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9 Things We Can All Learn from Doomsday Preppers

Once upon a time, you might have dismissed them, but not anymore. Their knowledge is incredibly useful—and not as extreme as you might think.

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Unrecognizable woman marvels at grocery bread selectionSDI Productions/Getty Images

Are you ready?

If the current health crisis surrounding the spread of COVID-19 caught you off guard, you’re not alone. Few of us expected to face empty grocery store shelves (or the long lines just to walk through the doors) at the start of 2020. Watching frantic shoppers throw item after item into their carts added to the chaos and made you wonder if you weren’t doing enough. Doomsday preppers and survivalists would probably say you weren’t—and haven’t been all this time. After all, they’ve been planning for worst-case scenarios and apocalyptic situations since adopting that lifestyle. A doomsday prepper, in case you weren’t aware, is loosely defined by The Free Dictionary as someone who goes to “any length to make sure they are prepared for any of life’s uncertainties.”

So, what do they do that you don’t? A lot, actually. While some preppers’ beliefs may be a little extreme, the following tips aren’t. These are the smart, actionable things you can do right now to get through this pandemic—and prepare yourself for any other unexpected situations that might arise in the future. You may look at what’s necessary in life in a whole new way after this experience, as well as change these everyday habits forever after coronavirus.

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Reevaluate your idea of a prepper

People often have the idea that survivalists and doomsday preppers are conspiracy theorists obsessed with the end of the world as we know it. But when author Bradley Garrett was doing research for his book Bunker: Building for the End Times, he found something quite different. “When I began spending time with preppers, I was struck by how much time they dedicated to not just thinking about the future but [to] planning for unexpected future scenarios,” he says. “It became a game, a group thought experiment, to imagine the ways that things might go wrong and to plan ahead for them. Many of the preppers I met are very calm and measured, which indicates to me there are psychological benefits to being organized and prepared, even if you don’t necessarily know what you’re preparing for.” Here’s how to stock up smart—emergency or not.

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Young Woman Harvesting Home Grown Lettucesanjeri/Getty Images

Self-reliance is key

You may think of yourself as self-reliant, and in normal times, you likely are. But social distancing and self-quarantine have taught many of us that without access to other humans or our typical routines, we feel “off.” Garrett notes that learning to be truly self-reliant is an important lesson we can learn from preppers. “They encourage us to learn how to be less reliant [on] those networks; to learn how to grow, can, jar, and store food; and to dig wells, switch to renewable energy, and generally become more self-sufficient,” he explains. “The more we can do that, the less [an] impending breakdown is a concern, because you’ve taken a little bit of control back over those future unknowns.” We bet they’re well-versed in these handy hints for when you’re stuck inside.

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Exercise immense caution

If you’ve been hunkered down, stay there, urges Paul Walker, prepper and coauthor of Unplugged: Hundreds of Activities for Teens to Do Without a Screen. “The biggest mistake people are making is simply going to the grocery store or, worse, a drive-through restaurant,” he says. “If you really need fresh food, then have a box of organic food delivered. The virus will die after a few days, so simply do not touch things from outside your home. Personally, I think you have to be insane to go to a convenience market and pay cash for a bottle of booze and pack of cigarettes.” Find out our tips for safely enjoying takeout during coronavirus.

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Empty shelves at Boston supermarketRick Friedman/Getty Images

Enough with the bottled water

Bottled water was flying off shelves and into grocery carts everywhere at a rapid rate when the public began taking the COVID-19 crisis seriously and anticipating weeks of sheltering at home. But why? The virus isn’t intercepting our water access, so it’s a pretty confusing thing to stock up on in this particular circumstance. Walker explains that this is a largely unnecessary precaution to take. “Unless you live in a city without fresh water, it’s pretty dumb,” he says. “You don’t need bottled water if you can purify or boil it.” But find out some more surprising things you probably will end up needing while stuck inside.

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Female shopper hoarding toilet paperKanawa_Studio/Getty Images

Stop focusing on the short term

Chances are, the stuff you might deem important and necessary upon first learning about a crisis isn’t actually what you need to stock up on. “Focusing too much on short-term essentials and frivolous, unnecessary purchases [is a mistake],” says Scott Jackson, a history teacher in Mahwah, New Jersey. “[Something] like toilet paper, while important, isn’t the first item you should be stockpiling.” Instead, he advises looking for shelf-stable items. “Powdered eggs can fulfill your needs and have a shelf life of up to ten years.” If you’re short on toilet paper, make sure you know which alternatives will and won’t clog your pipes.

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Canned goodstmarvin/Getty Images

What to stockpile

When Jackson decided to become a prepper, he started by creating shelf-stable food kits, which included things like freeze-dried vegetables, rice, beans, and meat substitutes. He compiled enough to feed four people for one month. Next, he built a small solar generator to charge a phone and to power a few lights and a chest freezer.

If you’re looking to stockpile, Jackson suggests grabbing items that can be frozen, like bread and milk, or have shelf stability (soup, beans, and pasta). “For my family of four for two weeks, we have: four frozen loaves of bread, two gallons of milk, three dozen eggs, frozen meat (ten pounds), eight bags of frozen veggies, eight cases of seltzer, four cases of bottled water, two jars each of peanut butter and jelly, and ten cans of soup,” he says. You’ll also definitely want to know these 26 storage tricks to make your food last longer and these foods you actually shouldn’t be freezing.

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Even minimal prep can make a big difference

Not everyone has what it takes to go into full-on prepper mode. It takes a lot of thought, organization, and research. But you don’t have to go all out to prepare your home and your family for a potential crisis; even just a few smart items can go a long way. “I don’t have a bunker in my backyard or anything, but I do a bit of what’s called ‘practical prepping,'” Garrett says. For example, he has an everyday carry kit, which includes his computer, a hard drive with all of his data, a power bank, cables, a knife, a headlight, water, and a few other essentials.

“Of course, life outside four walls seems like fairyland now that we’re all in self-isolation,” he says. “At the moment, I’m staying with my 78-year-old mother in Los Angeles, caring for her after back surgery. I made sure before we went into lockdown that we had a month of food, a home gym to keep fit, and that I had filled a hard drive full of movies as well as games and puzzles to keep us occupied.” If you need something to keep you occupied, try these productive things to do while stuck indoors.

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Expect the unexpected

Preppers are constantly trying to plan for the unknown, which is an alarmingly difficult task. “Each time people question my preparedness, I’ve replied by saying, ‘Two weeks ago, would you have ever imagined we’d be where we are right now?’ The answer is always, ‘No,'” says Jackson. Still, Jackson admits that he was preparing for natural disasters and storms and mostly considering a loss of electricity or water. “I did not imagine a global pandemic that would involve sheltering in place for an extended period of time.” Here’s how COVID-19 is different from all the other epidemics throughout history.

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High Angle View Of An Open Jar Of Rice On Wooden TableDevenorr/Getty Images

Get back to the basics

In Walker’s opinion, overthinking a situation could be your worst enemy. Preppers can keep adding to their stash, but the basics are the most important. “To be prepared, people need food, water, medicine, a way to cook food, protection, and a long-term strategy to live,” he says. “Most people can get a few airtight containers and store 50 pounds of rice (84,000 calories) and a wide range of dried or canned products. So, instead of having a pound of sugar, keep 25 pounds, [or] a few cans of soup, keep 50. People can also buy a container to hold 50 gallons of water. Add a camp stove and some propane and you should be in great shape for at least a month.” But make sure you’re watching out for these coronavirus conspiracy theories you shouldn’t believe.

Next, take a look at our Coronavirus Guide to discover more ways to stay sane, keep your family safe, and make the most of together time.