What Should I Do?: The Basics of Resilience (Part I - Getting Started)

Note:  This is the first of a series on personal preparation to help you address the question, "What should I do?"

The copy in this series comes from a book chapter I wrote for The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises (Richard Heinberg and Daniel Lerch, eds.) 

It is being reproduced here with permission.  For other book excerpts, permission to reprint, and purchasing, please visit http://www.postcarbonreader.com.


The point of personal and community preparedness can be summed up in one single word: resilience.

It can feel pretty personally overwhelming to learn about all the economic, environmental, and energy challenges in store for us for the rest of this century.  There's plenty of work to be done by governments and businesses, sure—but what about preparing yourself and your family for this quickly changing world?  The choices seem overwhelming.  Where does one begin?

Six years ago, I began to address these questions for myself and my family.  I'll be honest; my first motivation came from a place of fear and worry.  I worried that I could not predict when and where an economic collapse might begin.  I fretted that the pace of the change would overwhelm the ability of our key social institutions and support systems to adapt and provide.  I darkly imagined what might happen if a Katrina-sized financial storm swept through the banking system.  I was caught up in fear.

But I am no longer in that frame of mind.  Here, six years later, I am in a state of acceptance about what the future might bring (although I am concerned), and I have made it my life's work to help others achieve a similar measure of peace.  While I am quite uncertain about what might unfold and when, I am positive that anyone can undertake some basic preparations relatively cheaply and will feel better for having done so.

I am passionately interested in helping others to gracefully adapt their lifestyles and adjust their expectations to a very different-looking sort of future.  I have no interest in scaring you further, or having you approach the future with trepidation, anxiety, or fear.  Quite the opposite.  I want to let you know that adjusting and adapting can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling journeys you could undertake.  It has been so for our family.

Just so you have a sense of the scope and the pace of these changes in our lives, I should mention that in 2003 I was a VP at a Fortune 300 company, forty-two years of age with three young children (the oldest was nine), living in a six-bedroom waterfront house, and by every conventional measure I had it all.  Today I no longer have that house, that job, or that life.  My "standard of living" is a fraction of what it formerly was, but my quality of life has never been higher.  We live in a house less than half the size of our former house, my beloved boat is gone, and we have a garden and chickens in the backyard.

Peering in from the outside, someone might conclude that our family had fallen off the back of the American-dream truck with a thud.  But from the inside they would observe a tight, comfortable, confident, and grounded family.  We owe much of our current state of unity to the fact that we embarked on a journey of becoming more self-sufficient and discovered the importance of resilience and community along the way.

Anyone can do the same.  But first, we must lay some groundwork and address the question, "Why prepare?" After that, we can delve into the details.

The Basics of Preparing

Becoming Resilient

The point of personal (and community) preparedness can be summed up in one single word: resilience.

We are more resilient when we have multiple sources and systems to supply a needed item, rather than being dependent on a single source.  We are more resilient when we have a strong local community with deep connections.  We are more resilient when we are in control of how our needs are met and when we can do things for ourselves.

We are more resilient if we can source water from three locations—perhaps from an existing well, a shallow well, and rainwater basins—instead of just one.  If we throw in a quality water filter (essential for the rainwater anyway), then just about any source of water becomes potentially drinkable.

We are more resilient if we can grow a little bit more of our own food, rather than rely on a single grocery store.  Our community gains food resilience when we demand local food, perhaps by shopping at a farmers’ market or purchasing a farm produce subscription (also known as "community-supported agriculture"), and thereby increase our local supply of food and farming skills.

We are more resilient when our home can be heated by multiple sources and systems, perhaps wood and solar to complement oil or gas.

For my family, resilience now stretches well beyond our four walls and physical things and deep into our local networks and community.  But it began with focusing our initial efforts within our household.

Resilience, then, becomes the lens through which we filter all of our decisions.  It is a great simplifying tool.  Should we buy this thing?  Well, how does it make us more resilient?  Should we invest in developing this new skill?  Well, how will that help us be more resilient?  Should we plant these trees or those?  Well, which ones will add the most to the natural diversity and abundance around us?

It's really that simple.  Instead of finding ourselves overwhelmed by all the things we could or should be doing, we find our lives simpler and easier.

The first concept of becoming prepared is resilience.

(Photo credit <photo credits="><em>Sand Storm cc-by-nc Roadsidepictures)</em></photo> </p> <h3>Insufficient, but Necessary</h3> <p>We must become the change we wish to see.  If we just sit back and wait for a world where people are living with a reduced footprint and in balance with our economic and natural budgets, that world will never come.  It is up to each of us to inspire others by first inspiring ourselves.  The good news is that you are not and will never be alone on this journey.</p> <p>But let's be perfectly honest:  Any steps we might take to prepare for a potential environmental, societal, or economic disruption, no matter how grand, are nearly certain to be insufficient.  Nevertheless, they are still necessary.  They will be insufficient because being perfectly prepared is infinitely expensive.  But actions are necessary because they help us align our lives with what we know about the world.  In my experience, when gaps exist between knowledge and actions, anxiety (if not fear) is the result.  So it's not the state of the world that creates the anxiety quite as much as it is someone's lack of action.</p> <p>To put it all together, we take actions because we must.  If we don't, who will?  We change the world by changing ourselves.  We reduce stress, fear, and anxiety in our lives by aligning our thoughts and our actions and by being realistic about what we can preserve, setting our goals and plans accordingly.</p> <h5><em>The second concept of preparation is that actions are both necessary <strong>and </strong>insufficient.</em></h5> <blockquote> <h3>What's the difference between being zero percent self-reliant and 3 percent?   Night and day.</h3> </blockquote> <h3>Set Targets</h3> <p>When considering preparation, the first question is usually, "How much?"  Here I recommend setting a realistic goal, given the amount of money and time you have to devote.

My family's goal has never been to be 100 percent self-sufficient in meeting any of our basic needs.  Instead, our goal has been to increase our self-sufficiency to something, anything, greater than “none.”  For example, until we got our solar panels we were 100 percent dependent on the utility grid.  Now we are something laughably less than that, perhaps 3 percent, but we can manufacture and use our own electricity.  What's the difference between being zero percent self-reliant and 3 percent?  Night and day.  We can charge batteries, have light at night, and, most important, prevent our fully stocked freezer from thawing during a power outage.

There's an enormous difference between being zero percent and 10 percent self-sufficient for food production.  In the former case you rely on the existing food-distribution system.  In the latter case you have a garden, local relationships with farmers, fruit trees in the yard, perhaps a few chickens, and a deep pantry.  Developing even a limited percentage of your own food production does not take a lot of money, but it does take time.  So set a realistic target that makes sense for you and your family, and then find a way to get there.

The third concept of preparation is to set realistic goals.

Being In Service

Reducing my own anxiety was reason enough to prepare, but an equally important objective was to be of service to my community.  Should a crisis occur, I expect to find many unprepared people scrambling around in a desperate bid to meet their needs and many others paralyzed by the situation and unable to effectively act.  I feel it is my duty to not be among them.

Some have commented that they think of personal preparation as a selfish act, possibly involving guns and bunkers, but that's not what this is about.  My experience in life tells me that being a good community member means having your own house in order.  If you do, you'll be in a better position to add valuable resources and skills to any future efforts.

My expectation is that communities will rally in the face of a disruption, an act I've witnessed several times having lived through hurricanes in North Carolina.  But some communities will fare better than others and the difference between them will be dictated by the resilience of their respective citizen populations.  I wish to live in a resilient community, which means I must become more resilient.

The fourth concept of preparation is that your community needs you to get yourself prepared.

Step Zero

Many people, when daunted by the potential magnitude of the coming change, immediately jump to some very hard conclusions that prove incapacitating.  For example, they may have thoughts such as, "I need to go back to school to get an entirely different degree so I can have a different job!" or "I need to completely relocate to a new area and start over, leaving all my friends behind!" or "I need to abandon my comfortable home and move to a remote off-grid cabin!"  These panic-driven conclusions may feel so radical that they are quickly abandoned.  As a result, nothing gets accomplished.  Further, nearly everyone has hidden barriers to action lurking within.

My advice here is crisp and clear.  Find the smallest and easiest thing you can do, and then do it.  I don't care what it is.  If that thing for you is buying an extra jar of pimentos because you can't imagine life without them, then buy an extra jar next time you are shopping and put them in the pantry.  I am only slightly joking here.  I call this "step zero" to symbolize something minor that might precede step one.

The point is that small steps lead to bigger steps.  If you have not yet taken step one toward personal preparation and resilience, then I invite you to consider taking step zero.

Examples might be taking out a small bit of extra cash to store outside of the bank in case of a banking disruption, buying a bit more food each week that can slowly deepen your pantry, or going online to learn something more about ways you can increase your resilience with regard to water, food, energy, or anything else you deem important to your future.  It doesn't so much matter what it is, as long as an action is taken.

The fifth concept of preparation is to start with small steps.


The Importance of Community

My community is the most important element of my resilience.

In my case, I joined up with eight other gentlemen, and, as a group, over the course of a year we went through each and every “bucket” of a self-assessment we designed covering nine basic areas of our lives.  We took a good, hard look at our then-current situations, made plans for preparation and change, and held each other accountable for following through with our plans.  The support we shared was, and still is, invaluable.

My wife, Becca, and our children are deeply hooked into a wider community of people actively engaged in nature awareness, permaculture, native skills, fruit collection, and other pastimes that to them seem recreational, but also offer deeper local connections to people and nature.

I would recommend working with people you trust or with whom you already share basic values.  The closer they live to you geographically, the better.  One of my core values is this:  I have no interest in living in fear, and my plan is to live through whatever comes next with a positive attitude and with as much satisfaction and fun as I can possibly muster.  So it has always been important to me to be in community with others who share this outlook.  And even now that I've experienced the pleasures (and joys and frustrations) of working in a group setting on matters of preparation, I would still immediately join or start another one if I happened to move away.

I now count this group as one of the most important elements in my life. I know who I can talk to about next steps, I know who I can count on in an emergency, and I know who will look after my family should I happen to be out of town when something big goes awry.

It is incredibly helpful to find people to join forces with as you step through the basics of self-preparation.  I encourage you to consider seeking like-minded locals with whom to form such a group, if you have not already done so, and to encourage others to do the same.

My preparation group is now working outside of our group and exploring ways to help get our larger community into a more resilient position.  I am only as secure as my neighbor is, and we are only as secure as our town, and our town is only as secure as the next town over.  But it all begins at the center, like a fractal pattern, with resilient households determining how the future unfolds.

The sixth concept of preparation is that community is essential.

(Photo credit Hand tower (c) Claus Mikosch)

[Note:  Several individuals have had enormous success in rallying their communities and/or finding like-minded individuals by hosting public viewings of the Crash Course using the special edition 3-disc version which we prepared specifically for those purposes.  You can obtain it here.  It works!]


If you have not yet seen the other articles in this series on resilience, you can find them here:

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/what-should-i-do-the-basics-of-resilience-part-i-getting-started-2/

Way cool, Chris!  I think a lot of people on the site are going to be very happy to see this new series!
Also, congrats again on the book chapter; I can’t wait to get a copy of the book! 



Very much gratified to have this conversation (which I suppose is really a series of conversations) kicking off!
To those out there who have not begun preparation – who have not taken steps to increase their resilience to the ongoing (and coming) changes we’re experiencing – I strongly recommend getting to Step Zero.  For me it was signing up as a full member here.  Step Zero-Point-One was starting to lay in extra canned goods for the pantry.  (I’d scope out what was on sale each week and just buy a bunch without much thought as to nutritional completeness or variety.)  The cost-per-week of that was anywhere from US$5 to US$20.  Not expensive.

Step One was buying a 3-month supply of hardcore dehydrated #10 can food.  Not terribly exciting from a culinary point of view, but I immediately felt better/more secure.

Step Two was procuring a firearm and starting to learn how to use it (I had never owned one before).  Step Two-Point-One is to go hunting w/a friend that’s a lifelong deer/turkey/bear hunter.  I say “is” and not “was” because he and I haven’t been able to get out there yet but we’re set on deer season this Fall.  Having hunting skill will also add to our food resilience.

Subsequent actions have focused mostly on deepening our supply of stored food, socking away some PMs, and working hard on the Community Building front.  The last of those three is IMO the more vital link in the resilience chain – but also has the longest incubation time.  

So I’ve  been working on this stuff for about 15 months, give or take.  I know I have a lot of things still ahead of me.  But I’m a lot less nervous about the future than I was in April '09.  

If you haven’t already, get out there and start making a more resilient future happen.

Viva – Sager

Chris, I just pre-ordered a copy of the Post Carbon Reader.  I look forward to its release date in September!
After I submitted my order, I got thinking that I may order a few extra copies for my local libraries (town and colleges).  Trying to educate people in my local circle of friends (let alone area) has been very difficult… most of the people I’ve talked just don’t want to hear anything that is different from their current set of beliefs about the world.  So I’ve re-learned the old adage, “you can’t lead a horse to water”.  By the same token, it can’t hurt to put the “water” out there and make it available to whoever, whenever.  At least that way, if they do get thirsty to learn more, the resource will be readily available to them.  (I hope this doesn’t sound like a marketing pitch -it isn’t meant to.  Rather, I wanted to share the idea with others who -like me- are having a hard time getting people in their community to listen to them.  This may be a different approach to try.)

Sager, really great post!  It is very interesting to see what other people’s priorities were at the outset and compare/learn from them! 

I have pretty much done what Sager posted. Just received my 2 yr supply of Thrive food in 168 one gallon cans (#10). They boxed them in 6 cans per box. It is easy to stack & really takes up less space than I thought. Cost was $1600 & worth every penny for the peace of mind. It lasts up to 25 years.
Now I just need my front fence & electric gates for my final security. On my lower property I have a dam that I would love to make some hydroelectric with. Have to see about costs but this is one dream I hope to see in my lifetime.

For the first time in 20 years of living on my space just outside the city I had a Meth-head pounding on my door at 4:30 am. It was pitch dark & he said he was lost asking for directions for the city. These lost souls are multiplying like flies so don’t forget fencing gates & dogs!

Excellent presentation.  I am going to get my wife to read this and move her one step closer. . .Thanks a bunch for helping the uninitiated get started.  It is important to know that we aren’t alone, and that I am not crazy.
It was getting hard to explain why we “might” need  things like body armor (I live 7 miles from Mexican border, give me a break).

idoctor - you bought how much? from whom?  Please post link to site so I can order from these people.  That seems like a really excellent price.

Thanks all.

Rector here is the link. http://www.costco.com/Browse/Product.aspx?Prodid=11487214&whse=BC&Ne=4000000&eCat=BC|3605&N=4040913&Mo=25&No=0&Nr=P_CatalogName:BC&cat=75277&Ns=P_Price|1||P_SignDesc1&lang=en-US&Sp=C&topnav=
This just went on sale on July 15…cost was 799.99 but it is now $200 higher. Give it time & watch it will be back on sale. I am munching on the first can I just opened (strawberries LOL) not bad I might add. The pressure seems to be coming off emergency supplies at the moment…all seems to be a little more calm.

Shelf Reliance THRIVE™  1-year Supply  Dehydrated & Freeze-Dried Food

One guy comments on the Costco site:

"Excellent Product, buy while you can. If you can't see what's comming, buy some glasses.

Chris, thanks for giving preparation a priority in the blog. I definitely have room to grow in resilience so that
I can lead others. Thanks for your guidence.

pinecarr said it…Way Cool!
Much appreciated.  I have been stuck in step zero for some time now.  I really look forward to Part 2 and will start back at the beginning after reading Part 1.  This is invaluable information and it looks like you have several members that are well on their way.  Hopefully I can pick their brains as you go along.

Thanks again,


Rector - You might also want to check out the Nitro-Pak site as they also have a wide selection of freeze dried foods including beef & chicken entrees. They also have a good selecion of water filters & purification devices etc. 

I can in jars anything and everything.I also prepare dried food,jerky,mushrooms,berries,etc.they don’t last forever but if you keep your stock rotating you won’t have to worry about wasting any.I also trade food with my neighbors,If I have more than i need of something,berries for example,then I will make my rounds giving it all away.I never expect or ask for anything in return but I always recieve something in exchange.

Great job Chris!!

Great Job Chris!
I too have used the resilience filter whenever I buy staples and food.  Just got an All-American Pressure cooker (21 QT) to can recipes this Fall.  It is actually an like preparing for an extended camping trip.  Prepare as if you would to be self-reliant, but as I found out, don’t buy canned or freeze dried foods no one else would eat.

Thanks for sharing your personal preparations.   I’ve taken a different approach to food.  My food storage is minimal because  I’ve been able to grow fresh garden produce and fresh fruit every month.  Since we are surrounded by agriculture (lots of dairies, chickens, fruits, nuts, sweet potatoes, dried beans, grains, and even spices, food has never been a major concern.   My weakest link is electricity.  When the neighbors down the road installed two very large racks with solar panels, my wife was less than pleased and made it be known that wouldn’t happen on our 10 acres.    I feel this is a potentially large problem, since we have our own well.  Windmill sounding better all the time.


Chris, I love how you are able to think things like this through in an organized way, and write it down succinctly with a beginning and an end.
I have started my own step zero a long time ago – or, rather, I never really lived without taking it, as growing up in communist Hungary I never had the full trust, that the government/economy will take care of us all. But as I have been doing it over the years with more and more organization, and less and less alone, I can attest, that it can very much be a fun (and never ending) process.

One thing I noticed in my own process is, how much better it is when I don’t have to do these steps alone. I am one of those gentlemen in the group Chris mentions, and to work together towards a common goal with a group of men I love and respect is truly a blessing. And the “not having to do it alone” piece is only a small part of the relief I get through banding together with other like-minded people: the other, even more important part is the mutual inspiration we provide to each other by making commitments to stretch our abilities to prepare, and consequently being accountable by sharing our successes, as well as shortcomings, with each other.

The good news is, you don’t have to ‘luck out’ to have an all special and unique group of people to do this with – a lot of towns are starting up groups in connection with the Transition Town movement which is especially geared for creating the community that is able to deal with changes in circumstances in the environment – resilience. I am part of the one in my home town, so I know the effect is similar.

One more important piece for me of any step I take is the concurrent emotional preparation. To thoroughly acknowledge, that the next twenty years in my own (and everybody’s) life will be profoundly different than the last twenty years, and to work on being OK with this in a deep-deep level. Chris may not mention it explicitly, but it is implicit in the “small steps” of Step Zero, or in the “community is essential” of his 6th concept. Anything can happen. Fighting with reality creates chasms (“when gaps exist between knowledge and actions, anxiety (if not fear) is the result” as Chris wrote), while looking at it honestly and attempting to learn moving with the flow releases the tension. And I put energy into my emotional preparation to be able to deal with the odds, or unforeseeable in the future.


Hey Nate – If I was still living Maui (as I once did) I’d sweat the food less (at least in terms of storing veggies, etc. – I guess I’d be busy learning how to raise chickens/goats), but here in New York state we don’t have a 12-month growing seez.  <smile> 

As for power gen – I’d dearly love to have some PV capacity, and also some wind (directly generating electricity).  But seeing as how I live in hilly country, one of my ultimate dreams/plans is to put in windmills to pump water uphill to a (in my dream) huge cistern, from which we can either flow the water downhill for plumbing or irrigation purposes, or to generate electricity from a micro-generator type thang. 

Why does your wife have an anti-PV bias? 

Viva – Sager

I don’t remember what my Step Zero was. It may have been buying extra food at Costco. Anyways, once I took that 1st step, Step Zero, I gained confidence to take additional steps, such as keeping lots of cash hand and buying gold, both things that I have never believed in. And every step I took lead me to take additional steps. I tried my hand at canning applesauce for the 1st time over the winter. I’m canning peaches this weekend. Next week I am closing on a house, and 2 days later I am meeting with a local permaculture expert for a site assessment. My steps have gone exponential per se! So make sure you take that 1st step, Step Zero.
Thanks Chris!

 Today I found a pressure canner, Hot bath canner ,  Blue Ball book ,and jars at the  thrift shop !  All total $20  .  Now  I  will take small mouth jars if I find a bargain … 25 cents to free  . But if I have to buy them new, I will only get wide mouth jars .    Biggest thing I learned recently is that you can   hot bath in the oven any acid food … Fruit , pickles ,tomatoes, etc.      Follow directions until you get to the putting the jars in the water bath .  Here is where you have heated the oven to 500 with a pan of water in the bottom .    Set  your MANY jars on cookies sheets and turn the oven down to 200  for 30 min.   Then turn the oven off  the jars will be sealed when they finally cool off .  You can do dozens at a time . I am considering doing this to my dehydrated food too , because when I went to drag out some of these for the fair a few bags of peppers and onions had softened up some .  Still tasted fine but would not have gotten a decent ribbon.
 Do not do this with low acid foods that need to be pressure cooked … Vegs , meat ,fish , and such .  I have to admit that  just one years supply does not give me  total peace  because of the failures I have had in gardening seasons past . 

  I get a joy out of hearing the grandchildren spy a  bunch of elderberries , choke cherries. wild plums , etc .  along the road as we travel to any destination .  They say  " Grandma  did you see that ?  Will you remember where we saw these when the time is ripe ?" 

  Anyway… always keep you eyes open for such treasures as these …   and the bonus is that  the grandchildren will listen to you better than your children will.   I have a feeling that they will need this training even more .  

 I got  6 rabbit,  stacking cages to  put starter chicks in for $10 ,  Lastly I  brought home shelving from a grocery store … many shelves for $25 !   My basement is beginning to look like its own little store .

 Didn’t I confess I am a scrounge a couple times before .   It really gets kind of challenging to see what all you can do for very little money .

  Any prepping feels like you are at least stepping forward , not backward .



My wife (great women) has an anti-PV bias because she is very old school.  She grew up on a dairy down the street that had a windmill that pumped its own water (mechanical system, no electric generated).    Since we are in an electric district that has its rates ‘subsidized’ by hydro electric, the payback is … well, never.  That being said, would still live PV panels for our freezer and enough water for our emergency needs (like CM). 

FWIW, she is our local 4-H rabbit leader.  Don’t think I could eat the French lop.



Great job everyone!
Chris, this looks awesome. Well done sir.

We are moving towards another step…not sure which one. We have almost 2 years food storage, canning, garden, etc. The things to replicate our food supplies, but not all of the knowledge I would like.

I have been teaching my children the things I learned as I grew up (very poor). Hunting, fishing, trapping are high on the list. We have taken to modifying the stream through our property to accomodate a few more slow moving areas to try our hand at crawfish encouraging ( I dont think I could call it farming at this point).

All the maintenance issues that come with a micro farm are here too. It’s time for a new roof on the shop. A new bridge deck over the stream. painting and fencing chores, in addition to the Steps. The value for us is to look at something at the end of a weekend or afternoon and see it done. We did that. Nice feeling, that is.

Energy is our next issue. I have completely converted to L.E.D. lighting in the house with only three exceptions, and those are still CFL. I want enough solar to run our freezers, one fridge and three lights (total 7.5 watts for the lighting!) as well as our 1000 watt microwave for up to 1o minutes a day, and 3 loads of laundry per week. (No dryer). Just setting these parameters for consumption has been actually liberating. We have agreed as a family what we will live with in the event of the myriad events capable of taking us off grid happen. We have a plan.  Now we need to purchase the solar panels, charge controller, inverter etc. BUt to be resilient we have to have at least one other source…right? Gasification, wind and maybe hydro power are high on our lists.That would give us the boost necessary to be able to run some of the shop tools, to weld and to make or fix many other things.

The energy alternatives to solar might be fun options to look at with your wife Nate. Especially if you can use the local biomass generated from farming to run a gasifier.

Last night we ate our first dinner of food that we ourselves had produced. Breakfast for dinner, venison sausage (from last seasons hunting), eggs from the chicken coop, and greens from the garden. That was a nice completion to several steps.