Although quite a few people view these terms as synonymous, in reality they are not. There is most definitely a difference between self-sufficiency and being off-grid. Often the terms off-grid and self-sufficient go hand in hand but the terms mean two different things and they shouldn’t be confused or used interchangeably. Self-Sufficiency Versus Off-Grid, Is There a Difference? Let’s explore the differences.
Off-grid Versus Self-Sufficiency
By definition, off-grid means to be completely unplugged from the power grid as well as other public utilities such as water and sewer. People off-grid make their own power from the sun, wind, water, a generator or a combination of these methods.
In contrast, by definition, self-sufficiency sometimes referred to as self-reliance, means being able to provide ones most basic needs such as food, energy, heat, clothing and shelter. To be clear, it’s impossible for anyone in modern society to be completely, 100% self-sufficient. Simply put, there’s no such thing.
But there are varying degrees of self-sufficiency and most of us strive to be as self-sufficient as practical and possible. That has always been our goal. Everyone who strives for this goal will have their own version of what self-reliance means. Each version is as individualistic as the person living it. This doesn’t mean one version is better or more correct than the other. Rather everyone is free to choose their own level of self-reliant living.
I suppose if one were willing to live in a grass hut with a dirt floor, wear animal skins, fashion stone tools like the cavemen did and become hunter/gatherers, they would be pretty close to the ideal self-sufficient life. They could also enjoy the shortened average life expectancy of stone age man of what, 25 years or so? Why not pick and choose the technological advances and amenities modern civilization has to offer?
Aspects of Self-Sufficiency
Certainly if one is striving to be as self-sufficient as possible and provide their most basic needs they tend to embrace an off-grid lifestyle. They generate their energy from either the sun, wind, water or a combination of these.
But in addition to this, pursuing self-reliance usually involves trying to grow as much of your own food as possible, be it vegetables, fruits and animals for meat, eggs or milk.
Heating and cooking with wood as we’ve always done is another aspect of self-reliance particularly if you have a woodlot that can supply your fuel. For the lucky individuals blessed with maple trees, tapping the trees for sap to boil down into syrup can help meet their sweetening needs as does raising bees for honey. Learning to spin yarn from wool fleece then knitting usable garments from the spun yarn is another facet of self-reliant living as is sewing clothing and cooking from scratch.
Keeping dairy animals be they cows or goats for milk to not only drink but to make into cheese, butter, ice cream, yogurt and other dairy products is an aspect of self-reliance we’ve never pursued. We have no desire to be tied down to a twice a day milking schedule but we have traded lumber we cut with our bandsaw mill for milk with a fellow homesteader who had a Jersey milk cow. Did that mean we failed at being self-sufficient? No. It meant our version of self-reliance didn’t include being constrained by the responsibilities keeping a milk cow entails.
Doing your own butchering if you hunt or raise animals takes self-reliance to the next level. Making your own sausages, curing and smoking meats and finally rendering fat for soap making as we’ve done are further examples of self-sufficiency.
And by the way, a person can do all these tasks and still be hooked to the grid. They will be achieving a greater level of self-sufficiency then someone who does nothing. But not everyone can or wants to engage in all these pursuits. That’s fine. Once again they are free to choose what level of self-reliance they are comfortable with.
Examples to Illustrate the Differences
Someone can be off-grid and lead an otherwise “normal” life. They may never plant a single vegetable seed, raise animals other than the family pet or engage in any acts of self-sufficiency whatsoever, yet still be off-grid. They can work a full time 9-5 job, buy all their food at the supermarket, drive a Hummer, have all sorts of modern conveniences and still be off-grid. The point is it’s possible to be off-grid yet not be self-reliant in any other way. So long as they are producing their own power, they can be considered to be off-grid.
A person who relies solely on a generator to supply their power can by definition be considered off-grid but we wouldn’t consider them self-sufficient in terms of their energy because they are relying on purchased fuel to run the generator. Can you see the difference?
Years ago when we homesteaded in Maine we had a totally inadequate solar set up. During prolonged cloudy spells in winter, we never had enough power for one of the most basic necessities, lighting. We resorted to kerosene lanterns. This was hardly a step to self-reliance since kerosene is a fossil fuel that had to be bought. Our refrigerator was powered by propane which made us dependent on the gas company. To do laundry meant running the generator to power our antique wringer washer. This of course took gasoline and made us less self-sufficient. So all of this combined really made us not very self-reliant in terms of energy but we most definitely were off-grid. Once again can you see the difference?
Now we are much more self-reliant in terms of energy because we have a large enough system to meet our needs. We are able to have adequate lighting, run the washer without having to fire up the generator and run various appliances such as a fridge and chest freezers. Thus we are not only off-grid but we have increased our level of self-reliance by having a larger electrical system.
The Path We’ve Chosen
So bottom line there most definitely is a difference between self-sufficiency and off-grid. We’ve always tried to combine being off-grid with a self reliant lifestyle; a blend of living unplugged with a life of as much self-sufficiency as we can manage.
Doing so has given us a level of preparedness many strive for. Not only that, but the lifestyle has been gratifying and empowering. Few can fully grasp the diversity of experiences living this way has provided. A deep and abiding satisfaction that fellow off-gridders, homesteaders and preppers can appreciate, the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment in a job well done, in a life well lived, that of living off-grid and free. We can’t imagine living any other way.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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