Sure, it’d be nice to prepare for the rest of our lives on Bill Gates’ budget. (I would keep a fully-staffed Pizza Hut underground in my retreat group.) But you can do a lot with what you’ve got. Plus, even the rich need to do important things that cost nothing. Rich or poor, this is for everyone. (If you’re reading this, be reminded you’re relatively rich simply because you have internet access) You know the list is going to start with cleaning, but don’t scroll too fast.
Clean your house. If your spouse is not on board with prepping, this will immediately win your set of values some favor. It won’t be fun, but think of at as a learning experience as you try to clean in a sustainable way (unless you plan to stockpile Swiffers). Unfortunately cleaning isn’t a one-time preparation, but a thorough cleaning is heavy load that is worth lifting. Deeply clean one room at a time and you can clean 6 rooms from Mon-Sat. Plus you’ll probably find your lost pocketknife behind the couch – trust me you’ll find things! (maybe even money!) If the SHTF, think how much nicer it will be to fill your bathtub with water if your bathtub isn’t covered with 1/4 inch of scum. Sure, cleaning the house won’t do you as much good if your emergency is a tornado, (bye bye house) but if your emergency is an unexpected visit from your mother-in-law, you can grab your B.O.B. and leave her in your clean house. Try at first to clean rooms, not little stuff – move the piles first. Sure, your gun might need cleaned (add it to a list), but cleaning the whole basement is also important. Put stuff where it goes.
Sharpen what you have. This is where you can focus on the smaller stuff. Many of us have tools that are dull, dirty, needing some TLC, or possibly still in the box. Take some time to scrape the chunks of mud off your garden tools, sharpen your chisels, charge your batteries, un-box your tool and make sure everything you think is there really is. Deburr, oil, soak, dry, dust, launder, disassemble, & reassemble. Grease the zercs, wax, brush, boil, Plasti-Dip, and leave the grinder on with the buffer and wire brush spinning. Putter around your garage or basement. Some of the things you may have been trusting to get you out of a jam are broken. Reliable, well-maintained, and shiny things will make you happy.
Fashion show. You’re probably fatter than you used to be. Go through your closet and try everything on. Get your boots out of the closet and see if the laces still work. Has the sole rotted? Does your sock drawer have more singles than Match.com? Are all of your buttons present on your hunting jacket? Little tears could be big problems later. Think if you are prepared to look nice at a funeral if your relative dies. A small event for sure, but you’ll be happy if you have two black socks. Label a box for rags, a box for your local charity organization, and a box of stuff that doesn’t fit. Grab something expensive that is too small and make a goal to fit into it by a date on the calendar.
Grab your trash bag. Surely one of the most virtuous ideals in prepping is “stockpiling”. Well, your stockpile of broken kids toys, beef jerky wrappers, and cassette tapes are of little value for barter or otherwise. There are other things that you might think you could use as raw material if the SHTF, but really the cracked old plastic hubcaps that you have are taking up space that could be used for actual useful things. Also, you’ll be able to find things that are actually useful, with ease. Think about the frustration you endure now when you waste 3 hours looking for something – that frustration will be amplified in an emergency. Getting rid of things is good for your sanity in many ways. Place things in the “circular file.” If you didn’t notice, “Hoarders” is a different show than “Doomsday Preppers” – and you really don’t want to be on either one.
Put things in a row. I can probably find candles, light bulbs, and batteries in nearly every room in the house. Some things like these can go to one central spot. Also you may already own everything you need to assemble emergency kits for the cars, B.O.B.’s, first aid kits, or other kits, but you haven’t put them together. Assemble it and you’ll be amazed how much time it can take to do it well. Cardboard boxes can be found for free. Sure, they’re not durable, but if you’re broke, they’ll do – and they’ll help you know what size container you’ll need to buy. Also you’ll find how much easier life can be when all of your hunting stuff is together, your fishing stuff is together, and the joy of finding bulbs when a light burns out when your mother-in-law is visiting.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Most people have Homer Simpson’s mentality that “Everyone is stupid but me”. You need to grow in your knowledge of the areas you are ignorant. With the internet this is overwhelming, but be overwhelmed for a while. Take a bird’s eye view of things; look at the forest before looking at the trees. Don’t just collect books, or bookmark web sites, but figure out what you need/want to learn. Go to your library and research old skills, and of course you’re familiar with the internet, right? YouTube can show you how to sharpen a chainsaw, build a solar panel, and tie knots. Someone somebody calls “grandpa” or “grandma” can probably show you some things too. But you need to prioritize what you should learn so that you’re not stuck with zero clean water, but a nice tarless gasifier and maple syrup.
Take inventory. You aren’t going to figure out where you should go unless you know where you are. Some of you may think that you have 1,000 rounds of ammunition in every caliber. You might find your estimates were optimistic, but not realistic. There are lots of ways to take inventory, but few beat a legal pad and a pen. What are your strengths? What are your greatest weaknesses? A power outage or other smaller-scale emergency can reveal some of these things to you – but wouldn’t you rather have foresight rather than hindsight? You might find that your wife does indeed have 44 pairs of shoes, (a useful number to remind her of when she heads for that section of the store), but she might not have one pair of shoes that would be appropriate if the SHTF.
Make lists, and then prioritize, then put them on the calendar. List things: to do, to buy, and to learn. Then pick the top three things on each the list. Don’t throw away the longer list, but make a new shorter one. Don’t be paralyzed by the long list, just prioritize. Now that you’ve got your shorter lists, put things on the calendar. Your best intentions are sweet, but useless. Figure out when you’ll have time to do something. Sure you might need to plan on missing a few re-runs of Seinfeld, but you can cross things off the list (one of the most satisfying things a literate human can do.)
Shop. Wait, buying stuff isn’t free right? Well, planning where-what-and-how much you’ll buy doesn’t take any money at all. (My wife “shops” all the time, but rarely spends any money.) Find the lowest prices, the best quality, the best seasons to buy whatever it is that is at the top of your list. Don’t get stuck in the paralysis that comes from all of the choices out there, but do your best to find your best deal. Don’t spend 3 hours finding the cheapest can-opener supplier, the payoff is little. Spend your time researching the best values on important things.
Trust is free, but it isn’t cheap. Do you know all of your neighbor’s names? Does your spouse respect you? Do your kids come to you when you call their name? Is your family at the brink in some areas? Call your loved ones and make amends. Eat some humble pie. Not because it’s TEOTWAWKI, but because it always has been important. Morals shouldn’t change because of the situation you think you’re in. Throwing or kicking a ball with your children is free, but it will always be priceless. Relationships are one of those areas of life that needs constant maintenance, but it will be more joyful than rotating your canned chicken.
We are cursed with always thinking we need more stuff, (and more money to get it with) but a higher question is: “What have you done with what you already have?” Some of us could get our lives more secure in the next two weeks by working on the “free” things, than we could if we received an extra $1,000 in the same time period. Many of us have gathered a great pile of potential around us; we just need to add the sweat equity to it. You can curse those with more money who don’t prep, or you can do your best. Bill Gates is going to spend his money how he wants to, but what are you doing with what you have?