Self-sufficiency skills list: 11 basic life skills you need to survive

Most people think of life skills as learning to do your taxes, boil an egg, or change a tire. While these things can come in handy, if you’re into that sort of thing, my idea of life skills is a little different. This self-sufficiency skills list contains just the very basic things that a person needs to live.

I want to learn how to take care of myself on a very basic level. I want to know how to grow my own food, cook it, and preserve it, without gas or electricity. I want to learn how to use greywater efficiently and safely. And that’s just for starters.

With the present upheaval in the world, in everything from the physical climate to the political climate, we need to learn how to look after our basic needs.

I would like to share a list of skills and activities that I think are important not only for us to learn, but for us to teach the younger generations coming up behind us.

self-sufficiency skills list
I love camping. And I am enjoying learning self-sufficiency skills such as cooking over a fire. Now if only I could learn to start one without matches . . .

Essential Skills (in my somewhat humble opinion)

Growing food

The first and most important skill you need to learn is how to grow your own food. This is essential stuff. There are plenty of posts on this website about building gardens and growing food; so please take a look around.

If you’re new to gardening, you can start here. And please feel free to ask me your questions, either at the end of the articles, or on my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you!

Composting & Soil Health

A garden is only as healthy as the soil it grows in. If you want healthy soil, there are plenty of things you can do to achieve that. Diversity, natural pest control, amendments, and composting are all excellent ways to keep the garden healthy.

self-sufficiency skills list
Black Turtle beans did super in the garden last year. Hoping for an even bigger crop this year!

Seed Saving

A truly self-sufficient garden is one grown from saved seed. I have written about the importance of seed saving, and how it will make your garden more resilient.


I am not an expert at foraging for food; I’m just getting started. But if I were you, I’d check out Sergei Boutenko’s videos about foraging and using weeds. While you’re there, check out his green smoothies!

In the sidebar to the right, there is an ad for a great package deal of his books. I highly recommend getting it. It will get your foraging venture off to an excellent start – and it’s only $20 USD!

Preserving food

Learning to preserve food is almost as important as learning how to grow it. It goes hand in hand. You don’t want any of that garden goodness going to waste.

There are many ways to preserve food; and learning a few of them will help ensure that you have healthy food to see you through the winter.

Check out my simple fermented vegetables recipe to learn my favorite way of preserving the harvest. I love that I can do it just a jar or two at a time, as produce comes out of the garden.

Canning is also a great skill to have. This year I’ll be canning tomato sauce, salsa, and hot sauce. You can find recipes for canning just about anything.

Drying is great for lots of produce as well. Herbs are the obvious ones, but you can also dry many veggies. Kale dries well, as does zucchini. This year I’ll be drying some of the tomato crop too.

These solar dehydrator plans are super cheap. I can’t wait until I can build one! In the meantime, we’ll be taking advantage of the meager amounts of the sun that hit this property.

The best thing about these three ways of preserving your produce is that they can all be done and stored without using electricity or gas. And that could be important, as we head into an uncertain future.

Learning to eat seasonally is also a great skill; but for those who live in places that get winter – and I mean real winter – eating seasonally doesn’t really work. You need to know how to preserve and store food.

self-sufficiency skills list
Oh, how I love fermented veggies! Just a couple days ago, I did up 3 gallons of it, using up the spring mustard greens.

Cooking with fire

Cooking with fire isn’t as easy as it looks. There are a lot of things to think about while you cook. You don’t get to just turn it on, and set it to your preferred temperature.

I cook either over an open fire, or on the rocket stove. The rocket stove is easier to regulate, because you can sort of ‘turn the heat down’ by removing sticks. And my rocket stove is under a cover, so I can use it in the rain.

But some things do work better over the open fire. For instance, I’ve learned to bake using my large roasting pan over an open fire.

The baking pan is raised about an inch and a half off the bottom of the roaster by a metal ring, and then I put the roaster on top of a cast iron griddle which is placed over the fire. I’ve baked lots of cookies, as well as a loaf of banana bread in it, and it works great.

For things in a pot, such as a stew, the rocket stove works better. As the summer heats up, I don’t imagine the open fire will be nearly as pleasant, so luckily I can bake on the rocket stove as well.

I also think it’s important to learn to light a fire without matches or a lighter. There are a few options, such as a bow drill, or a ferro rod.

I have not mastered the art of lighting a fire with the ferro rod. Yesterday, I spent more than 40 minutes not mastering the art of lighting a fire with a ferro rod. But I will persevere! I’ll have to go back and watch some of Mike’s videos at TA Outdoors.

self-sufficiency skills list
Baking over an open fire is so much better than sucking up power with the convection oven. And it works just as well.


Learning to purify water is an important survival skill that few people know how to do. Yes, you can order a water purifier from Amazon. But what happens when you can’t order from Amazon anymore? What happens when you need to replace the filter in your purifier that you bought on Amazon? You need to know how to do it on your own.

So I went looking for some good videos that showed how it’s done, and found this video showing a super simple setup for purifying water. Of course, the whole copper tubing/fire part isn’t really necessary – you can just boil it in a pot – but it looks pretty cool. Although, I’d use a rocket stove, not the oil he uses.

This video shows how to make the activated charcoal that is used for purifying water. Handy thing to learn. You can buy that from Amazon too; but I think it will be way cooler to make your own.

While we’re on the topic of water: we should also learn to reuse our greywater. Greywater is water from our sinks, showers, and washing machines. If handled properly, it can be a nutrient-rich way to water our gardens.

There are commercial greywater systems available, and greywater reuse is becoming more mainstream all the time. So I think it is important to learn how to set up a greywater system, and how to reuse it safely.

Composting toilets are a great way to stop flushing perfectly good water down the toilet. Another is to use your urine in the compost pile. Or, if you don’t have a big enough compost pile, just water it down, and use it to water trees, shrubs and flowers.

The point is to try to minimize the use of conventional toilets which wash away perfectly usable compost material, and potable water.

self-sufficiency skills list
I grew up using an outhouse. Not my favorite memory. But the bucket system compost toilet I use now is great!

Of course, humanure needs to be treated carefully, in order for it to be safe to use. Joseph Jenkins wrote the definitive book on composting humanure, the Humanure Handbook. That will be an important skill to know in the event that the conventional sewer system is no longer viable.

Learn to clean without chemicals

I am not an expert in this area. I can only share what I do. I use vinegar to clean most things. But I like to soak lemon or orange peels in it. This not only boosts its grease cutting power, but it smells nice too.

I usually purchase dish washing soap – the safest I can find – but I’m starting to use Dr. Bronner’s soap as well. I also purchase my laundry detergent. But I don’t use bleach or softener. And I hang my clothes to dry.

This little booklet, Clean With Cleaners You Can Eat, has lots of ideas for getting started on your journey toward getting rid of store bought, toxic cleaners.

Natural personal hygiene products are also something that I’m very interest in, and have experimented with a bit. I don’t have any definitive answers or recipes yet. I will do a post on what I’ve been doing; and what seems to work for me.

There are a GAZILLION recipes online for both natural cleaners and person hygiene products. Some work great, and some don’t. Some work for some people, and not for others. So I think it’s a matter of researching, experimenting, and finding out what works for you.

Build a shelter

Okay, this one is a bit more complicated, but it is still a basic need that we all have. So, learning to use tools, basic building techniques, and workplace safety is super important.

I would love to be able to put together a quick shelter. But I also want to learn some construction skills. I think it would be the coolest thing in the world to build my own home.

self-sufficiency skills list
Shelters come in all shapes and sizes; as do cabins and tiny homes. I really like this A-frame style cabin; and it would be much easier to build than a cabin with a complicated roof.

Learn to sew

Super excellent skill to learn. And I’m talking sewing by hand, not with a machine. Mind you, if I could get my hands (and feet) on a treadle sewing machine, I would be ecstatic.

We should be able to not only sew our own clothes, but also to mend them, or make them over into something else. I’m a thrift store shopper, and have often bought something because I wanted to alter it to be something else.

Knitting and crocheting fall into this category; as does spinning and weaving, and using natural fibers such as flax, cotton, nettle, and wool.

And they are all on my list of things to learn . . . some day. Except crocheting. I already know how to crochet. I won first prize at the Fall Fair when I was 12 for my snazzy crocheted vest. : )

self-sufficiency skills list
When I was a little girl, we had a friend that I would go visit sometimes, and I learned to sew on her treadle sewing machine. I loved making my doll’s clothes on it. Hoping to have one of my own some day.

Learn first aid & medicinal herbs

This is important to learn, but one has to be careful. I can’t advise you, or teach you; but if you’re really interested in diving deep, I suggest you find a reputable site that teaches herbal medicine, such as the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. Or do lots of research and reading.

I have experimented with some things, and plan on doing much more learning in the future. I have quite a few essential oils and herbs (<<=Starwest Botanicals – excellent source!), which I use for things like aches and pains, and skin and hair concoctions

It’s fun to experiment, but please use caution. Do your research, and do small tests before you do anything on a large scale. I’ll be writing more about this subject in the future, when I have more experience, and recipes to share.

Some things that are just smart to do

These are what anyone would call ‘no brainers’’; things that any reasonable person would agree are smart activities to start doing to lessen your impact on the earth. And they’re not hard to do.

Hang laundry

Just do it. Hang it inside, or hang it outside. Hang it in the shower, or run a laundry line through the living room. Whatever works.

Dryers are power suckers; and are completely unnecessary. Just hang stuff up. It’ll dry.

Buy less, Reuse, Recycle, etc.

Plastic is the bane of existence. Yeah, it’s totally handy, and all the little gadgets make life more fun, or more convenient, or more whatever. But it never goes away. It. Never. Goes. Away. Think about that.

So, I buy stuff in glass containers when I can, and reuse them for a multitude of things. I use reusable shopping bags; and I try not to buy stuff I don’t need.

And I really love repurposing things. Why send it to the landfill when you can build something out of it? Terrible waste. And it’s awfully fun trying to find just the right piece of wood or metal or glass for a project. But you do have to be a bit of a packrat to make it work. : )

Eat healthy food – get rid of the processed crap

I’m doing pretty well in this area. I don’t buy much in the way of processed foods. If I do, it’s the least processed I can find. I do buy canned tomato sauce; but hopefully after our tomato harvest, I won’t have to do that.

I’m also buying canned fruit right now. We only go shopping about every 3 weeks – what with COVID-19 and all – so the only way I can have fruit for that long is to buy canned.

And this brings us right back around to the first skill: grow your own food! The healthiest food is food you have grown yourself, without fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, or anything else. Food grown permaculture style.

self-sufficiency skills list
I always hang my clothes to dry. Outside in the summer, and inside on a rack by the wood stove in the winter.

Take care of yourself

In a world where we can get just about anything we want – and often, have it delivered right to our door – it might not make sense to you to look in the past for the things we should be learning.

But I think it’s really important stuff. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought home the fact that things can fall apart in an instant. Supply lines can be cut in a flash.

Are you ready for that? Could you take care of yourself if you suddenly had no electricity? No water? No food in the grocery store?

It might sound too frightening to think about; but I think it’s important to at least familiarize yourself with some of the things I’ve talked about in this article.

Make a game of it! Camp out in the yard, and see how you do. Harvest your food from the garden – or do some foraging – light your fire without matches; and cook your dinner over the fire.

Watch lots of bushcrafting videos, and learn some of their cool skills. Practice them, and you could be better prepared if anything nasty happens in the world. Wouldn’t that feel good?

And that’s all I have to say about that. Just kidding! There’s lots more to say; but one can only cram so much information into one article. So I’ll save it for another time.

I hope I got you thinking about how you can learn to take care of your basic needs, and not have to worry if something happens in the future. Learn the skills now, so you’ll be ready if you need them! Drop my a comment, and let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.

Health, Hope & Happiness


3 Replies to “Self-sufficiency skills list: 11 basic life skills you need to survive”

  1. As i read this post, I realize that I don’t know most of the basic skills. In theory, most of us know we should be prepared for anything—like this current global COVID-19 pandemic we’re in. But the reality is we can sometimes feel woefully unequipped to handle all the curve-balls life throws our way.

    1. Yes, most of us really have no idea how to take care of our most basic needs without outside help.
      That’s why I think it’s so important to learn these skills now, while we don’t need them, and feel more secure about our future.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. Wow Tracy!
    I really learned a lot from this article! Many of these basic life skills are quite approriate in our ever evolving world. I never knew you could just as easily bake over an open fire as in a convection oven – much cheaper too.

    I loved the reference to “Clean with cleaners you can eat” – really an eye-opener for me. We live in a society where wastage seems to be an accepted part of life – so long as you can fulfill all righteousness by recycling a bit here and there.

    You have given me new perspectives. Great article!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *