Is 21st Century Self Sufficiency Possible?

The idea of self sufficiency is very appealing as a concept but difficult to achieve in reality. In the 21st century, everyone is more aware of the need to conserve energy and raw materials, and to end our reliance on fossil fuels. We are now in a very technological age, however, and whereas self sufficiency was a normal way of life for farmers 200 years ago, having a farm in this century usually means you are in charge of a fairly substantial business rather than being in any way self sustaining, even for food.

Various people in the UK are trying to be self sufficient; one such couple in Scotland have been living the self-sufficient lifestyle for about 10 years now. Their way of life is their choice, but as our interview with them shows, self sufficiency would probably not be for most of us.

Self Sufficiency and Frugal Living

Moira and Brian live on a small holding in Wales, which Moira inherited from a spinster aunt in the mid 1990s. “For the first few years we used it as a holiday home but when our children left home, our house in Bath was too big for just the two of us and we decided that we both would like to get out of the long days of work, take our pensions early, and move there permanently to live a simpler and more ecofriendly life,” explains Moira.

With an income of only £400 a month between them, the couple embarked on living in a completely new way – without television (no licence fee), with only one pay-as-you-go mobile phone on a friends and family subscription (free calls to both their children) and spending their days working on producing their own food, their own entertainment and living without many of the material things that we get used to regarding as necessities.

Starting Out on the Path to Self Sufficiency

One of the aims of their new life was to have as little impact on the environment as possible, and to conserve energy and spend as little as possible on fuel bills. “We started by using some of the money we got from the sale of our family house to do some initial work on the house, which is a 3-bedroom stone built farmhouse. It was in good condition; no major structural work needed to be done but we started by putting natural insulation into the loft rafters, converting the loft to a good storage space and workroom, and installing a very efficient condensing boiler. We also put in double glazed windows at the back of the house – this had already been done at the front, but the back still had secondary glazing and wooden frames, which were showing signs of rot,” says Brian.

They furnished the house with their favourite pieces of furniture, and bought a second hand huge farmhouse kitchen table. “The kitchen is a good size and has a wood-burning aga, which is fantastic for heating the room. In winter we spend all of our time in there, and use the table for paperwork, eating, making things, cooking – everything really. It saves heating the rest of the house.” The couple have central heating but this is rarely switched on, even in the coldest of weathers. Instead, they both spend time collecting free wood for the aga from nearby woodland, with the permission of the owner. “It can be hard work but when the weather is good we collect a bag of sticks and logs – enough to carry – and add it to our store,” says Moira.

A Self Sufficient Lifestyle

Time is now also spent eking out their small income, which can be eaten up very quickly. “We grow our own vegetables, keep chickens for eggs and we make our own bread, jam and all our own meals. We never eat out and we never buy from a supermarket except for discount brand staples such as toilet paper. We also make our own washing up liquid, our own washing powder and we manage to use the washing machine only once a week – everything else is done by hand,” adds Moira.

Every minute of the day is now spent either making or growing their food, or making jam, marmalade, chutney, and small gifts to sell at the weekly farmer’s market. “The money we get from our pensions goes on fuel bills, taxes and the things we can’t make – so our small income helps with luxuries such as the occasional chocolate bar!” Both agree that their life is not easy now, but it gives them great satisfaction and they are constantly learning new ways to live self sufficiently in the 2st century.