The year 2020 has been wacky, hasn’t it? When we celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2019, few of us anticipated what lay in store for the future.
But that’s the nature of crises – they’re unexpected. Despite being immersed in the preparedness movement for many years, the coronavirus pandemic was something we didn’t see coming. Now everyone is coping with the fiscal aftermath of what might turn into another Great Depression. To paraphrase Thomas Paine, these are the days to try men’s souls.
From a personal standpoint, our situation is additionally complicated because we’re in the process of selling our homestead and downsizing, which has created a huge element of uncertainty in our future. Where will we end up? We have no idea.
However nerve-wracking this year has been, it’s important to remember it’s nothing new. History is rife with pandemics, economic crashes, wars, violence, natural disasters, and every other challenge you can name. Every such event changed the way people lived. The Roaring Twenties was followed by the Great Depression, which was followed by World War II. These decades had an enormous impact on everyone who lived through them and forever changed the face of America. There’s no reason to think our current difficulties will be any different.
As of this writing, we’re three-quarters through the year annus horribilis. What have we learned? What have we done right? What have we done wrong? What could we have done differently? What can we do to in the future to face whatever may come?
Here are some thoughts from both us (the writers) and others (friends and blog readers) about things done right – and wrong – through the events of 2020.
Things Done Right
- We are preppers. Unquestionably this is the single biggest factor that contributed to our peace of mind. Further, we’ve never tailored our prepping to any single imagined catastrophe, but instead have done our prepping as an integral part of our day-to-day lifestyle. We already had plenty of food, a thriving garden, a good collection of common over-the-counter medications, and other necessary supplies.
- We were pre-positioned in a rural location that we had labored to turn into a self-sufficient homestead over many years. This gave us physical safety, like-minded neighbors, and food security. Over and over again, we heard from those living in rural areas that their lives hardly changed at all. Many rural people already have deep larders for the simple reason that it’s harder to get into town frequently.
- We built community with our neighbors. Until the pandemic interrupted it, we’d been gathering for weekly potlucks for about 12 years. As a result, we have a tight-knit group of people always watching out and aiding each other. As a side benefit, this community is comfortable borrowing or lending tools or other essentials when necessary. This means individuals’ deficiencies are often covered.
- We work from home and have multiple (modest) income streams. Some of those income streams dried up due to the coronavirus shutdowns, so we ramped up the other streams. By tightening our fiscal belts, we’ve gotten by without any financial difficulties.
- We had already scaled back our living expenses. The importance of this can’t be underscored enough. We spent years whittling down our bills and learning to live on very little. As it turns out, this has been a very useful strategy.
- We had already phased out everything disposable and transitioned to washable and reusable items, including paper towels, feminine hygiene, and facial tissue. We even have emergency washable toilet paper (inexpensive dedicated washcloths), though so far we haven’t been called upon to use them. We learned that reusable/washable products rule during shortages. For example, young parents who use cloth diapers for their babies were in a much better position during the pandemic than those using disposables. They never ran out, nor did they have to trample others and strip store shelves bare in a desperate bid to stock up.
- We already have the tools we needed for a self-sufficient lifestyle. This included firearms and ammunition, a wood cookstove, pressure canner and canning accouterments, dehydrators, chest freezers, and endless other tools, both large and small.
- We garden extensively, using non-hybrid seeds suited to our climate. With the exception of a new type of experimental hot pepper we wanted to try, we haven’t bought seeds in years.
- We already had stashes of everything from sewing supplies to extra socks and underwear for all family members.
- We routinely cook from scratch. Takeout food is almost unheard of in our rural area, so we’re used to just making our own meals. This means we had on hand all the basic ingredients we already used, and since many of those ingredients are things we grow or raise ourselves, they are infinitely renewable. We also have kitchen necessities – everything from pizza pans to cooking pots to a bread machine (an indulgence) to cast iron cookware.
- We spent many years accumulating a wide variety of useful supplies. Interestingly, because we were preparing to sell our homestead and downsize to a smaller place, we had the opportunity to sort through many of these supplies and decide what was and wasn’t necessary. Among those questionable items were two large boxes of antibacterial hand wipes. We actually (and briefly) thought about giving them away, thinking “These are silly. When will we ever need them?” Thankfully we never followed through on this misguided notion. In fact, after the pandemic hit, many of our previously “silly” supplies took on a new light of importance. That said, most of us have lots of junk we can jettison to make room for more useful things.
- We were in a position to help others. Many friends and readers expressed great relief they had stocked away extras of everything from sewing supplies to seeds they could share around. Several people told how they sent “care packages” of things they had in abundance (often things they made/ grew/ raised themselves) to friends and family who were less prepared.
- We’re introverts. Obviously this is not something we can take credit for – it’s just how we are – but it’s paid off in spades during the lockdowns when we felt no deprivation from a lack of socialization.
- We get along. Having spent 30 years living and working together 24/7, being in a lockdown situation didn’t affect our marital stability. We also have room to roam. Solitude as well as exercise in the form of a 20-acre property, nearby woods, and a long dirt road nearby.
- We can entertain ourselves in low-tech ways (books, puzzles, board games). We have farm work, housework, and income-related work. Being locked down did not affect our day-to-day schedule in the slightest.
- We homeschooled. Since our daughters are now adults, this is a moot point for us with the current pandemic; but all of our younger neighbors homeschool and are glad of it. For homeschooling families everywhere, being able to educate their children with no interruption was an enormous benefit. Not only did it offer stability and continuity for the children, but it eased stress on everyone in a household because the schedule hardly changed. It’s exciting to watch how many parents nationwide are now transitioning their children to permanent schooling at home.
- With a lot of unexpected time on their hands, hobbies blossomed through the pandemic as people refreshed old skills and learned new ones. Many people also developed alternate income streams during this slowdown, either out of economic desperation or as a financial cushion. Some even combined these efforts and discovered how to make money from their hobbies, such as selling on Etsy or teaching classes remotely.
- We used the extra time we had on our hands (from the loss of some of our income streams) to do some neglected chores and projects around our homestead. We built and repaired fences, cleaned up the property, and painted interior rooms and exterior outbuildings.
Things Done Wrong
For this section, we reached out to others – including friends, neighbors, and blog readers – to include their answers in some of the things done wrong. Their answers are blended with ours.
- Many people allowed the Normalcy Bias (defined as a mental state which “causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects”) to blind them, so they didn’t stock up when prices were low and availability was high. Others couldn’t understand that their cities were no longer the vibrant, welcoming places they once knew and didn’t move out fast enough before suburban or rural property prices responded to increased demand. Yet others dismissed how much political hay governments the world over would harvest in the name of “safety.”
- In anticipation of moving, we gave away our chickens and put our cows in the freezer. Oh how we wish for the security of livestock – though, mind you, having a couple of freezers full of beef is nice.
- We weren’t as organized as we thought. As part of our moving strategy, we stacked away most of our preparedness supplies in the barn, which we thought would be a short-term solution. More than a year later, they’re still packed away. As a result, the pre-existing organization we had for our supplies went down the tubes. Among those supplies, for example, is a box of washable face masks we bought years ago. You think we can find them? NoooOOOOooo. Several readers expressed similar regrets with their disorganized state. Never underestimate the frustration of disorganization.
- We got caught (almost) without toilet paper. Yes really. The irony is we had at least a year’s worth put aside. But in the year preceding the sale of our homestead, we went ahead and used up our TP stash, since it was so bulky and we didn’t want to move it. Literally just as we finished using our stash, the toilet paper shortage hit. Fortunately, we still had enough on hand to ride out the shortage and didn’t need to use those washcloths.
- Many people with special-needs family members were impacted hard when services shut down or became more complicated. Everything from critical prescriptions to educational options was disrupted. Not everything can be prepared for in advance, so people had to cope with everything from autism to a terminal illness as best they could.
- Not enough ammunition (for some people). One reader, in the process of moving cross-country just as the pandemic hit, said: “My husband sold a lot of ammo because we could not ship it. We will never sell ammo again. There is no such thing as too much ammo.” Another reader agreed: “Wish I’d bought more ammo. And this is coming from someone who counts his supply by the 1000-round case.”
- Many people quickly realized the supplies they had stored – especially if they couldn’t be replenished – lasted a lot less time than anticipated. “What I did wrong was not making enough hay while the sun shone,” said a reader. Others ran low on hand sanitizer, pasta, rice, beans, paper products, other consumables. Lesson learned: Stock that larder a lot deeper than you think you’ll need. You never know who might have to move in with you.
- We didn’t anticipate employment difficulties for our oldest daughter. The pandemic hit just as she was transitioning between jobs in early 2020, so between the lockdowns and social chaos, those “for sure” job prospects fizzled. She remained with us for nearly a year, saving money and cultivating her own multiple income streams.
- A lot of people got caught short on pet and livestock food. “I was very low on dog food and didn’t anticipate that it wouldn’t be available,” a reader noted. “We didn’t run out, but it was close.” Don’t forget your furred, feathered, or hoofed dependents. Many readers began investigating alternatives in an effort to bypass commercial pet and livestock feeds.
- Many people were frustrated when their encouragement for others to prepare fell on deaf ears. “The wife and I were ready,” related one man, “but I failed to get my sons on the same page. Several were impacted by job loss and layoffs. I understand you can lead a horse to water but not make him drink, but I still feel a sense of failure in not convincing my sons to be prepared for anything that comes.” Other readers who experienced similar frustrations were able to put aside some supplies to help their more stubborn family members and friends.
- Another unexpected challenge for some people was how rapidly groups became pitted against each other, rather than banding together. This was particularly true for those in “essential” jobs who were required to deal with the public. “This year has been a tremendous education for us, both financially and in seeing how my fellow Americans have handled the situation,” said one reader. “Honestly, I’m more worried about people’s reactions than I am any financial issues because people have lost their minds.”
- Many weren’t prepared for the psychological realities of a lockdown. If you’re used to socializing, dining out, working in an office, recreational shopping, or endless other activities in which people mingle, then adjusting to this absence was very difficult for many, particularly those of an extroverted disposition. Said one woman, “I had to disconnect in order to keep a positive outlook on life. There are things you can do, but at the same time you are things you can’t control.” Another woman noted how much more lonely she felt with her husband away at work and her social life nonexistent. She compensated by decluttering and reordering her home.
- A lot of people regretted not obtaining food growing and preservation supplies before things went south. In a remarkably short time, seeds were impossible to find and pressure canners became unavailable. “Gardening is simple but mastering it probably takes a lifetime,” one reader advised. “Start now.”
- Many people wished they’d put more money aside. Even those who were well prepared with supplies didn’t factor in fixed or variable expenses such as a mortgage, taxes, car repairs, and medical bills. In other words, a pile of cash can be just as important as a pile of beans.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)
Patrice Lewis is pleased to announce the availability of the complete collection of 52 Country Living Series ebooklets, representing over 17 years of homesteading experience. Subjects include preparedness, frugality, rural skills, food preservation, and more. Details on ordering them are available at her blog site.