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How to Be Self-Sufficient While Living in a City

LTM's small farm is completely off the grid. Her family uses solar and alternative power sources for lighting, cooking, animal fencing, etc.

How can you be self-sufficient in the middle of a city?

How can you be self-sufficient in the middle of a city?

If you are living in the middle of a city in an apartment building or a rented house, your chances of becoming self-sufficient for any extended length of time are very slim. However, you should at least be able to cope with a crisis lasting a week or two.

Those who own a home with a yard where you can divert your rainwater or recycle your greywater and make decisions about what to plant and where to plant it are in a much stronger position for becoming self-sufficient.

There are a number of simple items anyone living in a city can purchase, as well as various strategies to help make you more self-sufficient, less vulnerable, and more able to cope with change (and inconvenient power interruptions).

Be Prepared

Self-sufficiency and sustainability are just dreams for many city dwellers, but with the right attitude and careful consideration about where you spend each dollar, you will be investing in protection for your future.

The hints I offer are based on my experience deliberately living 'off the grid' for over a decade, and they're useful for anyone who hopes and aims one day to live off the grid in a truly sustainable and self-sufficient environment. But these items are equally valuable in a 'survival' sense even if you never intend to become fully self-sufficient.

We are all aware of the possibility—no matter how remote you think that possibility is—that one day you might be forced to face a day or a week or a month or longer without the luxury of utilities and resources that you currently rely on. So it makes sense to be prepared.

6 Ways to Improve Your Self-Sufficiency

  1. Purchase Solar-Powered Lights and Flashlights
  2. Get Some Buckets
  3. Plan What You'll Eat and How You'll Cook It
  4. Prepare Window Coverings
  5. Buy a Small Tent to Cope With Weather Extremes
  6. Create an Edible Garden
One of the earlier versions of small solar powered light systems we've used in our home over the years.

One of the earlier versions of small solar powered light systems we've used in our home over the years.

1. Purchase Solar-Powered Lights and Flashlights

People are often at their most vulnerable when their power supply is interrupted and their lights go out. News reports often mention chaos and inconvenience in large cities (or sections of cities) without power. The power can be down for days—or even weeks—at a time.

There is no reason for homes to remain in darkness. With advance planning, you can be equipped with solar-powered lights for using indoors and outside your home.

But why wait for an interruption to your electricity supply to use them? Even in the city, you can become more self-sufficient and less reliant on power companies by making the transition to solar-powered lights and flashlights today.

Our family has an assortment of torches/flashlights that don't require standard batteries at all. Here's a few of them.

Our family has an assortment of torches/flashlights that don't require standard batteries at all. Here's a few of them.

2. Get Some Buckets

Buckets Are the Forgotten Self-Sufficiency/Survival Tool

Every now and then I happen upon 'survival lists' compiled by someone concerned enough to be planning to bug out, buzz off or dig in during a natural or man-caused emergency. Yet their lists tend to forget one of the most helpful items: the humble bucket. I suggest you add a few to your own list.

If you live in a city, there's every chance you don't have one bucket in your home—unless you have a child who likes to visit the beach. To have any hope of being self-sufficient, however, a bucket is an essential item.

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Why Is a Bucket Essential?

If I was living in a city and wanting to cope with an emergency situation, I would buy at least ten plastic buckets (in at least two different colors), pile them up and store them in my broom closet or laundry. No matter how serious you are about preparing for forced or chosen self-sufficiency, you really should own buckets. Here's why:

  • Buckets can collect water. Rainwater, river water, water spraying from a broken mains pipe, or water from a nearby house where supply may not have been interrupted.
  • Buckets are easy to carry. Sure, you could use a large pot from your kitchen to wander off and collect water - but it won't be as easy to carry home as a bucket full of water would be.
  • Buckets can store snow. If you have no water during the middle of winter but can heat snow to create enough water to meet your needs, that's a definite advantage. However, if your home is not heated, you will quickly get sick of repeatedly opening the door and going outside to collect more snow. Go once, collect lots, and keep it readily available.
  • Buckets can be used to collect food. If you are outdoors digging up potatoes from your backyard or stealing fruit from someone's tree, a bucket rests firmly on the ground or comfortably over your elbow while you are working. Again, it is easy to carry home.
  • A bucket is a good place to put your food scraps, peels etc. Carry the bucket outside to your compost heap, or bury your waste in the garden to feed the worms and ultimately make your garden healthier.
  • Buckets help you recycle water. They are a perfect size for hand washing (until the water is dirty enough to pour into your cistern ready for flushing the toilet) and also for washing dishes.
  • Buckets help you save water for small washing jobs. Having extra buckets allows you to put only a small amount of your stored water into one bucket for using when washing hands. (You don't need water up to your elbows when washing your hands. Use a small amount and replace it with fresh water regularly.) Same if you need to rinse out your knickers.
  • Buckets can be used as a toilet in an emergency. (That's why I suggest buying different color buckets. You want to be able to tell the difference between the ones you store drinking water in, and the ones you use for washing etc. A toilet bucket should have its own distinct color - or sign on it.)

Discount stores often sell buckets. I have seen large buckets on sale for less than one dollar each. Even if you pay more than that, I recommend you keep a few on hand.

3. Plan What You'll Eat and How You'll Cook It

Walk into your kitchen and make a list of the foods you have available right now that could provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a week in an unexpected emergency. If you are unexpectedly confined to your home, what will you eat?

Then adjust that list to accommodate a power interruption. You have no electricity, so many of the items in your refrigerator will need to be struck from your list from Day Two onwards. If you cook with electricity, factor that in as well.

In some events, your gas supply might also be interrupted.

My Suggested Supplies and Equipment

So . . . what will you eat and how will you cook it?

I suggest every home should at least have a few jars of honey, some long-life milk, a few bags of muesli and some fresh water stored in the kitchen. If you are confined to your home for any longer than a day, you are going to need something to eat.

And unless you have a barbecue, camp cooker, wood-burner stove or solar oven on hand, you can't rely on cooking. If you have a backyard, in some situations, you could probably create a small campfire outdoors. But will you have to burn books and use a wooden chair to feed the fire?

If you want to be self-sufficient for any period of time, you need to be able to feed yourself and your family. One of the cheapest and easiest solutions to cooking is a simple homemade rocket stove.

One Simple Solution for Self-Sufficient Cooking: Rocket Stove

A rocket stove requires only a few twigs gathered from your garden or from beneath nearby trees to heat it effectively. In the video above, you'll see how the eager user over-loaded the fire.

This block version of a rocket stove would be good for anyone living in a city. The blocks could be used to keep pot plants raised off the ground (or could be tucked away somewhere discreet) when not needed.

In the event that you want to boil water or cook a meal in an emergency - or just for the fun of being a little more self-sufficient and less reliant on power suppliers - you can construct and use your rocket stove in a safe position outdoors.

In addition to the four blocks, make sure you have some kind of grill to elevate your pot. It won't work properly if you cover the top of the block and stop the airflow.

4. Prepare Window Coverings

If you have central heating and double-glazed windows, perhaps you've never given any real thought to what makes an effective curtain.

At different stages in my life, I've preferred vastly different window coverings. In my beach house, I loved wooden Venetian blinds that allowed me to adjust them to either allow light and breezes in or tilt them to provide an element of shade.

When we lived in cold, snowy winters, there was both a real and a psychological warming when pulling big double-lined drapes across floor-to-ceiling windows.

In a moderate climate, I recall hanging bamboo blinds and years later, in the same city, choosing sheer, wafting curtains to allow the light - but block the view of passers-by during busy traffic times. At night I pulled down a roller blind for privacy.

For the past fifteen years, however, I have chosen to include block-out curtains, irrespective of where I am living.

Advantages of Blackout Curtains

As nice as it is to enjoy the view from a window, there are many advantages to hanging blackout curtains.

  • Insulation against summer heat.
  • Protection from the external cold.
  • Cost saving. Potential to reduce reliance on air conditioning.
  • Noise reduction.
  • Privacy.
  • Provides more 'sleeping hours' during daylight saving and short summer nights.
  • Blocks the light from street lights and neon signs in the city.
  • Better sleep. Nature provides darkness at night.
  • Safer for children. (No long cords posing a danger to toddlers.)
  • In a SHTF situation, you are unlikely to want others to see your lights are on.
  • Easy care, low maintenance.

How We Use Blackout Curtains

Some of my windows have two layers of curtains, with the black-out curtains rarely drawn. However, they are there when needed.

During summer if we leave the house for the day, we close the blackout curtains. Our home is always cooler when we return than if we'd left the curtains open.

Same thing in the winter. We load the wood-burner stove with wood, turn it down so it burns slowly, close the blackout curtains ... and come home to a warm house.

5. Buy a Small Tent to Cope With Weather Extremes

In seasonal temperature extremes, if you have no electricity, what will you do? This is one of the most frightening problems, particularly if you have children. It is also one of the most commonly overlooked problems when planning to be self-sufficient.

Benefits of a Tent

A small tent is relatively cheap to buy, light to carry, and small to store. Make sure you have one before you need it.

  1. A small tent can help keep you warm in the winter (even inside your house.)
  2. A small tent can help keep you cooler in summer extremes (when you can't power your air conditioner.)
  3. Privacy and protection.

When you are used to relying on heating provided by a commercial outlet, it is easy to forget just how cold the inside of a home can become. Within as little as 24 hours, you might find you are freezing indoors but lack the ability to keep warm.

If your local climate has both hot and cold extremes, your small tent has double the value in a self-sufficiency sense. I have already written an article on this topic so I won't repeat myself here. Just read my article titled 'How to Keep Warm in Winter Without Electricity, and Keep Cool in Summer'.

If you have the chance (or are forced) to relocate during an emergency, you will be very pleased to have the privacy and protection from the elements offered by a tent. There have been circumstances when residents have been required to take refuge in a stadium or a large community building along with hundreds or thousands of others.

6. Create an Edible Garden

If you are fortunate enough to have a backyard where you can grow foods and the freedom to keep a few hens, and if you own your house so you can change the plumbing if you choose to, that's great. You have more options, more resources, and a better chance of being even more self-sufficient long term.

Even if you have no interest in becoming an organic gardener with a constant supply of fresh foods, at least grow a few easy vegetables. Potatoes are an easy option if you live in a city. You can grow them in your garden (or in a large pot if you don't have a garden) and leave them in the ground until you need them.

If the day comes when you need to be self-sufficient, collect your home-grown potatoes in your bucket ... and cook them on your rocket stove!

© 2015 LongTimeMother


LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on January 24, 2018:

Good idea to prepare for the unexpected, Mary. It is a wonderful feeling to be in control and equipped with necessary items at a time when everyone else is experiencing chaos and panic.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 22, 2018:

We have been thinking of doing this in the cottage. It is time to make a decision.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 30, 2015:

Hello James. A bit of advance planning can be a great help - especially during an emergency. :)

James Richmond from Kent, Washington on April 28, 2015:

My girlfriend will love this article! We're planning our place now, so were gathering supplies and the essentials for when we move in. She's likes saving money whenever possible, and this will surely help us as we start our life together.

Thank you,


LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 23, 2015:

You'll be popular if your local power goes down, peeples. I'm sure you'll manage to swap a rocket stove for a bucket if you need to!

Peeples from South Carolina on April 22, 2015:

Just the type of read I was looking for today! I realized while reading this just how few buckets we have. However I now realize I have enough blocks to supply the neighborhood with rocket stoves, haha! Great read!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on February 16, 2015:

Thanks, FlourishAnyway. Experience in a wonderful teacher. Living completely off-grid has taught me a lot, and I'm happy to share my thoughts.

Hmmm ... maybe you should be partially burying four blocks and using them to grow garden herbs. Then after the next hurricane, just dig them up to create your rocket stove. If the herbs haven't been blown away, you could add fresh herbs to your beans and soup. :)

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 14, 2015:

You really know your stuff. Your rationale about buckets, having blackout curtains, a tent ... it all seems very sensible. When we had a hurricane years ago and were without power for several days, we were reasonably well prepared but I got so sick of eating cold pork and beans and soup from a can. It was something I would not want to do again. I do have an emergency list and have diversified my list of on-hand items just in case.

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