There are plenty of images out there from preppers who have walk-in closets or basements or dedicated prepping rooms. These preppers have floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with canned goods and bulk foods, stacks of water containers, and survival gear. But the reality is that not everyone has that much space for prepping, whether you live in an apartment, a rented room, or simply a small house or cabin. Prepping with limited space is certainly possible, even if it requires some creativity or novel solutions. I live in a yurt that is just 314 square feet, and am still relatively prepared for a disaster or emergency, despite the small space. With this post I hope to answer the question of how to prep with limited space.
Identify Your Prepping Priorities
So you want to prep, but space is limited. The first question to answer for yourself is what does prepping mean to you? What are you preparing for and what are your specific goals and priorities? Consider your location and what types of emergencies or disasters you are particularly at risk of experiencing, especially in terms of power, food, and water.
For instance, I live off grid in rural Vermont. Power grid failures are thus not very high on my list of worries. I am set up with solar power, and also have a gas generator, so am not affected when storms knock the power out (which happens pretty often in the country where trees fall on power lines regularly). If you rely on grid power in a rural area, having a backup power source will probably be high on your list. (Goal Zero’s products, like the Yeti 400, are great: you can keep them charged with a regular outlet, they’re relatively small so you can store them under the bed or in the closet, and they’re totally plug and play with USB and AC plugs).
More likely to affect me are major winter snow storms that lock me in place and make travel to town or to stores difficult or impossible. In addition to storms, emergencies could disrupt delivery schedules or supply chains and drastically reduce inventory in stores. So, high on my list of priorities is preparing for emergencies like this with several weeks of food. (DHS recommends at least two weeks.)
Safe drinking water is a priority for anyone. I’m not on a municipal water supply, nor do I rely on a well that requires power. Instead, I filter water directly from a creek on the property. If you are on a municipal water supply, you’ll want to be prepared for contamination with effective water filters to make your water safe. You’ll also want to be prepared for water supply disruptions by storing emergency water. The same goes if you rely on well water. You’ll want to be prepared for contamination, but also have emergency water in the event of a power outage that knocks out your well pump. (The Berkey filters are the most popular, but you can read my reviews of all your filter options here.)
To summarize this section: You need to identify your prepping priorities since space is limited, and be realistic about what you can fit and achieve. Even just having a 72-hour box is worthwhile. What emergencies and natural disasters are you prone to, and in each situation how will you prepare for power, food, and water in your small space?
Prepping With Limited Space — Think Upward
To state the obvious, when it comes to prepping with limited space, your goal is to maximize the space you DO have. (Duh.) Often we think of space in two dimensions, in terms of square footage and area. This makes sense when you’re planning for furnishing a room, deciding where to put a couch.
This is a mistake, though, when you’re thinking about prepping storage. You should think of your space — your apartment, cabin, whatever — in terms of volume (cubic feet). A couch takes up X number of square feet and effectively voids the space above it. The basic approach to prepping with limited space is to have an upward imagination: What can be stacked and where? How much space do I have for stacking?
Practical Ideas for Prepping in Small Spaces
Shelves. This one is obvious, I know, but any walls that don’t have furniture against them or windows are prime real estate for shelving that maximizes storage space. Even if you have a couch against the wall, or a radiator, or whatever, consider adding shelving above and around that. And remember that prepping supplies don’t have to look cluttered if they’re going to be out in the open and on display. Store food in mason jars for a rustic, farmhouse look. Or get collapsible storage cubes to organize and hide away gear.
Loft Your Bed. Think of all that empty space above your bed! I built my own bedframe with tall legs so that there’s plenty of room for storage bins underneath (and out of sight). I also sized it so that my dresser fits underneath with easy access to the drawers. Even if you don’t want to build a new bedframe, you can easily add several inches of storage underneath your bed with adjustable bed risers.
Stackable Containers for Emergency Food. For sheer utility, big storage bins win the game. Put them in the corner of a room, hide them away in a closet, or slide them under your newly lofted bed. You can use them for gear, for food, for whatever. Be sure to keep them labeled so you can keep track of what’s where without opening every single bin.
Stackable Emergency Water Storage. There are a ton of options for emergency water storage containers. The most common is the Aquatainer, which is is also the one I use. They’re affordable, BPA-free, stackable, and easy enough to carry when full. They do hold 7 gallons though, so if moving 56 pounds sounds oppressive, you might opt for smaller capacity containers. These too can tuck away in a closet or go under the bed.
Smaller Water Filter Options. I think the best water filters for emergences are countertop gravity filters. I use an AquaCera (and I’ve reviewed the most well known filters here). Berkey is also top of the line and a well known brand. But if you don’t have the counter space for a gravity filter, or the storage space to store one until you need it, there are plenty of smaller, portable water filters, generally used for backpacking and camping.
Make Furniture Multi-Function. When it really comes down to it, furniture is a waste of space. (Unpopular opinion, I know!) In an ideal world, all furniture would double as storage. Build a window seat that has storage underneath. Make a coffee table with space inside. In the yurt, our “couch” also doubles as a storage bench, and the front panels fold out to make it into a double-sized guest bed. Get creative with furnishing your space. If you don’t want to build anything, keep an eye out at thrift shops for chests and the like that could double as seating areas or side tables.
It’s perfectly possible to be prepared for emergencies even if you live in a small space, though it may take some creativity and being realistic about what you can achieve. The bottom line when it comes to how to prep with limited space is this: utilize vertical space and make everything as multi-function as possible.