This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest by D Clark
Don’t re-invent the Wheel
Our family was always getting ready for this or that, so I have been a “prepper” since I was a kid. Back then we didn’t have a name for it, we just got “ready for winter”, and put food away and made due for emergencies and the inevitable loss of electrical power in March from an ice storm. We had kerosene lamps instead of 12 volt stuff, but the rest is about the same.
Every day I read Prepper lists of things you must have, need to get, should already have, etc., etc. It can be very overwhelming, especially if you are just starting out and don’t have a ton of money to invest.
But what if you already have 50% of the things on the list, and are just overlooking them? The popular saying is, “think outside the box”. But I say, LOOK IN THE BOX FIRST. See what you already have that can make due and work with just some minor changes, to build from there.
Here are a few ideas to get you in the right direction. Now start thinking CHEAP, with minor add-on’s to things you already own or have access to.
Document backup to thumb drive and cloud services.
OK, you’ve scanned, or taken iPHONE pictures of all of your family photos, and important documents but you need a 16 Gig thumb drive to hold all that info. That’s $20 you don’t have However. . . you do remember a few blank DVD’s sitting on the TV recorder. Four DVD’s equals a 16 Gig thumb drive and costs less than $1. (25 DVD’s for about $5 at Whatever-Mart) Make 2 sets. Put the info on there, seal in paper, wrap with duct tape, and go bury it in the yard, trunk of the car, or throw it in the shed. The other set goes to a trusted friend or relative that lives AT LEAST 10 miles away from you. I would also use a free “cloud service” like DropBox or Evernote to name a couple. They are free, easy to use, no strings attached, and can be accessed
from any computer that can go online. You should keep a local copy on DVD, AND a cloud copy.
Yep, you’d love to have a couple, but you live in a very small place with storage issues, or don’t have the $100 – $500 plus that you would need to buy a nice one. How about buying one of those little “inverters” that they sell at Whatever-Mart, that plugs into your car cigarette lighter. Ta-Dah!!, you have a generator. It won’t run the fridge, but it WILL charge your cell phone, laptop, iPAD, or whatever. Don’t have a car but DO have small lawn tractor? So get an inverter with battery clips and use it on the tractor. Better yet, if you have the cash, go the extra step and buy one of those “instant car jump battery packs”. Get one that has a cigarette lighter spot, and you have your own TRUE backup power supply. It will run a laptop for a couple of days easily, and charge a cell phone forever! When it runs down just plug it into the car and recharge.
12 volt is your friend.
Next time you are in Whatever-Mart, check out the automotive, boating, or camping sections. You’ll be amazed at all the stuff they have for “preppers”. For instance, they have 40 watt -12 volt Light Bulbs that screw into the socket of your regular living room lamp! Just cut the 110 volt plug off the end of the cord on the lamp, buy a cigarette lighter plug for about a $1 in the boating section of Whatever-Mart and wire onto the end of your lamp cord. Anyone can do this with a knife and a screwdriver. You can even mix up the wires. Now screw in the 40 watt – 12 volt light
bulb. You have just made a 12 volt lighting system that will run off your “car jumping battery pack”. With a 12 volt line splitter, you can now run your laptop and have a nice light at night. You can find those 12 volt line splitters in the automotive section for a couple of bucks or so.
OK, speaking of the camping dept, have you ever checked out the “solar showers”? It’s a 5 gal thick black plastic bag with a cheap shower head on it. They work great, and are usually about $10.
Fill with water, place in the sun for a few hours, and then hang right in your existing shower stall for a “normal” shower. You can even heat up water and pour into it
if the sun is not out that day. Bonus: stand in a tote to shower, and use the shower water to flush the toilet.
Speaking of showers, let’s talk soap. Don’t even bother with those articles about making soap. It is A DRAG. I’ve made soap from scratch, including making the lye from campfire potash and boiling down the fat, it’s not easy. Instead, look on the bottom shelf in the grocery store in the soap aisle and buy one of those Multi-bar bags of your favorite soap when they are on sale. Now, take each bar OUT OF THE WRAPPER, and put on a high and dry shelf to dry out for a year or more. The longer the soap dries, the harder it becomes, and the longer it will last.
B.O.B. Bug out Bag, or Get home Bag.
Every list says you MUST have one. Don’t even worry about it. Just get a paper bag, or small box, and as you are doing other projects watch for small items to put into the box, just like you would if you were collecting change in a jar. A Bic lighter here, a pack of matches there. A 1” candle stub for easy light and fire starter. Here’s an old metal coffee cup, oh. . . there’s that free sample of instant coffee you got in the mail last month. . . First aid kit is: an alcohol napkin from Taco Bell, a couple of Band-Aids, an Aspirin sample. . . Before you know it, you’ll have gathered most of what you actually need. THEN, when there’s a bunch of stuff in the box, start planning with what you have. A few of those really big plastic garbage bags work wonders. You can use them as rain-gear, insulation, a tent, etc. Maybe you have an old laptop computer bag from that H-P that died last year? PERFECT for a B.O.B. What about one of those cloth “shopping bags”
from Whatever-Mart that you got with a coupon for free? PERFECT place to start. You get the idea.
One year’s worth of food.
No way. But you probably already have a couple of weeks worth, right? Pick up an extra box of Oatmeal next time you are out, or a couple of pouches of instant potatoes. A bag of
frozen corn to dehydrate. Just one, maybe 2 items each week. They are cheap, and last a very long time. These, and a few items, along with what you already have on hand will easily get you through a couple of weeks. Now try to work your way up to a month with sales, coupons, and free samples. No need to invest a lot of money, just keep your eyes and ears open for deals. Take your time, be patient, and it will build slowly but surely. Check the ½ off cart. Instant Oatmeal that “expired” last month, is still good for a long time. Use that “special purchase” at the front of your daily use line, and save the other cereal that will expire in 2 years or so.
Hmmm. Nice dream, but not a chance, can’t afford that . . . or is there a way? Have you checked out the junk drawer or the jewelry box lately? What about that ring you used to wear but no longer do, or that “Egyptian Ankh” that Aunt Jen gave you for graduation but you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. However . . . is it silver? Hmmm. Take that “junk” silver to a pawn shop and trade it for pre”64”.
Water Storage, almost free.
I never take back my 2 liter soda bottles for the deposit. I simply rinse them out, and then fill with tap water. It’s really easy to store 20 or 30 under the kitchen & bathroom sink. They are very strong and won’t break like 1 gallon milk jugs do. Figure 2 per person, per day, and 1 for the dogs to drink. Don’t drink Soda? Offer to purchase the 2 liter returnable’s from your neighbor or co-worker for the deposit. It saves them time on returning bottles, and all you need to do is rinse them out with mild bleach water before using.
Speaking of water, switch your laundry Bleach habit from Mountain Fresh, Spring flower, etc bleach to good ole regular unscented
Clorox. Not the cheap Dollar Store bleach for this one, it’s been watered down. Then, IF you need to do water purification, you have the right stuff on hand. OH, and don’t bother stocking up on 5 bottles of bleach. Nobody seems to mention this in the prepper lists, but Bleach goes BAD after just 3-4 short months. It does no good stocking up on something that won’t help you out. Just keep one unopened fresh gallon for laundry usage, and the open one you are using, and you’ll always have plenty on hand for water purification. (I store a small bag of “pool shock” from the local hardware store, Calcium hypochlorite to make my own bleach. Lasts for years in a dry state until needed for an emergency)
Bug Out Location.
That’s easy. Do you have a friend that lives a few miles away? Set up a “safety swap” with them. Store some of your supplies at their house in a tote or a few boxes, and they get to store an equal amount of stuff at your place. You then agree that if a Fire, Flood, Tornado, etc., happens that you will move in with them, or they with you, for a few weeks until better arrangements can be made. That way you don’t have to even worry about WHERE to go, it’s already decided ahead of time. Keep “off season” clothing at the friend’s location. That way, ½ of your clothes will be safe in case of fire etc. A long sleeve flannel shirt in the summer is better than NO shirt to wear. At the very least, store off season clothing in the garage or shed, instead of your closet. Divide and conquer for security, emergencies, and disasters!
This works GREAT, and is much cheaper than buying “Mountain House”, etc. First, buy Frozen Vegetables and Fruit ON SALE at your local supermarket. Buy as many extra bags that will fit in your freezer until you are ready to use. The reason you are buying frozen is because ALL THE WORK IS DONE, you just have to dry it out. It’s already been blanched, cubed, etc. Now for the dehydrator. I have one of those cheap reflective “space” blankets, survival blanket things and open it up on the hood of my car on a really hot, sunny day. Tape down the edges.
Next, I get out my drying “shelves”. This would be an odd collection of Tupperware type colanders, strainers, filters, anything with vents in it, type of kitchen utensil. Even the dish drying rack works for me with some coffee filters. These I place on the silver blanket which is on the hood of the car. Next, pick a frozen bag of veggies, and evenly distribute them about the various “shelves”. One layer deep!
After a couple hours or so, check to see if the product is dry. Roll the veggies around. If dry to the touch, move on to step 2. Place the corn, etc into a paper grocery or McDonalds bag and place in a really hot spot for another day or so where it will continue to dehydrate. I use the front seat of the car with the windows rolled up, but a plastic tote in the sun with the lid on would work well too. Every so often, shake the bag to make sure veggies are not sticking together. Corn should feel like uncooked “popcorn” at the finish point, they are done. Carrots and peppers won’t even look like food, but it is JUST fine.
Store into any airtight container such as an empty peanut butter jar or instant coffee jar or mason jar. I get about 5 “bags” of corn into an 8 oz Folger’s Instant coffee plastic jar. Store in dark/dry place just like any other “Mountain House” item. Potato cubes, and “Obrien potatoes” rehydrate really well for breakfast hash browns. I’ve found that Green Beans and Carrots work best in soups, but corn can be served up as a side dish. Just rehydrate for an hour or so before use. Because it smells SO BAD, I would recommend that you purchase dehydrated onions, or you’ll NEVER get the smell out of your car, lol. Dehydrated bananas turn dark brown unless you painstakingly dip each slice in lemon juice. Since I live in Michigan, and don’t have banana trees here, the ones I made cost as much or more to make as to purchase already done.
Remember that no matter how well prepared you are, you won’t be prepared for everything. A tornado came through our town 5 yrs ago, knocking out power and causing all kinds of damage. I was ready! I could handle anything! I. . . had forgotten to refill the propane tanks so I couldn’t cook on the grill !!! argh!! So, I dug out the old rusty charcoal grill, wire brushed it up a bit, and cooked with wood that I scrounged from around the yard. I was still better off than my neighbor who had nothing to cook on, and came over for a neighborhood family cookout. Thinking to “make do” with what I already had on hand, the situation was turned from a disaster to a fun time with the neighbors.
Remember, think INSIDE the box first. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Use your brain, and use what you have FIRST. Then, purchase just the small items that you need to put finishing touches on your project. You will get by just fine is you plan ahead, and keep moving slowly forward.