Starting From Nothing: Preparing Quickly, Efficiently and Cost-Consciously, by C.M.F.

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My husband and I are new to the concept of prepping and self-sufficient living, having just begun the process in the last 30 to 60 days. Our journey when world events began to heat up in the Middle East and we started asking “what if” questions. Our ignorance means that we have a lot of learning, practicing and catching up to do. I am fairly confident that we are not the only ones to slowly become aware of the necessity of preparing. I thought that I would share what we have done to get started in the hopes that this information will be helpful to anyone else that is new to prepping. So, how should one start if they have done absolutely nothing thus far?

God Prepares A Way

Even though I titled this “Starting from Nothing”, that is not an entirely accurate phrase. God prepares a way for us, even when we are not fully aware of the long-term ramifications of His design. Our journey has been a gradual one, without us even realizing it. A few years ago I read a book titled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which raised our awareness about where our food comes from. Then we watched the video Food, Inc.. and that really scared us! I began to cook from scratch as much as possible, buying what I could from butchers and farmers’ markets. Unfortunately, we lived in a large city with a tiny lot. Gardening was not an option and I felt limited in our choices. But, for some reason that I cannot really explain, I purchased two books: Back to Basics and The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It.

In June 2011, God opened a way for our family to move to a small community of less than 2,000 residents in northern Wisconsin. We were able to negotiate a 12-year fixed [interest rate] land contract for a good sized house on a larger than average city lot. It was too late to plant a garden, but I was able to negotiate for some fresh produce from neighbors, members of our church and the local Amish community. I learned how to can and borrowed a dehydrator and learned how to dehydrate our food. Granted, it was not enough to feed our family through the winter, but it was a start.

I feel that God was preparing us with this house! Not only is the house a good, sturdy home built in the 1920s, but we found a buried outhouse pit, a buried sand point well, and learned that the house originally had a rainwater cistern and root cellar in the basement. While we are not planning on constructing an outhouse anytime soon (we did dig it up once already and collected over 200 antique bottles) or repair the rainwater cistern (illegal in our state), it is reassuring to know that the house was once self-sustaining. In the meantime, I am working to get the well permitted so that we can install a hand pump, as well as researching ways to collect rainwater and build a root cellar.

During the cold winter months, I had begun reading various blogs on homesteading, mostly to learn more about canning and dehydrating. I came across a recommendation for a video on gardening titled Back to Eden. This video taught us how to garden without rototilling, irrigating, fertilizing and minimizing weeding. My husband and I were intrigued, especially since it emphasizes how to garden in a Biblical fashion. In 2012, we planted our first garden ever. For novice gardeners, God truly blessed our efforts. We also learned a lot! While we enjoyed some of the fruits of our labors fresh, I made an effort to can as much as possible. I was able to preserve almost 400 half-pints, pints and quarts of fresh produce, mostly harvested from our garden. And I learned that we need a much bigger garden to store enough food to feed our family through one winter!

It was while researching and reviewing this Biblical gardening method that I first began to come across various sites, blogs and videos that were written by other preparing families. At first, I admit to thinking it was just another method of hoarding, albeit one that was more politically correct! Once again, God began to work on me and show me in verse after verse how preparing is important. I purchased the one book that everyone seemed to refer to – the LDS Preparedness Manual. I started with the free downloadable version, but soon realized that I needed a printed version in order to share it with my husband. It was while reading the printed version that I first learned about SurvivalBlog. We are now learning and preparing in leaps and bounds.

You Are a Talented Individual

We must also recognize that God has given us some talents naturally. We all have hobbies or activities that we enjoy doing. These same activities, depending on what they are, may stand you in good stead while preparing. For as long as I can remember I have been an avid reader. Until my mid-thirties, I read anything and everything regardless of content. Today I am a much more discriminating reader, but I still read a lot. I love books and absolutely hate returning them to the library or selling them. Because of this tendency, my husband likes to joke that we have our own personal library! This love of reading will be beneficial should we ever be in a grid down situation. I will have a plethora of entertainment and resources that I can turn to as needed. Since we are now focusing on preparing and self-sufficient living, the bookshelf will keep me supplied in new reading materials for at least a few months. (I confess I have already ordered seven of them!) I read three of Mr. Rawles’ books over the course of a few days and am anxiously waiting for the fourth to arrive. (As a side note, I highly recommend that any new preparer read them!)

I am also a crafty kind of person – I love to work with my hands to create things. I love to sew, crochet, cross-stitch and quilt. Some of these skills can be used to help keep my family clothed and warm; it can also be used to fill long, cold winter evenings. I currently have three traditional sewing machines, but I am looking for a good treadle machine. While I can sew by hand and like to hand quilt, I confess that sewing or mending clothes by hand is not my favorite activity! I would much rather use a sewing machine. In addition to keeping me busy now, these activities are also bringing us a small amount of income that can be dedicated to helping us prepare.

I love to cook and for years have been a very good customer of Pampered Chef! I just have to play with different tools and gadgets that help make cooking fun. Fortunately, most of the tools that I have purchased over the years do not require electricity to work and will also be helpful long into the future. I also enjoy trying out new recipes, modifying them so that I can make them from scratch as much as possible. Coupled with my love of books, this means that I have a lot of cookbooks. As we begin to build our food storage, I will be reviewing my cookbooks thoroughly to find those meals that would adapt to wood stove or campfire cooking using cast iron skillets and pots. Now, I am much more aware and selective in the tools that I buy for my kitchen and am slowly converting everything to cast iron cookware.

Do Your Homework

While some preparations fall along the lines of common sense, it is still important that to research before doing anything else. In our case, I watched a few videos on food storage, solar systems, end time prophecies, etc. Instantly, I realized that we are woefully unprepared should anything happen tomorrow. We needed to start making some changes right away. While the resources I discovered were very helpful, they all had one thing in common – lists of necessities – and some significant capital requirements.

It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when there are a lot of lists. SurvivalBlog’s list of lists is great because each list is broken out into different categories. While scanning each list, I was able to make notes on what things we already had and to start having discussions about what we needed with my husband. My husband and I tend to complement one another very well – I tend to think more of the day-to-day, as in, what tools would I need to do this task today if there was no electricity; my husband, on the other hand, is more big picture – what do we  need to do to protect ourselves from nuclear fallout. By having the lists as a discussion point, we are able to prioritize based on our needs and concerns instead of scratching our head and trying to think of the “what ifs” and “what do we need” questions.

Where Will the Money Come From?

Very few things in this life are free, and unfortunately, everything is going up in price as the value of our dollar drops. Our family is larger than average – we have six children – and so our budget is fairly tight to begin with. With just enough funds to “make ends meet”, our first challenge was raising money to start purchasing things we would need. While the List of Lists is a great resource, I think we can all agree that it still requires some funding!

I began to systematically go through all of the boxes, cupboards, closets and storage to identify those items that would be good for future bartering (clothes, shoes, coats, snow pants, baby gear, furniture, etc.) and those that would require electricity to work or were not even being used. I think that it is safe to say that everyone has things hiding away that they only use rarely or that, in the event of a power grid outage, would never use again. Do we really need to keep these modern “conveniences”?

For example, my husband and I cleaned out the “storage” area in our basement. We temporarily boxed all the clothing items until we could obtain some plastic containers. Eventually, I sorted the clothes by gender and size and generated an inventory prior to relocating the bins to long-term storage in the garage.

We also identified the unused baby furniture and other “able to be traded” items and placed them into long-term storage in the garage. While we currently do not need these items, we felt it was best to save them for two reasons: (1) just in case we were blessed with another little one (which is entirely possible since our youngest just turned a year old) or (2) in the event we needed to barter in the future for something we do need.

We also assembled in a separate pile unneeded but potentially useful items such as crutches and canes. We do not have any first aid kits assembled yet, but we do have a wide range of mixed medical items all throughout the house. We are consolidating what we do have so that we can organize it into one area of the house and make wise choices in purchasing what we need – opposed to purchasing what we think we need and ending up with too much of something and not enough of another.

Finally, we put all the electric items, such as a countertop cookware and electric skillets in one pile and the items that we no longer use, such as a bill organizer and gold embossed stemware into a second pile. All of these items were cleaned; inspected for flaws; tested for condition; and photographed for sale placement.

Depending on the time of year, those items that are set aside to be sold can be managed in a variety of ways, whichever suits your particular family and timing. Because we did not start our prepping until early fall, when rummage sales are at a seasonal low, I opted to post many of our items on EBay for quick auction or sale. I took the time to research a little bit about each item that we were selling, looking at comparables already on the site. This helped me to price the “buy it now” slightly lower than our competitors. It is important to note here that timing is critical – we need to start preparing now and so I was not very concerned about “profit”. Remember, most of this stuff has simply been collecting dust in a cupboard, closet or other storage area so a quick infusion of cash was more important than getting the most profit. With that being said, I am not selling us short either. Researching the competition helps ensure the most “bang for your buck” is achieved.

As items were purchased, the funds became available in our PayPal account. I have opted to not transfer this money to our personal account just yet. Instead, I am using the funds to purchase things that we need, such as kerosene lamps and cast iron cookware, from eBay.

A word of caution when purchasing online – make sure you know what the going rate is for certain items so that you do not pay more than you would elsewhere and always keep shipping costs in mind as they can add up quickly! Resist the temptation to “buy it now” just to get the item quickly – you will most likely be able to get the item for less if you are patient and participate in the auction. For example, I got one cast iron pan for $6.38 plus shipping of $9.36. Had I opted to “buy it now” I would have paid $19.99 plus the shipping. This allowed me to have an additional $13.61 to purchase something else we needed.

Any items that did not sell the first time around were relisted. After a few attempts, if they still have not sold, I put a price sticker on it and set it aside for sale in the spring during the community wide rummage sale.

The lack of funds gave me a feeling of being overwhelmed. There was so much that we needed and the lists seemed to go on and on. By being proactive and conscientious, I have been able to start making the necessary purchases a little at a time. This helped me to feel a little less overwhelmed and to feel like we were at least making some progress.

Shop Once Per Month

I do our grocery shopping once each month, with only occasional trips for extra milk, bread and eggs. I have been shopping this way for almost three years and we usually have plenty of food when it is time for me to shop again each month. This enables me to feel confident that I have at least enough food to feed my family for about six weeks. Throw in all the food that I have canned and I could probably go two or three months longer, although I admit creativity would be required for meal planning. As I started preparing for my family this habit really helped me. I continue to shop once per month, but buy more than my standard maintained quantity. For example, I like to have at least 50 pounds of sugar on hand, especially during canning season. I will gradually increase that to 100 pounds by buying a bag or two extra each month.

For the long-term planning, I am keeping an eye out for an antique ice box to replace my refrigerator with. Unfortunately, the space is tiny for storage, so I am looking at ways to preserve my food while minimizing my dependency on freezer and refrigerator space. We are also researching how to construct a root cellar and have purchased the book Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables. Our home had one at some point in the past, but a previous resident filled it in and cemented it over. We are also looking at doubling the size of our pantry (originally the fruit cellar of the home) so that I have more space to store my canned goods. Finally, I am going to start preparing five gallon food buckets with preplanned meals and recipes for long-term storage by taking advantage of bulk purchases from the local Amish.

Review Your Assets with a SHTF Eye

Every living thing has core needs: shelter, food, water and clothing. As a new preparer, everything we look at and evaluate has to fall into one of these categories. Some are easier than others. Initially, we are preparing within our current residence. We don’t necessarily have time or money to buy a retreat elsewhere, so the first step is evaluating what we currently have and determining the best way to make it work for us. For example, shelter. Check. We live in a house that we are purchasing. But how livable would the house be if we did not have utilities? Here is a list of things that we are reviewing right now with this in mind:

  • Carpeting – Yuck without a vacuum. Fortunately, under all of our carpeting is hardwood flooring. We are immediately working to refinish and restore the floors. These will be easier to sweep and mop without utilities then carpeting.
  • Water – We are on the city system even though we have a well in our yard (that a previous resident buried). While we are working to get a permit and to have a hand pump installed, we are purchasing a pump just in case. We are assuming that if TSHTF, permits will not be an issue. We are also adding four rain barrels to the gutters.
  • Heat – Living in northern Wisconsin means cold, cold winters. We are not called the frozen tundra for nothing. We are starting to research a good wood stove that we can use for cooking and heating. Unfortunately, a stove tends to be very expensive and we have heard from others, cheaper is not better when it comes to stoves. We are watching for estate sales and auctions in the local Amish community. But a wood stove means we need cast iron cookware, too. The cookware is something that I can easily purchase on EBay in the short term and at auctions and estate sales over the summer.
  • Laundry – I am a traditional American in love with the washer and dryer. But, I also am a bit nostalgic when it comes to seeing clothes blowing in a summer breeze. In other words, we do have a clothesline and pins, but not much else. We are looking at hand wringers, plungers, washboards and galvanized tubs for laundry.
  • Lighting – Right now, no one really thinks about lighting. A flick of the switch and we have light. One of the first purchases that I made was for kerosene lamps. I chose a mix of metal and glass ones. Our logic is that the metal ones will sit on tables and counters where children will be more likely to use them and glass ones to put up on higher surfaces or in wall mounts, where the children will not be able to reach them. While I would have preferred to purchase only metal ones, there simply were not enough of them available for sale and at reasonable prices. My goal was to have at least six lamps quickly. Once the initial six were purchased, I could be more selective and get exactly what I want. Should we lose power tomorrow, we will be able to have some light (at least, until I run out of kerosene, that is).

The above are only a few examples. But how do you determine what you need and in what priority? For me, the best way to determine this has been fairly easy because I make lists of things that would not work as they are currently set up should TSHTF. As I do my daily chores, I am very conscientious of what would have to change for us to be more self-sufficient. For example, doing dishes made me aware that I need more large pots to heat water and a way to make homemade dish soap. I have discovered that once you start to have a mindset of preparing, God will open your eyes to what you are dependent on for “convenience”.

Finally, I just want to advise you to keep your chin up and take one day at a time. Try to do something that will help your preparedness level every day – no matter how small or insignificant it appears. Keep a small, portable notebook close by so that you can jot down any ideas or concerns right away. Pray and ask for guidance on which direction you should focus on next. You may just be surprised at the direction God will take you – I know I was!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on October 18, 2012 12:58 AM.

Letter Re: An Interesting Hiding Place was the previous entry in this blog.

Notes from JWR: is the next entry in this blog.

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