The One Essential Thing Preppers Forget

Now will never come again.

The One Essential Thing Preppers Forget
Photo by NEOM on Unsplash

I first became collapse-aware in the fall of 2020. At the time, I believed we had about three decades before collapse would claim the lives of myself and my family. At first, I chose not to think about it. Thirty years is a long time, so why stress over something so far away?

Over the next couple of years, as I learned more about peak oil, climate change, and biodiversity loss, I began to realize that my family and I likely only have 10–20 years before collapse comes for us. Not nearly as long as I had hoped.

My first instinct was to prepare. I added a bunch of new foods to my stockpile, got more off-grid cooking supplies, expanded my first aid kits, planted a bigger garden, and ordered all sorts of survival gear and equipment.

I told myself I was preparing for all the temporary disasters that would happen before the total collapse of civilization. After all, collapse isn’t a one-time event — it’s a process. No doubt there will be temporary blackouts, temporary food shortages, and other temporary disasters along the way. I wanted to be prepared for those times.

But the thing is, I was already prepared for those times. I’ve been a prepper for years, so I already had the skills and supplies I needed to get my family through things like blackouts and hurricanes. Why did I suddenly feel the need to stockpile more stuff?

I now realize that I was doing it to make myself feel better. I had this idea that at some point, I would finally be officially “prepared for collapse.” While I acknowledged that long-term survival was unlikely, I hadn’t really accepted it.

Early this year, I started writing a newsletter called Collapse Catch-Up where I summarized all the collapse-related news from the previous week. I thought I knew a lot about collapse before, but working on this newsletter was very eye-opening. Collapse had progressed much farther than I thought it had.

Then, the summer of 2023 happened. In the span of a few months, I saw shockingly high ocean temperatures, record-breaking heat waves, the worst wildfire season ever, floods that displaced millions, and multiple crop failures. I learned that microplastics and forever chemicals were everywhere, and that biodiversity loss was now threatening entire branches on the tree of life.

I could go on and on, but the point is that this year, I realized we don’t have 10–20 years before supply chains disintegrate and the grid goes down for good. It’s probably more like 5–15 years, if that.

Realizing this made me sick to my stomach.I wasn’t ready.There were still so many things to do and supplies to gather. I felt like I was racing against the clock, but no matter how much I accomplished, I still didn’t feel ready.

I wished I had never become collapse-aware.

Then last weekend, I decided to take a break from everything and go camping with my sons. We set up a tent, built a fire, cooked dinner, told scary stories, and looked at the stars.

The next morning, we went hiking. Along the way, we found a lake so calm there wasn’t a single ripple in the water, which perfectly reflected the surrounding trees. Eventually, the trail led to a boardwalk where we saw a waterfall that fell into a 100-foot sinkhole, which — as I explained to the boys — had slowly formed over thousands of years.

As we headed back to the campsite, I realized something: This is the happiest I’ve felt in years.

Later that day, I sat on my front porch for a long time, just thinking about everything. If I spend my final years gathering emergency supplies and practicing survival skills nonstop, how much extra time will I buy myself?

In a total collapse scenario (no power and no supply chains), maybe I could buy myself a few extra months — a few difficult and dangerous months given that I live in a county with over 200,000 people who will be hungry and frightened.

If I convince my relatives to pool their resources so we can purchase land in the countryside, maybe we could buy ourselves a few extra years. Maybe. With millions of starving people across the country, it would be impossible to defend a homestead for long.

So I asked myself, why am I so obsessed with being completely prepared when such a thing isn’t really possible?

And then it hit me: It’s because I haven’t fully accepted that collapse is coming. I realized that deep down, some part of me was still denying it, still hoping that I would reach a point when I felt so prepared that I wouldn’t be afraid anymore.

I wasn’t facing my fear of collapse — I was running from it.

But why? Do I really want to spend my final years desperately preparing for the collapse when doing so will only buy me a few months or years at best?

Don’t get me wrong — I love doing things like working in my garden or cooking over a campfire, and I’m glad I have some skills and supplies. I encourage everyone to learn a few skills like basic first aid or washing clothes by hand. You’re going to need them.

But understand this: These skills are not going to save you from the collapse. They’ll make you more resilient, and they’ll make your final years less painful, but in the long run,you’re not going to make it.

I am tired of stressing out because I’m not fully prepared. I’m never going to be fully prepared. No one is. Even if you’re already living off the grid and fully self-sufficient, it’s only a matter of time before a climate disaster kills your crops or destroys your home.

If a doctor told me I had 5–15 years to live, would I spend all my free time searching for a treatment that would only buy me a few extra months?

Of course not!I would spend my time enjoying nature, playing games, listening to music, hanging out with friends and family, and going on little adventures with my kids.

What’s the point of surviving a little longer if you aren’t really living in the first place?

Sure, I could spend all my free time learning knots, canning fruit, drying herbs, cleaning guns, smoking meat, sewing clothes, growing mushrooms, making candles, building booby traps, using the ham radio, and so on and so forth — and I will do some of these things.

But if I’m being honest, most evenings I would rather watch a movie with my kids without feeling guilty that I’m not doing enough to prepare.

I’m tired of living in the future. I want to live in the now. I want to move beyond collapse awareness and into collapse acceptance. I don’t expect to get there all at once, but I already feel less burdened.

I’ll close with my favorite line from Star Trek: TNG, spoken by Captain Picard: “Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”

Read more of Alan's work here and here.

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