Tiny House Preppers & Prepping

It is interesting to see the different types of people that are drawn to tiny houses, they come from all walks of life, all political leanings, religions and nationalities.  We are read in over 160 countries so we get quite the mix.  Over the past few years we have seen a lot of interest coming from the prepper community, the survivalist community and from the homesteaders.  While each unique groups in their own right, they all have a good bit of overlap.

fdgfdgI’ve come to know people from these groups and while it’s true I get the occasional “the sky is falling, put on your tin foil hat” email or phone call; by in large these folks are very normal people that have a practical way about them.  I don’t particularly subscribe to prepping mentalities, but I thought I might share some of what I have learned over the years from talking with them.  I do spend time on various prepping, homesteading and survivalist websites because they typically are the best source of information on things like off grid living, practical solutions to modern day problems and other useful skills.  There is a strong overlap between between my interest in permaculture and tiny house living, and these schools of thought, so its an interesting topic to me regardless.

Preparing for what might come, whatever it is, seems to be a balancing act; everything in moderation right?  I like what Jack Spirko says about preparing “everything you do to prepare should help you today, not just in a disaster”.    So whatever you do, should improve your life and situation now.  Along with this, is enjoy the life you live now, don’t spend it worrying about what could happen later.

Another lesson I learned from studying permaculture and the Transition Town Movement is that there are simply too many possible things that can go wrong and while you can make educated guesses, even those are just guesses and how they actually play out will vary wildly.  Take the email I got recently that sparked the idea for this post.  The person that emailed me was worried about hurricanes threatening the coastal town where she lived.  It is true that a hurricane could rock their world, it’s happened plenty of times before, but how the aftermath plays out could vary.

So the take away that I gleaned was that there are any number of things that could happen and each of them could have a wide array of outcomes, meaning an almost infinite possibilities; including the possibility that nothing will happen at all.   So how does one prepare for that many events?  The simple answer is that you don’t.

32366bb40d9ae2b8fdac1c506156b3f7Preparing for all those things isn’t practical, so the only thing we can do is to become resilient to changes that will come at us.  Resiliency is the ability to react to changes in our system, adjust our environment, behaviors and systems to then rebound from that.  Our ability to recover from the shock to the system is key, the faster we can recover, the better we will be.  We start with being resilient as an individual and then grow it to our neighborhood, our town and beyond.  We can achieve this by generating our own power, growing our own food, building community and other proactive steps.

So how does this all tie into tiny houses?

Tiny houses present an unique set of hurdles because of the space that we live in is so small.  While many peppers focus on gathering and storing things that they might need in an event, this doesn’t work well with limited square footage.  So how does a prepper manage this?

The likely hood that of a long term event is generally pretty small and most of them will be localized.  Most events will disrupt things for only a few weeks at most and if we are in good financial shape, we can recover quite well even if we loose everything.  The likely hood of a long term event that is wide spread is significantly less likely to happen.  Equipped with a few tools, a knowledge base and a plan, we can be pretty resilient to most things.  So if we can prepare for a 3 months disruption we can either last the event or move to an area that was effected and since we have our ducks in a row, we can start a new life.

That isn’t to say there aren’t considerations to be made for longer term events that are wide spread, take the great depression, it affected millions and lasted over a decade.  The point is, plan for the most likely events first.

The one big thing that we have to our advantage with a tiny house is that it is mobile.  If the SHTF we can pack up and move on, maybe even before the event with enough warning.  The only flaw to this is if roads become blocked and/or lawlessness spreads; but these are things we can plan for and develop contingencies for.

Another obvious thing is that most people opt for off the grid solutions for their tiny houses, so this is naturally a happy coincidence when it comes to prepping.  The one thing to consider is how you move these capabilities if you need to bug out.


A good portion of people also look to the famed “bug out bag” or “go bag” which is simply a bag that is all set to go at a moments notice that contains most of what you need to immediately leave.  Most of these bags are setup to only last short time frames, they are self contained kits to keep you alive if all else fails.  Its a great place to start and I know of several tiny house dwellers that have them in their tiny houses.

Another thing that a lot of tiny house dwellers do is garden.  The ability to grow and store your own food has a ton of benefits right now for your budget and health, but with the added benefit of you being able to keep yourself alive if food becomes in short supply.  While I have seen a ton of people store a lot of food, the truth is that you need to be grow your own because it could be lost and will always run out.

Now growing food is one thing that I know very well, in fact I do it professionally.  I am literally a sustainable urban agriculture professional/farmer.  Here is a sobering truth, even though I do this almost every day of my life, even though I have grown literally tons of food in a given year, if things got really bad for a long time, I’d most likely starve.  This will improve dramatically when I shift to a perennial food forest, but even then it will be tricky.  It’s because growing enough calories for a person, which is expending a lot of energy farming,  365 days a year is a really hard thing. Don’t forget that if food is in short supply, so is gas, materials, seeds, amendments etc. There are many people out there that can grow a few things really well, but can they grow a full diet of crops without any machines or amendments?


My experience focuses on sustainable agricultural systems, meaning I grow a diversified group of perennial crops organically with on site nutrient sources in a way that cycles through the system.  The problem is that sometimes you don’t have a good crop, sometimes you need something that is from an off site location.  It can be tough to produce enough calories  The point is in a survival situation there is no store to go to and if you can’t grow enough because of a disease or bug, you’ll starve.

So when it comes to food production, start now because it will take a lifetime to get good at it and focus on perennial organic crops.  Taking lessons from permaculture will go a long way to meeting this need.

Finally the greatest asset you can have outside of a few basics, is knowledge.  Knowledge can’t be lost or stolen, it doesn’t way anything or take up space,  it is always with you and it can be shared or traded.  Skills that you have can be practical for everyday life such as food preservation, bartering, fixing things, growing and gathering food, etc.

The one parting thing I will say is that in my opinion, whatever that is worth, is that the ability to take care of one’s self is a powerful thing.  It is why many of use come to tiny houses, because it enables us to live lives that are more practical, purposeful and to live the life we want to lead.  I also feel like your ability to help yourself and your neighbors in tough times is more than just a moral obligation, but should be seen as a civic duty, one that is generally missing from our society today.  Not only does it help to do some of these things in the good times, but it will help in the tough times; even if nothing happens saving money, eating good food, and connecting with neighbors are all things we can benefit from.

Your Turn!

  • What are things can you do that improves your life now, but also increases your resiliency?
  • How do you handle prepping in small spaces?
  1. Good points, good post.
    I too visit prepping sites quite a bit for their practical advice. I just overlook anything expressed which doesn’t jibe with my own views. It is absolutely correct that Tiny Housers come from a wide variety of backgrounds and needs, with skills and ideas that can complement each other.

  2. Out little cottage has no basement, nor much extra room for storing food for the winter. I plan to burry several plastic garbage cans just deep enough so I can still get the lid on. Then cover the lid with straw. In these cans, I can put onions potatoes and carrots from the garden. They should last most of the winter without freezing.

    • I hope to build a tiny house with a ‘basement’… a sub-floor area with multiple access on all sides – to store things like #10 cans, tools, etc…just about 11-12″ in the clear. Will have to sacrifice some house height for overpasses, but I think it will be worth it.

    • On thing that would work well is to bury large water containers. They are strong enough to not collapse from the weight of the dirt around them and they are really roomy inside and are easy to conceal.

  3. I really enjoyed the common sense of this article. In a small way scaling down is prepping and defiantly living with the items. I can’t believe the things I started to think about just in water conservation and it goes on from there.

  4. The most practical information I have ever gotten for survival came from Tom Brown’s books on wilderness survival and Peterson’s guide to wild edible foods. Peterson’s books are divided into regions, so you get a guide to the plants and edible things in your region. Tom Brown’s advice on survival is universal and even a child can understand and use it.

    • ok, now imagine it is winter…

      • LOL, Hell, that’s all I can think of now.

      • There are many, many wild edible foods in the winter if you know where to look for them.

  5. A certain amount of preparedness is just being practical and ensures you aren’t a burden on community resources after a disaster. It can also get you through times of personal financial difficulties. I stockpile various things I know I’ll use anyway, getting them at a good price due to bulk buying or sales. Luckily there is space for the stuff at my son’s house. It’s amazing how little space you need for a lot of really good supplies if you organize it well. At any given time our household has at least 3 months worth of “interesting’ food around, maybe about 6 months of basic survival level. Prepper sites are interesting for finding out about useful items for off-grid life and long term storage methods. Some of the Mormon sites have good food and water storage info too.

    • Do you have any links to the Mormon sites? I have no idea where to start looking. 🙂

      • Here is a great site with the LDS (Mormon) links that you may find useful.

  6. Great article. I’m really interested in ‘forest gardening’. Have you done any DIY articles on this? Can you send a link to other information or publications? Thanks very much!

  7. You can get water from the wild grape vine, if you make sure it is the wild grape vine and not its poisonous cousin, hemlock. The major difference in these two plants is that the wild grape vine has tendrils, the hemlock does not. There are also ways to get water from the soil that is bacteria free, and of course you can gather water to drink from blotting plants in the early morning and the evening (dew) with a thin cotton cloth (handkerchief). These are just a few things that you learn from Tom Brown’s Wilderness Survival books. You also learn how to build emergency shelters that can keep you quite warm. I highly recommend the books.

  8. Very well done, Ryan. I have followed your blog from day one and I’ve watched your understanding grow and mature a great deal along the way. I come in contact with a lot of preppers, etc in my work as well and I like to let people know that I am not fearing a doomsday situation, as nobody can have enough skills and equipment to handle everything alone. I just want to be as self supporting and community involved as my grandparents were in the deeply rural South around 1900. We’ve got to re-learn a lot of things and one of the most important things is to be an actively involved member of one’s community.

    Keep up the good work.

  9. You asked, “What are things can you do that improves your life now, but also increases your resiliency?”

    Take care of your health. Stay strong and flexible and keep active. Get outside and work in the weather. Split wood and dig holes for fenceposts by hand; do it in the summer and the winter. Train your body to work, not just work out.

    Learn the skills of earlier generations. Learn to spin and knit, weave, sew, preserve food, butcher chickens, cut and stack hay by hand. Plant a garden and grow some of your own food and share the rest with neighbors. Raise a few chickens for the entertainment, eggs and manure they bring.

    Load your TV in the car and drive it to the nearest Goodwill Store. Forget it ever existed.

    Develop a relationship with hand tools and learn how to sharpen a saw, a knife, a wood chisel, an axe.

    Replace the TV with a guitar, a dulcimer or another musical instrument you have been thinking about. Learn to play and get with others in your community and make music.

    Learn to repair things, and repair them well. Learn how to say goodbye to things that can’t be repaired.

    “How do you handle prepping in small spaces?”

    You need smaller quantities of items; a month’s worth of food instead of a year, for example.

    Learn to love merino wool clothing. It’s quite expensive initially but can be used summer and winter to reduce clothing storage issues. I have merino tshirts that are 10 years old.

    Choose a ukulele over a guitar or a mandolin over a banjo for your musical instrument. Maybe a harmonica?

    Learn how to part with items that don’t provide utility. A lifestyle of preparedness requires a lot of tools, for example. Learn to love and use 2 styles of garden hoes; one for heavy chopping and another for more surgical weeding. Get rid of the other 3 or 4 hanging around the toolshed; someone in you community may need them.

    Minimize your need for gas engines. If you use a rototiller 10 hours a year, why do you need to store it the rest of the time in a small living scenario?

    The list goes on forever. It’s all about taking small steps in the right direction and starting that journey today.

  10. Great Advice! Getting back to our roots.

  11. Thanks for the insightful article. Self-sustainability is wonderful, but I’m glad that you mentioned community. So many people seem to be of the “split-off-and-hunker-down” mindset. I say the ones who seem to best come back from natural disasters are the small, rural towns that foster a strong community spirit.

  12. I’m skeptical of the motives of most preppers. However, I agree they certainly have practical, useful advice for all of us.

  13. Very good article.

    There is one thing that you kind of hinted at but I think is important to point out: You mentioned that if you had to provide all your own food you would probably starve. I suspect that the main reason is because it is very hard for one person to grow food that not only provides enough calories, but is also nutritionally diverse.

    This brings up the point I was trying to make which is: For all the value we place on “self-sufficiency” one person by themselves is not really sufficient. Instead what it requires is a community, lots of individuals all working together to help everyone in the group.

    So, get to know your neighbors. Get them interested in gardening; most people would love to know how hey can save money on food. Help them out with their gardens and they might help you with yours. Form a tight-knit community now and you all might be able to survive a disaster. Even if nothing terrible happens you will still have made some great friends.

    • Interesting viewpoint, and in a good neighborhood, that would work, but what about the neighborhood peppered with drug dealers and prostitutes and those satisfied to not work and to live off our taxes? What about the neighborhood filled with older and often sick people who would not be able to help with a garden? Just a thought. My neighborhood is a mix of the three, so I am not sure if I want all my neighbors to get to know me.

      • True, I suppose what I was describing is more of an ideal situation. And yes, Some people aren’t going to want to do the work or they will start out and then quit.

        But you should still be able to find people near you (if not in your immediate neighborhood) who are interested in prepping/survival/organic gardening/historical reenactment. Get to know these people and form a community. Chances are you will find that everyone possesses essential skills that others lack. Share this knowledge with each other and you will become stronger as a group.

        • Thanks! I will check around my neighborhood and see what the response if.

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