How to survive life in a bunker

I wrote this more than a year ago when our home was being renovated.  I read it again today and thought it might be helpful for families who are stuck inside during this monstrous winter weather we’re having.

Life has been a little too cozy for me lately.  Too cozy in the sense that I have been living in about 500 square feet for the past two months.  No, we’re not hunkered down in a bomb shelter nor has a hurricane hit the Phoenix area recently.  Rather, it’s a large home improvement project that has caused me to become a refugee in my own home.  Basically, I live in a bunker with windows.

Trying to maintain some level of quality to our lives in spite of cramped quarters and numerous inconveniences is something many of you have experienced.  When families suddenly find themselves staying with relatives after a natural disaster hits their area, or having to make do in a small hotel room until they can return home, or even finding temporary refuge in a homeless shelter, well, life gets awfully cozy!

Living with four dogs, a cat, two turtles, two kids and a husband in this small area has taught me a few things that may come in handy someday if you find yourself living in extra-cozy circumstances.

The well-being of each family member comes first.  At first, our living situation was one big slumber party with all of us sleeping on living room couches.  After a couple of weeks, though, signs of stress began to set in.  Even in an emergency or an evacuation, there are creative ways of handling stress.

  • Keep an eye out for symptoms of stress.  I discovered that my husband gets very fatigued when he’s under a lot of stress.  My daughter begins to need extra alone time, and my son needs more physical activity and socialization than usual.  I need mental breaks via a good book or a knitting project.
  • Minimize stress by looking for ways to meet those stress symptoms unique to each family member.  My husband is working out at the Y more often, and when he needs a nap, I just cover him up with a warm blanket and tiptoe away.  I purchased some scrapbooking supplies for my daughter to give her a creative outlet she can enjoy in solitude, and my son is active in a swim team.  I’ve rediscovered knitting and have a stack of books ready to be opened and devoured.  When it comes to stress, one solution doesn’t fit all.
  • Now more than ever, give yourself permission to be completely goofy.  My kids and I have discovered the simple pleasure of taking pictures of each other making the most outrageous faces we can think of.  I hope neither kid ever posts these on, but they provide a lot of laughs.  Choose activities that make you happy and put a smile on your face.  Someday you’ll look back on this hardship and laugh, so you may as well start laughing now!
  • If you have pets, you’ll have to work around predator-prey relationships!  Our cat drools at the sight of our turtles, the dogs would love to corner the cat, and the cat would love to dig her claws into our dogs.  Round and round they go, and it’s mostly my  job to keep everybody alive and healthy!
Don't let this be you!

Don't let this be you!

As The Mom, you have the greatest influence as to whether your living situation deteriorates into a war zone or becomes a favorite memory of your family.  Here are a few ground rules TheSurvivalMom established, and they seem to be working for us in keeping everyone sane and our living space in order.

  • Routine is a must.  Wake up at a decent hour each morning, have a specific day and time for mundane chores, set aside times for reading and watching TV.  When too many hours run together without any structure, boredom and frustration set in.  A simple routine is better than none.
  • Have something to look forward to every day, even if it’s just watching a M*A*S*H re-run!  Sometimes it’s the small things that give us energy to get through a rough day.
  • Don’t overdo the TV or computer.  Short stints can be stress-breakers, but too much actually adds to fatigue and boredom.
  • Less is more.  I’m reminded of that truth each time I pull a load of laundry from the dryer.  A well-planned week’s worth of clothing is easier to manage than a large, haphazard assortment.  Fewer toys, fewer books, and fewer shoes equals fewer things misplaced.  Tell yourself you’re going for a ‘zen’ look.

A source of either peace or unrelenting frustration is your physical surroundings.  Wherever you’re toughing it out, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to your living space.

  • Orderliness is the other must!  The less you have, the easier this will be.  Even if you have to organize your belongings in cardboard boxes, at least everything will have a designated place.
  • This time period can be a great time for de-cluttering and ridding your home of unnecessary junk.  When you discover just how little you truly need, you also discover that your wants aren’t as numerous, either.
  • Get used to sharing a bathroom with a crowd!  A hike to an outhouse would be worse, so I’m grateful for what we have!  Life is more pleasant for everyone with a great product from Bath & Body Works.  Don’t laugh!  One squirt of their Concentrated Room Spray, and our bathroom is fresh for hours.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of comfort food.  If you’re able to cook or bake in your living situation, try out new recipes and make old family favorites.  Making a batch of snickerdoodles is inexpensive but provides a fun family activity and a great snack to boot.
  • Items most often lost: shoes and important pieces of paper.  Two pairs of shoes per person and an organizational accordian file have helped fix these two bugaboos.

Expect frustration.  Expect to get irritated with those closest to you, and expect to cry.  Spending time with other people in small, enclosed areas will do that to a person!   Be sure to take care of yourself and pay careful attention to your stress level.  If possible, have a small space that is just yours or a scheduled time each week to escape for an hour or two.  If you give yourself plenty of oxygen first (think airplane emergency instructions), you’ll have more of you to give your family.

Soon, I’ll be living in even less square footage as we finish this home improvement project.  I’ll have to figure out how to take care of my family without access to a kitchen.  Oy vay!  Watch for a related blog entry in another three or four weeks!  Soon our floors will be finished, and our house will be designer-perfect.  Until then, I pray and cope!

In the meantime, do be safe and prepared wherever life takes you.  Planning ahead and taking steps to be prepared for uncertain times are never wasted efforts.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

© Copyright 2011 The Survival Mom, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Survival Mom
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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 5 years. Come join me on my journey to becoming more prepared to handle everyday emergencies and worst case scenarios.

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  1. smileandnodyall says

    We have had three military moves in the past 13 months, and people always ask me how the kids do during our loooooong times spent in hotel rooms. But the kids usually aren't the problem! Its my husband and I. I suffer without the routine of regular life, and The huz has zero motivation to do anything, from eating his own breakfast to walking out the door to play kickball with us. Such close quarters makes you want to rip your hair out, and I agree about the computer and television: they are not nearly as enjoyable as they ought to be! I can absolutely, positively second and third all of your suggestions here. And, if I ever *do* have to live in a bunker, I hope it's this one(!)….

  2. Rachel says

    I feel your pain. We have been living with our four kids in a 300 sq ft travel trailer for two years while we build our log home. The stress of building a house, homeschooling, living in this tiny space, and a husband who works out of town usually five and a half days a week can get to me sometimes. And if that isn't enough now I'm trying to figure out food storage and emergency supplies.

  3. says

    I remember when we first moved from our nice big farmhouse in Central Texas to a teeny tiny 2 bedroom duplex in our new home town.. I thought I might lose my sanity being so confined and crammed next to loud neighbors who were 1000 times more social than I would ever be comfortable with.. So glad to be back in the country! :)

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