5 ways to be more self sufficient while renting

If you don’t own your home, it might not be easy to dig a garden, start a compost pile or even – especially for apartment dwellers – hang your washing outside to dry.

Our interest in self sufficiency (what we call our journey to city sufficiency) started when we were renting, and even though we couldn’t dig up the shared back yard or start keeping chickens in our living room, we found there were easy things we could do straight away.

1. Grow what you can. You may not be able to turn half your back lawn into a garden (or you might not have a back lawn to dig), but are you sure there’s no way you can grow at least some of the things you eat? Micro-greens such as sprouts, and even full sized herbs, don’t need much space to grow. There’s a lot you can do on a wide windowsill or a small balcony, as suggested in this excellent book.

2. Cook at home. There’s nothing quite like a home cooked meal, and while preparing food at home can take longer (and sometimes costs more) than popping down to the local bar/restaurant/takeaway, getting into the kitchen is a big win for looking after yourself.

J and I don’t eat at home as often as we might like, but there are some great benefits – including knowing what’s in your food, and building your own cookery skills. It’s also incredibly rewarding to know you’re eating home grown produce, even if your tiny garden is only contributing the herbs to an omelette or the sprouts to a sandwich.

It’s worth acknowledging that kitchens – particularly in apartments – aren’t always the most attractive or functional areas, but you’d be amazed what you can create between a cramped bench, small oven and a couple of pots and pans. The smallest kitchen I’ve ever had has turned out some amazing dinners, homemade cheeses and pastries, and even (with some advance preparation) enough finger food to cater for groups of 50 people at a time.

3. Reconsider your transport options. We’re lucky enough to have an excellent public transport system in this city, and most urban centres have at least some public transport available. If that works for you, use it – it’s much cheaper than driving (especially considering the financial cost of vehicle inspections, insurance and wear and tear on tyres etc). Public transport trips typically take longer, but one of the hidden benefits for me was having that time to listen to podcasts, read blogs and plan the rest of my day – all things that can’t as easily be done while focusing behind a steering wheel.

Sign showing electric vehicle parking

If traditional public transport won’t work where you are, check out whether there could be opportunities for carpooling or ridesharing (either using commercial services, or just by asking around your neighbourhood).

Should you need (or really prefer) to drive, make sure fuel efficiency plays a part in choosing your next vehicle. Fully electric vehicles are dropping in price, and running an electric car in New Zealand not only uses our 80% renewable energy, but costs the equivalent of paying just 2 cents per litre for petrol (see this site for more about electric vehicles in New Zealand).

4. Look to the small savers. Your landlord might discourage you from knocking holes in the walls, but there are some simple things you can do to reduce your use of energy and natural resources without making structural changes to your home.

Okay, we aren’t growing in bulbs, but LEDs are much better!

Not everything will work for everyone – for example, drying clothes outside can be a big saving, but not all homes have access to a washing line, and hanging clothes inside is a big no-no as it introduces dampness to your home (which, without great ventilation, can lead to mould and sickness).

One of the things that’s easy to do, however, is changing your lights to LED bulbs. We wrote about that a while ago, and it’s one of several small steps (along with only powering up the things you’re using and switching the rest off at the wall) which add up to a good reduction in electricity usage – and shrink your monthly power bill.

5. Buy things that last. It’s easy to buy cheap products that do what you need today and look good in your home, but that won’t last for long. However, self sufficiency means keeping an eye on the long-term effects of what you do, and over time, it usually works out cheaper – and more efficient – to buy fewer things that last, to reuse what we have, and to use less when it’s possible.

Hopefully these tips are helpful – they’re some of the first things we did while we were renting and when we first moved into our own house – and they set us up well for this journey.

Of course, we don’t have all the answers, and there are any number of other things you can do to become more self sufficient in a space where there are limits to the physical changes you can make. We’d love it if you can add your own ideas, experiences etc in the comments.

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