6 ways to build resilience at home

“Be like a squirrel” and other advice for unexpectedly difficult times.

The coronavirus pandemic has made people realize how dependent they are on the outside world for services, resources, and entertainment. Weeks of self-isolation have left many feeling vulnerable, scared, and bored. In the months and years that follow this pandemic, I suspect that more people will be wanting to build up their resilience at home. They won't become outright preppers, who anticipate worst-case scenarios at every turn (and do have some worthwhile takeaway points for the rest of us), but they won't want to feel so blindsided and exposed to disaster ever again.

I came across an article by Trent Hamm for The Simple Dollar blog, where he lists “12 frugal ways to become more self-sufficient.” This is exactly what I'm talking about, and I'd like to highlight a few of his points, and share some of mine. Self-sufficiency, or resilience, is always a smart goal to pursue, and it doesn't have to be all or nothing; even a partial achievement can make a big difference. If you're not already doing some or all of these things, you can start today.

1. Learn to cook.

Knowing how to prepare your own food is a basic life skill, but many urban dwellers have managed to get away from it in the age of convenient takeout. With many of those avenues now gone, it's been a steep learning curve for some to figure out how to feed themselves. Even when life gets back to normal, I urge you to keep cooking, and to do so until, as Hamm writes, you become incredibly efficient at it:

“The best way to build this skill is to simply do it. Make lots of meals at home, and repeat making your favorite ones until they seem like second nature. Make lots of food items yourself, like bread and pasta and pickles, again repeating it until it feels like second nature. What you’ll find is that the more natural cooking at home becomes, the less appealing it is to eat out.”

2. Localize your food supply.

There's nothing like shortages at the grocery store to make you realize how dependent we've all become on foods imported from faraway. This is not a fun feeling, especially when you're responsible for feeding other people. That's why you should start sourcing as much food as possible from nearby. It establishes relationships with local farmers, gives them much-needed income, and shortens the distance from field to table, which reduces the likelihood of mishaps occurring. You can also plant your own garden.

Then, be like a squirrel (as I tell my kids) and hoard summer food for the winter months. We go fruit picking multiple times between July and October and buy large quantities of seasonal produce, such as apples, corn, and tomatoes, when it's at peak ripeness. We spend hours processing these foods, preparing them for freezing or canning. While I usually still have to supplement the supply throughout the winter, it feels good knowing I have back-ups on hand.

3. Get healthy.

There are many excellent reasons to get in shape and prioritize physical health, but times like these underscore it more than ever. It's one less thing to worry about at an already-challenging time. Eat well, exercise regularly, drink less alcohol and more water, get enough sleep, spend time outdoors. Hamm writes,

“The more steps you take to get your own health under control, the less reliant you are on medical visits, medications, and other health care support. Better health also means that it’s easier for you to take care of yourself in stressful situations.”

4. Develop at-home hobbies.

You should be able to entertain yourself at home, without needing to go out. This requires developing hobbies that use supplies you own and don't need to be replenished – or at least not often. For me, this is reading books (I get a steady supply by borrowing from friends and ordering online, now that the library is closed), using my garage gym, practicing musical instruments, cooking, and playing board games with my husband.

My kids are using their sports equipment more than ever – bicycles, skate boards, basketball net, pogo stick, soccer ball, and scooters. They're small consolation for the loss of playdates with friends, but it's a way to stay occupied and active. We've dug out old colouring and craft supplies, too.

5. Befriend your neighbors.

Knowing (and hopefully liking!) the people who live near you is a huge benefit. You can share tools and resources on occasion and help each other with specialized skills. Neighbors can keep an eye on your place when you're away. They can also make a time of isolation feel less lonely, even if you're only able to have a distant, partially-shouted conversation about how you're both coping. Hamm writes,

“Build up those relationships. Be friendly with your neighbors. Get to know them a little. Offer help if you see where you can easily provide it. Don’t hesitate to ask for small favors, either, as that’s also useful for building relationships. Borrow tools and lend them. Swap food items. That relationship will build and strengthen over time, and it will always be useful.”

6. Stock the house.

I recently found a copy of “The Prepper's Cookbook,” written by Tess Pennington in 2013. She thinks every household should have a stockpile of shelf-stable food for emergencies, whether it's a natural disaster, a pandemic, or economic difficulties. She says the process can be gradual, adding just a single stockpile item to your grocery cart every week until you build up a bigger supply. This also helps you escape the cycle of “just-in-time shopping.”

“If you don't shop ahead, you're a hostage to price fluctuations when you're out of something. But once you've built a basic stockpile, that's no longer the case. By keeping track of what you have, what you need, and how much you're willing to pay, you can consistently get the best price – and you'll rarely run out of anything.”

This pandemic experience has certainly taught me that. I think nothing now of buying the biggest quantity of beans, rice, potatoes, and flour that I can get my hands on because I know it'll get eaten. I've grown more comfortable with spending more at the grocery store, but then only having to go once every two weeks, which results in spending less overall.

In conclusion, this is not about undermining the benefits of community support and shared resources. Those play an important role, too (and I can't wait to get back to them, especially the library), except that they're not always accessible. Sometimes we do have to fall back on what we have ourselves, what we've bought and stored for all these years, which is where planning ahead really pays off.

“Be like a squirrel” and other advice for unexpectedly difficult times.