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Want to go self-sufficient at the cottage? Here’s what you need to consider

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Self sufficiency is a dream of many cottagers—a getaway from the everyday that means truly getting away: off the grid, out of the work-earn-spend habits that characterize so much of city life. Are you tempted to become a self-sufficient cottager? Here are some questions you need to consider before taking the plunge.

What does self-sufficiency mean to you?

Does being self-sufficient simply mean being off the grid? Buying as little as possible? Or does it go a little further—like going off-grid and growing your own food? Creating a completely closed-loop system, with nothing coming in or going out? Take some time to really decide what level of self-sufficiency is the best for you—make a list of everything you’d like to be able to do on your own, then start to research what’s possible. It might make sense to take baby steps with small projects at first, while you’re figuring out what will work for you—commit to only line-drying your laundry, or start to limit your use of your car to workdays only. Every time a new shift becomes ingrained, try going a little bigger.

What are some of the barriers you might face?

You may be able to go off-grid most of the time, but need back-up power as well. If you want to grow your own food, your soil may not be great, or you may be too far north to have a long growing season. It’s possible that your cottage isn’t well situated to take advantage of passive solar heat, or you may not be able to install a wood stove. Also, think about the role your cottage plays in the lives of you, your family, and your friends. Do you like to entertain? It may be more of a challenge to keep guests happy (or be hospitable to very many people) if your resources are limited.

Are you ready for some hard work?

Yes, it’s obvious that self-sufficiency is hard work, but it’s not all simply tilling the garden and hauling water—there’s a lot of mental work as well. Plan to do a ton of research for many of your projects, and to be constantly thinking about how you’re going to make things work (or how you’re going to fix your systems if they break). If you have a partner or family, be prepared for some negotiation and potential tension as you navigate your shift to self reliance. Finally, be prepared to work on your relationships with neighbours and others in your community.

Are you prepared for some sacrifices—or at least major changes?

Being self-sufficient sounds like a great idea—but make sure you’re prepared for the sacrifices you’ll make. If you choose to go with solar power, you may not be able to watch TV or run electronic devices—or at least not without limits. A 20 minute steaming hot shower may be out of the question. And mending, thrifting, and trading could take the place of shopping for new things. None of these things are necessarily negative—but giving up old habits, especially ones that so many people take for granted, takes some getting used to.

How much do you know—and how much will you have to learn?

If you’re handy, the idea of building yourself some raised beds for a garden, putting in a solar water heater, or rigging up a wind turbine may not faze you—but if you don’t have a lot of experience with hands-on skills, it makes sense to learn what to do before you make any major moves. Not only will you save time, money, and frustration down the road, it will make your move to self-sufficiency much safer.

Who can you rely on?

Building a community of support might seem the opposite of being self sufficient, but self sufficiency doesn’t have to mean you’re cut off from the rest of the world. Your neighbours and friends can be your best allies, especially when it comes to tackling projects you might not be experienced with. With a self-sufficient lifestyle, there’s a lot of opportunity for reciprocal relationships—the arborist down the road might appreciate a dozen eggs in exchange for some advice on how to deal with gypsy moths, while the mom at the library might be happy to get some hand-me-downs in exchange for babysitting.

Do you follow a self-sufficient lifestyle at your cottage? What are your tips?