Justifying Extreme Survival Supply Lists and Toilet Paper

While Collecting Emergency Essentials, Don't Argue Who's Craziest


Photo by Shelley DeDauw

I watched a preppers show where a man used methane from his own poop to cook his food. It made me reconsider my own survival supply list.

The word is slung around a lot these days. Prepper. Usually, it’s said with ridicule, unless it’s used by someone fighting to take back the term. It labels those expecting TEOTWAWKI, people with survival supply lists, aluminum cans filling underground chambers, and enough dehydrated potato flakes to turn the Irish Sea into colcannon. Reality shows exploit their insanity while assessing how much crazier they should be.

And we listen. Because really, they have a point.

Doomsday vs. In the Dark

Where’s the balance?

Critics laugh at preppers’ closets full of Charmin, as if societal collapse would first manifest as a shortage of bath tissue that doesn’t leave pieces behind. And the preppers snicker, combining the words “people” and “sheep” to discuss a population that won’t even put toilet paper on a bug out bag list.

Aesop, in the sixth century B.C., told of a grasshopper and an ant. While the ant worked, tugging grain to its nest, the grasshopper laughed and suggested the ant should relax. There was plenty of food. The grasshopper made no survival supply list and definitely didn’t work to fill it. The ant rebuked with an admonition that the grasshopper prepares for the winter. Then cold weather came and the grasshopper starved as those who had worked all summer distributed grain throughout the ant colony.

The prepping movement has been around for a long time. And it comes of necessity. People witness crime, disaster, and general calamity. They don’t want to see family and friends suffer. Even William Shakespeare stockpiled supplies during a food shortage, though his motivation was resale and profit instead of keeping his loved ones fed. Shakespeare wasn’t popular for his hoarding any more than modern preppers are lauded for stockpiling.

I started watching the prepper show because of the name. I expected insanity and the show attempted to deliver it. What I saw, instead, was a dramatic sampling of people who were … well … kind of like me. They didn’t want to suffer if matters declined. And each episode made me consider how prepping is derided and how the rest of us need to kick our survival skills up a notch.

Prepping into Social Shame

On the same show, I saw a woman planning for the government to slip into martial law. She dedicated an entire room of her 800-square-foot apartment to preparation. Behind her sat Utah’s capitol building, a reminder of what might go wrong. And she admitted that long-term relationships weren’t possible because all she did was work, go to school, and prep.

I’ve never seen “able to survive an apocalypse” on a man’s list of wifely qualities. “Went to college” is on there. “Has long hair.” “Good child-birthing hips.” But I’ve never met a man who hopes to acquire food storage with the dowry.

This past Christmas, my husband’s coworker purchased one of my rabbits as a gift for his strictly vegetarian wife. He would score points by giving her an adorable animal in addition to saving it from an otherwise nutritious end. But when he asked what it would look like when fully grown, another coworker sprinted to his office. He returned with a hat of hand-stitched rabbit fur. Holding the hat aloft, he proclaimed, “It’ll look like this!”

I laughed awkwardly as my husband told the story. “Uh…was he scared?”

“All of my friends are afraid of you.”

I wasn’t sure whether to feel offended or complimented. My husband is proud to have a wife who can grow his food then cook it up before standing beside him to defend our stores of bath tissue. I know to hold onto this man. Within the dating scene, prepper skills are overshadowed by how good a woman’s butt looks if she wears high heels. Heck, normally when I tell a man I can butcher an animal, cook it up, and make hats from its hides, he looks to my husband for permission to leave the premises.

Dedicated preppers are called crazy to their faces. Or to their little children’s faces. But social disgrace isn’t the only disadvantage of choosing the prepper life. Stocking  to fill a large survival supply list takes money and storage space. There’s speculation whether they’re focusing on the wrong issues. Are they expecting the Yellowstone super-volcano only to have their homes flooded by busted pipes? Are they being paranoid, or are they really going to need all that toilet paper?

Most preppers aren’t stockpiling for an end of times. Unemployment, illness, or tornadoes are more likely than the devaluation of the American dollar, but the same skills prepare for either. They admit they don’t know what to expect. They just don’t want to feel helpless when it happens.

It Pays to Prep

Last winter, I was on the phone with my agent when she told me that she had been holed up for three days because of the weather. She was ready for the cold spell to break. They were out of food.

Critics call preppers paranoid but they probably sleep better than critics do. If the cold kept them home for three days, they would have plenty of food. Water wouldn’t be an issue. First aid box contents care for minor medical issues. And if the power went out, they’d rely on a survival supply kit to keep warm.

As much as it’s ridiculed, prepping is a “green” action; people grow their own food, recycle materials, and keep water clean instead of adding to pollution. Lost employment isn’t a calamity. They save money instead of dumping into a consumerist society. If a truck breaks down, they’ll probably know how to fix it.

And what if everyone who has said, “If the apocalypse happens, I’m coming to your house…” actually had to? The people first welcomed in will be those who never claimed their friends were insane.

What Could Really Happen

I’ve been called a Doom-saying Prepper. It wasn’t a compliment. Or accurate. A prepper doesn’t keep only twelve gallons of clean water among her emergency essentials for the pantry. That’s barely what the Department of Homeland Security survival supply list advises for a three-day calamity.

I should know how important clean water is. We went without it for five days over a $30 discrepancy that was handled within thirty minutes.

Friends warned us that the local water authority is made up of a bunch of jerks. If you don’t pay on time, they’ll punish you. The whole thing was a mess. We paid at the last minute then used the wrong account. As the serviceman turned off our water, I called the company. Several transfers and a lot of elevator music later, the customer service agent informed me that they had until the end of that business day to turn the water back on. That was fine. I could wait four hours.

They didn’t turn the water on that day. We called the next day and they said they’d send someone out but nobody came. Then the weekend arrived.

We hit the gym harder than New Year’s Resolutionists because of the showers. Luckily we had reliable transportation; hauling water from the store in a wheelbarrow adds humiliation. We used our koi ponds to flush toilets and water gardens. By Monday, the ponds were low and the koi were scared.

Flushing with pond water really makes you appreciate an ever-flowing municipal system.

Running out of water isn’t the worst that can happen, but the scenario could be avoided with prepping. 55-gallon barrels on the back patio could have covered five days.

As much as critics deride preparations for societal collapse, martial law has happened. It was declared during the Civil War and occurred on a local level during Hurricane Katrina. Even more plausible are earthquakes and floods. Current political situations prove that refugees sometimes have to “bug out” with what they can carry, hopefully having made a survival supply list and filling it before they had to find sanctuary.

Preppers vs. Homesteaders vs. Survivalists

Preppers fill closets with toilet paper. Homesteaders make toilet paper out of wood pulp. Survivalists bug out into the woods and use pine cones instead.

A common misconception confuses preppers with survivalists.

Those guys with the AK-47s and camouflage netting, hiding in a New Mexico desert with a population of 10? That’s survivalism. War veterans, especially from Vietnam, understand it. Many had to live it so fully that they’ve found it difficult to assimilate back into society. Once they’ve run in the jungle with a knife and a ruck sack, they don’t forget. It’s not funny and it’s certainly not something they do for attention.

Consider prepping to be survivalism with a softer edge. And though the lines can cross between survivalism, prepping, and homesteading, each has a different focus. Most preppers don’t imagine a zombie apocalypse or even an electromagnetic pulse. They’re fortifying root cellars if they live in Tornado Alley or saving up propane canisters in case the next hurricane knocks out power for over a week. Preppers within California keep food in aluminum cans because falling objects won’t shatter them. Many have 72-hour kits in their cars in case they have to evacuate. Preppers form communities and pool talents instead of hiding out with nobody to trust. They improve their lives by being healthier and more self-sufficient.

Jami Hepworth, at-home mom and prepper living in Idaho, explains, “I don’t live in fear. In my experience, the people who are the most afraid are often the least prepared. I’ve taken the time, resources, and mental energy to prepare the best I can for contingencies I believe will likely happen in my lifetime. And because of that, I have a lot of peace and confidence in the future—whatever it might hold for me and my family. I’ve already addressed them in the comfort of my own home, time, and pace.”

Jami explains that, even if you don’t label yourself a “prepper,” chances are that you’ve made plans for contingencies in life. Do you ever pick up an extra box of food, though you won’t be using it that week? Purchase life, health, car, or any other type of insurance? Invest in mutual funds?

“It’s really easy and quite a natural part of human nature, it seems, to look at other people and judge them by your own standards. We tend toward labeling others ‘extreme,’ ‘idiotic,’ ‘crazy,’ or ‘misinformed’ if they do something—anything, really—more or less than we do.”

There is a whole spectrum of commitment, reasons, and approaches within the prepper community, Jami explains, and your opinion of each group will depend largely on where you place yourself.

Though it’ll remain a target of ridicule for a long time, the movement is growing thanks to media exposure. The American Preppers Network adds about 100 new members each day, from all over the world. Most are anxious to help you on your preparedness journey.

“You just have to ask. Or better yet, go talk to your grandma. She probably won’t know what ‘prepping’ means, but she can tell you all about how she made it through the Great Depression.”

Prepping on the Home Front

I think I fall midway between urban homesteader and prepper. We stockpile food because I like to eat what I grow. Well…I just like to eat, period, and don’t want to pay retail prices. I’m updating my bug out bag and storing more water. Currently, we have four cooking methods that don’t involve electricity. Sources of fresh meat and eggs live in the backyard. We certainly don’t have enough toilet paper to get us through a major snowstorm and I don’t intend to learn how to make my own until I’ve mastered sausage and homemade pasta.

My husband falls into the category of “Prepper’s Spouse.” My beneficiary. He rides along with my whims, spends less money on groceries than his peers do, gets warm fur hats, and once in a while sells rabbits to friends. If I finalize my survival supply list, pack up my gear and go somewhere that pine cones are the only option, he’ll be along with me because he’s never claimed I was insane.

Not regarding prepping, at least.

Do you make survival supply lists and work to fill them? If so, what ingredient do you feel is most important?

  • Suburban and urban homes in the UK have absolutely no storage space. It’s one of the things I noticed when I moved here. The houses are smaller and closer together and there’s no storage areas. We don’t even have an attic here. But our bike shed outside (which is actually too small for all of our bikes since we are a large family) has an edged top, so we have filled the top with soil and started growing some strawberries up there. It’s not ideal but we use what we have. At least we have some solar panels. They help, but they’d be even more useful back where i used to live (California). We get sun here in the UK but not as much.

  • Mullein leaves make much better toilet paper than pinecones. 😉

  • People in the olden days prepared. They had a full pantry and a shed and or a root cellar. This was done so they had food and other items throughout the year.
    Now, we got plenty of food and other items readily available in stores and folks get a false sense of security and they do not even know it, how dangerous this is to their well being or family.
    A food storage and having other things is good in case you lose your job or get sick or if other disasters happen. Most folks never experienced to walk into an empty grocery store many hours before a hurricane comes to town. Or not able to get gasoline or propane gas or not having electricity or even water or no way to heat your home middle in the winter. I have been there.
    So I would recommend to keep some stock at home that you can use just in case. The good thing is that your stock can be cycled and used what you are using already. Use the old stock and replace it with new stock, no waste, and if needed you have some extra items.

  • The crude or basic survival list to me is a way to hunt or have food, to build a fire to cook etc etc. , and not to forget the ability to build a shelter.
    I would think, if you are able to hunt that you would be able to protect your homestead etc.

  • I’ve been in a situation where we were snowed in for 3 days. I can’t imagine naming only 1 item that helped most. I guess flashlights and candles were the first items we grabbed when the lights went out.

    Stored gas cans and a generator kept the hatching eggs in my incubator from dying (blankets over the bator worked fine while we dug out the equipment), and kept our fridge running so we didn’t lose everything due to spoilage. A camp stove kept us fed and we had plenty of water to drink (only the electricity went out but our well pump was dependant on electricity).

    Since we camp a lot, sleeping bags and survival blankets kept us toasty. We didn’t need the solar shower, due to the cold, but it comes in handy when camping in the summer. We also keep an old fashioned can opener in our camping kit for obvious reasons.

    I don’t really identify as a “prepper” but I actually wish I were. I do worry about what would happen in the case of flood, earthquake, or fire. My daughter’s entire neighborhood was destroyed by fire but their cobb house survived. They were ecstatic when they discovered this only to find out the entire area was without services, including water, electricity, and gas. To make matters worse they, unlike all their neighbors, did not qualify for relief funds because… well their house and all their indoor belongings had survived!

    We are working toward being much better prepared for fire and earthquakes. Especially since we live in California and the area is known for both. If a disaster does happen, we’d like to be able to survive for longer than a week. :/


Leave a Reply

Credit Card Identification Number

This number is recorded as an additional security precaution.


American Express

4 digit, non-embossed number printed above your account number on the front of your card.


3-digit, non-embossed number printed on the signature panel on the of the card immediately following the card account number.


3-digit, non-embossed number printed on the signature panel on the back of the card.

Enter Your Log In Credentials
This setting should only be used on your home or work computer.


Send this to a friend