These Small Yet Vital Things Can Help You Survive the SHTF With Your Sanity Intact
by Fabian Ommar
Seeking comfort, convenience, and distraction during SHTF? Some might roll their eyes and think this is nonsense. After all, all there is when SHTF are strategies, tactics, and challenging survival work, right?
Fortunately, there is more to be learned, experienced, and even shared that is not so challenging or tactical.
To survive SHTF, you must keep your sanity intact and your spirits high
Preppers are all too aware of the “bad” aspects of SHTF. Admittedly, studying and discussing disasters and their consequences is at the core of prepping. I want to offer a take on another part of this reality, though: the role of good things and memorable moments during hard times.
The importance of keeping spirits high and a sense of sanity under distress is a constant in survival chronicles and for a good reason. Selco, Toby, Jose, Daisy, and many others frequently talk about this. Mentality and psychology are key survival factors.
Daisy wrote on mental resilience, “But to find moments of joy in the darkest of times, you need to tap into your mental resilience. This helps not only you but those around you. And to bounce back after these events and live your life again, mental resilience is, again, the key.”
When the context changes, the trivial become peculiar, unconventional, contrasting – which can turn the mundane into exceptional (and vice-versa). If you’ve never been through SHTF, I’d suggest staying open to the power and importance of these processes.
How I came up with the inspiration for this post
Not long ago, I met an elderly homeless man while practicing my street survival training. I was preparing a snack when the homeless man stopped by. We started to chat. He’s a nice man going thru adversity. After sharing my meal with him, I decided to test a portable espresso maker I purchased recently and took on the task of brewing espresso for us both.
Suddenly he started crying. I asked what was wrong. He said one of the things he missed most since becoming jobless and homeless years ago was having a hot espresso after lunch. Just the smell made him feel that much better. He was crying tears of joy.
I share conversations and meals with the homeless and drifters in the streets quite often. But his reaction got me reflecting on the power of appreciation for the little things. In some contexts, little things can make our day. In the middle of a personal SHTF, this fellow found genuine happiness in having something as prosaic as a freshly brewed espresso.
For someone who has nothing, something can be everything.
The power of simplicity and the advantages of being adaptable
What defines SHTF is precisely the broad change in conditions and lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if it’s abrupt or through slow transformation. What matters is when perspectives change, things take a different value and importance, and adaptability is crucial during these times of transformation.
Selco offers his advice in this article on adaptability and being ready to leave everything behind in order to survive. Selco writes, “Learn to operate in terms of “less is more” or in other words, try whenever you can to substitute dependence on things with owning knowledge of a particular skill. For example, owning a big stash of water is great, owning skills and means to purify near water sources is even better.”
Look at how much has changed in just one year since COVID-19 broke out. Compared to before the pandemic, life has become considerably more challenging, more restrictive, unstable, and limited in so many aspects. Welcome to our “new normal.” Judging by the signals, it’s bound to change even further. There will be a lot more to adapt to moving ahead.
Time passes, things change. We keep surviving. But honestly, when in history has it been any different? Think about it for a moment.
Things take on a new meaning during hard times versus normal times
If you do any longer-lasting or highly-demanding outdoor activity, or if you’ve been through difficulty in your life, you know how big a difference some small things and moments can make. Quite often, something as mundane as a hot meal, some music, or a candy bar can be pure bliss.
Another example: is there anything more ordinary than taking a bath? But it feels like heaven when we’re exhausted, dirty, smelly, and sticky. Likewise, when SHTF and times get hard, finding solace in everyday, trivial things helps us keep going. There’s an uplifting effect that can’t be denied.
There’s history, and then there are stories of everyday life
Most books tell about great battles and pivotal instants. But common people (that’s us) live in a somewhat different reality level: the every-day and various moments. The telling of the quotidian is rare though life is 99% just that. Life can be turned completely upside-down by SHTF. Still, this dynamic of everyday life remains, even during wars, occupation, or natural disasters.
Even though a significant portion of the day or entire periods may be dedicated to ‘work’ (i.e., affairs like defense and dealing of resources), once a routine is re-established (it always is) and basics are taken care of, there’s need for play.
It’s not too different from life during normal times if we think about it. SHTF simple becomes the norm at one point.
Hardship has different effects on different people
When adversity hits, some enter survival mode almost instantly. Others take longer to understand or accept changes. Then there are those who never really come to full terms with the new reality and drag on. And that’s staying with the types who survive: a significant number of people can not cope. Unfortunately, we see that often.
Most people in developed/developing countries have been living in relative tailwind for most of the last 30 years. Sure, life is hard, but that’s a constant. I’m talking in comparison to most of history and also some places that seem to live in deep, eternal SHTF. We all know which these are.
Those younger than forty may not know or remember the 70s and 80s were such a hard time. The world slogged in stagflation. Low growth, Oil shocks, Cold War, and nuclear conflict threat kept us awake at night. During those times, separatists and radicals ran bloody conflicts all over Europe. Violent coups and dictatorships ravaged South America, and wars ran amok in the middle east. People suffered from inflation, unemployment, crime, shortages, blackouts, strikes, and protests at the everyday level.
It may seem like life was hell in the 70s and 80s, but it wasn’t
Life was hard but had many good sides to it too. Despite a difficult upbringing, I feel fortunate. Many others who lived through that period feel the same. There were lots of struggles, but people kept going and doing the best they could. We had fun in many ways as well. (Awesome bands, great music, classic movies, weird makeup, crazy hair!)
I have hope that, despite the various menaces currently threatening our lifestyle and eating on our liberties and privacy, we’re still going to make it somehow. Because, realistically, we’ve been through some seriously bad SHTF collectively, and we did all right. That’s what we do.
Back to the future, not a trip down memory lane
This is not nostalgia that I write. I believe we’re headed into times of similarly significant decreases in the standard of living for a broad part of the population caused by instability, mounting crises, low growth, joblessness, ruptures, and above all, changes in the world order.
It’s already underway, and we can see it, sense it. I call it slow-burning SHTF. Nevertheless, we better find joy in the middle of struggle. What other options do we have?
According to my own experience (and others too), it is possible to prepare for good moments and some measure of comfort during SHTF. Below is a list with a few initiatives and some practical measures to start. As always, adapt as you see fit.
Aim big, miss small.
In other words, think about comfort (big) to improve overall conditions (small). There’s a lot more to it than stashing a few comfort items.
Let’s start by highlighting the importance of environmental comfort. It’s an important factor because it defines well-being and, ultimately, survival itself. If we’re too cold, too hot, too windy, too humid or dry, too noisy, too smelly, too buggy, too dark, etc., we’re either in danger or already in hell. That robs us of energy and capacity to focus and perform.
We instinctively try to improve our surroundings by actively working to balance conditions. Any measures that increase ambient comfort will automatically increase overall comfort, thus extending our capacities. Of course, contrast and perception influence that. For instance, leaving a super-hot place to a mildly-warm one will alleviate some. But once we get acclimated, comfort suffers again. Keep in mind: even though we tend to develop resistance, there are limits to adaptation.
- Apply the many solutions available to improve ambient comfort. Starting with clothing: dress in layers and opt for versatile items and materials.
- Moving on to shelter: a roof means half-covered. Otherwise, finding protection is a priority.
- The next part is applying ways to adjust the temperature to the best level possible (heating or cooling). Having plans and measures in place, backups if possible, is vital for those living in areas with extreme conditions.
- Maintaining things clean and tidy helps with keeping bugs away. I find that very important, as insects can be a real pain, even a threat.
- If out in nature, wear clothes, nets, and use the host of chemicals available to repel and/or fight pests. Those also work indoors if insulation is not possible.
Food and Drink
This is not about everyday food or “eating to kill hunger” but rather ‘comfort eating’: those occasional treats everyone loves and help elevate spirits. It’s entirely possible (and common) to live without these, but it’s something nice to have around when someone needs a morale boost. The good part is that even a little can go a long way in improving moods and making our day. During SHTF, these become even more effective.
- If preparations and stockpiles are considered, add some ‘comfort food’ of your preference. It can be something sweet or salty, a carbonated drink, alcoholic beverages, your favorite tea, candies, what have you.
- Overall, this is very personal, and once it’s gone, it’s gone, so give it some thought now. Ration to extend supplies.
- Don’t forget these items usually increase in value during SHTF. Meaning, you can use them to barter, too.
It’s easy to feel miserable once hygiene decays. This happens faster than most people think when the grid is down (see the situation in Texas). During SHTF, we start to care less and less for personal hygiene with time or cease altogether and become accustomed to the conditions, the smell, etc. If others around us live under the same SHTF, we tend to bother even less. But early on, being unclean doesn’t feel good.
Depending on SHTF, it’s not even possible to care much for personal appearance. Nor desirable, as it can draw unwanted attention. Still, in most instances, a modicum of hygiene is attainable. Even with health as the main objective, this seemingly small thing can provide occasional relief and significantly improve well-being.
- If taking baths has become an impossibility, wet towels and cleansing tissues can be used to keep body parts reasonably clean.
- Compressed ‘pill’ towels are a godsend if you’re on the move (bugging out, traveling, whatever). They work and have many different uses.
- Stock up on hygiene items. You may be sorry if you don’t. It’s really hard (yet very common) to run out of these when SHTF, and it happens fast.
- Avoid colognes and perfumes to avoid standing out. When everything around is smelling bad, even a little can make a difference (believe me, bad smell and insects are two of the most striking characteristic of SHTF).
- One thing I put great importance on is dental hygiene: because it impacts overall health, I find it worth going the extra distance to ensure the mouth is always in good order.
Farming & Gardening
“We may need a doctor, a priest, a policeman, and a lawyer a few times during our life. But we need a farmer three times every day.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 25% of Americans were into farming when The Great Depression hit in the 1930s. Today it’s only 2%. This number has been growing (it’s more prominent in Europe overall and some other countries). But we’re still a long, long way from people understanding the importance and implications of becoming even slightly more self-reliable for food.
Cultivating one’s own food can provide ‘food comfort’ through the consumption of the items. Reduction of food insecurity lowers stress levels and increases community well-being.
- Can be done individually or as a shared activity (with the added bonus of strengthening community bonds).
- There are thousands of videos. blogs and tutorials on how to grow pretty much anything even with limited space, time, money, etc.
- Takes time and dedication to show results, so start now.
Cooking can also be highly rewarding and comforting. When disaster strikes, eating hot meals can become a real luxury. Even something as simple as a grid-down can impair conventional food preparation (lack of fuel, gear, time, etc. – again, look at Texas). When we spend a long time eating only granola bars and similarly bland food, a proper meal can be a real treat.
- Being able to cook in different conditions (grid-down, bug-out, full-SHTF, camping, etc.) is a useful skill. Use it to provide good moments and elevate the mood.
- Stockpile on seasonings and other basic items with long shelf-life and can be used to prepare and spice up meals.
- A backup cooking set (spirit or compact propane stove, camping cookware and gear, etc.) can provide flexibility and versatility.
Books & Music
No need for practical measures here as reading and listening to music are undeniably two of the most entertaining, abstracting, elevating, educating activities possible, SHTF or not. Read to learn, read to escape, read to have fun, read to ‘travel.’ Ditto for music, another powerful antidote to sadness and bad mood. Both are downright cheap, too, even free. (Here’s an article on building an SHTF music collection.)
How do fixing things improve comfort, you may ask. Besides obviously fixing things that can directly impact our comfort (clothing, plumbing, heating/cooling systems, cookware, etc.), it can be gratifying in itself. It builds confidence and self-reliance and can be applied to generate income (which in turn can be used to increase other comforts and conveniences to you, your family, and others around).
- Build a tool chest and learn/grow practical skills.
- Start with something basic such as sewing (very useful) or knitting, then move to more complex/demanding activities.
- Being a generalist is good, but sharing specific skills with others can amplify capabilities. That’s why having a community is important.
- Woodworking, blacksmithing, plumbing, soldering: all that and much more can be learned through practical classes, online courses, tutorials, how-tos.
Distractions & Abstractions
Let’s think in terms of ‘normal times’, certain forms of distraction, and entertainment such as gambling. Partying, smoking, or drinking (and others) can be seen as vices, bad habits, or “less than commendable” activities. But, do things change when the SHTF!
To start with, serious SHTF is unhealthy in so many ways just by itself. If you think differently, ask around or do some research on the subject. But SHTF is not a free pass nor an excuse to go wild or engage in destructive behavior. On the contrary: keeping discipline and good habits is essential for survival. Crime, drugs, and violence are bad in SHTF too. And not from a moral or ethical standpoint, but as to what it does to ourselves. It’s a dead end.
But keeping sanity is crucial too. Life can become hard at times. It’s OK to lead a regulated and healthy lifestyle, for the most part, and from virtue, religion or habit. The point is not being too rigid or too strict on ourselves – and keeping it under control, also, of course. It’s something very personal, so to each their own.
Note: If someone is triggered by me talking about these things, know it’s the reality of SHTF. If you’ve been there, you know it; if you haven’t, then be warned and take it as you will.
- Don’t go out and about stockpiling on booze, tobacco, or whatever – if you don’t think those things fit your taste or lifestyle (unless you plan on selling or using for barter).
- Meditate on how life would be in extreme adversity and how you’d feel and react in regards to things you currently don’t contemplate. Not as escapism, not as a vice. Just as to what would provide a little relief or boost to keep up with toughness and hardship.
- It’s perfectly fine if you don’t want to touch something, and it’s equally acceptable if you indulge, too. Just accept it’s a very human thing.
A large part of being ‘comfortable’ during SHTF is related to accepting, abstract, being creative, and practical. And also the capacity to find joy and pleasure in the out-of-ordinary and trivial. It comes naturally for most people, but we can prepare some for that, too. Actively and voluntarily chasing discomfort and exposing ourselves to hardship in controlled manners is an effective way to learn about our own limits and how to adapt to changes that occur during SHTF. There are several ways to train for SHTF.
Camping, trekking, hiking are excellent to improve resilience, creativity, and adaptation. Away from the grid, we have to focus on the basics of life: shelter, food, water, cooking, insects, heat and cold, sun and rain, impaired sleeping, and lots more. If that’s impractical, you can train in the city and even simulate some scenarios at home to practice and develop useful survival techniques applied in various other situations.
This exercise can also grow our appreciation for the simple things and the extreme levels of comfort and convenience we have available in The Grid. And that matters a lot.
Are you taking any steps to add comfort to your preparedness plans? Let’s discuss it in the comments.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City, is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor