Becoming More Self Sufficient

Part of our messy, yet productive garden and the portable greenhouse Steve built this spring. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

From Start Your Week with Steve, the free weekly e-mail newsletter of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Steve Says:

Because the concentration required to paint a fine art piece is exhausting, I take a break every 90 minutes from the easel. I chop wood, dig literal ditches (my son and I are building a root cellar) or muck around in the garden.

In our household, while we enjoy working in the garden, we take that garden seriously in that we actually eat what comes out of it. This year’s crop of potatoes, onions, garlic, squash, and kale have been feeding us for months, and look serious about feeding us for many months to come.

With gardening, as with painting, you can rapidly spend yourself into poverty by buying all sorts of gadgets and products, so we have taken to making many things ourselves. Those of you who purchase my Digital Watercolor Workshop DVD will find directions for two of those money-saving gadgets — a brush holder and a portable easel — at the end of the DVD. The more you learn how to make yourself, the more independent you are.

This same philosophy prevailed this spring when I made a portable greenhouse out of PVC pipe and garden-grade plastic, increasing our growing season — in both directions — by a significant factor. As with any project undertaken for the first time, there are things I would, and will, do differently the next time, but part of being more independent is increasing your knowledge and experience base. And you don’t increase these without actually experience.

There is a hidden myth, in our society, that perfection is the equivalent of expertise, and experts in any field never, or rarely, make mistakes. 

The truth is actually the opposite, and people who are truly expert at what they do get that way

Hanging up clothes on the line, on a warm summer day, is one step toward self-sufficiency and using less electricity. If it works, try it. Sophie and Rose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

because they spend a lot of time and effort making mistakes as they are learning how to do something. Yes, we can learn from others’ mistakes, and it is wise to do so, but many times we are forging ahead on a path unique to ourselves, and much of the finessing we do on our own time, under our own steam.

In this uncertain age, with its variable economy and the lack of confidence that it engenders, all of us can experiment somehow, doing something, that increases our self-sufficiency. If you have never grown a garden before, plant a tomato plant and see what happens. If you do grow a garden, think seriously about how it can feed you more efficiently and well.

You do not have to be a pioneer on the prairie, relying 95 percent upon your own efforts, to do this, and indeed, if you set the bar too high, you’ll never start. Just pick up a skill, in anything that doesn’t have to do with electronic gadgetry, and quietly start trying things. Observe your mistakes, learn from them, recognize that within each mistake is a seed of something you did right, and keep moving ahead.

In a short amount of time, you will look back and think, “I have really learned a lot within the last few months, and I am more independent now than I was at the beginning of the year.

Now THAT’S success, independence, and progress toward self-sufficiency.

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Becoming self sufficient is a process that you work at day by day. One of the most important things you can do is start; the second most important thing is to not give up. Live Happily on Less — 52 Ways to Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle by Carolyn Henderson, manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art, walks you through simple, easy-to-make lifestyle changes you can make right now, and see both immediate and long term results.

$12.99 paperback, $5.99 digital, or borrow it for free via AmazonPrime at Also available at Barnes and Noble.