The Intersection of Minimalism and Preparedness

When I teach personal preparedness classes, I emphasize what I think is everyone’s number one tool for being prepared to deal with emergencies – your attitude. I believe that with the proper attitude, one can overcome almost any challenge. You really don’t need a bunch of equipment or a stockpile of supplies, or to charge out and buy a bunch of stuff just because it might be Preparedness Month.  Those “things” aren’t always what we need for preparedness, anyway! For the most part, survival and preparedness products are marketed to make people think they need them, so that the manufacturers can make money. Keep this in mind the next time you go to Costco and are tempted by the latest gadget or handy (though gross) meals-in-a-bucket. Just look at the stuff you can buy there!

As a matter of fact, I think that going out and buying supplies many times has a negative effect on preparedness – when people buy “things,” they assume they are then prepared, and stop thinking about it, when thinking is really one’s best preparedness tool. I also believe that the provision of a lot of supplies interferes with rational decision making in a crisis. If a family buys thousands of dollars worth of preparedness supplies, they may be loathe to abandon it all and simply evacuate, even if that’s the best action for them to take.

For decades, preparedness has been encouraged by teaching people they need to buy and maintain a stockpile of food and equipment just-in-case.  Those teachings are crashing right into the modern craze of minimalism, downsizing, and decluttering. Minimalists embrace the idea of having fewer possessions and therefore being able to live in smaller homes. It’s a great idea, because not only does minimalism, or at least, simplifying,  really lead to a better and less stressful life, but the consumerist way of life is simply not sustainable for us, our finances, or our planet. Not to mention that in a disaster, having less means maintaining less, and that’s a good thing. Does it matter as much if your house floods if you don’t have many possessions in it to ruin?

Of course, that is a personal question that everyone must answer for him or herself. In my view,  it is unfortunate that stockpiling and hoarding have become the default methods of being “prepared.” We have so much readily available to us in the USA that there is no need to run out and grab everything from store shelves just because a storm might be coming. If no one did this, there would be plenty for all even during an extended crisis. If everyone did this, we would all be so busy defending our pile of supplies that we wouldn’t be free to respond to the disaster in any other way. I contend that it’s better to simply have a reasonable supply of the very basics so that one’s response to a disaster can be flexible and appropriate (you’re not evacuating your town anytime soon with those fifteen five-gallon jugs of water stored in your basement “just in case”).

So how can a minimalist be prepared? The modern minimalist is not a person inclined to keep $1,100 worth of dried food products in their pantry, nor do they have the space. Stockpiling supplies is actively discouraged for the minimalist lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean that disaster-stricken neighborhoods will be full of hungry minimalists, seeking their next meal from their consumerist neighbors. Assuming that our minimalist has that good, positive, and productive attitude I was talking about in the first paragraph, she doesn’t need a huge amount of supplies to survive. Here are my recommendations for supplies you SHOULD have readily available to you:

Water – this one is vital. I’m lucky, and live in a place where water is plentiful everywhere, and with a method of purification we’ll never run out. But city dwellers and urban minimalists might want to put some thought into this. Where might a water source be that is accessible to you? I worked in a city that had a lovely artesian well in a city park right in its heart. Water was drinkable straight from the ground. Does your city have a similar source? If so, great! If not, make sure you have a way to purify water. That one is worth dedicating some space to, but not too much, because after all, you might have to leave it behind anyway.

Food – you know I’m not a fan of stockpiling, but it’s reasonable to have enough food to last you a few days. I bet you already have this, if you’re even a slightly typical American! Don’t panic and race out to empty the shelves at your local grocery store unless you really need something (you probably don’t). Your normal rotation of groceries is probably enough – just make sure you resupply often enough that you’re not caught with cupboards totally bare. A few days of food can take the form of a bag of beans (if you have a big family – helllooooo again Costco! A 25 lb. bag of beans will keep for ages), which are cheap, storable, and provide nourishment in a pinch. Make sure you have enough food for your pet, too.

Shelter – for this one, I believe that smaller homes are better. What if you’re stuck without heat for a few days? Do you want to be the person trying to heat their 5 bedroom, 5.5 bath mini-mansion with your diesel generator? I sure don’t.  You’d be surprised how cozy small spaces can be with just body heat, so hey, invite your neighbors over!

And that’s really it, isn’t it? Healthy people don’t need much more than food, shelter, and water, and all that is much easier to manage if you have less of everything else. I’m a little envious of accomplished minimalists, because they never need to worry what’s in their go-bag and whether it’s enough – all of their earthly possessions are easily accessible, and they can just grab them and walk out when it’s time to go, or leave them behind without angst. No agonizing about which “things” to save, because they already let go of their attachments to such items.  I think minimalism is a great approach to preparedness and one well worth considering. It’s not intuitive to those of us raised in a consumer culture and taught since birth that we need more stuff to survive, but it’s certainly a worthy approach to the question of personal and family preparedness.




  1. Alex Lawless on June 27, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    I love this. Even as I advise communities and individuals on the importance of preparedness, I’m always aware that the simpler the message, the better. Motivating people to take action is usually easiest when it requires the least amount of effort and maintenance on their part. Thanks for a great post!

    • admin on July 28, 2015 at 6:58 am

      Thanks very much, Alex! I agree with you that simple is always easier and better in the long run.

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