Small Space. Big Life.

Emergency Preparedness for Minimalists, Part I

Since we’re still in early days here on HouseMojo, let me just come out and tip my hand here: I’m not a minimalist — yet. I admire many minimalists and there are times when I deeply desire a minimalist existence, usually after a busy week when the sea of mess that is my children’s toys has taken over our small living room. I’ve lived a minimalist lifestyle for short segments of my own life; I have appreciation for the gifts of minimalism. Maybe I could even visit Minimalville for a while — someday. But right now, I’m not there. That’s OK.

However, there are lessons from minimalism that I try to use in my daily life, particularly regarding the wise use of resources, prioritizing and living mindfully. Right now I’m using those ideas in the context of emergency preparedness.

I think minimalists have a leg up on emergency preparedness, because emergency preparedness isn’t about stuff, it’s about priorities. Minimalists are great at prioritizing. That’s what minimalism is, to me at least — prioritizing and stripping the rest away.

Minimalists already know that stuff isn’t what you need to be happy, so they’re not likely to stay in a dangerous situation just for their stuff. (As in, they flee rather than stay to try to fight encroaching wildfires. At least, I hope they do).

Because they know what things are very important to them, it’s easier for them to decide what to take with them in an evacuation. (“Honey, forget the Pyrex cookware and help me get the piano in the station wagon!”)

If a natural disaster affects their home or belongings, minimalists might find it easier to cope with those material losses than someone whose identity was tied up in their stuff. (This benefit inspired by Miss Minimalist’s post about being burglarized).

Finally, because they have less to lose, they have less to re-acquire after a disaster — perhaps making getting back to normal easier and quicker.

These are strengths that minimalists might bring to the preparedness table. But if they have a weakness, it would be that they don’t have, nor will they want to acquire, the stuff that most emergency planners say prepared folks should have. By stuff I mean actual equipment and supplies — canned food, water, first aid kits, candles, lanterns, emergency blankets, radios, pocketknives, etc. It might seem unnecessary to devote space and energy to maintaining items that you don’t use regularly and may never need, or one might shudder at the tiny closet in the living room being crammed with bottled water, playing cards and canned beef stew. Relying on possessions hardly seems in keeping with the minimalist mindset.

Yet these things, when necessary, are really necessary, and they can make the difference between coming through an emergency relatively unscathed or having it be a very unpleasant experience. So what’s a minimalist to do? (Or, for that matter, what’s someone who wants to do a minimal amount of preparedness to do?)

I’ve come up with a minimalist emergency preparedness plan for our family of four people. It includes provisions for our pets (two cats and a large dog). It keeps in mind our limited storage space, our personal interests,  our lifestyle, our habits and the emergencies that seem likely for our location. It incorporates many of the recommendations made by the American Red Cross and other government agencies– and some that aren’t.

It does not include firearms. It may include Spam. Consider yourselves warned.

The topic of emergency preparedness is vast, and there are a lot of different opinions on what constitutes “prepared.” My plan is to write a short series of posts that will detail what I consider the critical issues to consider when planning for emergencies, as well as the nuts and bolts of our family’s emergency preparedness plan. I’ll also share links to resources that I’ve found interesting or helpful as I’ve worked my way through this process, and anecdotes about our personal evacuation experience, when we fled wildfires a couple of years ago.

As always, I’m curious about what other people have done or are doing in this area. I’m especially interested in hearing from people who live in small spaces and would like to be prepared for emergencies without decorating in Early Survivalist Style. So let me know — what emergency preparedness preparations have you taken (or are you thinking about taking) and why? What constraints are you working within? Perhaps most importantly, have you had to use your preparations, and how did they work out? What would you recommend to others, and what would you do differently?

I can’t wait to hear what others are doing!


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6 thoughts on “Emergency Preparedness for Minimalists, Part I

  1. I am excited to read through this series. Our religion promotes self-reliance, including emergency preparedness. I’ve only recently decided to give in to my minimalist heart and have pondered how to reconcile this with the need for preparation. Still working on it.

    Before becoming minimalist (which I consider myself even though my house does not yet reflect it) we had a preparedness experience. Early in our marriage we worked to build a food storage system. It wasn’t as much as we’d have liked, but we did have a few things stored away. When my husband was out of work for seven months (our only source on income), our food storage made all the difference. With unemployment we were able to pay most of the bills. And since we had food storage, we didn’t have to use our money for food. We made it through. But our food storage is none existent now. Perfect time to choose a new system, I’d say.

    Again, looking forward to reading more. Thanks.

    • Misssrobin —

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I’m so glad that your food storage was there for you when you needed it, and also glad that you made it through a very difficult time. Good for you!
      We’ve dabbled in food storage, but after cramming our limited storage space with a hodgepodge of food, I realized that it didn’t meet either our space constraints (since the blog is about small-space living, the fact that we have a small space trumps all!) or provide a very organized approach to planning for the sorts of emergencies we felt we were likely to encounter (wildfires and earthquakes can destroy food storage systems pretty quickly and require evacuation, which doesn’t allow you to take all your food with you), so we’ve chosen to reduce our food storage to just our working pantry and a week’s worth of emergency meals and beef up our emergency fund instead. This works for us; I hope that the series offers some information that will be useful to you as you choose a new system for your family! Can’t wait to hear more from you, and thank you for visiting!

  2. I ponder things along these lines quite often, being into minimalism & preparedness at the same time. The only satisfying conclusion I have found is to learn “primitive” survival skills (making fire by rubbing sticks together, wlld plant food identification and such), which I’m in the process of doing these days.

    The fundamental reason why people have to hoard so much stuff to be prepared is that they lack skills, skills that humans have passed down over the past 250,000 years or more, the skills that it takes to be human being integrated into the natural world.

    Just compare a modern “outdoors(wo)man” with the big backpack, hiking boots, goretex clothing, camping stove and other equipment with any indigenous human being, lets say an Australian aborigine, who is perfectly capable of surviving with nothing, living light, nomadic and free. The modern hiker more resembles an astronaut than a creature from this planet.

    I believe that we are hard-wired to be minimalists and nomadic, as this is the way humans have lived most of the time we’ve been here. Agriculture has only been going on for 10,000 years. Previously, we were all hunter/gatherers (nomadic minimalists) since the beginning. Learning Earth Skills (aka primitive survival skills) is not only fun and empowering, but it helps us wake up to our connection to Mother Earth and our balanced place within the eco system.

    Here are a couple of videos of me making fire primitive style, which is way more fun than using modern implements:

    I recently got back from learning such skills at the Maine Primitive Skills School ,which I certainly would recommend. I will likely be taking more classes along these lines with a more local (to me, in Texas) school at

    Anyway, that’s my $.02 on the subject. Thank you for sharing with your blog and good luck on your journey:)

    • Brian,

      Thanks so much for your comments. I agree that one of the most important aspects of emergency preparedness is knowledge. The type you talk about — basic survival skills (water, shelter, fire) is one aspect of this. First Aid and CPR skills would probably fall into this category as well. The links you posted are also interesting. Thanks for your comments and contribution!

      • You are welcome. The Human Path (link above) actually teach First Aid as part of their curriculum as well.

  3. Also, it can be handy to have a compact survival kit of sorts, like so:

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