Many of us keep items in our home “just in case” we need them. The category of “just in case” or “might need one day” can grow to encompass entire garages, basements, and many other areas of the home. There is a fine line between storing various products, tools, and other belongings “just in case,” and maintaining a purposeful and functional emergency preparedness supply.
As with any area of the home, organizing your belongings allows you to see what you have in order to make informed purchases and to be able to access your belongings efficiently. Organizing can help you to save money by ensuring you don’t buy the same (potentially pricey!) item multiple times, and to save more than just money by finding the areas where your emergency supply falls short, allowing you to fill in those gaps now. Just like when shovels sell out after the first snow storm and fans sell out at the beginning of summer, waiting until disaster strikes to run out and gather supplies might not even be an option for you and your family in an emergency situation. Likewise, don’t take it for granted that just because you have one useful tool or another somewhere that it means that you will remember where to find it or, indeed, be able to access it while under duress.
Back to Basics
Emergency preparedness might bring to mind conspiracy theorists, hidden bunkers, and zombies, but the most likely disasters we would experience are those that have happened already. Food shortages, supply chain disruptions, inflation, and (of course) pandemics are all extremely hot topics at the moment, and many people are preparing for these issues already. Consider also that an extended winter power outage may be enough to bring your home to freezing temperatures, or that a gas shortage may inhibit your ability to travel.
Environment-related emergencies, such as tornadoes and wildfires, are known to occur in Alberta, and the Government of Alberta notes 5 major droughts over the last 20 years. For those with the time and inclination to research about natural disasters, the Government of Canada has many applicable tips on how to prepare for disasters and making an emergency plan, as well as a database of past noteworthy environmental events.
Being aware of the reason for preparing is the first step in both differentiating the difference between preparing and hoarding, as well as for deciding how to proceed with organizing your stored items. Preparing practically involves looking at the most likely scenarios first, and working to ensure you and your family have the items and the plans in place to easily ride out any storm (pun intended!).
Categories for Consideration
Once you have identified your top priorities for your emergency preparedness supply storage, you can begin to assess your belongings and categorize accordingly. While we leave the specific decisions on what items you and your family need up to you, consider the following categories and sub-categories when analyzing your supplies and deciding the best place to store them. You may need to expand, divide, or reconfigure some categories based on your current and future needs.
- Storage Bags, Bottles & Containers
- Batteries & Chargers
- Fuel (store with the utmost care and ensure adherence to safety guidelines)
- PPE, Masks, Gloves, & Suits
- Prescription & OTC Medication
- First Aid
- Flashlights & Headlamps
- Candles & Lanterns (overlapping with Fire category)
- Fire Starting
- Fire Safety
- Candles & Lanterns (overlapping with Lighting category)
- Cooking Tools & Portable Stoves
- Outdoor Living
- Cordage, Straps & Ties
- Blankets & Sleeping Bags
- Hunting & Trapping
- Dishes & Cutlery
- Extreme Cold Outerwear & Warmers
- Bug Sprays & Netting
- Knives & Wood Cutting
- Personal Protection
- Navigation & Communication
- Maps, GPS & Compasses
- Radios & Walkie Talkies
- Phones & Satellite Phones
- Reference Materials
- Books, Manuals & Guides
Storing Your Supplies
Once you have taken account of all of the supplies and categories that are relevant to you, the next step is to decide where to store them. As a general rule, store like items together when possible and keep regularly-used supplies easy to access.
Most categories can be stored together in a basement, garage, or even a linen or coat closet, but you may like to store some categories elsewhere. For example, your first aid kit might live in a bathroom cupboard, or you may keep your fire extinguisher near the kitchen. You may also keep some items in an emergency grab-and-go bag or in your vehicle. It might be useful for you to keep a list of emergency supplies and where they are stored for you or your family to reference in an emergency situation.
Next you can consider containerizing categories of smaller items and work on shelf layout. Choose bins that are sturdy and have ergonomic handles, but are not so large that they will be too heavy to move in an emergency situation. Clear bins are highly suggested as they allow you to more quickly identify contents. There is no real need to put large items into containers for this type of storage (unless to protect the item from outside elements). Instead, store large items on the shelf beside containerized items of the same category.
With the same goal in mind of being able to quickly and easily access your supplies, put some thought into a system of identification that will work for you and your family. Label categories onto bins and shelves using large print, particularly when items are not visible, using vocabulary and terms that come naturally you.
Colour coding is an organization tool that lends itself well to emergency supplies. Assign a colour to each category and apply the colour consistently using coloured bins, labels, markers, paper, or tape strips. We have listed some colour coding products we love for you as well.
Pro Tip: Note any items in disrepair and begin a list preparedness tasks as you go. Be sure to also note any high-priority items you need to acquire soon. Try not to get sidetracked too much by these tasks in the moment.
Food, Water & Household Supplies
Some emergency preparedness items require more maintenance. If you store food, water, and household supplies above and beyond your pantry storage, there are a few organizational strategies that can help keep your stores safe and in order.
How many days, weeks, or months do you aim to survive in your home without having to replenish your stocks? Setting a food stockpile goal—outlined in terms of a certain number of days of food for each family member—will help you to constructively assess your current supplies and grow your stockpile without going overboard. There are calculators and guides available online which take into account caloric and nutrient requirements (ezprepping.com has food and water requirement calculators that are slow to load but very detailed). A trained eye can easily take a rough count of the number of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks on hand in a well-organized storage area.
Keep foods on hand that you and your family actively enjoy eating, and keep these foods in active rotation with your main pantry. Some swear by maintaining a food storage log with expiration dates on a spreadsheet, and use it to identify which foods need to be eaten next to avoid spoilage. However, if you keep your foods in clear rows, with the soonest-expiring foods at the front, a periodic “expiry check” can be sufficient to avoid more serious logging efforts (try 4x yearly). Don’t forget to rotate and periodically check your frozen foods as well! Home-canned preserves, root-cellar-type vegetables, and already-opened foods must be checked regularly.
If you find that the food in your pantry or stockpile is expiring before you get a chance to use it, reevaluate your strategy. Are you putting your new groceries at the back and carrying the older products forward and/or to your main pantry? Are you purchasing items that you and your family like to eat and eat often? Maybe your meal plan prep could include a pantry/stockpile walk. If you are missing companion ingredients (for example, ground beef to go with your canned beans for chili), add them to your next grocery list. Do a thorough “expiry check” and vow to do quick checks more often in the future.
Pro tip: Create a “Eat Tonight” basket on your kitchen counter for foods you have spotted that are still safe and edible but approaching their best-by date. Make a point to use these up first, purchasing any companion ingredients to complete recipes if necessary. If a length of time passes and you weren’t able to use it, consider tossing/composting it and make a note to purchase less of that product in the future.
When storing water, keep in mind the daily requirements not only drinking quantity, but also water used for cooking foods and for cleaning and hygiene purposes (see the calculator linked above). Bottled water typically contains best before dates, which is generally a reflection of the quality of the packaging, so be sure to rotate these as well. Store large bottles down low for safety, though some experts recommend keeping water bottles off of concrete floors.
Household Paper Products
Steadily consumed items like toilet paper, paper towel, and tissues can be stored along with food, where they will likely be kept clean and dry, and where you can check on them regularly before grocery shopping. These items are easily stored up top and out of the way since they are so light weight, and do not need to be as thoroughly rotated.
Organize a Plan
Organization is not just for the physical items we have in our homes, but for our thoughts, ideas, and plans as well. In a high-stress scenario you may not be in the best mental state to efficiently locate what you know you need or have, nor to rationally and calmly decide on the best course of action to take. Dedicating a bit of time presently to creating an emergency plan (or even an emergency binder like this one) will help you prioritize and stay calm in the event of an emergency. Consider including the following in your emergency plan:
- Shelter-in-place plans for power outages, extreme weather, medical isolation, etc.
- Evacuation plans for fire, natural disaster, etc.
- Family emergency training
- Emergency contact information
- Back up copies of important documents, identification, and passwords
It could be argued that humans have an innate tendency to keep things for the possible/probable future. In other words, it’s natural to seek to acquire things and to hate parting with something that might be useful! Channel that energy towards intentional, planned, and strategic emergency preparations that are well-organized and accessible. Use planning as a lens through which to see which of your possessions are serving you, and which are only serving to take up valuable and much-needed space in your home.
Professional organizers are trained to ask you strategic questions to help you make decisions about what to keep and how to store it, with recommendations tailored each individual client. We can help you and your family throughout the process of organizing your supply areas, from just getting started to putting on the finishing touches and wrapping it with a bow (yes, even basements and garages can be wrapped with a bow!).
Reconciling Preparedness with Minimalism
Keeping a “minimalist” household and living a “minimalist” lifestyle are cultural trends that are not going anywhere anytime soon. Does this mean that it’s the right decision for everyone to begin counting every item they own (the average household contains 300,000 items), trim their wardrobe down to 37 items of clothing, or buy only the food they need for the week?
One understanding of a minimalist lifestyle is to keep only what you need and love. Preparing for endless possibilities can mean keeping endless amounts of goods. A balance can be stuck by being realistic about what events are likely to occur in your area, and focus on those scenarios while acquiring preparedness items, and also while assessing which items are serving your preparedness goals and which are simply taking up space and energy.
Minimalism itself is, after all, a response to the issues of over-consumption, resource scarcity, and global economic inequality—themselves, in a way, disasters. Minimalism gives us the clarity to appreciate the people and the moments that matter in life, as opposed to the things. Minimalism can help us gain fresh insight into what is worth protecting and how best to prepare should an unforeseen and disastrous event occur.
Minimalism encourages us to buy great quality items that will endure extended use and rarely (ideally never) require replacing. We limit the need for redundancy in preparedness supplies and tools by buying durable and well-made items the first time. We are encouraged to find multiple uses for these items and to enjoy their use regularly, thus increasing their value to our lives. It is in this way that minimalism enhances our relationship with “things” and allows us to regain our power to control our consumption.
The value of the concept of minimalism it isn’t necessarily negated by acknowledging that we do need some things, and that it is useful and comforting to be prepared for the future. Likewise, learning an important skill and keeping a strong body are ways that you can prepare your mind and body for an uncertain future without purchasing much at all. Concepts are not religions and you don’t have to answer to the minimalist purists or the prepper police. If it enhances the living of your life, pursue it!