Did you know that, for centuries, this time of year was when people traditionally did all of their home projects–specifically those that improved the safety of their home and village?

It makes sense. First, winter is coming so if the roof needs repair or the town wall needs to be shored up, now is the time. Second, the first two harvests are in (the third comes in around Halloween) and everyone has been paid. So there’s money to do the work. Third, since the harvest work is mostly done, people need jobs so handymen abound. Fourth, since winter is coming, so are the hordes of people who didn’t prepare and want your things so they don’t starve and freeze to death. Fifth, and this is more aesthetic than important, people (probably women) want their home to be clean and cared for if they’re going to be stuck inside with the kids for months and months.

Although most of us have moved away from traditional agrarian life, and we’re not worried about the hordes coming to take our stuff, this time of year is also known as “little spring cleaning”. We don’t talk about it much, but in this 21st century world, there’s still a sense our homes need to be cleaned and cared for before the holidays come and the first snow hits. Some people even go so far as to redecorate–putting up heavier curtains to keep the winter winds out, laying out new rugs that can handle the mud and snow, etc. So it’s no surprise that the U.S. government has designated September as National Preparedness Month.

What is National Preparedness Month? According to the Ready.Gov website https://www.ready.gov/september, NPM (yes, it has its own acronym) “… is an observance each September to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies that could happen at any time. The 2021 theme is “Prepare to Protect. Preparing for disasters is protecting everyone you love.”

I know that the word “prepper” has all sorts of connotations, but being ready for emergencies has nothing to do with the crazy TV shows about people hiding in underground bunkers or building tree houses in the Ozarks. The kind of Prepping & Planning I’m talking about is a no-nonsense, no-stress way of evaluating risk and your family’s readiness in the face of unexpected emergencies. And these unexpected emergencies can be anything from a flat tire 100 miles from home or a burst washing machine hose that is flooding the house (both of these have happened to me!). 

We’re lucky that there is tons of information available on the internet for people who want to prepare for any type of disaster or problem such as hurricanes, pandemics, blizzards, wild fires, etc. But there’s so much information, it’s easy to get overloaded and say, “I’ll worry about it tomorrow.” Analysis Paralysis hits and we don’t know where to start. This especially hits hard in people who are new to planning or are worried about money. It affects me and I’ve been planning for years. So my hope is that with these blog posts (and maybe videos), I’ll help you build a mindset that will guide you through all the noise so you don’t waste time and money. 

Why do I feel like I’m qualified to help build you build a Prep & Plan mindset? Because I’ve been in some awful situations (domestically and overseas) and have been traumatized by events out of my control. My past experiences have taught me, a romance and women’s fiction author who rarely leaves the house, how important it is to be prepared. 

There is so much advice out there–much of it is good–but if you follow it without a plan you’ll end up exhausted and broke. So the first thing we’re going to do is build up the right mindset. This is the most important step–before you watch prepping videos and run out to buy a pressure canner and ammo and more toilet paper. 

Being prepared isn’t about the stuff you have. It truly is about your mindset. And building this mindset requires thought and time spent answering questions about where you are, what do you think your greatest threats are, and how are you going to begin without breaking the bank or becoming a hoarder. 

What do I mean about mindset? Well, the definition of mindset is “the established set of attitudes held by someone.” (Merriam-Webster). Usually, our mindsets work for us on a daily basis and we don’t even think about it until the New Year rolls around and we start trying to change our habits to meet our resolutions. So anyone who has attempted New Year’s resolutions understands how hard it is to change behaviors and build new habits.  Luckily, in this realm of prepping and planning, it’s not that hard to build new habits. But mindset has to be the first place to start. 

This series will not be about how to buy the best hiking equipment or home defense implement or anything of that sort–there’s plenty of information on the internet about those things.  What this series is meant to do is help you just get started. Because that’s where I see all of the mistakes being made. 

So, like I said, we need to change our mindsets about what Prepping & Planning is all about so that when the bad things happen, we don’t panic. Why don’t we panic? Because we’ve already thought through all of these events and have prepared for them to the best of our abilities. 

For example: If you have a bunch of kids, you may have the mindset that you need to buy their birthday and holiday presents throughout the year when you can get them on sale. Or you can have the mindset that you’ll just worry about each birthday and holiday the night before they happen. (I’ve done both!). But which do you think leads to less stress? Now I know that money can be an issue but there’s always some preparation that can be done ahead of time. But this example takes into account a few things. First, you are aware that you have children. Second, you know that holidays and birthdays are a thing you celebrate. Third, you understand that these events will cost money. So now you have a choice. You can choose to plan ahead or you can choose to do everything at the last minute. While both choices work, one is less stressful than another. I also know that sometimes kids don’t know what they want until the day before–but we can always guess and return things they don’t want. 

Anyway, the ability to recognize and acknowledge these three truths (awareness, knowledge, and understanding), plus the choice either to wait or plan ahead, is a mindset. What FEMA/Ready.gov is trying to do during NPM is to help citizens get into this plan-ahead mindset. Yet, like I mentioned above, this is the hardest part of getting prepared. It’s easy to run out with the credit card and buy stuff and hide it under the bed. But when the SHTF (s**t hits the fan), that’s not going to help you if you you’re panicked and unorganized and have no idea what to do next. Should I leave my home and bug out? Should I stay and hunker down? Will there be a forced evacuation? All of these questions will cause extreme stress to someone who isn’t mentally prepared, regardless of how much stuff is hidden beneath the beds. 

This is why we’re going to start at the beginning. If you’d like, scour the internet for lists and ideas and videos about prepping and planning ahead. But when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and stressed, come back here. We’ll walk through everything that needs to be done–after we establish the right mindset. A mindset based on organized, rational thought and not panicked actions that lead to over-spending and stuffed closets. 

We will eventually return to the government’s lists, some of which are actually quite good and well thought out. But we’re going to start at the very, very beginning. This won’t cost anything and you only need a few tools with which to begin. Do not go out and buy fancy planners or notebooks or lots of washi tape! I love washi tape and markers, but this is not the time to worry about that. To all the perfectionists in my life–I promise you that it will all work out. 

First, you’ll need three college-rule legal pads and a pencil. We’ll be using all the pages so you definitely need three separate pads. They are not expensive and I bet you have some lying around the house. A set of 3 white legal pads is $2.44 at Walmart. They do not need to be perforated or have holes in the sides (although it’s fine if they do. Just don’t pay extra for that). They are more expensinve on Amazon because they come in packs of 5 or more. But you only need 3. 

And I bet you can find a pencil somewhere in the house. And if you run by a grocery store or drug store, you can pick up a cheap plastic pencil sharpener for under a buck. I am serious about not spending money on this. Use what you have. These legal pads are for our preliminary work and we’ll be transferring some of the data later on. (That’s when you go crazy with washi tape and stickers)

Now, there are two more things that have to be done before we get started.

First, at the very top of the first page of one of the legal pads, list the number of adults (16+), children under 16, and animals that live in your household or that you are responsible for in an emergency (like if your mother lives down the street). Extra note: if you take care of kids or anyone else in your house during the day, include them off to the side. You never know–a storm may hit and their parents may not be able to get home for a while. So while we won’t take them into consideration for long-term planning, note that they are there and how often and for how long.

Then, on the same page, draw a straight line to divide the pad in half horizontally. (does not have to be perfect!)

In the top half of the page but below the names, list all of the disasters/bad things that have happened or could happen in your neighborhood, surrounding area, county or state. This can include pandemics, wild fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, civil unrest/riots, hospital closures, etc. List anything you can think of and write them down. But be realistic–not every place in the country gets hit by hurricanes or tsunamis or blizzards.

If you have a lot of things on your list, write them down in columns so you can read them but also fit them in the section. Leave extra space so you add things later as you think of them.

In the bottom half of the page, list the family/pet emergencies you’ve dealt with and still remember. If you don’t remember them, they’re not worth planning for. This list could include things like broken toes, house flood, frozen/burst pipes, fire, identity fraud, serious illness, unemployment, loss of insurance, injured pet, etc. Don’t relive and dwell on the things that have happened! We’re not doing an emotional purge.  Just jot them down. Again, leave space so you can add things later. 

Yay! First step is done. Remember, this is not a judgment list about things that went wrong or how you wish you’d handled things differently. Do not wrap emotion around this list. It is simply a list for future planning. That is all. 

Now tear that page off and stick it on your refrigerator or near your desk or somewhere you can see it and add to it as you think of things (because you will think of things later on while driving or in the shower). We are not worrying about these things or reliving these things. We are just listing these things.

Done? Great! Let’s move on to the second thing we need to do before we get started. 

Second task: Take one legal pad and title it: Household. Take the second legal pad and title it: Food & House inventory. Label the third legal pad: Financial/Bugout/Long Range Planning

Done with steps 1 & 2? Great! Celebrate with a cup of tea (or a pumpkin latte) and a pumpkin chocolate muffin (or beverage and snack of your choice. But make sure to do something)!

Let’s get started! 

Okay.  You’re going to hate me for this next step, but it’s crucial if you’re going to plan properly without losing your mind, your family and friends, and all your money. This task may take you days or weeks. That’s okay. We can do other things to Plan & Prep while this chore is being done.

Legal Pad 1: Household

Take the first legal pad and count out five pages. Leave them blank and mark the sixth page with a page flag, paperclip, or piece of tape. Now, count the number of rooms you have in the house, including bathrooms, large closest and storage areas like attics, basements, and under the stairs storage. If you have a separate pantry, laundry room, mudroom, etc. count them as well. (Don’t count sheds, barns, and garages yet. We’ll get to them later).

Now that you know how many rooms there are, divide up the remaining sheets of paper by that number. Although, I suggest you give extra pages to the kitchen, family room, larger bedrooms, and dining room. You only need 2-3 pages for the smaller bathrooms and closets. So in a 50 page legal pad, after leaving the first five pages blank, you’ll have 45 pages to play with. But we will use both sides so that will double our available pages. Use a piece of tape or a page flag or a paperclip to mark off the room sections. (Do not run out and buy shiny new office supplies! Use what you have!!)

Okay, once this is done, we’ll move into the part you may hate (or not. It all depends). And remember, this part of the process could take days, weeks or months. It just needs to be done before we move too far forward.  But, if you do it right, you should be able to do a medium sized house in three – four hours.

Now go through your entire house and put away or throw away ALL the clutter. Do it quickly without thinking about it. Then do a light cleaning–dusting and vacuum and wipe down sinks. I am NOT talking about deep cleaning. Dont even look at the baseboards or inside the family game cabinet. Just get all the distracting things out of the way (we’ll deal with it later) so you can get a good visual of each room. I don’t want you noticing the dog toys under the coffee table or the dust on the TV during this exercise which is why it’s important to do a super-quick clean. 

I prefer to work on one room at a time. I quickly put everything away or move it to another room and then dust and vacuum or sweep. Nothing too involved, and I don’t judge what I have or what I need. Once a room is done, grab the Household Legal Pad and sit somewhere towards the center of the room (I promise you, this is part of long term preparedness planning!). With the room quiet, and hopefully the rest of the family and pets elsewhere, begin to study the room, working from the perimeter inwards. Ask yourself the following questions and note them on the legal pad, in the appropriate section for each room. 

What floor is the room on?

How many windows and doors (both interior and exterior) are there?

Do the windows and doors have working locks? What kinds of locks are they?

If there are windows (including windows in the doors or glass doors), do you have curtains or blinds for privacy? 

If you have bookcases, are they stuffed with books or would there be room for more? 

How many cabinets and drawers (yes, count them but don’t open them!)

 Are there electronics in the room? How many? What kinds?

What batteries do these electronics take? Or do they just plug into the wall?

Are there lights in the room? What kind? (lamps, overheads, etc)

What kind of bulbs do these lights use?

What is the condition of the furniture? (is anything in need of repair, etc.)

Do things need to be cleaned (like pillow cases or blankets)? 

Is there extra space under the bed, beneath the sofa, etc.

Is anything in the room broken? (like a leaky faucet or a hole in the wall?)

Does the carpeting need to be replaced within the next year? 3. years? 10 years?

Is there a fireplace? If so, what is the condition? Does the chimney need fixing or cleaning?

Keep reviewing the room and jotting any other details you notice. We all live in different situations so I’m sure there are things about your rooms I’ve never thought of. Then ask yourself these questions:

If I had to live in this room with my family and pets for 4-6 weeks, what would we need? (for smaller spaces like closets and bathrooms, ask yourself if you could all fit in the space during a tornado, or hide during a break-in)

Would we need curtains/blinds that cut out the light and give more privacy?

How close is that room to a bathroom or the kitchen? How close is the nearest water source? (it may be outside at the hose bib)

Is there a point of egress? 

Can we defend the room or get out of the house quickly? 

Are the exterior doors blocked outside? 

If on the second or third floors, can everyone climb out of a portable ladder or get across the roof?

In in the basement, is there a point of egress?

Add any other kinds of questions that may pop into your mind. Everyone’s living situation is different so the questions will vary and change. 

Now repeat this process for every room in the house. Another note: in the kitchen, don’t inventory the cabinets and drawers. I know it’s tempting but just count them. 

I know these questions seem intense, and can bring up emotional issues, but we’re just collecting information. Be ruthless in keeping this exercise as rational, logical, and unemotional as possible. 

Whew! This is a huge first step. Even if you don’t understand the why behind this exercise, it will become clearer as time goes by. 

This may take time and that’s okay. But if you’re worried right now about inflation, Christmas deliveries, toilet paper, etc, that’s okay. Go ahead and buy those presents and things you think you’ll need. The world is still upside down and no one knows when it will right itself again. But as you go through the house, there’s something else you can start doing. This is a family project that is easy and fun. And remember to do this with no judgment.

Legal Pad 2: Meals Inventory

During the next few weeks, for about a month, take the first five pages (back and front) of the second legal pad and list every meal and snack everyone, including the pets, eat and drink. Include baby food, formula, pet treats, fish food, etc. This is a no judgment zone! It doesn’t matter if you’re eating organic or junk food. No one will see this and don’t change your diet so you can write down foods you think are perfect. Don’t write down what you’d like your diet to look like. Because when the SHTF, you won’t care about those things. But, if you have allergies or gluten issues or special diets, make sure you note that as part of each meal. Allergies and such will not go away when things get rough so you’ll want to be prepared. So, on this list, write down everything you eat and drink. Be honest. Don’t judge. No one will see this but you.

Even if you do all the shopping and cooking, make sure to ask everyone in the house for their input. Are there special snacks they like? Meals they hate but are afraid to tell you? Now is the time to be honest. You don’t want to end up in a two month lockdown only to discover that everyone except for you hates green beans and peanut butter. Ask them what they eat when you’re not looking, when they’re at school or running errands. Again, you’re doing this for the entire family’s benefit so please don’t judge.

NOTE: This is NOT a shopping list. This is just a list of the things you eat when you’re not thinking about anything else. And if you’d like extra credit, mark some of the meals or drinks as your favorite as well as the meals that are meh. 

Wow! you made it to the end of this post! I wish I could give you a treat, like a pumpkin chocolate muffin. But since I can’t I’ll just leave you the greatest pumpkin chocolate muffin recipe ever and heap tons of praise on you. Just by getting to the end of this ridiculously long post, you’ve taken your first step to Planning and Prepping freedom. And, yes, being prepared gives you freedom. Freedom from not having to join the Costco mobs before your town is shut down due to a pandemic/fire/flood. Freedom from stress when, the moment an emergency happens, you’re not worried. You know where everyone is and how they’re getting home. You have a stay-at-home and eat plan. You even have a bug-out plan.  And you don’t have to be out in the world as it’s falling apart. Because I know, from experience, that that’s a dangerous place to be. Remember, NPM is about preparing for disasters to protect everyone one (animals included) that you love.

So… I know its the last day of September but I never said I was the perfect Prep & Plan girl. That’s the thing about being prepped & planned–with the right mindset it’s never too late and there’s never any guilt. And you’ll never have to worry about what this crazy, upside-down world will throw at you again. 

See you next week! And I promise that that post will be shorter… although there will be homework. Along with lots of free printable that you can decorate with washi tape and markers.

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