As a survivalist since age 14–and now 58–I’ve reached the stage of life where I’ve accumulated a deep larder and a lot of stuff. Just writing can’t help but remind me of the classic George Carlin stand-up comedy routine on “A Place For Your Stuff.” (Be forewarned of Carlin’s foul language.) But seriously, every well-prepared family has mountains of stuff. Storage space planning presents three major challenges:
1.) Where to fit it all.
2.) How to keep it safe from deterioration.
3.) Keeping it organized, so you can quickly find, retrieve, and replenish it.
I will attempt to address all three of those, from my perspective.
Mouse & Rat Proof
One crucial design feature of storage containers is that they be mouse and rat proof. This is particularly important for clothes and for any items that have event the slightest hint of a food smell. A typical Sterilite transluscent bin with a white HDPE lid is NOT rodent proof, and they are surprisingly fragile when handled roughly. I’ve bought a few of those, to my regret. In contrast, heavy duty mil-spec transit chests, Pelican cases, and comparable cases from Plano) will keep out all but the most determined rodents. And most tool boxes, tool cabinets, tool carts, and steel freestanding cabinets with tight-fitting doors are also usually rodent proof.
Because of their relatively high cost (per cubic foot), it has taken me nearly three decades to gradually accumulate my current assortment of Pelican cases. These range from micro boxes all the way up to some of their big rolling chests. Our other mil-spec transit chests (mostly Mil-Tope and Hardigg brands) were also gathered gradually, but only when bargains were found. Most of these were purchased used, at gun shows or via eBay and Craigslist. When buying used mil-spec containers, inspect them closely for any broken or missing latch hardware. That seems to be their common weak point.
We often store some clothing items, canning lids, and magazines in heavy duty totes with hinged lids. These are made by Akro-Mils (in Akron Ohio), and sold under the trade name KeepBox. These old reliable KeepBoxes have steel full-lenth hinge pins. These are much superior to the more recent knock-off totes from other companies that use all-plastic hinges. I’ve had most of my KeepBoxes since the late 1980s, and albeit scratched up, they are all still intact and still fully functional. I’ve dragged some of these to more than 100 gun shows. Just keep in mind that these totes are not waterproof. So they are strictly for indoor use. And never, ever step on top of one of these. They will not support your weight and the lids will form a bear trap for a human foot. (Don’t ask me how I know that factoid.)
More recently, I’ve supplemented my KeepBoxes with some similarly sturdy but much more water resistant Homz brand heavy duty brand black plastic totes with removable yellow lids. These stack particularly well, and are fairly vermin proof. They are classed as water resistant, but not waterproof. The only improvement would be if they made them in all flat olive drab.
Ammo Storage space planning
Nearly all of our ammo is stored in USGI mil-surp ammo cans that range from the classic “.30 Caliber” size, all the way up to the whoppin’ big 20mm Vulcan ammo can size. We use the latter mostly for storing shotgun shells and 26.5mm flares. Our current favorite ammo can is what is commonly called a “Tall .50“. I’ve found that this is one of the most versatile sizes for rifle and pistol ammunition. Most of our ammo shelves in JASBORR are adjusted to accommodate that height. On the shelves where we have a mix of Standard .50s and Tall .50s, We fill in the gaps above the shorter cans with .30 caliber cans, laying on their sides. No wasted space! For those of you living in the northern portion of the American Redoubt, I noticed that a SurvivalBlog reader currently has some used USGI ammo cans of various sizes listed in our Classifieds section.
Tall, But Earthquake Resistant
For the sake of efficient use of your available floor space, you should use tall shelves in your storage room(s). The price of wire rack shelves has dropped appreciably in the past few years. But there is one key safety note: Your shelves should be strapped to walls, for earthquake protection. For additional protection in earthquake country, you can use long bungee cords to keep bins in place, on your shelves. It would be the ultimate irony for a survivalist to be crushed to death by his own stored gear and supplies.
Here is the earthquake strapping method that I recommend: Use loops of galvanized pipe hanger tape and large-head 4″ TORX power screws that make a solid connection to wall studs. Similarly, you can use pairs of self-tapping power screws directly through the upper backs of steel wall cabinets, to firmly attach them to studs. (You do own a stud finder, right?)
If you have a fully free-standing set of shelves, you can make it at least partially earthquake proof by using 2×2 or 2×4 boards, to cross-brace them at the top, to other nearby shelves, and/or to cleats firmly attached to walls. These cross-bracing boards can be attached to metal shelves with either heavy gauge wire, or with the newly-available stainless steel zip ties.
The lightest and most heat-invulnerable items should be placed on the uppermost shelves. But note that storage foods–even the lightweight freeze-dried and dehydrated variety–need to be stored “low and cool.” Ditto for candles and your canning wax.
Shoehorning It All
Shoehorning all of your stuff into a house can be a challenge. Take a close a look at each room: Look for any wasted space. Underneath beds is an obvious void. There, I like to use under-bed footlockers for items like extra bed linens, off-season clothes, and towels. And if there is room for a second row of footlockers out of reach, then fill those with more valuable items, such as your overflow of full capacity magazines. I’d expect that Mr. Burglar Inahurry will likely give up on searching under your bed after only finding linens. Like the late Mr. Carlin said of burglars: “They only want the good stuff.”
Other useful spaces in a house can include:
- Under or behind desks and tables,
- Behind book on bookshelves,
- The full depth of kitchen cabinets,
- Inside hassocks,
- Underneath or even inside couches and upholstered chairs
- Stacks of canned food boxes in place of a coffee table (with a cloth cover),
- Crawlspaces (but beware of moisture & vermin),
- Attic spaces (but beware of heat & vermin),
- Beneath the bottom drawers of dressers,
- Adding shelves above clothes rods in closets and armoires
- Behind clothes in closets,
- Beneath workbenches,
- And overhead in a garage or shop. (You may need to add extra joists and 3/4″ plywood decking)
For Food, FIFO
Here at the Rawles Ranch, we use the first-in-first out (FIFO) storage method for foods and other perishables. It just a takes a few extra minutes to mark the purchase month and year on the top of cans. I typically use a medium point Sharpie pen, for that. Some folks use dedicated FIFO racks for canned foods. But if you use standard shelving, then just remember to stock the newest cans in the back.
We also use FIFO for all of our assorted animal feed. Storing it in 80-pound feed sacks is a mistake. Those are just for transport. Much of our grain is stored in standard galvaniized trash cans with tight-fitting galvanized lids. Lids can be marked to prevent guessing games on which ones hold chicken feed, and with ones hold Corn–Oats-Barley. Those barrels are all stored in a secured room that cannot be accessed by the livestock. It would be tragic to have a horse or cow gorge itself on grain and then founder and perish. One other safety note: With grain stored in barrels it is important to always completely use the contents of each barrel, and brush it out before you refill it. If you only partially empty a barrel and keep adding to it, then eventually you will end up with moldy grain.
Storage space planning: Labels
Keeping track of what you have in storage and where you have it, is very important. Distinct, easy-to-read jigh contrast labels are a key part of that. I just recently (and belatedly) discovered Brother brand electronic label makers. These are a far cry from the Dymo “analog” rotary labeler that I bought back in the 1970s. The Brother machine can print in dozens of fonts, on half a dozen background color tapes, and even print in reverse, for labeling the back side of glass cabinet doors. The Brother labeler itself sells for under $20. It comes supplied with just one short “teaser” label strip. The extra cartridges of blank label tape made by Brother are expensive, but I’ve found that the generic knockoff brand cartridges work just fine.
If you look through the SurvivalBlog archives, you will find lots of suggestions on what items you need to store, how to package them (especially storage foods), and how to keep inventory. So I won’t attempt to repeat all that here. Just suffice it to say that it all takes planning, budgeting, prioritizing, family cooperation, a bit of OPSEC, and of course space. Sometimes I wish I had TARDIS closet that could defy geometry and provide unlimited space.
No matter what method you use for organizing: Be consistent, be tidy, make prominent labels (except for valuables), and keep lists. The rest of your family will appreciate that, perhaps even after you are dead and buried. – JWR