I’ve been a prepper now for more than 40 years. The good news is that there hasn’t been a major nationwide crisis, and that means that I’ve only had to break out my gear for localized/minor emergencies and family crises. And the food that we’ve gardened and bought in bulk has meant that we’ve enjoyed substantially lower food costs. (Not to mention less processed food additives.) But the bad news is that I own a home that is now almost too well stocked.
First, some background on our situation: The Rawles Ranch is comfortably remote. It is nearly a 20 mile drive to the nearest business of any sort, more than an hour’s drive to any marginal shopping. It is nearly a three hour drive to shopping with any large selection of choices. We have well-established gardens and a fairly mature fruit and nut orchard. Our berry vines are mature and producing heavily. All of the infrastructure is in place for livestock watering, garden watering, and domestic water–both grid up and grid down. We have enough firewood cut and stacked to last us for at least four winters. We also have heaped stockpiles of extra road maintenance gravel, sand, and clay for various projects. (Five cubic yards of each.) Those piles are tucked in at the edge of the woods, mostly out of sight but readily available. Mind you, I’m not recounting the foregoing to brag–just to let you know how we stand, and why we face some storage space challenges that come with prepping for decades.
The real difficulty we’ve encountered is the limited space available in the house, garage, barn, sheds, and JASBORR. (Jim’s Amazing Secret Bunker of Redundant Redundancy.) Our supplies are stacked up from floor to ceiling in most of the available storage space. The kitchen and great room (where we entertain guests) both look perfectly normal and typical of western ranch houses. But a peek into the garage or into the master bedroom reveals that we are very well stocked.
Now these stacks are not like something on one of those television shows about Obsessive Hoarders who live in squalor. No, nearly everything we’ve stockpiled is neatly stowed in bins, totes, boxes, cupboards, closets, Pelican cases, Hardigg transit chests, crates, and gun vaults. Most of the totes are up on wire rack shelves. All of the containers are neatly labelled. And all of the foodstuffs are rotated fairly consistently. To clarify: None of our closet doors are a waiting Fibber McGee trap  that is threatening bury someone, if opened.
But here is just one example of our storage space dilemma: Beekeeping. It nice to be able to say: “Let’s start some beehives.” But is is a far different matter to contend with the mountain of stuff that is required to keep bees. As a prepper, I don’t just have an active set of hives. I also have two full spare sets of not-yet-assembled Langstroth wood hive boxes, all still in their cardboard shipping boxes. Those occupy a 3 foot by 3-foot square footprint on our garage floor, and that stack of boxes is nearly 10 feet high. Then there is the honey separator, separation trays, the smoker, the bee suits, the honey buckets, the buckets of sugar (for winter feeding), et cetera. It all adds up, and most of it cannot be stored outdoors. Believe me: It is quite bulky!
As I’ve matured as a prepper, and my stockpiles have grown larger and more diverse, I’ve had to get creative. Here are a few techniques that I’ve employed that you might find useful:
- Always use storage space efficiently. Think: Volume, footprint, weight, redundancy, shelf life, and frequency of use. The most frequently used items should be most close at hand. For example: Extra laundry detergent is stored right in our laundry room just a coupe of steps from our electric washing machine. (Yes, we also have a manual washe r, and a wringer .)
- If you can’t see it, or at least see it on a list that mentions its location, then your will end up forgetting you have something. That can lead to needless redundancy, or worse yet, using up new stock before you use older stock.
- Take a “kits” approach. I’ve found that it is best to group items with related items. Most importantly, group tools with other items that are most commonly used together. For example, all of our car camping items are grouped together. Likewise, most of our gunsmithing tools are stored together. And all of our cold weather clothing and camping gear is store in a cluster of just a few bins. Each bin is clearly labelled, and they are all stacked contiguously. Ditto for all of my NBC prepping gear. Most of our fence tools and related consumables are stored together. (Fence pliers,  tensioner, galvanized wire, fence clips, T-post driver, and a pair of gloves.)
- There is no need to store repair manuals and spare parts items right with the equipment itself, if that equipment is used mostly at home. However, it is important to keep a central repository of repair and maintenance manuals, so that they don’t get misplaced. In my experience it is wise to keep the original receipts for equipment paper-clipped of stapled inside of each user manual. That could facilitate a later warranty or insurance claim, without wasting valuable time hunting for them.
- If you have a camping trailer or RV, then build a separate binder of manuals, warranty information, and receipts. (A binder with clear 8.5″ x 11″ document protectors works great.) Keep that binder onboard for reference when you travel.
- Some redundancy is needed, especially for mobile equipment. For example, nearly every vehicle will need its own town chain (or tow strap), jumper cables , and can of starting fluid. Without that redundancy, you’ll end up needing something and then realizing that it is stored with your other vehicle, which is miles away.
- Think vertically for storage, but try to stow the most often used items between knee height and shoulder height.
- Never store heat sensitive items near the ceiling. Keep them low in the room!
- For gun collections, use 3″x5″ cards for recording serial numbers and descriptions. Lists get out of date too quickly, but note cards are inherently efficient.
- Don’t acquire additional farm machinery or ATVs until you have first built weatherproof storage spaces to keep them safe from the elements.
- Never store flammables indoors. It is best to have a dedicated outdoor shed for paint, stains, and assorted POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants).
- Color coding works! The color of container used–or the color of label used makes for quick reference. For example, when organizing your ammunition cans, use one color for the labels for shotgun shells, and contrasting colors for rifle and pistol ammunition.
- Never store anything aromatic in proximity to bulk foods. There is nothing quite like eating soap-flavored rice.
- A “cool, dark place” is good for most items, but also be sure to rig adequate lighting so that you can see what you have stored, at the flick of a switch.
Some Trial and Error
Back in 1932, Fred Rose of Muncie, Indiana famously said: “Good Judgment depends mostly on experience and experience usually comes from poor judgment.” I please guilty to that. Through many years of trial and error, I’ve learned a few lessons:
- Use first-in, first out (FIFO) rotation of any items with a shelf life. Special FIFO shelving  can be helpful for that. I once found a full case of peanut butter that had been tucked away out of sight and forgotten for nine years. It is sad finding expensive food that must then be repurposed for animal feed, fuel, or composted into fertilizer!
- Unless you are storing very light foodstuffs (such as onion flakes) don’t stack HDPE storage buckets more than four buckets high, if they are equipped with Gamma Seal lids . They simply can’t take any more weight that that. However, buckets with standard lids can be up to stacked six buckets deep, for all but the heaviest grains.
- Always keep mice and rats in mind. The ability of mice to squeeze through small apertures is amazing. And once they’ve found something that smells good, their persistence at chewing through obstacles is phenomenal.
- If in doubt, print label text larger rather than smaller. This is particularly important in any dimly-lit storage spaces.
- Label every container in your storage spaces. Having any “mystery boxes” or stuff sacks is a huge waste of time.
I hope that you found the foregoing useful. I look forward to reading your comments on your own lessons learned. – JWR