Fifty secluded acres with a fully-stocked, underground bunker, an off grid cabin, and year-round clean water source is what comes to mind when I imagine my ideal prep situation. However, like many others who plan to survive TEOTWAWKI, my family cannot make this vision a reality right now. In the meantime, we rent homes. There are many reasons why folks choose to, or must, rent their living space, but that does not mean tenants cannot prepare for disasters and other negative world events. It may, however, require more creativity at times.
This article is written for the beginner survivalist and specifically for renters of apartments, duplexes, rooms, or other small spaces who wish to begin preparing for TEOTWAWKI. It will discuss four main issues a tenant may encounter and provide recommendations for each. These issues are: storage solutions, security challenges, greater food self-sufficiency, and prepping on a budget. The recommendations herein are based on my personal experiences and friends’ experiences.
Many renters are apartment dwellers who have little room for storage. Because apartments typically offer the least amount of living space, most of my solutions are tailored for this type of tenant. It is critical to make every inch of one’s rented space count.
One solution is to have furniture that is dual- or multi-purpose. If aesthetics are not a big concern for the renter, it will be very easy to add storage in a small place. For example, buy end tables that have drawers (file cabinets work well), and use a trunk or storage ottoman as a coffee table. With a little work, sofa beds can become large, secret storage areas by removing the inner workings of the bed and replacing and reinforcing the open area with a hand-built plywood box. In the bedroom, use risers to elevate the bed and create more under-the-bed storage. Big Lots and other closeout/discount stores often carry these for around $5.00. Plastic under-bed totes can be added to this system to increase organization. Another option is to build or buy a platform bed equipped with large drawers. Plans to build one’s own bed can be seen here: Platform Bed with Drawers. Again, locking file cabinets can be used as bedside tables or tucked into a coat closet for additional secure storage. These multi-purpose furniture ideas can be used to store water, first aid supplies, home protection tools, or extra food.
Every home has unused wall space. For the small apartment dweller, thinking vertically is important. If permanent anchors cannot be placed into the wall, a system of shelving units with boxes or baskets can be implemented. An unconventional approach to storage is: plastic milk jugs can be cut open and hung by the handles from a tension or curtain rod. This creates a basket where loose items may be stored for quick access. A person may sort coins, fasteners, ammunition, or other odds and ends with the jug system.
The two and a half gallon water jug can also be altered to create stackable storage:
- Cut the front face off (around the label) to create access, keeping the spout intact.
- Stack jugs two long by two high.
- Tie them together with cordage for added stability.
MREsand boxed or bagged instant meals can be stored in the water containers. A piece of paper can be taped over the opening for labeling or concealment purposes.
If one can use nails or tacks, hanging organization systems are very convenient. An example is a hanging file system. See one here: Hanging Storage Pockets. A possible use for these pockets is to organize the prepper’s printed guides or articles from magazines, and more. Hanging shelves may be used on the upper portion of walls where space is typically underutilized.
Free furniture can be altered into space saving storage. For example, we procured a very large executive desk and removed the legs. We first used it as a TV stand/media center, but it took up too much space in our small living room, so I took out the deep drawers and unscrewed the drawer faces from them. The remaining boxes were stacked horizontally on top of one another and fastened together with the screws, using a power drill. I created a storage shelf for my prepping library at no cost. The smaller drawers were painted and used as decorative shadow boxes on the wall.
Security is a major concern for the renter. Without the ability to make permanent alterations to the structure, the renter’s adaptations must be creative and removable.
First, check all windows and doors for working locks. A renter could ask for permission to add an additional deadbolt or safety bar to the doors. Next, construct something that can wedge the door shut when placed under the door handle for each exterior door. At our last duplex, my significant other used a 4 x 4 piece of lumber and an extra rifle butt stock to create a wedge. He believed the rubberized butt stock would help absorb some of the shock if someone was ramming the front door. Sliding glass door tracks can be fitted with a large dowel or scrap of plywood to increase security. If budget and storage space allows, fabricate customized, sturdy window inserts from wood or Plexiglas.
Each room should contain at least one personal defense tool that is either hidden or “hidden in plain sight” and is easily accessible in an emergency. Knives and such could be stowed away, but baseball bats may be left out without causing any raised eyebrows from visitors. Of course, firearms should be kept out of the reach of untrained individuals and/or children at all times. If you own firearms, learn how to use them properly and practice shooting on a regular basis to gain skill and confidence with your self-defense tools. When space is an issue, it may be helpful to choose guns that use the same round of ammunition. This will require less storage space and organization on the gun owner’s part.
“Bugging in” is rarely an option for the renter, especially for the apartment dweller and especially for any prolonged amount of time. Care should be taken to have a bug out plan, and bug out bags or at minimum three day packs should be maintained regularly and kept near the door. Performing dry runs of the plan is critical for expedience in an emergency situation. Also, one must be realistic when preparing for disaster. There are situations that you may never be fully prepared for. Having a pack that covers the most basic survival needs (water, fire, shelter, first aid and food) will hopefully get one through many different disaster situations. My family has what we call the “bug in box” in addition to our bug out bags. This box contains items for longer term survival in our duplex, assuming total loss of the grid. Some of the extra items we’ve added include: cast iron cookware, siphon pumps, items to make a quick solar oven, hand crank flashlights, lots of paracord, bartering items like individual coffee packs, and an extensive first aid kit.
Having a plan for defending oneself and one’s property if trapped inside the apartment is as important as one’s bug out plan. Become familiar with the layout of the apartment and those apartments that share walls with it. Determine which areas provide the most cover if gunfire is exchanged within the home. Learn and practice tactical techniques regularly so that they will be “muscle memory” if a situation should arise.
Greater Food Self-Sufficiency
Images of large, lush gardens may enter one’s mind when thinking of food self-sufficiency. While that image may be ideal when striving for food self-sufficiency, there are steps the renter can take to become less dependent on commercial grocery stores.
Many renters do not have a front or backyard, only a balcony, patio, or front stoop. Those prepping for TEOTWAWKI may grow a portion of one’s own food, even if green space is lacking or non-existent.
Square foot gardening is a gardening method that may be adapted for potted gardens. The book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew outlines how to create a soil mixture and plant efficiently in raised beds. Obviously, the patio gardener cannot build raised beds. In my own experience, the skills outlined in the above book can be implemented successfully in self-watering containers. By using one-gallon size pots, I equate this loosely with the one square foot area Mr. Bartholomew refers to in his book. The book’s author goes into great detail explaining which plants need the most space to grow and which plants can be neatly planted together.
If the cost of one-gallon pots (or pots of any size) are a concern for the renter, one need not worry! With the right soil mix and general care, plants will grow in nearly any container they are placed in. (Just make sure that plastic containers are food-grade.)
To make a self-watering container:
- Obtain an empty rectangular, one gallon water jug, like the one used for Natural Alpine Spring Water.
- Cut the jug so that, when the bottle neck is inverted into the base, there is approximately one inch between the bottle’s pour spout and the bottom of the container.
- Duct tape the two pieces together.
- Cut a small opening into the bottom section. (This is for refilling the water reservoir.)
- Duct tape any sharp edges.
- Place a piece of weed blocker or other thin fabric to cover the inverted bottle neck (to prevent soil from falling into the reservoir), securing with tape if necessary.
- Add soil mixture.
- Plant the seedling.
- Keep the reservoir filled so that the bottleneck is submerged. This allows the fabric to draw water up into the soil and the roots to reach the moist dirt.
If one wishes to water the old fashioned way, nearly any container will do. Simply poke a few drain holes into any of the following for an instant planter: yogurt cups, coffee cans, bottom halves of plastic drink bottles, berry containers (already have drain holes!), old cups and bowls, teapots, et cetera.
When growing plants from seed, plastic egg cartons with the center divider removed work well as mini-greenhouses. Plastic clamshells used for prepared lettuces can also be used for greenhouses. Mark the lid with a permanent marker to remember what was planted.
On the patio, group pots to mimic companion planting. This will help the plants survive and thrive.
Another option for the space-challenged gardener is to go vertical. Similar to the options mentioned in the “Storage Solutions” section, planting a vertical garden takes up minimal space and the harvest can still lead to greater food self-sufficiency. Suspending drink bottles horizontally on the wall is an innovative and increasingly popular way to grow food. This system works best for smaller plants like herbs and some lettuces, but using larger bottles may yield larger plants.
The advice above is not meant to be all inclusive; there are many creative ways to grow one’s own plants. The point is this: the renter can rely less on conventional food supply options when growing a portion of his or her own food.
Prepping on a Budget
Many renters rent out of financial necessity. Perhaps one has difficulty saving up for a down payment on a parcel of land. Perhaps one lost the home they owned, or perhaps renting just makes the most sense for a family. Whatever the renter’s reason is for being a tenant, budgeting and being thrifty is a great way to increase one’s preps without breaking the bank.
Take first aid supplies as an example. The pre-fab first aid kit can run up to $50. This kit has limited capabilities and may only be good for treating small cuts, bug bites, headaches, and mild allergies. At a one-dollar store, $10 will buy you the same basic items plus a few more, and the quantity of Band-Aids, gauze, and antibiotic cream will be much greater than what’s included in the pre-fab kit, leaving the purchaser better prepared for an emergency. In addition to first aid supplies, the dollar store can be utilized for “just add water” emergency food, tuna pouches, containers for organizing, and other various objects ideal for bug out bags and home disaster kits.
Remember to frequent the local thrift and second-hand stores, too. Try to plan a route and go at least once a week, since stock changes frequently at these stores. Many of my family’s preparedness items have come from thrift stores. This includes items like surplus military gear, galvanized buckets, first aid supplies (sterile tubing and gauze), cast iron cookware, camping items, and other things at very affordable prices. Also, don’t be afraid to negotiate with the cashier. My bugout first aid kit is housed in a compartmentalized bag I haggled down to $1.50 because of a loose strap.
Online sites, like freecycle.org or craigslist.org, can be good resources for gear too. One must use common sense and good judgement when responding to ads or requesting items online. Some items that are typically found for “free” online include bricks (good for building a rocket stove on a back patio), furniture (free furniture may free up money to be used on other preps), pallets (for building projects), and even food plants can be found for free.
Swallowing one’s pride and garbage picking is another great way to find survival gear. Get to know the trash pick-up days in the area and create a route to follow. I recommend checking the night before pick-up or very early the morning of. Apartment complexes usually have a great selection, due to the regular turnover of tenants. I have used grill grates from the garbage on my rocket stove. I have accumulated many unwanted dead plants for their pots. I once found an entire garbage bag of clean clothing; I kept what fit, cut up the ugliest stuff for rags, and donated the rest to a thrift store. I have picked up lamps, chairs, and other furniture. Any item I get at no cost frees up money for other survival items. Many of my shelving units and file cabinets have come from the garbage too. Of course, use good judgement and be sure to clean and sanitize anything picked up from the trash.
Budgeting may also include an allotment for prepping. Set aside a certain amount each week specifically for the purpose of preparedness. Creating a list of items to purchase or projects to complete, with approximate costs, can help the renter organize his or her needs. The renter can then list the items in order according to priority and do them as he or she can afford.
Renters are able to work towards self-sufficiency and preparedness just like homeowners do. With some creativity, planning, and trial and error, tenants can create a portable prepping paradise under someone else’s roof.