Have you gotten bit by the prepper bug? Millions all over the world now consider themselves to be preppers, and there are handbooks, such as this one, that provide step-by-step survival instructions for families.
I bet you’ve spent hours on the internet searching for the ultimate solar radio, the most comprehensive food storage inventory list or maybe which water filtration system to use. We have all been there, usually late at night by the warm glow of the computer screen. I get it. I was and still am the same way. As with all new endeavors, we learn as we go and gain knowledge from our experience. There were some things I do wish I had known when I started.
Rotation, rotation, rotation
I do not want to think about all of the food I have thrown away. Is life really that busy that I forget to rotate? I do not remember even buying minestrone soup 6 years ago! Rotating food is one thing I really struggled with. After time I have found what works for our home.
- Store 3 months of food that you normally eat in easily accessible places. Kitchen cupboards, the pantry and extra shelves if you have the space for them. This way, you don’t forget what you have, as in “out of sight, out of mind.” Extra closet shelves like these can help provide additional shelving at little cost.
- Move large items (crockpots, holiday kitchen items, etc.) to a different part of the house to make more room for food in your kitchen. If you see it, you will cook with it.
- Plan meals from what you have in your cupboard. It will remind you of what you have and need to use.
- If you have an additional freezer, organize it by food type. Chicken on one shelf, pork on another, fruits and vegetables in the bins. This method will let you know what you eat more of and allows you to adjust your shopping and menus accordingly, and yes, I do keep some ‘food storage’ food in my freezer.
- Rotate the items in your car kits, bug out bags and work bag. Extreme hot and cold can make some items go bad, taste odd or expire earlier than thought. Make a note in your calendar, whether it’s a wall calendar, on your computer, or a phone app, to do an “emergency kit clean-out” at least 3 times a year.
Smart prepping is trying it out first
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that putting a new camp stove together in the dark with hungry kids around is not fun. How hard could it be to put a new stove together, right? After a few frustrating experiences with new things, I have learned to try things out first. Some things we have learned by trying them out first are:
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- Food that looked good on the label were not always as tasty. Certain brands we no longer buy. Store what you like to eat, but be sure to try it out first. Thrive Life foods have never disappointed, and I consider them to be one of the best in terms of taste and quality.
- Try new foods out at home, not over the camp fire or in an emergency. If a recipe works, you know right then and there! If it does not, you can prepare something else for dinner or enjoy take out.
- Directions on the box are not always as clear when assembling anything the first time. We have made purchases where there were no directions included or they were in a language none of us spoke. That is when the internet came in handy. You can download and print out instruction manuals but this would be difficult, if not impossible, under duress, such as a power outage.
- Sometimes parts are missing. It is better to take something back to the store sooner than later and in an emergency, that might be impossible.
- The first few times you practice an evacuation drill, it will be a disorderly mess. It is during those drills that you learn what you are forgetting and gives you the chance to practice. It was during a drill that I realized how important it is to store our computer files and pictures on an external hard drive and to save copies of our vital docs on multiple thumb drives, keeping one on my keychain and then giving the others to close friends/family members to save for me.
- Eat a meal or two from your bug out bag. It can be life changing. Eat a meal or two without your kitchen appliances. Use your grill, solar oven (the Solavore is effective and affordable), cook over a camp fire.
- Wash your clothes by hand. Learn how to dry and hang clothes on a clothes line properly. Here are tips for taking care of laundry during a power outage.
- Camping/survival gear should be used first in a non-emergency situation. The four-room tent that we purchased was easier to set up in the back yard in the middle of the day than it would have been if we were in a stressful situation. I keep at least one inexpensive tent on hand for possible using indoors during a winter power outage. Here’s more info about that.
Store more water than you think
Water has been stored in every room in my home. Under sinks and in closets are the usual hiding places, but I’ve been pretty creative in finding other spaces. What is surprising is how often they have been used.
Water to our house has been turned off for repairs, more times than I want to remember. During these times, we have always been shocked at the amount of water we used. Thankfully, they were not times of dire emergency. Nevertheless, we opened more bottles of water than we thought we would. It was a real eye-opener at the amount of water needed to support a household. Even if there is an emergency and you conserve the amount of water used, you will need more than you realize. We found that during our non-emergency times, water was used for:
- Washing hands after bathroom use
- Flushing toilet (only #2)
- Washing fruits and vegetables
- Wiping down counters, stove, table, sink
- Washing hands during meal prep, especially after touching meat
- Drinking, making drinks
- Water needed for making food and rehydrating freeze-dried and dehydrated food
- Washing hands that just got dirty
Lesson learned. You use more water for more things than you probably realize and you’ll need a way to heat water for sanitizing purposes. A solar oven is good for that.
Remembering to pack and update bug out bags
I remember being so excited to have our bug out bags organized, labeled and perfectly packed. I was beaming with pride as I put them in the closet. And that is where they stayed for a very long time. Cleaning them out years later was a bit discouraging. So we came up with a plan!
The first weekend of April and October we update our bags. In April, we replace anything that is close to its expiration date. These are usually food and medical items. In April, the warmer winter clothes are replaced with summer clothes. In October we go through again and put back our winter wear. During this time we go through the home and check smoke detectors, carbon monoxide alarms and stock up on batteries for our radios and flashlights.
Print out this list of things to consider packing in your bags/kits.
Set money aside each month
It is easy to let your enthusiasm for prepping take over your bank account. Looking back, I would have set a specific amount of money aside each month. It gives you the opportunity to save for larger items if needed, like the expensive water filter, solar oven, and a supply of just-add-water meals. Having money for this purpose allows you to take advantage of clearance items or great sales you may run across. Once we practiced this in our home, my husband and I felt we were more in sync with each other on preparing our family.
Buying that four room tent, on clearance, was much more thrilling because we knew the money was already there for the purchase. It does not matter how much you can afford to save. Every bit counts and it adds up. Find time to go over your budget and decide how much of your funds you can put in an envelope towards your prepping.
I have realized that the more I learn, the more I forget. The internet is so dependable when I need answers, so why try to remember everything? But what happens when there is not electricity or access to the internet?
Over the last 15 years I have been collecting books that I can lean on when an emergency happens. The books vary in topic, preserving food, medical manuals, old cookbooks, knot tying, animal trapping, psychological health and physical fitness, and making shelters. Included are books that can help me mentally and emotionally get through difficult times. Some of these are self-help and motivational books, a journal, a Bible and other religions materials. Many of these books are inexpensive and can be found at thrift stores and online. The Red Cross has a lot of their manuals on their web site that you can download and print out. Some cities also offer free materials to the community.
Having five kids, it did not take long to figure out that I can do things faster without help. Not only faster, but the right way and with less mess. Much of the preparedness took place after they were in bed and I could get something done, uninterrupted. Looking back, I wish I would have involved my children even more in preparing. Around the age of 8, they were helping with bug out bags and little ones were helping in the garden. But I did not include them in other areas of preparedness. If I could go back I would include them more in:
- Food preservation
- Short term food storage
- Outdoor living skills
The kids have turned out fine, considering their lack of involvement in the beginning. Though difficult and time consuming, it is better to include them in as much of the preparation as possible. Habits are created and lessons are learned during those moments that cannot be re-created at other times.
As the children became teens, they lost the child-like enthusiasm to help. Not surprising. Involving the family in outside activities that teach your kids preparedness skills can help to. Thankfully, the Scouting program was there for my sons to reinforce the “Be Prepared” things we were doing at home. Classes and service projects in your community can provide an occasion to learn new skills and put into practice the ones you have. Remember to include your children when doing:
- Home repairs
- Car maintenance and repairs
- Gardening/food preservation
- Laundry and sewing
- Menu planning and shopping
- Budgeting and some financial matters