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Early Prepping Lessons From The Coronavirus – Pt 4: Prepper Inventory

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In part four of our Early Prepping Lessons From The Coronavirus series, I’ll go over the importance of keeping a prepper inventory for our food stocks. Understanding exactly where you stand on food and supplies as an SHTF event is barreling down onto your family is crucial.

After years of prepping, many of us are living the true test of our preps. For the most part, our prepper inventory existed in my head.

While I write this post, we’re well into a month of living off our preps, for the most part, and well over two weeks into an absolute lockdown self-quarantine.

How Have We Weathered The Quarantine So Far

Since we’re talking prepper inventory here, I’ll stick to that and keep things like our state of health or financial well-being for a later date.

Actually, better than I would have thought. I honestly didn’t realize we had as much as we did. While that sounds great, and it is, it is also a little scary for me – being surprised.

That was scary. Because it could have just as easily gone the other way. This seems to be a recurring theme of mine lately, just getting lucky when I should have been confident and on target. At least this stage of being a prepper.

Rookie Prepper Mistakes

So I think I’ll do what I always do and throw myself to the mercy of the readers and publically admit my prepping shortcomings as we move along this global pandemic of COVID-19.

First, let me explain why I failed to keep a prepper inventory. Yes, laziness has something to do with it, but I want to go deeper than that.

The dreaded spreadsheet – Not for me, thank you.

Years ago, I started out with good intentions and created an entire spreadsheet of everything in our prepper pantry. Then we added even more sheets to our prepper inventory database – the bathroom medicine cabinet, the kitchen cabinets, the hidden storage, and eventually, we included our freezers. Then, to really complicate things, I created inventory sheets on our get-home bag, EDC bag, bugout and load-out bags, medical bag, survival gear and vehicle emergency supplies.

Starting to get the picture? I know, it’s obvious in hindsight but at the time… I thought it made sense. But yes, I created a monster that couldn’t be handled with a detailed prepper inventory spreadsheet that I never wanted to open.

It was such a pain in the rear. My prepper inventory wasn’t going to be some simple grocery list. No, it had to include brand names, size of containers, expiration/best-by dates, and even goals based on months of preps I wanted.

Yeah, that was a couple of weeks I’ll never get back. To make it worse, I was at home on vacation during all of this.

So I started shooting from the hip. Make a run to the store and toss a few things in the cart that made prepping sense. Come home, stick it on a shelf or in a storage bin. Carry on with the fun stuff – hiking, solo camping, fishing, shooting, canning, gardening, etc.

Bins, Boxes, and Containers Must Be Inventoried

So listen for this quote of mine in this Instagram video just a little over a month ago:

I love these bins. Because out of sight, out of mind. We don’t tap into these near as much as we do the shelves. It’s just harder so… what goes in those bins generally stays in those bins.

Instagram post.

Out of sight, out of mind is right. I had no idea we had a lot of that. That’s a problem because it could have been a disaster.

So I’ll still use my twenty-two bins. That’s right, I’ve collected 22 of these things over the years, not including the ones in the garage or stored away from home.

But for now on, every bin gets an inventory sheet. Nothing complicated, just a simple sheet of paper where we write down what’s inside.

My Prepper Inventory Problems

Here are some of the problems of ignoring a simple prepper inventory:

Outdated foods

Example image of a best-buy date
Sure, it’s still good but why? As many cakes as we make?

While I understand that most of the so-called expiration dates on non-refrigerated dry goods are actually best-buy dates without any scientific calculations involved, we don’t want to be careless.

So when I have a box of cake mix in a bin for a couple of years with an expiration, excuse me, a best-buy date of November 2019, for example, I should consider using that at some point.

Instead, when we wanted to make a cake at home, we’d grab a box at the store and make a cake. See, there’s no food rotation when things are out of sight, out of mind.

Too much of one thing

Example Image - Too much of one pantry item
Mayo anyone?

Buying more of what you don’t need. This is a problem with the out-of-sight, out-of-mind storage bins. The photo above shows just one example – mayonnaise. We have four jars in the prepper pantry, two unopened jars in the kitchen cupboard, and two opened jars in the refrigerators.

The problem was my unorganized system. When the corona hit, I started inventorying. I end up with seven jars of mayo.

Want another example? Because it’s interesting, right? LOL

Example of too much BBQ Sauce in the pantry.
Is eleven bottles of BBQ sauce and eight bottles of ketchup enough?

Is too much of one thing a bad thing?

It can be. If you wait until disaster strikes to address your prepper inventory and find you’ve been buying BBQ sauce and mayo but didn’t buy flour or medicine, things might get bleak quickly if those items become unattainable.

What if a corn or grain shortage causes a run on the hundreds of products made from those two crops? The time to consider something like that is not when it hits the news. If you have no idea what you need long-term or what you actually have, well… you understand.

Side Note: This is a little off-topic but humor me for a second. I have a friend that works for a local Rite Aid store.

I asked her if there was a certain day of the week when they get deliveries for things like hand sanitizer, disinfectants, and rubbing alcohol. She said they haven’t received any of those items in over a month. The warehouse isn’t shipping those items to the stores.

If that stuff is going to healthcare and hospitals, I understand. Anyone that hasn’t prepared for this shortage has been going without. Things are flying off the shelves that no one could see coming or even understand why they’re nowhere to be found.

The Best Approach For Your Prepper Inventory

So this is the easiest non-answer to give but the only truthful one – whatever works best for you. Here’s what I have tried over the years:

Apps and Spreadsheets

Example Image - Prepper Inventory Excel spreadsheet
Prepper food inventory spreadsheet.
Image - To Do app pantry list
Prepper inventory using the Microsoft To-Do phone app.

I’ve learned that inventory apps and spreadsheets aren’t my style, and I will quickly abandon that approach. For some people, however, this might be a match made in heaven.

Paper and pen prepper inventory sheets

Paper and pen prepper inventory sheets example
Old school prepper list.

Next, I moved to another method to completely ignore – old-school paper and pen. First, my old-school prepper inventory sheets were in a notebook. Then I moved them to a clipboard. Nope, it wasn’t doing it for me.

Finally, an organized “See Everything” storage/shelving system

After years of trial and error, during my early lessons from the coronavirus, I think I have the best solution for me and my wife. It’s not perfect, but it seems like the simplest storage method and tracking our prepper pantry.

The idea is for all shelf-stable food to be organized and rotated on shelving units, just as many other preppers do. The only difference is I’ve added tiny labels for each critical food item.

Image- Prepper inventory shelving example
An example of the food storage labels for a six-month supply.

These labels simply have the name of the food and how many should be there for a six-month food supply. These numbers are based on what we’ve actually used as of one full month living exclusively on our prepper pantry and freezers.

The commercially canned vegetables, I believe, when stocked full on the shelving racks, are more than enough for six months. For that reason, we’ll simply fill and maintain those shelves.

Image- Prepper pantry canned vegetables
The commercially canned vegetable will be maintained as full shelves.

A couple of items worth mentioning

Our food rotation system. Our prepper pantry is not for daily consumption. Nothing comes out of the pantry without being replaced or logged on our shopping list, which is simply a whiteboard taped to the side of one of the refrigerators.

Image - prepper pantry shopping list
This prepper pantry shopping list is taped to the side of a refrigerator.

We live off the food in our refrigerators and cupboards like everyone else. When we use up an item, we replace it when we go shopping, but that new item is placed behind those same items in the pantry. The oldest one from the pantry then, is placed into the kitchen cabinet. This continuous rotation will ensure that the freshest items remain on the shelves.

Because we have two full freezers of meat and two (stuffed!) full refrigerators of perishable food we’ve had it very easy during our quarantine as far as eating.

That may not be the case in the next SHTF event. The electricity may fail, for example. Therefore, I want a six-month supply of canned meats in our preps. For now, that will be in the form of commercially canned meat. As we go along, those will be replaced with meat we can at home.

Image - Canned meat prepper list inventory
Twenty-six cans each of seven different types of meat (Protein) equals six-months supply for my wife and me in an emergency SHTF situation (Fifty-two cans for the tuna).

It could get REALLY bad one day.

Because we may have to dip into our really-really long-term food preps someday, the dreaded beans and rice stored in Mylar bags inside bins and buckets, I have increased the numbers of certain sauces and spices to make those a little more edible.

For example, we might typically go through a jar of soy or Worcestershire sauce in a year. I want six bottles for a six-month supply for that very reason.

It won’t work for everything

Other prepping supplies like vehicles and pack (bag) contents will still need a physical or digital list.

Extra bulk items in the bins will have a simple inventory sheet for each container. These won’t need to be rotated as often.

Some bins will be super simple:

Prepper list bin of toilet paper.
Emergency toilet paper supply in a storage bin – simple prepper inventory list.

Other bins – not so much:

Storage bin of long-term emergency food storage
Eighty-pound bin of vacuum-packed long-term food storage.

One Blatantly Obvious Drawback

Emergency food pouch
Emergency food rations in a US Military MOLLE sustainment pouch.

One obvious drawback to moving things from bins or other containers to a shelving system is mobility – or the lack thereof. If we have to bug out quickly, we will have a problem depending on the time.

Honestly, those big bins were extremely heavy when full anyway, and loading them up in my trailer would have been unlikely.

If bugging out is one of your fallback plans, take that into consideration.

If you have an established bug-out location, having it already stocked and secure would be ideal.

Wrapping Up On Prepper Inventory

In my prepper mind, an inventory of our preps is vital. Knowing exactly how much you might need is equally vital.

How you keep track of that inventory and come up with the best number of each item is something that will vary from person to person.

It took me years to find the best solution for us, but I feel good about the simple storage rack and label setup we’re working toward right now.

We are all in different prep stages, but as long as we’re moving forward in the right direction, at the best pace we can manage without causing our own SHTF event or without going into debt to do it, we can feel good about the struggle.

I hope this article and this series is helping. What are your best-prepping inventory solutions? What has this pandemic taught you about the way you prep?

Related post & video: Keeping Track Of Your Prepper Pantry Stocks

Other posts in the Early Prepping Lessons From The Coronavirus Series:

Be safe. Be prepared.
~Hawkins Out

Brian Hawkins

Father, grandfather, Veteran, animal lover, law-abiding taxpayer, homeowner, trucker, and a United States Citizen. Oh, and I'm also a prepper, survivalist, responsible gun owner, and hiker.

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