I returned home to, among other things, a message from someone who wants to interview me for a mainstream media source, because I’m a writer about “preparedness.” The interviewer asked me to estimate the likelihood of various scenarios and to talk about the questions of preparedness as an insurance policy.
But as I spoke to the interviewer, I found myself saying “Oh, but wait, that isn’t so much about emergency preparedness as about saving money.” Or I would say “Well, yes, it is great in an emergency, but we also use it all the time.” By the time we were finished, I felt that I’d lent myself to a subject about something I really know very little about – that is, preparing for a hypothetical crisis that may come someday. What I actually am starting (and I’m still just starting) to know something about is living in such a way that I’m somewhat insulated (not perfectly) from a whole host of scenarios.
The thing is, I can’t really afford a lot of “prepping” of things I’m not going to make regular use of. Oh, I have emergency kits and a few things I store for a comparatively unlikely scenario, but as I began accumulating useful things, the best way to make sure I knew where they are, knew how to work them and was comfortable living with them and without other resources, was, well, to use them. Most of us don’t make major purchases on the hypothetic “Well, Josie, there’s a 77% chance that you’ll get married sometime during your lifetime, so why not pick up a wedding dress and a pair of rings right now and hang on to them.” Now I don’t doubt that that’s the cheapest way to do it (ok, the cheapest way is to do what I did – don’t wear a dress and buy the rings at a rummage sale), but it requires that during the period of your life when you are thinking of other things, you begin to anticipate every possible scenario, and put money towards a future at a time when you may be struggling with a present.
So for me, while I do talk about the usefulness of a lot of items in future scenarios, I don’t want people to miss the fact that they are useful right now. That is, right now, my solar lantern goes with me to the barn to milk the goats, and sometimes back to the living room to read by. Right now my sun oven is cooking lima beans. Last winter, and the winter before, warm clothes and warm blankets substituted for expensive heating energy. Right now we eat largely what we grow or get from our neighbors – even if we’d kind of like something else sometimes. Now I do some of these things from principle, or because I want to know how to do them in a hypothetical future, but I also do them because I can’t afford, and don’t have time, to maintain the infrastructure for the whole of two lives – I can’t afford to have a regular, fossil fuel dependent life and an expensive, backup fossil-free one. I can only have one life at a time – and I can afford my solar lantern because I use it to cut my electric bill now.
I think at the back of most of our minds is the idea that someday, we’ll use the hand grinder or the wood stove because then, we’ll have more time – we won’t have a job that sucks up our days, we won’t have all these pressures on us. But all of us need to give some thought to the other possibility – what if we don’t have more time, and still have to do this stuff? Even during the Great Depression, 3/4 of the working population had work – and others were able to work intermittently – but every day you had to get up and go where the work was and wait for it. I think a lot of us are waiting for a life of comparative free time that may never come for us – in fact, we may be working more and longer, at least for a time, trying to maintain, and trying to learn to integrate these new tools into our lives.
What I do find is that using this stuff today frees up money for other things – and since money comes from my time, the net of using these lower input things is sometimes less total time on my part than I think. The classic example of this, of course, is the bicycle. Right now, many of us think we don’t have time to bicycle places, and there’s some truth to that. Why don’t we have time? Well, part of the reason is that we have to work an average of 2 months every year to keep our cars running. Dumping the car may not be easy (I haven’t succeeded yet), but the time to bicycle is there – we have to figure out a way to access it. The life with just a bike would be harder in many ways – but easier in others. And while a car/bike life isn’t too costly or difficult, other combinations, in which both the fossil and non-fossil options are both kept going are harder and more costly – it is extremely expensive to lay in a winter’s supply of pellets or wood and install the stove, as well as keeping the oil or gas heat on.
I stopped by my friend Joy’s store today, to hear her lament that two of the nearby sources of bulk and health foods are going out of business in my area – one new venture, the other after decades. Both are closing before the winter’s heating bills make closing no longer optional. My friend is making it, thankfully, but she’s concerned about lost business from people who come in for sandwiches and sit – and who won’t want to sit at the temperature she can afford to keep her business at. She’s looking into putting in a small woodstove, though, because she knows a lot of her neighbors will be at home in their cold houses – she wonders if maybe, just maybe, her small store with its source of warmth could bring people together out of their cold houses for a period of warmth and comfort.
I liked what she was doing in large part because I think that what she’s looking not towards a moment of disaster, but towards her life and her business’s future – sure, it will be cold, but instead of seeing it as an emergency to be navigated in crisis mode, she’s going forward into a new life and way of doing things. Joy smiled at me and shrugged as I was on my way out the door, noting that they’d “just live differently.” And that might be better advice than any “preparedness” expert could ever offer.