What does it really mean to be self-reliant?

Self-reliance is a term that gets used a lot in the homesteading community, but what is self-reliance? Is it actually achievable, or is it a delusion? Is true self-reliance even possible? We explore the myths, misconceptions and realities of what it really means to be self-sufficient in the 21st century. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it really means to be “self-reliant.” 

We talk a lot about self-reliance (or self-sufficiency) in the homesteading community, and outwardly it may seem as if the goal of “achieving” self-reliance is what ultimately drives many of us to live this lifestyle in the first place.

But what does self-reliance look like in the 21st century? Is it actually achievable, or just a pipe dream?

Is it even possible to be truly self-reliant?


Is self-reliance a delusion?

A few years ago, Forbes published an article titled Dear Homesteaders, Self-Reliance is a Delusion.

In the article, the author explains that he’s a big fan of “shows about doomsday preppers, homesteaders, survivalists, generally people who live off the grid,” citing Live Free Or Die and Homestead Rescue as a couple of his favourites.

He then goes on to say that “there’s a central delusion in these shows that is never far from my mind when I’m watching these shows: off the grid people are not self-reliant, but instead are mooching off of the civil society, government, and safety net the rest of us contribute to.”

What the WHAAA???

He continues, “the people in these shows often describe a very romantic vision of the lives they have chosen [and] the ethos underlying it. They describe themselves as fully self-reliant, and criticize the rest of society as being dependent and lacking in this self-reliance… they nevertheless benefit tremendously from society.”

The author argues that even the most hardcore, off-the-grid homesteaders still rely on modern tools, resources and material goods (even if they’re second-hand) that they are not able to produce themselves.

He also says that most homesteaders will (at some point or another) rely on modern medical treatment, and that they benefit from social systems and services like private property protections, rule of law, and the military which provides them with safety and security.

He concludes that “self-reliance is for the most part a myth. Unless they live in an extremely remote region, use all homemade tools, and will refuse the safety net if they need it, most homesteaders are far from self-reliant.”

Let’s unpack this…

What does self-reliant really mean?


Unpacking the myth of modern day self-reliance

I’ll begin by saying that the author of this Forbes article is not completely wrong. Most (if not all) homesteaders do benefit from society in one way or another, and will eventually need to rely on others to provide for them in some way. But this has always been true for homesteaders, and indeed, for humans in general.

We are complex, social creatures and we live in an increasingly complex world. It’s difficult if not impossible to achieve complete self-reliance and independence. And besides, that’s not the goal of most homesteaders anyway. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

The fact is, even back in the pioneer days, homesteaders still had to go to town to purchase or trade for goods they couldn’t produce themselves, and they still relied on their neighbours and friends to help out with larger projects, exchanging goods and services, etc.

As folks aged, they relied on the younger members of their families and communities to help care for them, and many even called the doctor and relied on the medical system of the day when necessary. 

Even back then, homesteaders benefitted from the protection of law enforcement and even from “government handouts” like the free land given to settlers by the government during the days of the Homestead Act.

Going back even farther, humans have always depended on each other for survival. Whether they were members of the first civilizations of the ancient times or the tribes that date back to the hunter gatherer times, very few humans have truly “gone it alone” without any outside help.

Even the family unit is inherently interdependent and so one could make the argument that homesteading family members who rely on each other for various reasons can not actually be considered “self-reliant.”

In reality, small, decentralized, local communities and strong, interdependent relationships with one another are essential to self-reliance in many ways. But then can we really call ourselves self-reliant?

Is anyone truly self-reliant??

Related: 6 Ways to Promote Self-Reliance in Your Community


Self-reliance is a term that gets used a lot in the homesteading community, but what is self-reliance? Is it actually achievable, or is it a delusion? Is true self-reliance even possible? We explore the myths, misconceptions and realities of what it really means to be self-sufficient in the 21st century.

What does it mean to be self-reliant?

The concept of self-reliance has been written about many times throughout history. Some of the first and most famous literary works on self-reliance was written back in the 1800’s by the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, both of whom spoke about self-reliance and preached the importance of maintaining free will and autonomy over one’s own life.

In his famous essay appropriately titled Self-Reliance, Emerson wrote “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” 

By “a foolish consistency” he was referring to conformity, and was making the case that one should think critically and follow his or her own instincts and judgment (ie. rely on one’s SELF to decide what’s best for them, rather than relying on systems and “the state” to decide for them).

In Thoreau’s famous book Walden (which was all about his experience living a self-reliant lifestyle in a log cabin on Walden Pond), Thoreau wrote “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

He also wrote that “Every path but your own is the path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.” 

Both Emerson and Thoreau (who were friends) seemed to believe that self-reliance is mostly about upholding the core values of independence, individuality and self-determination. 

While this can (and often does) entail relying on one’s own skills and abilities to produce or procure what’s needed rather than relying on others, it can be argued that self-reliance is more of a mindset, an attitude and a way of life rather than a strict adherence to surviving only off of what you can do and produce alone with your own hands.

Even Henry David Thoreau lived on someone else’s land (Ralph Waldo Emerson supposedly owned the land next to Walden Pond). He traded homegrown beans for rice and other commodities he couldn’t produce himself, and he likely used tools that he didn’t make himself to build his log home. And he almost certainly didn’t make the the ink or the paper that he used to pen his legendary essays on.

But in comparison to the rest of civilized society, he was definitely much MORE self-reliant than the average guy (or gal).

Which brings up an interesting consideration:

Maybe becoming completely self-reliant IS a delusion. Maybe it’s just not possible. But maybe that shouldn’t be the goal anyway.

Instead, maybe self-reliance is about the constant pursuit to be MORE self-reliant, even if absolute, 100% self-reliance is never truly attainable.

And despite what others may say; Despite the opinions of a suit-clad, New York City-based economist and Forbes contributor who admits to believing this lifestyle “seems like a hard life,” I would argue that complete and total self-reliance isn’t the point or the goal.

In fact, I don’t believe there is an end goal! Self-reliance is an ongoing pursuit, or journey, if you will. And it’s a noble and worthwhile one.

Not to mention, it’s precisely this ongoing pursuit that keeps things interesting. If anyone were to ever “achieve” self-reliance, what else would there be left to work toward?

The pursuit – the JOURNEY – is what drives us.


Self-reliance is a term that gets used a lot in the homesteading community, but what is self-reliance? Is it actually achievable, or is it a delusion? Is true self-reliance even possible? We explore the myths, misconceptions and realities of what it really means to be self-sufficient in the 21st century.

What I know for sure…

What I know for sure is that self-reliance shouldn’t be regarded as an all-or-nothing venture. Just because one can never attain complete and total self-reliance doesn’t mean the only other moral option is to give up trying altogether and conform to modern society’s standards and expectations.

We are an “all or nothing” society it seems. We often think that if we can’t do something perfectly, what’s the point of even trying?

But as with just about everything that’s worth doing, working toward greater self-reliance and independence is worth doing imperfectly. Don’t be dissuaded by a lack of experience or knowledge or by where you live or even what you’re “legally allowed” or physically capable of doing. Even one small step toward being more self-sufficient is a step in the right direction.

My advice is to start with your mindset. I wrote a post about this way back when I started blogging, all about the traits and attitudes that make for a successful homesteader. I believe that having the right mindset is a foundational first step on the path to any goal or dream you’re working toward.

Then take it one step at a time. Have realistic expectations and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly and all at once. Take comfort in the fact that no matter where you are on the journey, you’ll never run out of interesting and empowering new skills and things to learn and try.

Above all, enjoy the pursuit. At the end of the day, it’s the pursuit of our goals and dreams that makes life worth living. Actually achieving them only provides a momentary high.

I’ll leave you with one final quote by Henry David Thoreau (whose literature I definitely recommend reading!)…

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

In other words, you do you!

To the pursuit of self-reliance! To independence and individualism! And above all, to the pursuit of dreams, and to never letting the haters stop you in your tracks;)

What does self-reliance mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below👇


Ready to take the next step toward greater self-reliance?

While we may never achieve total self-reliance, we can work toward becoming MORE self-reliant and less dependent on corrupt and unreliable systems and industries who consistently put their own interests ahead of ours. But it can be tough to know where to start or what to focus our attention on, and it can be even more difficult to go it alone. 

That’s why I decided to create the Society of Self-Reliance; a monthly membership and private community that focuses on the many different themes and aspects of self-sufficiency. From growing and preserving food to crafting your own herbal medicine to learning basic construction and survival skills to creating greater financial independence, we’ll be covering all the different aspects of self-sufficiency over time. But more importantly, we’ll have a private space to connect and learn from one another. Because remember: A strong community makes for greater self-sufficiency!

I’ll be opening the doors to the Society for a limited time next week at a discounted rate for the first round of students.

If you’re ready to take the next step on your self-sufficiency journey and reclaim your independence, join the waitlist here!

I hope to see you inside:)






1 Comment

  1. Lorraine

    Good points and love the quotes. Many people consider me “a granola” because I cook from scratch and use very little process foods. I like to eat “real food” that taste good with herbs and spices that we grew in our garden or picked up at a farmers’ market or what my husband hunted for meat. I consider myself “a modern day homesteader” for I like my indoor gas stove, washing machine, dish washer, refrigerator, freezer and of course indoor bathroom. I am more in tune to what I purchase and consume. I prefer to repurpose anything I can for another use, can, dry and freeze food, make my own cleaning products. I only produce one garbage a month and I could go longer but just want to empty the can after a month. I live the reduce and reuse concept all the time and always try to think of ways to do this more than I have for years. I mend clothes rather than throwing clothes out. I cut old t-shirts for rags. I love to do some crafts when I can find some spare time as well. I love to decorate with real greens, pine cones and assorted dried plants and seeds from the outdoors for afterwards I can compost it all. There is so much all of us can do to help Mother Earth stay healthy. We all have our limits on what or what not we are willing to do and that is okay but any little bit by everyone helps. I prefer to enjoy friends and family at wherever they are at in life and not be judgmental for we all can only try our best and keep our sanity at the same time. I enjoy being in tune with nature and enjoying the outdoors and trying my best to keep the environment and my home healthy with taking the time to do all I do. It is time consuming but I find it satisfying to care about Mother Earth and all she has to offer us to enjoy. Love watching wild life so much. My husband says, we are easily entertained. I enjoy following you for you keep it simple, positive and very productive in your creating.


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Hi! I’m Anna, and I’m a city girl turned modern homesteader who’s passionate about growing, cooking and preserving real food at home, creating my own herbal medicine and all-natural home and body care products, and working toward a simpler, more sustainable and self-sufficient life each and every day. 
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40 years on this Earth.
11 years together.
8 years married.
6 babies, one living, 4 in heaven and one more hopefully on the way.
20 fur (and feather) babies in our time together.
5 homes (plus a couple tents).
6 countries.
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One beautiful life together.

To my smart, talented, strong, kind, selfless, handsome amazing husband… The day I met you everything changed for the better. Sure, we’ve weathered some storms, but knowing I always have you to turn to has helped me through my darkest hours. The laughs, deep conversations, goals, dreams and unconditional love we share make each day worth living. And the family, home and life we’ve created together are more than I could have ever hoped for.

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And then there were 3 😔

Despite fending off an eagle attack the other day, a sneaky raccoon got into the chicken run early this morning and took out one of our girls.

Having animals die is definitely the hardest part of homesteading, but it’s a reality of this lifestyle that everyone must come to terms with sooner or later.

While we care for our chickens and want to give them the best life possible while they’re here, we understand that they’re livestock, not pets, and that we’re not the only creatures who see them as a food source.

Luckily we have a new flock of up-and-comers who will be ready to lay in a few months. Until then, egg production around here is gonna be pretty scarce.

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So this is 35…

I decided to read my horoscope today (since it’s my birthday and all). I don’t really buy into the horoscope predictions, but I do think there’s something to be said for the personality traits we’re born with when the stars are aligned just so. Here are a few snippets that I found to be almost eerily on point:

“Tauruses born on May 18 are characterized by love of freedom and independence…They possess extraordinary creative energy, and they are never without an important cause to champion. They enjoy taking risks, but only when they believe the risk really matters.

As a rule, most decided early in life what they wanted to do and are not likely to deviate from that path. Their independent spirit makes them ideally suited to careers where they are their own boss, or are at least autonomous within a larger structure.

May 18 people want to make it on their own. No matter how successful they become, they never forget their roots and may even draw upon them for inspiration.”

Every year on my birthday I reflect on where I’m at, where I’m headed and where I’ve come from, and all I can say is that each year I’m only more grateful to be living life on my own terms, doing what I love most next to the people I love more than anything else in the world.

I’ll never forget where I came from and I’ll never have any regrets, because I wouldn’t be right where I am now without all of the experiences -good, bad or otherwise- that I’ve had along the way.

I knew when I was a little girl that I wanted to be a writer and a content creator. Homesteading came a little later in life, but when I knew, I knew.

I hope to be doing what I love and sharing it with you all for the next 35 years too! (Well, actually, if I’m being honest, I’d like to retire and throw my phone in the river long before that;) But until that day comes, thanks for being here to celebrate life with me today and every day. Cheers to another turn around the sun 🍻

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My daughter stayed overnight at her grandma’s last night, and this morning when I talked to my mom she said “Evelyn told me she’s never been to the doctor before.”

Proudly, I replied “no, she hasn’t, because she’s never needed to.” This is thanks in large part to the fact that we keep a well stocked natural medicine cabinet at home and do our best to treat everyday illnesses and ailments ourselves.

Having a well-stocked home apothecary (and the know-how to use herbal and natural medicine at home) is yet another important piece of the self-sufficiency puzzle, and one that we’re working on a lot right now, both in our home and in my membership program, the Society of Self-Reliance.

If herbal medicine and building a home apothecary is on your to-do list as well, I’ve got some great tips and a printable checklist of items you’ll want to start stocking up on now so you’re prepared to make all sorts of medicinal preparations in time for cold and flu season later this year.

This is also a great time to plant certain medicinal herbs so that you’ve got a personal, sustainable supply of herbal medicine at home, because who knows what supply chain issues are gonna hit next!

To help make building and stocking your home apothecary or natural medicine cabinet a little easier, I compiled a list of all the ingredients I like to keep on hand for making my own medicinal preparations, as well as a suggested list of herbs to start growing or stocking up on, and some other great resources to help you get started preparing and using your own herbal medicine at home.

Link in bio @thehouseandhomestead to read the full article and download the checklist, or go to https://thehouseandhomestead.com/stock-a-home-apothecary/

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Stinging nettles are one of my favourite things to forage for in early spring. They’re ready to harvest well before just about anything is ready in our garden, and they’re a superfood as well as a medicinal plant packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B, C & K, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and iron, plus they’re super high in protein.

As a medicinal plant, nettles are a natural antihistamine and can help with season allergies, they have properties that reduce inflammation and especially joint inflammation and arthritis, they can be used to treat of urinary tract infections and enlarged prostate symptoms, the e been shown to lower blood pressure and control blood sugar and more!

Some people even swear by harvesting stinging nettles with their bare hands as the sting itself is said to help with muscle and joint pain/arthritis!

I, however, am not that brave. I definitely recommend wearing gloves, long sleeves, long pants and boots when harvesting stinging nettles! But the good news is that once you cook or dry the nettles, they no longer sting you. My favourite way to prepare them is to dry them and enjoy them as a herbal tea! But they’re good sautéed in stir fry or added to soups (in place of spinach or Kale) too. Whatever you do, just don’t put them fresh into a salad!

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Have you ever foraged for stinging nettle before?

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If you're looking to increase production in your own home garden, you know how important bees and other pollinators are to your overall yield.⁠

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In this day and age of global food shortages, we need to do whatever we can to help increase food production at home and abroad, and helping honeybees is one of the best ways to do just that.⁠

Click the link in my bio @thehouseandhomestead or go to https://thehouseandhomestead.com/3-easy-ways-to-help-save-the-bees/ to learn what you can do at home to help save the bees, and the many, MANY reasons why it matters!⁠

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I always remind myself, though, that the payoff from the work we put in at this time of year is so totally worth the extra elbow grease and long hours.⁠

The seeds we sow now will provide us with food and medicine to stock our pantry and apothecary with in the summer and fall.⁠

The projects we start now will (hopefully) be finished and ready to serve us later in the year.⁠

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The summit officially starts TODAY! If you haven't registered yet, click the link in my bio @thehouseandhomestead or go to https://thehouseandhomestead.com/bvgs to save your seat and start watching and learning right away!

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“When I think of self-reliance, I think of any ability to rely less on ‘the system.’”

I sat down with Ashley Constance from @dirtypawshomestead and the @alittleselfreliant podcast to talk about what it means to be self-reliant, if it’s even possible to be 100% self-reliant and why it’s a goal worth striving for even if complete and total self-reliance isn’t possible.

Be sure to check out the full interview in the latest issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine!

Subscribe @ modernhomesteadingnmagazine.com

I’d love to know, what are you currently doing to become a little (more) self-reliant? Let me know in the comments!👇

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