Do you make mistakes? I know, that’s a trick question – we ALL make mistakes. No matter what you’re starting or trying to learn, you’re going to make mistakes. It’s part of our human nature. We are wired to try, fail, learn and try again. Our mistakes help us to grow and thrive and they certainly have the ability to make us stronger, better, smarter and wiser.
I have often talked about the mistakes we’ve made when it comes to homesteading – that is, the day-to-day building of a sustainable and self-reliant life. One of the things many of my readers like is that I will openly admit when I have completely screwed up.
17 Tips to Start Your Homestead Right gives you lessons and insight from our first year on our mountain property, and Knowing When It’s Time for a Change details how we realized it was time to go from ultra-rural (nearest neighbour ten miles away) to merely very rural (village of 300 people). My mom laughs that only we would consider our tiny village to be ‘moving to town’. And in case you haven’t been following along, the move was one of the best decisions we could have made.
Prepping, though, is a little bit different than learning to sew or paint or ride a bicycle, and (like moving to a mountain to homestead), mistakes can be deadly. After all, you’re preparing for worst case scenarios and planning how you’ll survive when things go awry. This increases the chance that mistakes in your plans can have disastrous long term effects.
When you start prepping, it seems as though the information available is overwhelming. There are a million things to learn and worry about, and do you really need all of that expensive gear? (No. I can answer that one easily.)
Luckily, there are many experienced preppers who are willing to share their wisdom and their tried-and-true methods. No matter where you are in your preparedness, there is always going to be someone who knows more, and who has done more, than you have. Or if not more, they’ve done differently.
Take a look at these five common mistakes that rookie – and sometimes veteran – preppers have been known to make, and see if you need to patch up some holes in your preps.
Mistake #1 – Lack of actual practice
So you plan and prep.
You have a printed book of evacuation plans and survival strategies. You’ve played a thousand emergency game plans out in your head.
It’ll go like clockwork, and everyone will know where they’re supposed to be.
And if something goes wrong – well, you have back up plans for the back up plans.
Just look at your perfectly packed Bug Out Bag and your detailed evacuation plan.
Of course, you’ve never actually put it into practice because … well, because this isn’t an emergency. And it would be so inconvenient to create a realistic situation that forces the entire family to practice all of this.
It’s easy to get so focused on the planning and prepping that you lose sight of the bigger picture.
When our last child was born at our cabin without any medical professionals on hand, the mister planned ahead by taking emergency childbirth classes. He was already a Medical First Responder, and he planned everything to the finest detail. It helps that he’s autistic – planning is his thing.
Everything went as planned – but it’s important to note that he had already been the ‘second pair of hands’ at three other births. He had already practiced.
As I’m writing this, I point out to him that, without the prior experience of assisting our midwives at three births, he would have been hyperventilating in the corner when called on to attend without a birth professional. He admitted “To be honest, I almost was!” Even with practice, doing it alone was a tense and frightening experience.
I bring that up because the situations that we prep for often include heightened tension and emotions, and we know that anything that goes badly could go very, very badly.
Experience, and plenty of it, is the only thing that gives us the confidence to make rational decisions when things go south.
This is why preparedness veterans tell you to turn off the water main at your house for a weekend, or turn off the power, and see how you manage.
Stage a test evacuation – how quickly can you get the entire family into the car, where does the cat run and hide, are the bug out bags too heavy, and how far can you walk along your road before the children sit down and refuse to move?
And about those bug out bags – actually try to use them for a weekend. Do they last that long, or are the children hitting each other in the face out of boredom after three hours? Because yes, bored children are a reality even when the world is falling apart.
Mistake #2 – Losing Sight of Realistic Threats
Whenever I see a reference to ‘Doomsday prepper’, I cringe.
In fact, a reporter once wanted to talk to me, to interview me as a Doomsday prepper who was getting ready for the world to end. It was clear that he wanted to show me as slightly unhinged and definitely narrow minded. (Maybe I am. But I’m still not prepping for zombies or the apocalypse.)
For the record, when I talk about zombies, I’m having fun and using ‘zombies’ to represent all sorts of things that can go wrong. Just not literal zombies.
There certainly are some preppers who focus exclusively on doomsday scenarios, and thanks to some unfortunately over-hyped television shows, that’s how most people see preppers.
The end result is that people discredit the actual value and overwhelming logic of preparedness. They shrug off the need to prepare by thinking that a zombie apocalypse, meteorite disaster or complete breakdown in society are the only reasons to prep.
The reality is very different.
Hey, it’s certainly possible that a deadly virus or nuclear fallout decimates humanity. There’s enough of a zombie prepper in me to admit that yes, yes, yes, it could happen.
More likely, though, you’re going to need to deal with events like:
- Job loss
- Injury and illness
- Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and other destructive storms
- Emergency childbirth
- Grid blackouts and brownouts
- Droughts and floods
- Local or national economic collapse
There’s a <1% chance of a zombie attack or total societal collapse. If you spend all of your time preparing for those, you will be vulnerable to the actual, very real and plausible risks and threats that happen around the world every day.
When a natural disaster – like devastating hurricanes Katrina and Sandy – strikes, everything changes swiftly and without much warning.
Wildfires can shift direction unexpectedly and come raging through towns and cities – as the residents of Fort MacMurray, Canada, learned in May 2016.
When these happen, a bug out plan and survival skills may well save the lives of you and your family.
A blizzard or tornado can mean food supply shortage and power outages – and just like that, all of your prepping and food storage will bear fruit.
Prepping for real life scenarios is much more likely to have a positive outcome than if you obsess over extreme situations that may never happen.
Look at your area and the common risks and threats that are most likely to happen. Your Federal Government wants you to be prepared, believe it or not! Here in Canada, Get Prepared provides emergency preparedness information, and information about likely risks across the country. In the United States, the CDC has a section on Emergency Preparedness. They will tell you what’s most likely in your area.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think big, or that you should ignore the possibility of zombies at your front door, but make sure your priorities are right. Assess what risks are the most realistic, based on where live, and start planning for the most likely first.
To give you an idea, the risks that we should be prepping for here in Nova Scotia, Canada are floods, chemical releases, hurricanes, pandemic influenza, landslides, power outages, severe storms, storm surges, tsunamis, and wildfires.
That’ll keep me busy for a while.
Mistake #3 – Focusing On Stocking Up Rather Than Skills
Stockpiling food, weapons, and survival gear is essential when preparing for worst case scenarios. Right? I mean, it’s probably the MOST important part.
Having a basement filled with food and tools and gadgets that will give you an upper hand when all hell breaks loose … well, that actually doesn’t mean you are prepared. It just means you’ve covered one aspect of preparedness and probably ignored others that are even more important.
The problem with your stash is that it’s vulnerable. It can be looted, lost in a natural disaster or just needed to be left behind in an emergency evacuation. When the police are at your door, telling you that a wildfire is about to sweep through your neighbourhood, that basement full of supplies will do you not a bit of good.
Skills are what you need.
One of the worst things you can do is get lulled into a false feeling of security because you have a lot of ‘stuff’. I think about bikers I knew in my younger days who would say ‘Chrome won’t get you home’. In that case, it meant that a shiny, pretty motorcycle was no guarantee that it did what it was supposed to. Well, when it comes to prepping, ‘stuff won’t make you prepared’.
Relying on a huge stockpile doesn’t mean that you’re building a foundation of sustainability, either. Even if nothing happens to all of your stock AND everything goes belly up, what will happen after two or three years when all of your stuff runs out?
Your own skills and abilities, your adaptability and intelligence, are what will help you survive in different situations.
Imagine for a moment that everything that you have prepared and printed out and stockpiled suddenly just vanished. Worse – it vanishes JUST as you need it the most.
Could you adjust to scarcity and rebuild from scratch without the safety net of a substantial backup?
You should always be looking at nurturing your skills – creating and tending a garden, cooking from scratch, marksmanship, orientation, medical skills … there are so many things to learn, and if you are in a community with a wide range of interests and skills, you should have most of the important bases covered.
Stocking up on survival and prepping books is smart. I’d hate to be without my plant and insect field guides. But you need to be able to use that information, and you need to be adaptable and resilient enough to change directions and start over again when things go differently than planned.
Mistake #4 – Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket
Ever wonder why a bug out bag and plan are considered so very important?
It’s because you can never count on just one safe location.
When things go bad, having all of your resources in one place is a recipe for disaster, especially if you live in an urban area.
Think of having multiple locations for your stock like having a bug out plan – being able to rely on your home to be your fortress in dire times is ideal, but there are chances you’ll need to write off your main safe haven and look for another location where you can get to safety. But, it’s not only your valuable stash of food, gear and other necessities that needs a backup plan.
Create multiple bug out routes to ensure you’ll always have a viable way to safety, no matter the circumstances of the emergency. When we moved to our new home, I had a fun conversation with a good friend of mine as we tracked out the multiple ways that we could get out of our village. There are multiple roads, a train track and a river very near us.
Keep a bug out bag stored safely in different places, such as your workplace, car, and home. You can never know how exactly will the events unfold and what safe places and resources will you be able to access.
By multiplying places you can use for shelter and having more than one location for securely storing survival essentials, you’re also increasing your chances of success.
Mistake #5 – Overlooking The Importance of Communication and Networking
Spend any time on preparedness sites and you’ll quickly pick up a very depressing viewpoint of the world around us – plenty of preppers will work hard to convince you that everyone around is dangerous, that your community is to be viewed in the context of looting and chaos, and that you should focus a lot of your energy on figuring out how to fend off your neighbours and defend yourself from them.
And while there is certainly a chance that people around you become a threat during disasters and emergency, sustainable preparedness really requires that you get to know your neighbours and create a secure network of people who can rebuild and help each other.
You can’t do it alone.
That doesn’t mean that you should be announcing to all and sundry what you have in your stock, either in your main home or in your bug out location. Most preppers have heard ‘Well, if things go bad, I’ll just show up at your house” – and you likely don’t want the entire neighbourhood at your door.
However, that doesn’t mean you should think of yourself as a lone wolf. People do their best when teamed up, and having people work together towards a common goal is a surefire way to both survive and thrive. A good support network can be a priceless asset in times of need, and where better to start that in your own neighborhood? Get to know the people who are living next door, and try to create strong relationships with them, and who knows, it just might be their helping hand you’ll need the most when things go sideways.
One thing that I have learned over the years is the value of your neighbourhood. For a preparedness-minded person, the best place to live is in a rural area where people are already naturally inclined to preparedness. In rural communities, it’s common for people to have hobbies and skills geared toward self-reliance and to consider food storage and other resource stocks to be common sense.
What About Other Frequent Mistakes?
Now that we’ve gone over the 5 most common mistakes that preppers make, you’re probably wondering how to avoid all the other mistakes and ensure you’re preparing efficiently?
Everything people do is just trial and error. The safest way is to combine your own common sense with the advice and experiences of prepping veterans. By following your own instincts, as well as useful guidelines, tips, and tricks from prepping pros, you’ll learn from both your own mistakes and the one’s other people make.
But, the key to avoiding mistakes and being a successful prepper is to truly understand what it’s all about.
It’s not a hobby, fad or a pastime activity. Preparedness is a way of life. Most newbies start off on the wrong foot, thinking that stocking on ammo or canned foods is all that it takes to be a prepper.
The reality is, however, quite more complex than that. The essence of preparedness isn’t just in hoarding large quantities of useful resources, it requires commitment, effort, and perseverance. Prepping is a whole package deal, and you’ll need all of your bases covered.
When you truly sit down and realize that at any given moment, your world might turn upside down and that you’ll be forced to fend for yourself and your family, your perspective on life shifts. You’ll begin to understand the importance of sustainability and independence, and that’s when the prepper’s mindset will start to kick in.
In that moment, you’ll realize you’re not prepping to fend off zombies, you’re preparing for a self-reliant, purposeful lifestyle. Instead of wasting your time on trinkets and trivial distractions, you’re actually becoming your best self- the person who can secure their own survival and protect and care for their families in times of need.
Too many of us have grown lazy and overly dependent on luxuries of modern life, but deep down, our instincts are in the right place, deep down, each and every one us has the drive for survival and the tools to achieve it with. All you need to do is find that place within yourself, and start preparing.