That first step is a doozy!

I've lived a very sheltered life.  Until I was a teenager I thought the wrappers on burritos were some sort of edible paper.  That sheltered.  Being afraid to stretch my wings and explore the possibilities did have its upside, since I never did get into drugs, and my wild young adult days weren't all that wild and were certainly short-lived in comparison to some.  The downside of being sheltered and afraid of my own shadow is that I've done much more dreaming than actually experiencing life.

So now, over 40 and a single mom in need of every spare penny, I have begun to seek out ways to become more self-sufficient. The problem is that I've been a little lost in the whole process.  How does a very low-income working single parent with arthritis and auto-immune thyroid disease and living  in a rental home that would make tiny house connoisseurs jealous possibly find the time and space to do things like canning and homemaking crafts?

One step at a time.

The most logical step when entering new territory is always research.  I've spent the better part of the past couple of years poring over homesteading and even prepping blogs, how-to sites, and maker forums.  I've collected as many books as I can on canning, homesteading, and natural healing.  I think I've got the idiot's guide to just about everything, but there is always something new to learn.  When you haven't been physically exposed to the basics, it's difficult to know where to begin.  I need step-by-step guides.

I've also decided to begin collecting as many manual implements as I can.  I've been scouting out things like hand-crank mixers and even looking for a good treadle sewing machine.  It's less a doomsday theory thing than a money-saver.  When your budget is as tight as mine, every cent saved on the electricity bill is a good thing.

The first project I took on was laundry soap.  Yes, even something so small and simple seemed daunting.  Would it get my clothes as clean?  Would it be safe for my washer?  How the heck would I find the five-gallon pails for the finished liquid soap without spending an arm and a leg or have someone else's used buckets that smelled like pickles?

One day I decided to take the leap.  I went out and bought the supplies.  I figured out that with the regular-sized boxes of Borax and washing soda, you can get about 6-7 batches, using a bar of soap for each batch. Each batch is about 50 loads, depending upon how much detergent you use per load!  Since it only costs about $5 each for the Borax and washing soda, plus the cost of each soap bar, my first attempt cost only $12 for enough detergent to last about 6 months!

I began with the Fels Naptha laundry bar, since that was the one most called for in the instructions I was able to come up with.  I'm now using a glycerin soap bar, but I'm going to try the more organic castile soap bar next time.  I haven't tried any essential oils, which I can't really afford to stock up on right now, but I'd like to use a combination of lavender, citrus, and tea tree when I can afford to.

The first time I tried it, I decided the need for all those big buckets was only because of the addition of all the water most recipes called for.  Since the washer added its own water, it seemed like a waste of time and resources to follow the extra steps involved.  I just add a cup each of Borax and washing soda to a shredded bar of soap, mix it all up and put it in a little container.  I use two tablespoons per load, and three on the larger loads.  My clothes are clean, and using vinegar instead of fabric softener keeps them just as soft.

Here's another interesting tidbit:  Did you know that using fabric softener makes your towels less absorbent? Vinegar eliminates that problem and cleans all that residue from the fabric.  Have you ever used the tail of your shirt to clean your glasses and gotten a weird film on them afterward?  That's the massive amount of residue from commercial laundry soaps and fabric softeners.  Imagine what that's doing to your washing machine!

Eventually I'd like to make my own soap, but the lye issue freaks me out a little.  Ok, a lot.  Watching that scene in Fight Club was probably a bad idea.

I'm now looking into CSAs.  Community Supported Agriculture was a term that until very recently I'd never come across.  I first saw it after a friend of mine posted on Facebook about the great haul she got from her local farm share.  I got curious.

"What the heck is a farm share?" I thought.  Whenever I hear or read a term I'm not familiar with I have to look it up.  Turns out, there are several of them locally.  The cost around here is somewhere between $300 and $600 per growing season.  It sounds like a lot at first, but that's spread out weekly from about June through October, and each weekly share can feed up to seven people!  Some CSAs even have work programs where you put in 4-6 hours a week to help out and they pay you with a free share that week.  It's not ideal for everyone, especially when your schedule is already full, but worth it when you have an extremely tight budget and need to save as much as you can.  Some CSAs offer meat and dairy products, as well.  Think of the savings!

So what do you do with all the fresh produce you don't want to go to waste?  I'd gotten all the basic supplies I'd need about a year ago, but between a big move and a lot of other major life changes I'd never gotten around to trying to can anything.  The discovery of farm shares is a pretty good incentive to start.  I got a food dehydrator free from Craigslist, and it's really psyched up to get going on some dried fruit and jerky.  I'm not sure yet how to go about storing the dried goods long term, so that'll be my next research project.

Right now my credit sucks, but my total debt is very low.  With diligence, I should be completely debt-free within the next couple of years.  My goal is to eventually buy a little house in the country somewhere (hopefully with a barn) and go into this full force.  How can I possibly do that on my minuscule income and current situation?


Little by little and with determination, anything can be accomplished.


  1. Good for you. I know the road you're on...difficult, but fun at the same time. Pretty soon you will be shocked by the things people pay for that they could make.

  2. Very proud of you friend. My cheapness comes from learning with people like you. I am trying to cut back on all the chemicals in my daily routine....Coconut Oil is a new love (pure and thick from the grocery). I no longer support every bell ringer sales person at the back porch.
    FREE is one exciting word to me= I can do awesome stuff with glue or items in the kitchen. Last night I rolled a homemade jewelry bead in fine crushed egg shells for a crackled texture= priceless. Keep a journal of your thrifty ideas because it's too easy for brainstorms to be fleeting + forgotten.Life is always a adventure when you have goals and facts to prove. I'd have a blog if my career wasn't as a CNA who picks up extra hrs.
    Read that free beads can be made by cubes of potatoes with a hole from a toothpick....would not surprise me if it is a failure . I ask for the good fortune of things usable and the wisdom to use craft supplies before they go bad. Even if my tater beads are black and shriveled...I trust my skills. I once made a candy corn necklace set out of field corn.....it's a challenge to me to created, a honor to teach and a giggle to awe. FYI I strive for guilt free projects by keeping the costs low and the objects unique.

  3. I love your dream! Keep writing and I'll keep reading. :)