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Nov 242012

This NY Times photo shows a prepper family and their supplies. But there’s as much missing as is included in what they proudly show us here.

Here’s an interesting article with a great picture to start with – as you can see, it shows a family of eight with their stockpile of prepping supplies.

Pretty impressive, yes?  Everything from solar panels to salt, and quite literally, from soup to nuts.  The man who heads the family is a ‘professional prepper’ so you’d expect him to have a good inventory of things.

But – and it is a huge but…..  what can you not see in the picture?  What is missing?  While there’s plenty of food, and a strange assortment of other ‘self help’ items for the future, there are also many important things not present in the picture at all.

For example, they’ve a bucket of laundry detergent, but no bars of soap.  Talking about soap, where is the toilet paper?  Towels?  Spare clothing?

How about a book or two to read?  Paper to write on, and pens to write with?  Some board games and packs of cards?

They’ve got a dismayingly small-sized generator, but what about lights – or, more to the point, spare light bulbs?  It also seems their total gas supply is four 5-gallon gas cans – probably enough gas to power their generator for a day, but no more than that.  And while they have a propane burner of dubious value, we don’t see any propane.  They have some solar panels, but how about batteries to store the charge from the panels?  Radios and other electrical and electronic goods?

We’re not seeking to criticize this family, and almost certainly they have lots more resources that are not included in this photo, and it could even be debated if the newspaper didn’t deliberately choose to omit a lot of the resources the family has so as to make them look slightly ridiculous for what they apparently do and don’t have.

But the picture does illustrate an essential point.  There’s a lot more to prepping than stocking up on long life food and barrels of water.

Sure, without food and water, you’re not going to live for long.  But is it your intention to live a miserable life of extreme hardship, or is it your intention to be able to live adequately – not luxuriously, but not in great discomfort, either?

Particularly in a Level 1 or 2 situation (click link for definition) your ability to survive and thrive, and your ability to maintain your morale and will to succeed will be as much measured by the amount of toilet paper you have as by the amount of dried food.  To keep everyone in your group feeling positive and confident of your ability to get through the situation and emerge successfully out the other end, you want to keep as many of life’s semi-essentials available as possible.

The good news is that a year’s supply of light bulbs or toilet paper costs very little.  The same for a small library of books, and some pen and paper for people to keep their own personal journals.  Many of these ‘optional extras’ cost very little, and the reason that preppers often overlook them is not due to lack of money, but rather due to lack of forethought.

There’s another category of essential items that also doesn’t appear in this photo, but which you need to consider.  Tools and other things necessary for maintaining the things in your retreat, and a generous inventory of spare parts to replace the things that will almost certainly fail during a Level 1/2 situation.

A tool kit (we recommend as many hand powered tools as possible rather than air or electric tools, for obvious reasons) is not expensive, and some of the more essential spare part items for the various things around your retreat are not necessarily expensive either.  That way, when something fails, you actually feel good and experience a small triumph when you produce the necessary spare part and the tools to replace it with, rather than feeling abject and despondent as, little by little, item by item, your conveniences and comforts fail, making life increasingly less pleasant.

What Do You Need?

It is very hard to come up with a definitive list of all the non-food and non-essential items that would help to make a Level 1/2 situation more endurable, because everyone has a different lifestyle and a different concept of what may or may not necessarily be essential.

But there’s a way for you to start to build your own list.  What we suggest you do is get a tiny pocket notebook (we use one which measures only 2 1/2″ x 4″ with about 50 pages in it) and carry it with you, everywhere you go.  Any time you use any thing, write it down in the notebook, along with whatever you can think of that is related to the thing you are using.

For example, you turn on a light, and that makes you think :  Spare switch, lightbulb, fuse.  It might also make you think :  electrical wire, screwdrivers, side cutters, pliers, electrical tape, multi-meter, soldering iron, and who knows what else.

For example, you go to the bathroom, and that makes you think :  Toilet paper, water, sewage.  It might also make you think :  ‘toilet spare parts kit’, soap, towels, plumbing snake, cleaning fluids, bucket, and who knows what else.

You turn on television, and that makes you think :  Television, electricity, spare parts for tv.  It might also make you think :  satellite receiver, old-fashioned external antenna, radio, shortwave radio, walkie-talkies, and who knows what else.

You turn the temperature up when it gets cold, and that makes you think :  Thermostat, furnace parts, filters, humidifiers.  It might also make you think energy sources, alternative heating strategies, insulation, warm clothes, CO and CO2 detectors, and who knows what else.

You go to the kitchen to heat up a can of beans and that makes you think :  Can openers, pots and pans, cutlery and crockery.  It might also make you think :  knives, knife sharpeners, kitchen gadgets in general (preferably hand-operated) and who knows what else.

As you live your normal life, continue entering the details of things you use and do into your notebook as often as you can, for everything you do, and as you can see from the examples above, try to think not just about exactly the thing you are doing, but the immediate and reasonably related other items that the thing you are doing/using relies upon as well.

Finding Subtle Obscured Dependencies

Note from the examples above that you try to think through the layers of dependencies and consequential issues with each thing you do or use.  If you find yourself thinking about the need for laundry detergent, you should try to think through the entire washing clothes process, which of course includes drying them after washing has been complete.  How will you do that when you can’t just turn on the drier unit next to your washing machine?  If the answer is ‘hang them on a washing line’ you next thing ‘hang them with what?’ and realize you not only need a clothes line but also clothes pegs.  Next, for ‘bonus’ points, think also about the life of the clothes and other things you’re washing.  If you have children, what will happen when they grow out of their present clothes.  What will happen when you’ve worn holes in your shoes, socks and clothes – and think not just about replacing, but also having repair kits to extend the life of your garments too.

Most of all, be alert for some of the things that we take so much for granted because they almost never fail; but when they do fail, they can have major impacts on our lives.  This starts with the structural integrity of your dwelling itself and external threats that might be posed – do you have trees around the property that could – either now or in five years time – fall and crash through your house?  What is the state of its roof?  Might it start leaking?  Do you have large picture windows, and if so, what would you do if a pane of glass was smashed in the large picture window?

So, how long should you do keep recording everything you use and rely on for?  We’d suggest two years.  That seems like a very long time.  Of course, the number of new items you’ll uncover in the second year will be much less than in the first year, but the longer you do it, the more robust and resilient your preparations will become and the more likely you’ll be to uncover/encounter some of the unusual but important problems you might have.

The first few weeks will be a rush of a huge number of new entries into your notebook, and then things will start to slow down, but each new season will bring about new seasonal related issues and requirements.

As time and money allows, you should of course work slowly but steadily towards addressing each of the items on your list and coming up with a suitable preparation.

How Much Do You Need?

How high is up?  How long is a piece of string?  And how large an inventory of food and non-food supplies do you need?  Three questions, all with no exact answers.

Ideally, you want to retain some balance in your stockpiling of items.  There is no point in having a decade’s worth of light bulbs if you only have three months of food, is there.  On the other hand, once you have laid in a three-month supply of food, and the means to ensure a reasonable ongoing supply of water, then you might want to pause in your food stockpiling efforts and add in some of the other non-food items that can keep your overall quality of life at an acceptable level, before continuing to add more food.

By all means stock up more than you need of some items, because you might be able to use the extra supplies of the item to trade with other people.  But if all the preppers for miles around have stockpiled extra quantities of salt and hard liquor, then you’re going to find the supply and demand equation for those items will have depressed their value greatly.  Try and think of things which other people are less likely to stock up on.  Ideally such things should last forever rather than have a short-lived expiry date, be of high utility value and low-cost for you to buy up front, and be able to be stored in a small amount of space.

Packs of playing cards and books of card game rules might be an example of a ‘quality of life’ thing – they are inexpensive to buy, last forever in storage, and with the probable demise of high-tech electronic entertainment options, might become very popular in the future again.  Even better still, while a pack of cards can last a long time, sooner or later the cards will get damaged and lost, and so you stand to sell more packs of cards from time to time to the same people who bought them from you in the first place.

On the other hand, toilet paper, while low value and long-lived, and definitely a consumable item, is perhaps not so great as a trade item to stockpile, because it does take up a lot of space.

Use your imagination, and your own life experiences as recorded in your notebook, to come up with not only what you need, but also what might be great to keep spares of as trade items, and try to more or less balance your food/water and non-food/water prepping so that you have adequate amounts of everything.


Sometimes we feel there is too much focus on food and water, and too little focus on ‘everything else’ when it comes to preparing for a future adverse scenario.

Of course, without adequate shelter, water and food, life itself is at risk.  But once you’re ensured the ability to sustain life, you then want to start to focus on improving the quality of your life, by prudently adding non-essential but greatly appreciated extra things.

Keeping a notebook and listing everything you do and creatively working through that to everything that the things you do/use are in turn dependent upon can help you come up with the list of non-food items you would benefit from having.


David Spero[suffusion-the-author display='description']

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