Be Self-Sufficient: What You’ll Need to Become an Urban Survivalist

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live self-sufficiently? From using a compostable toilet to harvesting your own water, here’s what it would take.
Green apartment block from street level

Most of us live within the confines of walls and ceilings, and we’re OK with that. Life is convenient, and the amenities are plentiful. But occasionally you may feel an urge to break free from monthly costs like rent and utilities. What would it be like to go off the grid? Do you wonder what it would take to live a self-sufficient lifestyle in your city?

Whether you’re interested in drastically cutting your monthly costs, living more sustainably, or preparing for the zombie apocalypse, here’s what it would take to take control of your food, water, and housing,—to go off the grid and become an urban survivalist.


A roomy, well-made vehicle is the most versatile type of housing. Brandon, a 23-year-old Google employee*, lives in a moving truck parked in the company’s parking lot. Every month he saves $2,000 in rent, and innumerable heartache from roommate drama. He takes care of his basic needs, like showering and eating, at work. The only thing he does in his portable home is sleep.

And when he wants to go to the movies, hang out with friends, or go to the park, he has dependable wheels to take him there.

If you’re interested in a similar semi-permanent, portable lifestyle, invest in dependable transportation with a sprawling back seat.

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Dependable vehicle

Plot of land

If you’re looking for a more permanent settlement, don’t worry. There are urban survivalist superstars who have built simple lodging in their communities for next to nothing. For example, Rob Greenfield is an environmental activist who built his tiny house on a plot of land he’s staying on in exchange for occasional home improvements for the owner. He lives in a 50-square-foot structure, with a complete outdoor kitchen and composting toilet.

Finding an inexpensive way to own land in an urban area is one of the larger hurdles to starting your off-grid life. But if you do get lucky and a landowner agrees to let you turn their unused land into earth-friendly living quarters, you’ll have the space to put your tiny home.

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Spruce Up Your Plot of Land

Tiny home

If you’re looking for more permanent housing and are lucky enough to find an inexpensive plot of land, consider building a tiny home. There are numerous approaches and budgets for this type of home, so do your research, buy a couple of books, and sketch out what your home might look like with a friend or a knowledgeable builder. The cost of your home will depend on whether you decide to build it yourself, what materials you choose to use, and which amenities you decide to build into your home, among other factors.

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Basic Tiny Home

Water supply

To provide your own agua, you’ll want to be collecting rainwater all year round. You’ll need a 30-gallon tank, a stand to create water pressure, a valve, a filtration system, and retrieval tools (commonly known as “cups”). With a couple of hours of careful construction, you’ll have fresh drinking water.

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Water System

Composting toilet

If you’re living out of your vehicle, your best bet is to find a coffee shop with a nice bathroom. Having a 24-hour-gym pass is another way to have access to showers and a place to do your business.

If you’ve settled down in a tiny home on a little plot of land, you have more options. The most popular type of tiny home commode is the composting toilet. This DIY toilet turns your waste into compost and helps reduce consumption of your precious water supply.

The “humanure” you collect in your composting toilet can take about a year to cure, and there’s a learning curve that comes with doing your business a bit differently. Poke around online to get a sense of how to set up your new bathroom, and have a solid game plan before you start.

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Composting Toilet

Off-grid kitchen

You can create an off-grid kitchen with as little as a propane tank and a gas grill. If you have limited space in your new place of residence and are cooking outside, a fold-up gas grill can be helpful in inclement weather. It’s easier to store out of harm’s way when it starts raining or snowing.

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Off-Grid Kitchen

Drip Irrigation Garden

One of the most accessible ways to take a step toward self-sufficient living is to start your own garden. If you already have your rainwater collection system set up, you can start irrigating a plot with your favorite vegetables and herbs.

You’ll need perforated piping, an on/off valve, and some 2”x4”s and thick plastic tarp to keep your soil from washing away. Make sure your rainwater collection tank is elevated enough that gravity is working to water your garden constantly.

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Drip Irrigation Garden

Hey! Welcome to our disclaimer. Here’s what you need to know to safely consume this blog post: Any outbound links in this post will take you away from, to external sites in the wilds of the internet; neither Simple nor The Bancorp Bank, our partner bank, endorses any linked-to websites; and we didn’t pay/barter with/bribe anyone to appear in this post. Neither Brandon nor Rob are customers of Simple. And as much as we wish we could control the cost of things, any prices in this article are just estimates. Actual prices are up to retailers, manufacturers, and other people who’ve been granted magical powers over digits and dollar signs.