Everyday Prepping for Everyday People

Empty grocery store shelves in March 2020

I’ve been drafting this piece in my head for nearly two years now, and with the new year upon us, it seems like as good a time as any to get it written down. This post is about everyday things people can do to be prepared for emergencies. It’s not end-of-the-world prepping, it’s no-power-for-two-weeks prepping or have-to-get-out-of-town-before-the-hurricane-hits prepping. Or even burnt-myself-cooking prepping or blew-a-fuse prepping. The goal isn’t to be prepared to rebuild civilization after the zombie apocalypse, but to face the kinds of disasters that have become increasingly common in these times of government dysfunction, massive climate rearrangement, and general distrust of the people around us with their masks around their chins.  

The focus in the list below is on practical, achievable, and affordable things you can do to be a little better prepared when something bad happens, whatever that might be. “Affordable” in this case is relative, though – not everyone has the money or other resources (time, space, etc.) to do all these things. In a fair and equitable world, your survival, your very ability to live, wouldn’t be dependent on how much money you have on you at that moment. But this isn’t a fair and equitable world, this is an unfair, capitalist world and your life has a dollar value. There’s no immediate solution to that – when the wildfire is roaring down the hills into your town, the only option is to do as best as you can with what you have and worry about the socioeconomic implications later. 

Here’s the list:  

1) Keep some cash handy. When the power is out or the phone lines are down, you won’t be able to use credit cards or ATMs. So keep some cash in your home, preferably a mix of smaller bills. I get cash back whenever I get groceries and put it aside. If your budget won’t handle that, try dropping 5s and 1s in a shoebox or envelope whenever you break a 20. 

2) Have a couple weeks of food in your pantry. Remember last year when the stores sold out of everything? Be ready for food shortages, illness, short-term unemployment, and so on by having enough food for 2-4 weeks on hand. Don’t bother with emergency rations, camping food, or MREs – the trick is to do your normal grocery shopping but buy one more – an extra can of beans, pack of spaghetti, bag of rice, box of cereal, etc. That way, you’re buying things you already eat and like. Over time, you’ll build up a week’s worth, then two weeks’ worth.  

Same thing with toiletries, medications, household goods, etc. except usually you’re buying the next size up rather than another pack. 

NOTE: Don’t buy extra and stick it in a closet. USE IT. Put the new groceries behind the old groceries and use the old groceries first. Eventually, you’ll be using the groceries you bought last week, then the week before, and so on. Obviously this doesn’t apply to stuff that spoils, but for staples and packaged food, as well as frozen stuff, it works great. You might run out of milk or avocados but you won’t starve. 

3) You need lots of water. You can get big water jugs and fill them from your tap – put a drop of plain bleach in for every gallon to keep it clean. (Not scented bleach and not concentrated bleach, or any bleach that has additives. Plain chlorine bleach.) You can stash a couple cases of bottled water under a bed. You can get some of those cubes if drinking water. If you’re not super-confident about drinking water you bottled yourself, at least you can use that water for handwashing and stuff. You need a lot – FEMA recommends 2 gallons per person per day, so for 2 people over 2 weeks that’s 56 gallons which weighs almost 500 pounds (200-ish kg). It takes a lot of space, too. So focus on a 3-day supply (2 or 3 cases of 20 Oz bottles) to start, then figure out what’s realistic for you. 

4) Make a go bag. You may not have time to pack, so keep a bag packed with 3 days of clean clothes, toiletries, medications you need, some money – whatever you’d need for a weekend away. Since you won’t know the weather or where you might end up, pack for practicality, not fashion. You’ll probably need to rotate this a couple times a year – evacuating in August with your winter clothes isn’t going to be so comfortable, nor the reverse. Stick it in the coat closet or somewhere out of the way but easy to reach and near the door.  

5) Make a flash drive with your important info on it. Scan your driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card, marriage certificate, passport, credit cards, insurance policies, etc. to a thumb drive and put it in your go bag. You can create an encrypted folder or encrypt the whole drive to keep your docs safe – lots of thumb drives come with the software to do this, just make sure you remember the password. If you lose your ID, having a copy will make it easier to get it replaced, and may help you get by while you wait for the new ones. You can also export your phone address book and save it, which can be a lifesaver if your phone gets doused or lost in the scuffle and you need to pick up a burner phone. 

6) Make an emergency box (or a couple of your home has multiple floors or is large). Candles, matches, flashlights, maybe a multitool or Swiss army knife, basic first aid stuff, batteries – stuff you’d need to get to quickly if the power went out or someone was injured. Throw in a battery-powered or hand-crank radio so you can keep up on news. Put it somewhere easy to get to.  

7) If you have a car, fill up somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 tank. Basically, always have enough gas to get at least 100 or so miles away. 

8) Don’t forget your pets. People have been having a hard time getting their pet food and supplies all through the pandemic. Don’t run out and count on running to the store – buy pet food, medications, etc. the same way you buy your own groceries, keeping a bag of kibble or several weeks’ worth of cans/pouches/whatever in reserve. Pack three days’ worth of food (sample bags are good for this), a portable water bowl, a toy and maybe some treats (pets get stressed too!) in your go bag.  

If you take a deep dive into the prepping world, and I have, you’ll find plenty more, but these are things you can start doing right now and you’ll be able to face the next supply-chain shortage, winter storm, power outage, wildfire, out-of-place tornado, or whatever horrors 2022 throws at us (Remember the murder hornets? They’re still out there!) with a little more confidence and hopefully a little less anxiety. And you won’t have had to muddle through the intense racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, performative masculinity, and conspiracy theories that make up something like 80% of all preparedness literature.  

One thing I haven’t touched on is self-defense, a major preoccupation of the preparedness genre. In nearly any emergency you might face, defending yourself will not be a major issue, but if you feel more comfortable with a pepper spray, taser, or projectile weapon at hand, and you know what you’re doing with it, go ahead. Just don’t use your self-defense tools to make a situation worse than it already is. Most people in emergencies are surprisingly helpful and even decent, even if you might hate each other on a normal day.  

If you have any super-helpful tips that I’ve missed, leave a comment! 

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