Minimalism Meets Emergency Preparedness

Best Used By 09092009. Ah, I guess it has been sitting in my pantry longer than I thought. A couple of chores were on my mind this weekend: cleaning out the pantry, and pondering emergency preparedness. There’s an overlap. The news from Harvey, Irma, and Maria convinced me to check my emergency preparedness, again. The minimalist in me was inspired by giving away an old CD player that I hadn’t used in years. What to keep and what to get rid of gets asked in both cases. Will I ever use fill-in-the-blank? Would I wish I had it if I was cut off like the people hit by hurricanes, wildfires, or our inevitable earthquakes? A box of Saltines from about a decade ago was a reminder that there are limits. Judgment calls happen.

The island’s friendly version of craigslist, drewslist, offers lots of ways to trade, sell, buy, and generally keep a community together and communicating. Besides the Jobs listings (overqualified, again, sigh), my favorite category is Free. I’ve given away several things. Whether through drewslist or just through neighbors and friends, I’ve acquired enough goodies to grow a garden, fix a few things, and ease that retail itch. One of the listings was from someone who was partway through a book on tape, really a book on CD, whose player died. They wanted a free replacement so they could finish the book. I realized I had one from about twenty years ago. The charger was gone, but it worked well on batteries. Evidently, I wasn’t using it. Here you go. Go for it. And whoosh, another episode in decluttering transpired.

This is the season for sitting down with mail order (really online) catalogs and dream shopping before the holidays. I’m just as likely to wander around the house looking for things I haven’t touched and always overlook. There’s always something that should find a new home, get repurposed, or head to the land fill. Less clutter in the house means less clutter in the head, or at least fewer distractions.

Rummaging around the cabinet over the refrigerator I, once again, maneuvered around some old cracker boxes. For more reasons than I’m going to get into here, I accidentally went gluten-free years ago. Saltines and Ritz were great when I made lots of soups with noodles, but those crackers have wheat and my doctor has turned me away from the grains that go into noodles. Pull down the boxes and look at the dates. If the Best By date was 2009, the food was probably packaged years before. How much of my pantry would I have to eat through before I was willing to break into food that was over ten years old and made from something that gives me mood crashes? The answer: a very long time. Then, I thought about Puerto Rico and stored the crackers in my outdoor emergency food cache.

The folks in Puerto Rico are in terrible conditions. That was true even before the hurricane hit. Their economy has been trashed, and vulture funds were taking control. John Oliver has a great video about it from last year, which echoes amazingly after Hurricane Maria. Federal aid is arriving, but two weeks after the winds died down. The response isn’t enough considering the impact on the people. About 3.5 million people on the island are affected. As if that lack of response isn’t bad enough, the outer islands are even less likely to be noticed.

The Seattle area has about 3.5 million people. Our most likely disasters don’t benefit from weather forecasts. Whether from the off-shore subduction zones, inland fault lines, or volcanoes, people around the Salish Sea have to be prepared for unexpected and major natural disasters. The guideline of having enough food and water for three days keeps extending. I don’t know what the official guideline is now, but I do know that the experiences in New Orleans (Katrina), Long Island (Sandy), Houston (Harvey), Miami (Irma), and Puerto Rico (Maria) have convinced me that it is best to plan for weeks and maybe months, not days. If a major quake hit Seattle the world’s news media would focus on the Space Needle and anything that fell down. Aid would probably concentrate on the ports and radiate out from there because the mountain passes may be impassable and railroads interrupted. By the time someone got to my house the news would probably be talking about someone else’s disaster. (If you want to really want to geek out on the impact of an earthquake on the Seattle area, watch Nick Zentner’s video from Central Washington University. Want something lighter? Check out my post on

Considering how difficult it was for Puerto Rico to get economic help before the hurricane and logistical support after the hurricane, I’m surprised they have just decided to declare independence because evidently they can’t depend on their government.

Of course Seattle wouldn’t be ignored, even though we are far from DC (even further than Puerto Rico is), have ticked off the administration by being inclusive and a sanctuary city, and don’t have Trump Tower that I know of. If we were so ignored, calls for Cascadia would be stronger and reach farther – after communications were re-established.

I didn’t totally audit my earthquake kit like I did a couple of years ago. I did, however, refill the backup propane tank for the BBQ, am glad I got some firewood (and would like to get more), and picked up some extra heavy plastic sheeting and tape, just in case. I also opened the emergency food cache (just an old metal Coleman cooler left in the carport), and checked for mold and such. Weird as they may be, some of those mystery meats and cheeses I got for Christmas keep better than I expected – and I expect I’ll put something a bit fresher in there after another grocery run.

Some preppers look forward to disasters so they can play, er, exercise their preparations. I’d look forward to some great excuses to take time off – except that I know that people in such situations work until they fall asleep, and then work again. Repeat as necessary.

The statistic I saw for preparedness is roughly a four-to-one return. Every dollar spent on preparedness avoids four dollars of repair. That’s an average. If $100 in reinforcements keeps a wall from falling down, then tens of thousands can be saved. If $100 of emergency supplies means not having to wait for supplies, then life returns to normal much more quickly. Time is more precious than money, especially if a bit of effort leads to a longer life.

I don’t know if my preparations are enough. No one ever knows, not even preppers. I do know that being a minimalist means there are fewer things that I’m worried about, fewer things to take care of and replace, and more time and money in the meantime. As for those crackers, well, even if I don’t eat them, they have a a value as a science experiment.

About Tom Trimbath

real estate broker / consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: and at my amazon author page:
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