Toilet Paper Alternatives and Other Self-Sufficiency Home Projects To Quickly Keep Your Family Fed and Entertained

Food & Beverage Fun & Games Gardening Home
Toilet Paper Alternatives and Other Self-Sufficiency Home Projects To Quickly Keep Your Family Fed and Entertained
Read more articles about Plan C: What makers are doing to combat Covid-19

Store and grocery shelves might be lightly stocked at the moment, but there are often DIY alternatives for the missing necessities. Here are things to make and do to help keep yourself going as we shelter in place. 


Yeast: In stores and online, it’s become hard to find bread yeast (and flour, rice, dried legumes, etc). However, you can make sourdough starter yeast instead — it takes a little more time, and requires regular attention, but once you have some you can create an indefinite supply of it. Plus the flavor will be noticeably better than standard active dry yeast.

YouTube player


Proofing box: This useful tool will help you get your sourdough yeast going by maintaining a consistently warm environment. You can try using an oven set to “off” but with the lightbulb on, but even that can get too hot (going over 115°F). Here’s a cooler-bulb-and-thermostat option that isn’t too pricey.

YouTube player


Your Instant Pot works for bread proofing too:

YouTube player


Once you have your yeast ready, we also recommend you try a super easy no-knead bread approach

YouTube player


Vinegar: Mother your own apple cider vinegar pretty easily:

YouTube player

Malting grain for beer making and more:

YouTube player



Growing fresh produce is helpful when it’s hard to get to the stores. This can take time, but luckily spring has just started so we’re on the right side of the calendar to get your gardens going.

Fast-growing vegetables: Some vegetables take longer to produce than others. You should review the fast-growing ones to help get food onto your plates quickly. Some of these require just 3–4 weeks. Start now so you can be ready.

Greenhouse: Plants tend to like warm weather. With cold temperatures still set in many areas, a greenhouse can be a necessity. Large walk-in ones can be daunting to make, but you really only need something that covers your plants to be effective.

You can find cheap versions of these for sale, or build your own, like this 5’x5′ $25 option

Another one that we like:

YouTube player

Start your seedlings: You can do this indoors now, and put them outside after they sprout and it warms up. Make your own biodegradable paper planting pots to make the process easy.

YouTube player

Hydroponic garden: I grew salad greens in 3 weeks in my small Aerogarden, and it fed me nonstop after that. But rather than buying one, you could make a larger rig for less money and get even more production out of it. These can work very well.

YouTube player

Self-wicking tubs: An easy way to keep your plants watered. I’ve built a number of these, and Make: editor Caleb Kraft says it is his favorite.

YouTube player



As Covid-19 began to spread, the first thing that sold out seemed to be toilet paper, weeks before the markets were impacted for other goods. It’s still hard to find; here are a few options you can consider in its place, including bidets, wipes, and even more organic approaches.

YouTube player


Education and homeschooling

Something else now in a shortage is school itself — most are closed for weeks, and some states have even forecast it could extend for months. We’re all homeschoolers now, so what do we do? has a good resource guide to get you up to speed, and we also like this one from ThoughtCo.

Some other free options:

  • Maker Camp: Make:’s annual summertime virtual summer camp has been activated for projects and activities to keep families engaged and together. 
  • Kahn Academy: Generally known as one of the very best online learning resources
  • Class Central: Online learning options from top universities.
  • Foxfire school books: Well regarded country-living guides from the 70s, available on Amazon


We’ve got to keep ourselves happy, or we’ll all go mad. Here are a few things my family is doing while we’re holed away:

  • Obviously, making stuff
  • Netflix Party: Chrome plugin to let us do virtual movie nights with other sheltered friends in their homes by starting/stopping Netflix viewing simultaneously 
  • Karate lessons on YouTube

Have anything to add? Email me:

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!
Mike Senese

Mike Senese is a content producer with a focus on technology, science, and engineering. He served as Executive Editor of Make: magazine for nearly a decade, and previously was a senior editor at Wired. Mike has also starred in engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with electronics, fixing cars, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza. You might spot him at his local skatepark in the SF Bay Area.

View more articles by Mike Senese


Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 - Mare Island, CA

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).