How to Prepare for Emergencies When You Don’t Have Any Closet Space

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Living in a small space doesn’t mean you can’t make room for essential emergency supplies. My thoughtfully curated supplies fit in one backpack (17 pounds), with the fire extinguisher and water filter stored under the kitchen sink.

See what I packed in this video:

When I was researching what supplies I should have on hand, preparedness websites proved to be informative but needlessly fear-mongering—constantly predicting unlikely end-of-world scenarios (in hideous typography!). While you don’t need to prepare for a zombie apocalypse, plenty of incidents justify being prepared with basic emergency supplies:

  • Severe storms like earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, winter storms, tsunamis.

  • Protests or sports rallies that turn into riots.

  • Terrorist attacks or mass shootings.

What worries me isn’t the emergency itself, but the fact that most people in the city aren’t prepared for one. The news headlines always show the people directly impacted, but the majority of people are indirectly affected by an emergency when power and services are limited. In areas of self-reliance (like Maine, where I’m from), it’s much less likely for people to become aggressive with their neighbors—whether in the store buying essentials or something more sinister like robbery for supplies, or simply taking advantage of a precarious situation. When you’re prepared ahead of time, you can steer clear of tense scrambling if an emergency happens.

How you can prepare without buying anything

  • Register for emergency alerts in your area. Knowing an emergency is happening is the first step to reacting to one. Here are some links:

  • Know where your local medical, fire, and police stations are in case you need help or want to offer help to others.

  • In case cellphones aren’t working, have a designated meeting spot that’s a safe distance from your home.

  • Gather supplies you already have in one place (many people have some camping gear which often doubles as emergency supplies).

Emergency supplies to stock

I’ve organized my emergency supplies into the first minute, hour, and day so you can prioritize your purchases to cover the most essential supplies first.

There are pre-made emergency supply bags you can purchase, but they probably have things you don’t need. Also, they tend to be conspicuous and I think it’s a bad idea to broadcast that you’re prepared if you end up leaving home with your supplies.

Emergency Supplies

First Minute

  • Breath of Life Emergency Escape Mask

    • The Breath of Life™ provides the wearer 15 minutes with the ability to breathe without inhaling smoke or fumes, even in very hot conditions. You can see it in action here.

  • Fire extinguisher

    • If a fire breaks out in your building, the one down the hall may not be enough.

  • Gloves

    • In case there is a hot door, broken glass, or debris to move.

  • Goggles

    • Your eyes and hands are your most important tools.

  • Hatchet

    • In case you need to break a door or window to leave your building.

  • Headlamp

First Hour

First Day

  • Bathing wipes

  • Blankets

    • I don’t keep these in my bag, but have enough blankets in the house to keep warm if the heater brakes.

  • Cold brew

    • No one wants to face a zombie apocalypse with caffeine withdrawals.

  • Compass

  • Food

    • My bag has canned tuna, peanut butter, kind bars, and beans. I recommend setting a calendar reminder to check your food expiration dates every 6 months.

  • Mace

  • Potassium Iodide

    • Potassium iodide protects the thyroid gland against internal uptake of radioiodines that may be released in the unlikely event of a nuclear reactor accident. Learn more →

  • Radio

    • Powered by hand crank with cell phone charger

  • Rope

  • Sanitizer

  • Travel towels

  • Water

  • Whistle

Other pro tips

  • Make a list of your emergency supplies. That way if you don’t put everything in one bag, you won’t have to remember what is important and will be able to gather it quickly.

  • If you do leave your home with your emergency supplies, do not bring more than 25 pounds per able-bodied adult, or 20% of your body weight, depending on how far you need to travel on foot.

  • I found this book to be a helpful overview of how to handle emergencies, organized by situation: The Ultimate Situational Survival Guide: Self-Reliance Strategies for a Dangerous World.

What’s in your emergency bag? Did I miss anything?