My husband and I fall into the category of people known as “preppers”; we store food, weapons, supplies, and money for when it will be needed in the not too distant future. We track our stores and make sure that we won’t be caught short on many different things. However, one thing both of us have found is that all this prepping is not really enough. What do you do when something breaks or wears out and the stores are closed or it just can’t be found? What happens when you need something out of the norm for a project? The prepping sites just don’t go that far into the how-to.
We have found that in order to make it through and beyond hard times, we need to be much more prepared for the everyday and special needs we will have to see us through. My husband and I are not rich by any means, nor are we in the middle income ranges. Actually, we are just at or slightly below poverty level, and we have found that going out and buying what we need isn’t always possible. Our family has one gold rule– reuse, repurpose, and recycle. That’s it. This has served us well now for almost 11 years.
Let me give you some examples. We live on what they call a sand ridge, which is great for when it rains as we’ll never flood, but when it comes to gardening it’s another story. So, we went to the local tire store and got them to give us the throw-away tires for free. These tires when stacked up two or three high make wonderful planters for various vegetables. Filled with the right composite of soil for that particular plant, it holds the heat during the winter and allows great drainage while keeping a small backup supply in the wells of the tires.
When my husband and I met 11 or so years ago, I wish I was versed enough to describe the look on his face when I suggested that we stop and check out a dumpster we had just driven by, because I had spotted a nice batch of lumber near and in it. Truthfully, I think that’s when he fell in love with me. We took home a nice supply of lumber to put up for some miscellaneous projects we had in mind. Over the years, there has been no place safe from our collecting. Furniture store dumpsters supply the plastic we use for our winter greenhouses for plants, and home centers like Lowes and Home Depot supply the lumber in their throw away piles to build the cold frames. Most people don’t know that pallets make beautiful fences and furniture at no cost. About two years ago, my son needed a bed and we just didn’t have the funds to buy one, even at the thrift store. My husband went out to look at what we had stored up in various supply areas around the property, and from pallets, drawers that had been dumped by a furniture store, and a few other odds and ends two weeks later my son had a new bed. All we had to buy was the mattress. I wish I could show pictures of it, as it is a truly awesome sight. It’s queen size with two shelves at the head, six drawers along one side, and a door at the foot of the bed for storage.
There have been so many things that we have built over the years that have filled needs for our family and have cost us nothing but the time it took to scavenge the bits and pieces and build the item, from Dutch door fence gates to actually building a barn out of scrap lumber that we scavenged from local supply stores. A year or so after we met, we started a business. At the beginning it was to help my son get into the rabbit breeding arena, but for some reason we have yet to figure out, it exploded into a full animal farm where we supplied any animal that people needed. Whether we had it on the property or not, we could come up with whatever creature was needed. In the process of building this business, we managed to create quite a variety of enclosures and pens for the animals on the property, and that meant we had to increase our scavenging runs. We found that we needed to house birds, like turkeys, guineas, and peacocks, as they were in high demand, so off we went and two weeks later my husband had built an aviary that at the peak of business was housing over 140 birds of various varieties. This aviary was made from scavenged wood, purchased wire for the enclosure, and hold on to your socks, the whole roof of the enclosure was made from recycled billboard vinyls. To give you an idea of how large this thing is, it still stands today at 10 years old now and is 40 feet across and built in an octagon shape with a height in the center at 16 feet. At the lowest area, it’s seven feet tall. As our business grew, so did our imaginations; an old fiberglass satellite dish became the pond for the ducks and geese we had for sale. Old throw away PVC pipe 4-inch round or better became feeders and water devices for livestock. Simply seal each end, cut it in half lengthwise, and there you go– you have a feeder. A scavenged trucker’s tarp found on the side of the road became a gigantic pond liner for the geese. The real imagination came through in the chicken compound. We couldn’t afford nest boxes, so old tossed out dressers became the nest boxes. With a 4-drawer dresser, you could house about a dozen chickens nesting. Culled out lumber became the breeding boxes for the rabbits, and recently because the rabbits are now gone the boxes have been repurposed into bird feeders and houses that have cut the number of irritating bugs in half around the house. Old barrels– the plastic ones that used to hold washing liquids and such– got cut in half lengthwise and cleaned out to became the larger livestock feeders. We were coming home from a rare night out to dinner and I hollered for him to pull over; he looked at me like I had lost my mind, because there was nothing he could see as the reason, until I pointed out an old tossed out slide from a child’s play set. Yup, that became a slide for the pygmy goats, and they loved it. Customers would stand around for hours watching them climb up the tire jungle gyms we had built and slide down the kiddy slide. A friend of ours had not covered up their bags of concrete well enough and they got wet and solidified, useless for them and our benefit, but those 14 bags became my new fire pit, and it still serves us well to this day. Here’s a good one for defense; this works great if you live in the south. Find some clump bamboo and start growing it, make sure that you cut it back fairly frequently and plant it around you perimeter. In less than five years you will have a border of punji sticks that no one is getting through, along with a beautiful privacy fence. We found that out by accident, but it works great.
When we see something on the side of the road, we don’t see garbage; we see possibilities. Recently my husband spotted a couple of roadside headboards that someone had tossed out for the trash collection; he snatched them up, and they are well on the way to becoming a beautiful gun rack for all our long guns. Most of the time after the recycling process is done, you really can’t tell what it was to begin with. For instance, we wanted a privacy fence around our above ground pool (also scavenged), so we brought in as many wood pallets as we could find. After they were nailed together and put up, my husband cut the top of the boards into pikes that will definitely make anyone trying to climb it have second and third thoughts.
When we think of prepping, we look at the possible needs we will have to fill beyond those that most people think about. We look at the needs of the house and the what-if’s, and then we keep a sharp eye on what we see tossed away as trash. Many people have this capability to think outside the box but have fallen out of practice as they grew to adulthood and fell into the throwaway society we live in. To be a true prepper, I think we need to nurture that skill again. We need to be able to see how torn or outgrown clothes can become a nice thick quilt for those cold nights, how an old aluminum mesh satellite dish can become the thermal dome cover for a pool, or how gathering up bubble wrap from furniture store dumpsters will keep your plants alive during the freezes in the winter. We need to be able to see that sturdy boxes can be broken down and stored in case we need a splint for a broken limb. We need to see the possibilities that we used to see as children, when a couple of chairs, a few boxes, and blankets all put together can build a fort or a pirate ship. For our family, prepping isn’t only about putting away for when it’s needed; it’s also about seeing the possibilities of things that can be used to make our lives easier. So, start cruising the free section on Craig’s list, go to the yard sales in the neighborhoods, and check out the piles of throw away items on the larger trash collection pick-up days. Always remember that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.