If you’re looking for a better and rewarding lifestyle, start with self-sufficient homesteading skills. When SHTF, the ability to live a self-sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle is a vital skill for the entire family.
In this article, I give you the best homesteading skills needed for a self-sufficient way of life. As you’ll notice in the definitions below, homesteading and self-sufficiency go hand-in-hand.
The Definition of Self-Sufficient
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Able to maintain oneself or itself without outside aid: capable of providing for one’s own needs. For example, a self-sufficient farm, or a farm that completely operates on its own without outside help.
For homesteaders and preppers, it also means no longer depending on the grid. Prepper goals are to rely on ourselves as much as possible for our food, utilities, and other life-sustaining needs.
Homesteading means understanding and knowing how to perform the skills needed as our grandparents did.
If you have family members that lived through the Depression, you probably grew up understanding the vital need for self-sufficiency.
Sadly, many parents didn’t share this information with their children, so few practice or even know about these skills.
The Definition of Homesteading
The word, homesteading, got its start in the United States in 1862, after the passing of the Homestead Act.
The modern meaning of homesteading as defined by Wikipedia:
The word, homesteading, got its start in the United States in 1862, after the passing of the Homestead Act.
The biggest mistake that most people make when referring to homesteading is defining it as where someone lives. Homesteading is not reserved for country living but is a lifestyle choice. You can practice homesteading anywhere; in the country, city, on a farm or in an apartment.
The Lifestyle of Today
Today we live in a digital world, while everything around us moves quickly. Consequently, we expect instant gratification. We can’t live without our cell phones, and handheld computers are keeping us tethered digitally. We are so connected to the fast-moving screens in front of us; we’ve forgotten how to interact with each other face-to-face.
In addition, we want central heat and air and prefer driving cars with the A/C cranked up during warm weather.
Cooking dinner from scratch is a lost art. Most people don’t even know how to cook unless it comes out of a box.
Schedules are so full of dance recitals, sports practices and special clubs and organizations we don’t have family time. Instead of concentrating on one activity and honing skills to perfection, our kids are stretched thin with multiple activities. The children today are stretched so thin that they’re stressed out by the time their ten years old.
I can’t help but be sad when I think about all the things this generation and the next are missing. We had home cooked meals almost every night, and the take-out food was an occasional treat. Everyone sat down together at the dinner table most nights.
Each kid focused on one extracurricular activity with a once a week practice so no crazy schedules.
Most kids or adults, don’t know what it’s like to eat food from the garden. Things like fresh tomatoes, lettuce, or green beans bursting with flavor.
I think the saddest thing is; few know the feeling of accomplishment that comes from building something from random leftovers. They don’t know the feeling of pride when you look at the functional item you made with your own hands.
These simple things of everyday life are what makes homesteading so satisfying.
Homesteading Survival for the Next Generation
We no longer use the homesteading skills of past generations and in most cases, skills completely forgotten. Unfortunately, our children won’t experience the joy and feeling of accomplishment we get with sustainable living.
Even their parents missed out when it comes to a homesteading lifestyle. That is, they won’t get that feeling unless those of us that know, share our knowledge.
Not all kids and their parents are like this, but I can safely say, the majority are. So, it is up to those of us that understand the skills of homesteading and a sustainable lifestyle. We must teach those willing to learn the basic self-sufficiency skills.
Teaching those that want a lifestyle change is why I started Family Survival Prepping.
20 Skills Needed for Homesteading and Self-Sufficient Living
When putting the following ideas, tips, and skills to use, you begin the journey toward self-sufficiency and living off-grid. In a few months of following this guide, you can go completely off-grid for a lifetime of being self-reliant.
Start at your own pace, taking your time to move slowly into each challenge and keep from getting overwhelmed. These skills only need a few minutes of your time on a regular basis. Some skills, like gardening, will take months before you see the results of your work.
Our homesteading and self-sufficiency guide is just that: a guide.
Here are the 20 homesteading skills this guide covers, that I consider the most important for self-sufficiency:
- 1Learn to Live with the Basics
- 2Vegetable and Herb Gardening
- 3Plant and Harvest Fruit Trees and Bushes
Hunting and Foraging
Cleaning and Processing Fish and Meat
- 9Food Preservation
Build a Smoker
- 12Fire Starting
- 13Homemade Laundry Soap, Cleaners, and Soap and Toiletries
- 14Homemade Herbal Medicine and Homeopathic Lessons
- 15Using a Washboard
- 16Making a Clothesline
- 17Raising Livestock
- 18Sewing, Crocheting or Knitting
- 19Stockpiling or Prepping
These skills are not in any certain order. You can learn the skills whenever you want, or combine them with other skills. Except for the first skill.
Learning to live with the basics is vital to planning a self-sufficient lifestyle. Simple, basic living is also a skill you continue learning for the rest of your life.
Enter your text here...
Details of the 20 Homesteading Skills for Self-Sufficiency
So, let's cover each of the 20 homesteading and self-sufficiency skills in further detail.
1. Learn to Live with the Basics
In communities across the United States and around the world, people are joining the homesteading movement. Inspired by living a simpler lifestyle, many are learning the self-sufficient ways of previous generations. With a desire to slow down the fast-paced lifestyle, families are choosing to liver richer lives with less.
Here are some of the things we do to lessen our consumer-driven lifestyle to maintaining a homestead where we live on less:
Lots of DIY
I have always loved DIY, and we raised our family on the DIY lifestyle. However, we got carried away with consumerism for a while. But, it didn’t take long before we realized living with “stuff” is not a good way to live.
We taught our family and knew the difference between things we want and things we need. There is a huge difference between need and want.
So, before running to the “everything” store for what we think we need, the family looks at what we have. We ask ourselves, “Do we really need that or can we make do, recycle, or reuse?”
We reuse and recycle everything possible. We’re even known for going dumpster diving and curbside shopping.
Lower the Grocery Bill
Cutting the grocery bill perhaps offers the biggest savings source. We stopped buying processed food and cook everything from scratch. We still have the occasional treats, but there are so many we can cook ourselves that saves lots of money.
I’ve changed my weekly shopping trips to once a month and buying in bulk. I use coupons and savings programs which saves a bunch of money.
For example, no more paying $3 for a jar of spaghetti sauce. I can make a sauce for dinner and, for less than $10, freeze enough sauce for five different meals. I’ll even share my sauce recipe with you on my recipe page.
We build our menus around what’s growing in our spring, summer, and fall gardens. We’re fortunate enough to live in a fairly temperate climate with long growing seasons. In fact, if you plan on making a permanent move to a new location, we highly recommend locations away for long cold seasons. Which is a discussion of another article.
We also plant a huge garden with enough items to can and preserve, and barter. More about that in the gardening section of this article.
Home downsizing is a big consideration. When you think about it, our homes today are monstrosities when it comes to size.
We originally started out in a home with about 2500 square feet. Today, our home is 1700 square feet and is plenty of room to house four people. We opted for the extra land over a large house. While we don’t have a huge, sprawling ranch, we have enough land for a big garden, a flock of thirty chickens, and some goats.
We also put our home investment money into energy savings with extra insulation, storm windows, and a heat barrier on the roof. These energy savings took our summer electric bill from over $400 each month to $120.
While in the winter, gas normally stays under $100. Currently, we’re moving to alternative energy, but while we slowly get there, having an energy efficient home is awesome.
All the extra money normally spent on fancy extras went on energy savings from the washing machine to the air and heat.
The thing is, people just don’t need all that space. While space needs depend on the individual, the average person only needs 100-400 square feet of space.
I think some of the people moving into tiny housing are crazy, and going way too small. I cringe when I see a family of four trying to fit in a 200-square foot house. The thing is, you must think ahead.
Your kids are young now, and brother and sister get along great. But, what happens when they start moving towards independence? There’s no privacy for anyone.
Tiny houses are a good idea, and frankly, I’m thrilled to see people downsizing. But, as with anything else, use common sense.
The Tiny House Blog has some great information about square footage needed per person.
Alternative energy is my favorite living with the basics topic.
The biggest expense of any home is the cooling and heating costs, and they quickly become astronomical during different seasons.
Our home has a big fireplace. In the winter, we turn our thermostat low and heat with wood. In the summer, we turn the air conditioner as high as we can comfortably tolerate. We made an investment in thick, heavy duty blinds that we keep closed to keep the heat out.
We have ceiling fans in every room and use them all year, and when the temperature is moderate, we open the windows. These small changes make a big difference that you can see.
Currently, we are adding some solar panels for things like lighting in our outbuildings and barn. Where we live, there’s rarely a day that goes by that we don’t have some wind or breeze. With such easy access to this natural resource, we are looking at wind power options.
Alternative energy takes an investment, so it’s something we are doing a step-at-a-time. Even starting small as we did with our outbuildings, delivers significant savings.
I am working on articles that go deeper into depth about the different alternative power sources.
It’s amazing how the small changes listed above, help us comfortably live on less. We struggled every month to make ends meet when we lived in that oversized house. Even though have less “stuff” and less room, we are happier and don’t miss it at all.
What do you think your life would be like if you made these simple changes?
2. Vegetable and Herb Gardening
Knowing basic gardening is one of the best items in your homesteading skills for self-sufficiency arsenal. Knowing what to grow, how to grow, and how to preserve it provides your family survival food when you have nothing else.
I recommend starting with the easiest vegetables to grow for those new to gardening. Vegetables like potatoes, lettuce and other leafy greens, onions, tomatoes, and beans are great beginner crops. As you gain experience over several growing seasons, you can start adding tougher-to-grow vegetables. You can start growing difficult veggies like eggplant, squash, and corn.
When starting your first vegetable garden, save a small area for growing herbs. There’s nothing better than fresh herbs for flavorful dishes and harvesting plants for medicinal purposes.
You can maintain a vegetable garden almost anywhere, including a garden patch, raised beds, or containers.
At our house, we use straw bales for gardening. It’s an easy task that lessens back strain and produces some amazing crops. We are in our second straw bale growing season. As long as we have access to straw, it’s the only way we plan to garden.
Check out my article about our straw bale gardening journey.
3. Plant Fruit Trees and Bushes
Fruit trees and bushes, like vegetable gardens, provide your family with many options for tasty food. If you know how to preserve food, you can have fresh tasting fruit all year round. While trees, like apple, peach, and pear, take a few years to bear fruit, the wait is worth it.
If you want some fruit until your trees mature, consider adding bushes like blackberry, blueberry, and elderberry. And like herbs, some fruits, like the elderberry, have medicinal properties.
Plant your bushes in the spring, and by the following spring, you should get a few fruit from them. After two years, your fruit bushes should go into full production.
In the fall, gather your fall leaves and start by combining your brown material with your wet green items, like grass clippings and scraps. If you have a lot of leaves, keep some in a pile separate from the compost. You can use these later as you continue to build your compost pile.
Since we have chickens, we utilize their droppings. We clean the coop and add new bedding and flooring the old straw goes to the compost pile as a brown item.
I’ve seen many people say, “Don’t use chicken manure, it’s too strong.”
The statement is only partially true. Chicken manure is an excellent fertilizer, and if you have a flock, it’s free garden gold.
What is true about chicken manure, it is too strong to fresh manure in the garden, even if in a compost pile. When using manure in a compost pile, it must set outside for at least 5-6 months.
Now here is where we do things a little differently. We add a large bag of peat and a large bag of vermiculite and using a pitchfork, stir everything together.
If you don’t want to use the peat and vermiculite (found at farm stores), add a few shovelfuls of dirt.
Water the compost pile until moist and give it another stir. Do not add too much water. You want it completely moistened but not soggy.
Throughout the winter, we add vegetable scraps and fallen leaves to the pile. Keep adding things to your pile, moistening after each layer, and stir once each week. Don’t add any more manure.
Once your pile reaches three feet tall, stop adding material. Let the compost cook, stirring it every two weeks.
After sitting over the winter, the chicken manure is no longer too harsh to use for the garden.
What to Use for Compost
While you can add garlic and onions to the compost pile, I don’t recommend it. Some research points to these vegetables repelling earthworms, a vital ingredient in any garden.
Here is a list of good things for your compost pile:
What Not to Use for Compost
These items do not break down well, making your compost pile smell while attracting unwanted pests and animal.
5. Hunting and Foraging
While I understand hunting and foraging are two different topics, they serve the same purpose, surviving on wild food.
Understanding what you can eat, how to find it, and how to prepare and cook it is vital to survival. If hunting is your thing, you have lots of options for supplementing your food supply with edible plants.
When picking wild berries in season, you can freeze, can, or dehydrate for enjoying their fresh taste throughout the year. In our area, wild blackberries and elderberries are plentiful. I make jellies and preserves, dehydrate for snacks, juice for medicinal, and freeze dry for desserts.
Greens and wild herbs are plentiful in most areas, and in some place, you can find greens late into the winter.
Start by buying a reliable edible wild plant identification guide, like the Petersen Field Guide.
The field guide is a great book and covers over three hundred edibles and includes poisonous look-alike plants.
If you can’t identify a plant with complete certainty, leave it alone. It’s better to err on the side of caution.
When hunting game animals, learn the correct hunting seasons for each species and check licensing laws in your area. Check with your state fishing and wildlife organization.
As with other foods, once you properly prepare your game, you have several methods for preserving the meat.
It’s also important to keep all hunting weapons clean, prepared, and stored safely.
Everyone, whether prepper or not, should have, at the least, rudimentary fishing skills. It’s hard to imagine, but some people don’t have a clue when it comes to fishing. Regardless of your dietary choices, if it comes surviving, knowing how to catch a fish can save your life.
Fishing is possibly, the fastest way for obtaining food when thrown in a survival situation. For a prepper, having fishing supplies with your prepper gear is smart planning. You don’t have thousands of dollars invested in fishing equipment. With only a simple rod and reel and a few hooks and bait, you can easily provide your family with food.
If you ever find yourself in a survival situation, Mother Nature offers a wide selection of ways to capture fish. A makeshift sapling pole and nature made hook and you have dinner.
Survival Fishing Tackle Ideas
For fishing line, use plastic strips, shoelaces, or cloth strips while bait comes from worms, crickets, grasshoppers, and leftover food.
If you want a great read on fishing for survival, check out this article about survival fishing.
7. Cleaning and Processing Fish and Meat
Whether you hunt and fish or raise livestock, you must know how to process fresh fish and meat for consumption. For hunting and fishing, the meat prepping process is called Field Dressing.
Check out the report put out by PennState Extension for more information on the importance of proper field dressing.
Once you field dress your wild game or process livestock, you need to know how to cook. The best plan for survival prepping and what I practice in our home is having multiple household cooks.
Everyone in our house knows how to cook using basic ingredients. I’m not referring to heating a frozen pizza or opening a box of mac-n-cheese. We can take pantry ingredients and make a full meal, bake bread, make pancakes, and a host of other dishes. My son can fry a batch of chicken or make a pan of biscuits just as good as Mom can.
9. Food Preservation
Another skill of top importance and one of my favorites is food preservation. Every spring we plant a huge garden, more than what we can eat. The extra food means we need ways of preserving the harvest for eating throughout the year.
The first and most inexpensive preservation method is canning. There’s an initial investment for the pressure canner, water bath canner, and jars which can be a little expensive.
A good pressure canner will set you back about $85. The jars and lids, depending on the jar size, start at around $10 per case, however, like the canner, they are reusable.
Your ongoing expense is the lids and replacing the jars due to breakage. However, I can tell you if you buy good jars like Kerr, they last a long time. I am still using jars that are over 10-years old.
The investment becomes worth it each time you open a jar of home canned tomatoes and get a whiff of summer.
Other methods of preservation include freeze drying and dehydrating.
10. Build a Smoker
An efficiently wonderful way to cook meats and vegetables is smoking. It adds an amazing flavor and is an easy process. By learning to build your own smoker, you get a great piece of preparedness equipment.
There are dozens of smokes you can make out of almost anything. Check out Cool DIY Ideas for ten trash-to-smoker ideas.
When you have a family, food rationing gets difficult. But when you’re in a survival situation, rationing becomes a necessity. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most overlooked survival skills.
If you need food to last for a while, dividing and saving foodstuff becomes vital. Check out our other articles about ways to save and plan for any food emergency.
12. Fire Starting
When it comes to fire starting skills practice, practice, practice.
Starting a fire in other than perfect conditions is difficult at best. Wind, humidity and wet conditions make starting a fire almost impossible at times.
Start practicing your skills with using a lighter before moving to a flint and striker. Once you master the easier methods, move to the more difficult primitive fire-starting techniques like the bow drill.
13. Homemade Laundry Soap, Cleaners, and Soaps and Toiletries
Basic pantry items, like vinegar and baking soda, make some of the best cleaners, soaps, and more. Baking soda is also an ingredient in homemade dry shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste.
Vinegar makes a great deodorizer, disinfectant, and toilet bowl cleaner. Mix some baking soda and a little vinegar, and you have a mild, toxic free oven cleaner.
Check out my homemade cleaners, soaps, and toiletries recipes for some great ideas without the chemicals. You’ll even find a fantastic recipe for homemade laundry soap.
14. Homemade Herbal Medicine and Homeopathic Lessons
For hundreds of years, wild medicinal plants have been a part of home gardens and landscapes. Today, nature’s pharmaceuticals are a major part of the homesteader’s self-sustaining and prepping lifestyle.
While home remedies are not a replacement for professional medicine, they do offer a helpful backup to any prepper plan.
You can find some medicinal herbal plants at local home and garden stores for adding to your medicinal garden. Others are found in nature, even growing wild in your yard.
Homemade herbal medicine and homeopathic lessons, along with basic first aid help you prepare for many types of emergencies.
The Herbal Academy offers a beginner, intermediate, and advanced course in herbal medicine. These courses are easy to understand and follow.
14 Easy-To-Find Medicinal Plants
- Blackberry – Astringent nature of leaves used in mouthwash and for diarrhea.
- Lemon Balm – Used in balms for cold sores and tea for insomnia.
- Lavender – Used for repelling insects, treat burns, skin disorders, and relaxation.
- Comfrey – One of my favorite medicinal plants, however, practice caution when using. Uses include bruises, sprains, arthritis, and burns. Due to high alkaloid content, not for internal use which may cause liver damage.
- Yarrow – Not only is this a top pick for a medicinal garden; it’s a great looking perennial plant. Reported uses include cuts, abrasions, and wounds to help stop bleeding and reduce infection chances. Yarrow leaves are antiseptic and help blood to clot.
- Burdock – Used for blood and body purification, acne, eczema, and other skin problems.
- Plantain – Another of my favorites, especially when combined with comfrey. You can find this plant almost anywhere, including your backyard. Just be careful of where you pick it.
- Dandelion – Uses include digestion stimulation and liver and gallbladder tonics. Also known for its diuretic properties and appetite stimulation.
- Willow – The medicinal uses of trees bark and leaves dates back centuries. Uses include skin boils, ulcers, carbuncles, and abscesses. Other well-known uses include anti-diarrheal and pain and inflammation.
- Echinacea – Best known for reducing the duration and effects of the common cold. Also used to treat yeast and other fungi infections.
- Elderberry – Not only does this fruit make great jellies and syrup, but it also has a reputation for treating wounds. May help reduce swollen mucous membranes in the sinuses and relieve congestion. The elder may have antiviral, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties as well.
- Black Walnut – Used as an antiseptic and for expelling parasites.
- Jewelweed – Best known as a treatment for poison oak, sumac, and ivy while cooling the itch.
- Birch Bark – Used as an analgesic.
15. Using a Tub and Washboard
Maybe you’re without electricity, haven’t dug the well on the new homestead, or just want to save water and energy. Whatever the reason, you need to find a way to clean that huge pile of dirty clothes. Learning to use a tub and washboard helps you efficiently get the task done.
To get a good tub and washboard, it takes a bit of an investment. The American made, Mustee 27F Double comes in around $100. But with its double tub with drains and hoses, and ability to add a faucet, the 27F is a great investment.
The washboard, on the other hand, is a little harder to find. But Amazon has several to choose from ranging in price from $10 to $30.
16. Make a Clothesline
Now that you have your washtub, you need a way to dry clothes without a modern dryer.
If you’ve never slept on sheets or worn clothes that have air dried outside in the sun, try it. The smell of line dried clothes and linens is one of the best things there is. It’s right up there with the smell of homemade bread baking in the oven. Frankly, I’m not sure which smell is my favorite.
You can buy readymade clothesline, but my recommendation is, make your own. By going the DIY route, you can adjust the size to the needs of your family.
Check out these instructions on wikiHow for making your own clothesline.
17. Raise Livestock
There are many reasons for raising livestock. Chickens and ducks provide both meat and eggs, while a cow and goat give you milk. Also, rabbits provide another food source while sheep give you wool for clothing and bedding.
Equally important, livestock, like horses, give you a mode of transportation or a way to manage heavy farming tasks.
18. Sewing, Crocheting, or Knitting
Everyone should know how to sew, boys and girls alike. Being able to repair torn or damaged clothing saves you a lot of money. Also, if you have more advanced sewing skills, you can make your family’s clothes and useful things for the home. With all the instructions available, learning to sew isn’t difficult.
Another useful skill for homesteading survival is crocheting or knitting. With the knowledge of a few basic stitches, you can make hats, gloves, socks, blankets and other household items.
The basic yarn is inexpensive, and you can finder even cheaper options at yard sales, second-hand shops, and flea markets. Other items, like thin rope, t-shirt strips, and other material strips work well for utility items like baskets and rugs.
19. Stockpiling or Prepping
While stockpiling and prepping isn’t at the top of the list, it is a very important skill you can start immediately. You can stock food, water, paper products and more in preparation for a SHTF scenario.
The first thing to remember is stockpiling consists of more than just buying supplies and stuffing them in the garage. Prepping is not only stocking what you need for survival but also knowing how to store it.
Stockpiling and prepping involves a rotation system so, it’s not just a matter of buying three months of supplies and putting them away. You need a good rotation system, meaning once you start, prepping is an ongoing task.
With bartering, you receive goods and services through the direct exchange that doesn’t involve using currency.
When SHTF, the art of bartering or trading items is very beneficial.
Bartering is an important skill to have for gaining the extra items your family needs. When facing times of currency devaluation or economic instability, bartering helps you gain household items without money.
However, you don’t need a SHTF scenario to barter. Bartering makes a great tool to cut costs in a small business or to reduce your expenses.
Trading services is another form of bartering. While each person, in a sense, still gets paid it doesn’t cost either party cash. A handyman, for example, can barter his services to a hair stylist.
In essence, bartering is simply trading something for what you need and want.
Many of our 20 homesteading skills for self-sufficiency take gradual learning. It takes time to learn the different steps and processes involved, like sewing, knitting, and food preservation. There are some fantastic books on the market, like the ones I’ve listed here. Or, check with your local Home Extension offices and other organizations in your area.
One of the best options for a wealth of knowledge is talking to the older generation. If you live near farming communities, visit an area feed and livestock store. At our area store, farmers come in every Saturday morning for what we lovingly call, the Spit and Whittle Club. I would estimate a combined 100-years of knowledge in one place every Saturday morning.
Changing to a homesteading and self-sufficiency lifestyle isn’t an easy move especially when you depend on a digitized life. Being self-sufficient is an adjustment, but in the end, it’s worth it. Family survival prepping means when SHTF, you and your family are ready.