Prepping and minimalism may seem like conflicting lifestyles, but they don’t have to be! I discovered this when we added a third child to our 2-bedroom, 800-ish square foot house. Once she started moving around, it felt like our space shrank dramatically.
Around the same time, my parents downsized. As a result, I inherited several pieces of family heirloom furniture. At heart, I’m a minimalist, and between these factors, my minimalist side rebelled.
I wanted to get rid of everything we owned!
Have you ever felt that way?
Minimalist Mentality vs. Prepper Mindset
Among other minimalist advice, I familiarized myself with Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. She mainly touts de-cluttering or sorting by category, rather than the traditional advice of doing a room or a closet.
For example, do all your books at once. I know it’s easy to get distracted while going through things, so focusing on only one thing at a time seems a good way to stay on task.
She’s also known for getting people to ask if any given item “sparks joy” or makes you happy, or if it detracts from your life because you’re constantly tripping over it (my paraphrase).
NOTE: Get Survival Mom’s free ebook, “Declutter & Organize Your Living Space.”
This may all be very good advice, but along with being a minimalist, I’m also a prepper. I’m determined to be prepared for everyday emergencies and worst-case scenarios, using this handbook as a guide.
With the addition of a child and furniture to my household, my prepper self was thinking about the future–both the bigger political and economic picture and our own family’s financial security. There was a good deal of “stuff” that I felt we needed to keep if we were to be prepared for any number of crises.
But how could I both prep AND continue with my commitment to minimalism?
Can prepping & minimalism co-exist?
But when it comes to prepping and minimalism getting along, what do you decide to keep and store in the first place?
Really, that’s a question we all must grapple with, whether we strive for minimalism or not. But for those trying to blend prepping and minimalism, answering that question becomes even more challenging.
To help me through the decision-making process, I established some criteria to evaluate what to keep on hand.
How to use minimalist principles to evaluate your prepping supplies
These benchmarks help me make choices that satisfy both the prepper side of me, the side that wants to protect my family when the worst happens, and my minimalist side, which wants a harmonious, clutter-free space that supports and enhances my family’s well-being.
Assess your threats
This isn’t really a minimalist principle, but it’s hard to prepare if you don’t know what you’re preparing for. If you’ve never completed a threat assessment, do that first. This article explains the process.
Identify your big categories
Once the high-priority threats are identified, it’s time to figure out the big picture prepping categories. From previous conversations, I knew that our main categories as a family were generally:
- Food and water
- Health (including mental/spiritual)
Whatever I decided to keep should generally fall into one of these groups.
Supplies should be visible and accessible
When one of your kids gets hurt and you can’t find what you need to help them, you learn pretty quickly that supplies should be easy to find.
For example, in the middle of the exploring toddler and the inherited furniture, we had an incident. One of the kids got injured while I wasn’t home, and my husband couldn’t find the right box of first aid supplies.
We had absolutely everything we needed for the situation, but he didn’t know where I had stored it. He had to take all the kids (including the injured one) to the drugstore to buy it all again.
This was a significant learning moment for me because being prepared and having all the right “stuff” doesn’t matter at all if you can’t find it or get to it when you need it!
So one of my goals was to make everything as visible and accessible as possible.
Items should be multi-purpose
As much as possible, select items that can fulfill more than one purpose. One way to do this is to incorporate as much as you can into your daily life.
The most obvious example that comes to mind is cast iron cookware. Cast iron pans can be used now on the stovetop, but they can also be used in a power outage or off-grid situation, perhaps on a wood stove or over a campfire. Of course, you also want to be familiar with all your tools and equipment before that happens, but you’re doing that, right?
And once you’re using those on a regular basis, perhaps you can part with some of your other cookware, freeing up more kitchen space.
Therefore, evaluate everything to see if it was single or multi-use. It doesn’t mean you automatically chuck if it only had one use, but it does have to work harder to prove its value.
Every item should earn its keep to earn its space in your home
Throughout this process, I was always asking: does the value of this item justify the space it requires? If not, the item went in the give-away box.
One of the tactics I used involved incorporating practical items into my decorating. For example, I mixed lanterns with my prized antique books on the shelves. They fit together perfectly!
Prioritize supplies based on needs, not wants
When evaluating my space, I had to embrace the hard truth that I just wouldn’t be able to keep everything I wanted. Once I accepted that, though, making decisions based on my other criteria became easier.
For example, it was important to keep books that are reference material, or educational, and less important to keep contemporary fiction. Of course, entertainment and distraction are important in times of stress, so I kept plenty of fiction, too. However, I evaluated it in terms of quality and our family’s interests.
So while I evaluated each reference book (and got rid of a few!), I prioritized those over fiction where space was limited.
Weigh the value vs. cost of each item
An item might cost more but also carry greater value. For instance, a high-quality water filtration and purification system may set you back a pretty penny. Consider its value, though, in the event of a boil water notice. Or in any disaster where clean water is scarce. It’s worth every one of those pretty pennies.
Conversely, consider the WaPI, whose low cost and simple appearance belie its value.
Consider quality over quantity
Sure, you could buy a dozen cheapie flashlights, but if they don’t work when you need them, too, well, see the previous section. Therefore, consider quality over quantity. Better to spend more money on one or two quality flashlights. That is one of the more perfect examples of prepping and minimalism blending well.
Prioritize skills and knowledge over gear
Don’t buy a lot of stuff and then never practice with it. At a minimum, practice basic survival skills such as:
Other Things to Consider
Prepping and minimalism aren’t one-and-done tasks. Here are a few other things to keep in mind.
Occasionally reevaluate your supplies
What works for you today may not be the best option for you next year. Circumstances change and we need to flex with them. Make a plan to reassess. It could be something you address annually when completing Survival Mom’s prepper evaluation.
Resist out-of-sight, out-of-mind storage
None of your storage does any good if it’s hidden away and you forget about it!
For me, keeping lists was too much hassle for our current schedules, so I made limiting unseen storage my priority. Now I know exactly what I have stored in the far corners of my basement today, and I can count it on one hand!
We do, however, keep a few tubs of sentimental items and photo albums. We have:
- a set of collector drinking glasses from my grandma that I cannot safely display in our current space, but definitely want to keep,
- file boxes clearly labeled by year ready for sorting/shredding as they hit their “keep until” dates,
- five pieces of furniture that I could not incorporate into our current space but are certainly worth keeping in hopes of a larger home someday, and
- our Christmas decorations (which are definitely minimalist!).
My results, so far
Here are a few observations of living in our newly decluttered–but still prepared–home:
- It’s been easier to identify needs and priorities. We all have limited resources, and sometimes it’s hard to know what to get next. Once you know what you do have, you can easily see what you don’t have and prioritize these needs. One item that jumped out at me that wasn’t on any wish list was a small household tool kit.
- My choices are now more obvious. Once you identify a need, you still have to make a choice about how to fill it. For example, a wheat grinder was on my list. Typing “wheat grinder” into Amazon gave me almost 500 results! But now that I had decluttered the kitchen and kept my Kitchen Aid mixer, my choices for our space and needs seemed obvious: a Kitchen Aid attachment or the Vittorio Deluxe Manual grinder. Then it was just a matter of evaluating only two choices and making a decision.
- I have room for new items. Since I earned my Ham radio license earlier this year, my radio equipment has been cluttering the top of my desk, which was messy to look at and probably not the safest for the radio. After I decluttered, though, I suddenly found I had an entire drawer free just for ham radio equipment.
- I have more time and less stress. As someone who reads between the lines of the evening news, there’s enough to worry about already. Reducing our clothes and kitchen items made a dramatic improvement in maintaining the household. Our laundry and dishes are noticeably less! And now I spend my newly found free time on developing skills and relationships.
With effort and intentionality, prepping and minimalism can work together. My world is now a little more peaceful, a little more quiet.
What about you? What are your strategies for making minimalist prepping work?
This article was originally published on October 22, 2016, and has been updated.