Dear Mr. Rawles,
I read the two letters that were posted on September 27, “Advice for City Folks on a Budget”. What struck me was how similar Mike H.’s situation is to mine. I too have a wife similar to the Mike H’s.
At first my wife thought I was out of my tree when I began preparing years ago. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, she came to believe that what I was doing was prudent, but somewhat overkill. Now that we have entered this period in history, she’s starting to pay attention, and has become a participant. I empathize with people in Mike’s predicament, and I have several suggestions to add to yours:
Before one starts with your recommended “List of Lists”, I would encourage everyone to do a complete inventory of what is currently in one’s household. I understand that sounds overwhelming, but it can be accomplished within a week or two, if one room or closet is done every evening. I’d leave the larger spaces such as attics, garages, and basements for a Saturday or Sunday. I would encourage people to do this as a family group so that people will have an idea where things are when all is said and done.
I’m going to make some suggestions of things to add to one’s preparedness supplies as I go along.
Start by going through your clothing closets with prejudice. Do the same with your children’s closets. Set aside the clothing in a pile that is no longer worn or that is out of fashion. Heavy coats, jackets, etc should be checked for fit. If they don’t fit, place them in the pile. If they do fit, even if you or your kids hate the way they look, put them back into your closet. If you are unable to heat your home, you won’t care what you look like when you’re cold. Keep in mind layering and hand-me-downs [for younger children] when checking fit.
Next, do the same with shoes. Fashion footwear that is little more than eye candy, if it is no longer being used, it should be placed in the pile. Go through your dressers and chests of drawers as well.
Now that you know what you have in your closets, and they’re cleaned out, this makes room for your needed additions. Depending on your climate, you may find that you will need to add things like sweatshirts, sweat pants, gloves, scarves, hats, long underwear, wool socks, heavy boots or more rugged shoes, etc. I live in sunny Central California, and during the winter, it can frequently still fall into the single digits overnight. Most people never notice it because of modern conveniences like central heat. That will change if things really get bad.
Keep in mind your bedding and bath towels. Extra towels, blankets and sheets are good to have if everything has to be washed manually and hung to dry. Make sure you have a way to string a clothesline, even if it’s just above the bathtub.
Now is the time to buy. Many retailers are having sales as their revenues continue to fall, and others declare bankruptcy. Keep an eye out for sales, and don’t be afraid to visit the Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift stores. If you’re worried about fallout from mortified spouses or kids, do it alone, pack it up, and label it. I sincerely doubt that you’ll hear any complaints from people who are cold and miserable.
Next, go through your clothing discard pile. Donate things that obviously will serve no practical purpose in a survival situation. Polyester skirts and pair of pumps that were in fashion in the 1980s really won’t help much. The rest box up and label. There may be neighbors or others who can benefit from your charity if things really get bad.
If you are like I was, you probably had eight pairs of old jeans that had holes in the seat and the like. Save several pairs to cut patches out of to repair the one’s you have now, and to help filter coarse debris from water. Discard the rest. Get a sewing kit capable of handling heavy fabrics. Buy some glue for your shoes, like Shoe Goop.
Next stop is the kitchen and pantry. Go through all your cabinets and drawers. Pull out everything that is food. Go through it. Check the date codes. Things that are way out of date, use or discard. Just because something is past the date code, doesn’t mean it is bad. A little time spent on the web will show you how to interpret date codes and their meanings for various foods.
Set aside things that you know you will never eat. You may have received a Christmas basket that had pickled pig’s feet in it, and you know that even if someone held a gun to your head, you wouldn’t eat it.
Put everything you will eat back, and make a list of things to add to your larder. Buy them as finances permit. When adding to your larder, remember to [FIFO] rotate your stock.
The things you won’t eat, put them in a box to use as charity, or donate them to a food bank now.
Next go through your cooking utensils. The non-stick Wolfgang Puck Bistro set isn’t going to hold up if you’re forced to cook in your fireplace, so you’d better lay in some cast iron or at bare minimum plain stainless steel. If you can only afford one piece of cast iron, then get a Dutch oven with an iron lid. Some are available with a glass lid. If the lid breaks, you’re SOL. Try to purchase brands such as Lodge. There are a lot of inexpensive pieces out there that come from China, and I’ve heard that they warp and sometimes shatter. Check garage sales, and the Goodwill etc. Even if they’re rusty, as long as there aren’t huge pits in the iron, they will clean up and re-season well.
You’ll also need a manual can opener, a “church key” [beer can opener], a manual bottle opener and corkscrew. If you can, get an extra or two of each because sometimes they break or wear out. Your neighbor may not have one, come the time [of need]. Good will between neighbors goes a long way when things are difficult. Extra pot holders and kitchen towels are good too.
Get a set of real knives. Those fancy ceramic ones are awesome, I know, I have a set. They won’t hold up if you have to carve up game, such as a rabbit or duck. Don’t forget a whetstone or some way to manually sharpen your knives. A dull knife is far more dangerous than a sharp one.
As you continue through the garage and attic, use the same critical eye. Discard things that you won’t use to make room for things that you will.
When you finish you’ll have a good idea of what you do have, and can accurately gauge yourself against the “List of lists”.
Here are some additional thoughts:
If you should find yourself with a collection of things that can generate some cash after going through your house, consider a garage sale, and use the proceeds to buy needed supplies.
If you have the time,storage space, and finances, then add hand crank drills, hammers, a “Yankee Screwdriver” and other manual tools to a small kit. Get some nails, wood screws, and a couple of sheets of plywood, a few 2x4s, and heavy poly sheeting. This will help you contend with broken windows and doors. If civil unrest becomes a problem, the 2x4s can be used to reinforce exterior doors. Make sure you have appropriate fasteners such as lag screws or nails between 40d and 100d. (The “d” means penny.) A 40d is about 5 inches in length and 100d is about 10 inches in length.
Buy several large fire extinguishers and position them through the house. Make sure everyone knows where they are and how to use them. Best Regards, – J.H.