Mama Pea, you bring up another good point, that we all tend to make assumptions about what we're reading/hearing, without truly understanding how the words are being used. And I confess I tend to do this myself. I tend to be too quick to assume. I guess the biggest problem with being the focus of the objection, is the sense of being pushed against a wall, of feeling like one has to defend oneself for being different. It shouldn't be that way! But you're right, it happens over and over.

Kathy, excellent point! And also, thanks to the internet and social media, one can slam someone else, move on without looking back, and never have to face real-life consequences for being flippant and rude. In other words, there's no reason to think before we speak. And I think you're right, they don't care. Sadly, we're becoming more and more isolated, thanks to the handling of the pandemic.

Ed said...

I agree with the person above that people get so hung up on taking words literally these days. I'm more of a big picture kind of person so I'm more likely to take things figuratively unless told otherwise. I know in the technical sense, I think it is impossible to be 100% self sufficient these days unless you are living like native Americans did 500 years ago. But I think we all are self sufficient in various aspects of our lives, some more than others. I am not very self sufficient when it comes to trouble shooting modern vehicles with computer chips but I can hold my own when it comes to making my own furniture.

Leigh said...

Ed, that's the reason I like that added "appropriate" in front of
"self-sufficiency." There's always that person in the crowd that wants to point out that total self-sufficiency is impossible. To me, that is and always has been self-evident. It seems that it ought to be self-evident to others as well, but for some reason it isn't. I can't tell you how many times I've had to explain, yes, I know that, and then use my tried-and-true examples of property taxes and salt to prove I'm not a total idiot, lol. It's curious because no one is inclined to point that out about self-reliance. Yet, I don't seem much difference between the two terms, other than one is more socially acceptable than the other. Go figure.

Cockeyed Jo said...

As you can probably guess, we whole heartedly agree with you. Great minds think alike. There are some things we'll never ne self reliant on, but as "appropriately self sufficient" fits us too. Even our pioneer great grandfathers went to town to purchase some things.

Rosalea said...

Agreed, Leigh. We do the best we can with what we've got, and it is different for everyone. If Hubby and I could have moved here years ago, we could have done so much more toward self sufficiency, but our bodies just aren't what they used to be! Some of our friends say they are envious of our life style, others think we are nuts, up here, digging in the dirt on our 'off grid' hill! Hopefully we will all remain free to make our own choices.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh - I do not wonder that so much of the world stumbles on the word "self-sufficiency" for two reasons. The first is that it includes the word "self", which general is seen in the negative context of "selfish" (although oddly, "self care" is not viewed in the same light). The other is that word "sufficient", implying (to those who do not not practice such things) that there is some a dependency in their life. People, on the whole, do not like to believe themselves to be dependent. "Interdependent" yes, but not "Dependent". "Dependent" means I am in some way vulnerable, that I am on the receiving end of a relationship that I cannot control.

I like the phrase "appropriate technology" as well, although concur with you that it is quite often used in the Third World sense. We have this rather blinding belief that all technology is inherently good and should be practiced and widely adopted, and at best askance is looked upon anyone that chooses to politely decline or do work in a more simple way. I am not sure why this is - perhaps it is simply a matter of "if it is easier to do than not do, why do it?"

"Self Reliant" is a useful term and that (for whatever reason) may be more palatable to the larger world. "Reliant" has the same root as "Reliable", and I cannot think of a single use of that term where it is not considered a good thing. I do like "Honorable Interdependence" as well - not all interdependence is honorable, and often times the word seems to be used for something much like "enforced interdependence."

Leigh said...

Jo, it just seems an odd thing to argue over. I have not met a person yet with a goal of self-sufficiency who meant they were cutting themselves off from the entire world. That assumption seems to come from the critics. Then you find yourself arguing over something that was never intended in the first place. Crazy!

Rosalea, that's a good example. You analyzed your resources, goals, and physical abilities and have acted accordingly.

TB, that's a well thought out analysis, and you may be right. We all have assumptions about the meanings of words. Something else about the word "sufficient," it doesn't seem to blend well with "ambition." Ambition is considered a good thing, whereas contentment is often viewed as complacency, which is not a good thing. Ideally, we would all read or listen to discover how the writer or speaker defines their terms (something I picked up from Mortimer J. Adler's How To Read a Book. Makes for more interesting reading or discussion.

Boud said...

I have noticed that people take certain lifestyles to be a criticism of them, even though the people following them have no such thought.

Case in point: I took care of my disabled husband personally at home for years, till his peaceful death, and after he had died people I thought were friends attacked me on the grounds that everyone couldn't do that, and there was nothing wrong with placing an aged spouse, etc.

I had no idea there was anything wrong with it either! So I used to explain I thought it was just a personal decision. I think they felt I was being admired for what I was doing, and it certainly was very exhausting work, as an old person myself, but that wasn't why I did it. So I learned not even to discuss it after a while.

I have difficulty understanding the mentality that takes what another person does as a commentary on themselves. So when you do things the "hard" way, using different ways of achieving your farming ends, there will always be people who say you are just doing it for who knows what, attention, to make a point? I don't know.
I do know it's surprising when you suddenly hear this stuff about what you've been innocently doing all along just because it's the way you do it!

Leigh said...

Boud, I'm so sorry that happened to you. It shouldn't be that way. But I fully understand what you're saying. I had a similar experience with homeschooling. In the course of a conversation I would mention we homeschooled. I can't tell you how many times the response would be a long discourse on why the other person couldn't homeschool. That always puzzled me because their choices were their own personal affair and of no interest to me. I was certainly happy to give information to people who asked questions, but I wasn't at all in promoting it.

Yes, it does seem as though a significant number of people need everyone else to think and act the same way. Insecurity? I wish I knew.

www.self-sufficientsam.blogspot.com said...

I named my blog "self-sufficient Sam" at a time when I am the least self-sufficient I've ever been and getting worse every day! Getting older and having chronic illnesses (RA and more) have really put a damper on my plans. I'm to the age now where it is all about comfort and aids that will help me remain healthy and ambulatory. I kept fooling myself thinking I could still do it all but alas I was not being realistic and it was frustrating me and overwhelming me. So, I do what I can but I get help (usually from machinery of some kind) where I can to make my life as easy as possible without becoming a vegetable! LOL! I love reading about other's journeys and your posts but those days are done for me....or so I think? If I get back up north and have a yard without Bermuda grass I may reconsider! LOL!
The best of self-sufficiency to you and Dan!

Leigh said...

Sam, that's exactly the way it's supposed to be; we just do what we can. I agree, though, there's no sense being too hard on yourself. I do think that as we get older, doing as much as we can for ourselves helps keep us physically and mentally fit.

Retired Knitter said...

Ahhh... labels! Only humans seem determined to categorize, label and/or name ways of thinking and living.

I’d prefer describing your chosen way of living as “back to the earth” or “living close to the land” - descriptive terms that fit a way of living that has been almost lost to humans - but very common before the 20th century with all its inventions and discoveries. Now it is more of a choice than a default way to live.

No matter - If it helps others understand your choices and learn from them - then it is worth the effort. I follow your blog because I am curious about the way you live your life that was more common in the world over 150 years ago. It is an interesting mix of choices from an older life style and the practical knowledge and tools of today’s world.

Leigh said...

RT, yes, we humans love to do that! And then give or take away brownie points for how well we agree with the label! lol

One of the things I've come to appreciate about you is that you are very upfront and comfortable about your personal lifestyle preferences, yet you are interested in different choices others might make. I so agree with that! Cultural studies can be truly fascinating, and it's a shame so many folks prefer a cookie cutter version of society. No diversity in that.