Instilling the Power of Self-Suficiency

Everyone loves the feeling of accomplishment. Kids especially so.

Having pride in your work and the reassuring feeling of self-sufficiency is one of the greatest things we have to teach each developing generation.

So it’s a strange and worrying aspect of modern society that “convenience” and “replaceability” are sapping us of our ability to take care of our own needs. Simple skills that were essential to daily life even 50 or 60 years ago are hardly even a memory for current generations, and kids and parents are feeling disconnected from how to maintain their own well-being.

Sewing and mending, repairing simple mechanical issues, cooking nutritious food — these are all life skills that, for lots of different reasons, are falling out of our shared knowledge base, and I don’t think anyone in our society is better for it.

I feel it’s as much an economical issue as a cultural one, and I could go on for days about the rapid development of disposable consumerism that has ingrained the idea that it’s easier to throw something broken away and buy a new one than to care for and repair the items you have. And while modern conveniences can be marvelous and helpful, we’re starting to find there is a real emotional, human need connected to simply doing something of worth with your own hands.

I’m a rare bird in that I make a living as a seamstress in 2018. Because of a diminishing interest in domestic skills through the ’70s and ’80s, there were no Home Economics programs in Nevada County by the time I was a kid. I was fortunate to have the precious combination of skilled family members with the patience to teach a child, and enough love of the craft to continue teaching myself into adulthood.

I know I’m very lucky to have the support of community like ours, which hasn’t completely lost sight of the value of sustainability.

But not only are professional crafts people becoming harder to find, these vital skills are fading from our common understanding of what it means to be a successful adult. We’re becoming more and more reliant on the easy-to-break, easy-to-replace products we’re being sold, having our productivity robbed from us, contributing to pollution and excess waste and on and on down a pretty dark road. How do we get out of it?

For the last five years I’ve been partnering with local schools and meeting spaces to bring life skills training back into homes, through the portal of creative expression. Students, both kids and adults, have fun making simple items they can use, but what I hope they’re really taking away from these lessons is the long-lasting sense of “I’ve got this.” What I hear so often from parents and teachers is that they wish they could teach these skills to their kids, that their own parents and grandparents knew how to do everything from repair rips and lost buttons to creating entire wardrobes, but that knowledge passed them over. And what I’m hearing from my students is so inspiring — they surprise and delight themselves with what they’re able to learn and do, and immediately seek out more projects to tackle, more challenges to overcome.

Sewing is but one example of a skill that supports self-sufficiency. Children thrive when they are trusted with manageable responsibility, and it helps them to grow into people who feel confident to deal with tough stuff. And it’s never too late for you to develop those abilities. My adult students are the most eager and excited people I work with, because we’ve all been seeking the accomplishment and pride that comes from knowing you did a thing, even if our cultural need to be self-sufficient is slowly being erased.

I’m not suggesting we all go off-grid and learn to live from the land again (although we do have a unique precedent for that here), but we can all do better for ourselves, our kids and our community when we pull back from disposable culture and invest in becoming more sustainable.

There’s still most of the summer left to encourage your kids, or yourself, to explore new skills and hobbies that reward us with new-found confidence and excitement. Restoring furniture, tending a garden, or learning to knit are all activities that instill patience and problem-solving, and have tangible results you can feel good about.

How do you imagine you’ll inspire yourself today?