In this world, there are two kinds of people. You can be a consumer or you can be a producer.
Neither one is inherently good or bad – these are just descriptive terms. You can produce 100% of your own food and have a terrible heart, one that rejoices in the misfortune of others. You can never produce a single thing in your whole life and be kind and generous. This article isn’t meant to demonize consumers or set producers up on a pedestal.
Really, most of us are a combination of each type. But we should strive to tip the balance toward producing whenever possible because when bad things happen to an economy, when long-term disasters strike, and when everything changes, it is the producers who survive.
I talk about consumers and producers a lot, and recently a person in the comments asked me to clarify the concepts and share some ideas on how to become a producer.
So…here’s what it means to be a consumer or a producer.
Consumers are just what they sound like – people who consume. They purchase things they did not make, eat things they did not cook, and use up resources without replacement.
The terrifying thing is that we have become a nation of consumers who produce hardly anything.
Even our workforce these days rarely produces. The workforce cleans up after others, provides services, and spends their days in cubicles behind keyboards. Most of them do not go home after a long day at work having created something of value. They go home exhausted after a day of wrangling people or data, too tired to have a vegetable garden or perform productive tasks.
Many Americans have no productive skills because this is no longer a thing that is prized in our society. Jobs in the trades sit empty. Young people these days choose to go to college to learn about literature or social justice or the theories of business instead of becoming part of the skilled labor force. Unfortunately, jobs matching these educational paths can be hardwon and many people with graduate-level degrees serve fast food to people who don’t have the time or the inclination to cook. Forbes says that 44% of recent college graduates work in jobs that don’t require the degree they just got deeply in debt to obtain.
Producers are also just what they sound like: people who produce things. A producer is a person who grows something, raises something, creates something, repairs something, builds something…you get the idea.
Producers may have jobs in the trades. They may work in factories and machine shops. They may work in agriculture. They may work in the medical field. And not all producers have jobs that are productive. But they’ll come home and produce something.
These are the people who have gardens, who homestead, who raise backyard chickens, who can knit a sweater, repair the plumbing, change their own oil, and cook from scratch. Contrary to popular belief, a producer doesn’t have to live rurally and raise every bite of food their family eats. It’s a mindset that no matter where they are, they can be self-reliant and independent people.
Being a producer is about having skills that can be applied to your daily life. It’s about not having to call someone to help every time something requires repair or mending. It’s about being able to solve problems creatively and independently. It’s about being able to meet needs without depending on others.
Unfortunately, we have become a nation of consumers.
It’s a very dangerous tipping point when you can look around and see that the majority of people around you are consumers who produce nothing. And it’s dangerous on a national level.
If most of our food comes from China (whether to be grown or processed), what will we do if that food is no longer available?
If most of our agricultural workers are here only seasonally, what happens if they can no longer come?
If most of the items we work all day long to be able to afford to consume are made someplace else, what are we going to do if we’re suddenly isolated from the rest of the world?
Imagine the difference it would be if the only things that could be purchased had to be made from start to finish right here by people with the skills to do so. And to narrow it even more, what if the items had to be produced locally, within 20 miles due to transport difficulties?
If we could only consume what we produce here in the United States, we’d suddenly be looking at a terrible imbalance. There would not be enough for everyone. Not enough food. Not enough fuel. Not enough heat. Not enough clothing. And all the electronics and gadgets and designer items and cheap sweatshop products people think they have to have would be no more – imagine the rude awakening.
And to put a finer point on it, a lot of people these days don’t even produce the money it takes to buy the things that others produce. Just imagine if the government shutdown lasts through February and the food stamp money runs out. 38 million people will suddenly be unable to afford food for their families. This is not me being critical of people on assistance – there are many reasons folks might need a hand up from time to time. This is a terrifying fact that we could witness firsthand in just over a month from now.
How can you become a producer in a nation of consumers?
Becoming a producer is easier than you might think. You don’t have to suddenly grow all your own vegetables and raise meat chickens on the patio of your townhouse to do it.
A lot of this is in your head.
Before you go to purchase something, think about it. Is it something you could make yourself? Is it something that will enhance your ability to produce? Or is it just a frivolous consumer item that will add no value to your life after the first couple of days? Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to buy frivolous things from time to time, but it shouldn’t be the majority of your purchases.
You must switch your mindset from buying to creating. From replacing to repairing. From shopping for entertainment to actually learning to enjoy life for entertainment. Unplug from your devices and get back out there in the real world and do the things that others have done for you in the past.
It will save you money, too.
Another thing about producing instead of consuming is that it’s going to save you a lot of money. For all things, you will spend either time or you will spend money.
Think about the dinner that you put on your table.
- Will you spend time or money to produce the ingredients?
- Will you spend time or money to prepare the ingredients and turn them into a meal?
- Will you spend time or money to serve the food and clean up afterward?
You see? You have three opportunities there for production. Maybe you can grow the greens for the salad if not all the ingredients for the meal. Maybe you can cook it from scratch instead of using things put together in a box. Maybe you can eat at home instead of going to a restaurant.
If you are spending your money to acquire something, you are paying for someone else’s time. There are no real shortcuts in this world. Someone, somewhere, spent the time to grow, assemble, and/or prepare that food you’re eating.
15 Ways to Produce the Things That Most People Consume
Below you’ll find a list of ways to produce. The list, of course, is not comprehensive. It’s merely a collection of ideas to get you started on your path to tipping the balance in your favor. And don’t think you have to do all these things at once. Each thing you accomplish from this list can help you to proclaim, “I am a producer!”
- Make cleaning products. You don’t have to go buy outrageously expensive all-natural cleaning products when you can make your own out of simple, household basics. (Instructions here.)
- Grow food. It doesn’t have to be a huge garden. It can be tomatoes in the summer and microgreens or herbs in the windowsill in the winter. Here’s a huge self-reliance manifesto with links to more than 300 articles and books for doing just this.
- Sprout seeds. It’s a great way to add extra nutrients to your meals and so easy anyone can do it. (This website has everything you need to know about sprouting.)
- Unclog your sink. You don’t have to call a plumber for every little clog. Learn to unclog sinks with homemade drain cleaner and if that doesn’t work, try a plunger or a wire hanger snake. Last ditch, taking apart the pipe under your sink is far easier than you might expect.
- Learn some car maintenance. I’m not saying you have to be able to replace a cracked cylinder head, but you should at least be able to replace your spark plugs. It’s literally as easy as changing a light bulb, although today’s electronics on some newer cars can make things a bit more complicated.
- Use natural remedies. Now, I’m not one of those people who think you should never, ever go to the doctor or take medication – but there are many things you can treat at home with simple kitchen remedies. Illnesses like colds and cases of flu can be treated naturally, and so can ailments like vomiting and diarrhea. Here’s a must-have bookloaded with remedies.
- Brew your own. You can get started brewing your own beer and wine at all sorts of facilities where they sell you the bottles and the ingredients. The staff will walk you through it and show you exactly what to do. After a few rounds of that, you may be ready for home brewing. Or skip all the instructions, grab a book, and DIY it from start to finish. Here are books on making beer, making wine, and making old-fashioned mead.
- Learn to mend. Some basic sewing skills are really useful, not so you can make all your own clothes Little House on the Prairie style, but so you can mend and rework items you already own. Learn how to patch a hole, mend a seam, and fix a hem. Once you’ve mastered these, you can move on to darning socks, fixing rips using basic stitches, and doing basic alterations on things that don’t fit.
- Cook from scratch. Just like in the example above, if you don’t spend your own time, you’re paying for someone else’s time. Learning to cook from scratch is really easy and you don’t have to create souffles and other fancy dishes. Start out simple with methods like roasting, sauteeing, and steaming then increase your skills from there. Here’s an article on The Lost Art of Scratch Cooking to get you started.
- Make your own bath products. From scrubs to moisturizing lotions right down to homemade soap, learning to create these at home gives you a lot of freedom. First of all, you know exactly what’s in them – no toxic ingredients allowed. You can adjust the fragrance to your liking with essential oils and you can learn skills that will be very valuable should we ever face a world where you can no longer buy soap at the store.
- Learn to preserve food. Break out the dehydrator and the canners and put back the foods you get on sale. Preserve the bounty in the summer and make delicious meals to last the whole year through. Here’s my own guide to canning and here’s one I recommend for dehydrating.
- Raise chickens. If your city allows it and if you have a backyard, you may be able to have a few chickens. Chickens are incredibly entertaining to watch and they can provide you with breakfast on a regular basis. They’re also a very efficient way to get rid of food that would normally be thrown away – all your fruit and vegetable scraps can go right to the girls. Here’s a primer on raising baby chicks and a guide to backyard chickens in the city.
- Hunt or forage. Any food that you can acquire can boost your productivity without spending a lot of money. Learning skills like hunting and foraging can be fun now and invaluable later. Recognizing things as edible that most folks would pass on by was literally the difference between life and death during Selco’s SHTF. Look for local books on foraging – the broader books are not as useful, as there will be vegetation that doesn’t grow where you live. To learn hunting skills, I find that the best way is to make friends with some people who already hunt and ask them to include you. Don’t try to pretend you know it all – use the opportunity to soak up their knowledge.
- Make things. Learning to craft things like furniture, needlework, garden structures, and other useful household items can really help you to become a producer. And the more you can upcycle from existing materials, the better off you’ll be.
- Repair things. We live in a world of planned obsolescence. So often, it is cheaper to replace things than to have them repaired…that is, unless you can repair it yourself. Stock up a library of DIY repair books and the next time something breaks, give fixing it a shot. (Bonus points if you can repair something McGuyver-style by using the things you have on hand.)
Right now, producing things is optional. We are spoiled for choice when we walk into a store. But there could come a day when your ability to produce could save your life – or at the very least make it a lot more pleasant.
So what can you produce?
When you look at the list above, what kinds of things do you feel you could produce? You don’t need to jump in and learn every single thing at the same time – just pick one and make a promise to yourself that you will learn the necessary skills to produce instead of consume.
What are some things I missed in the list above? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.