Where to Begin
Food and water are the most basic of necessities. Stockpiling these necessities is not a new concept but, in light of our floundering economy and rising costs, it is fast becoming a very popular one. There is so much to take into consideration when you decide to embrace this lifestyle. How many people are you planning to take care of ...for how long in a worst case scenario? Are you preparing for temporary hard times, or a full blown collapse of this economy? No one has a crystal ball and no can really prepare for every single contingency. You just have to take an objective look at your own situation, your own needs, and your own limitations and then do the best you can.
You will need space for your long-term storage. How many people you intend to take care of and for how long will determine how much space you need. Underestimating the space can be a serious pitfall. So calculate carefully and then round up on your estimations. I had a boss once that used to say, 'It always takes a third longer than you expect.' He was talking about estimating labor costs when bidding a contract, but I've found that 'a third longer' is a pretty good rule of thumb. So when you round up, round up by a third. It's much easier to find out you didn't need quite as much of a particular prep item, or didn't need quite as much storage space overall than it is to find out you needed much more.
There are two basic things you need to know before you can determine how much you need in terms of preps or storage space. You need to know how many people you are planning to support and for how long. Obviously you know how many people live in your household, but do you have extended family that you will accommodate if they show up on your doorstep? If so, it's much better to plan for them and have them not show up than to not plan for them and run short in a crisis. So decide how many people you want to accommodate in a worst case scenario. Next decide how many months worth you want to store. We decided on 12 months. The LDS church has always advocated a 12 month supply. It's long-term enough for you to get through most temporary personal crises and short-term enough to be manageable in terms of rotation. But I have known families who just keep a month or two ahead and other families that have literally years worth of staples. Decide what YOU are preparing for and plan accordingly.
Now that you know how many people you expect to accommodate and how long you expect to accommodate them in a worst case scenario, you can start your itemized list of what you will be storing. It can be mind-boggling at first. Somehow the hardest things to estimate for 12 month supply are the very things that are the most fundamentally essential to our daily life. Toilet paper is a good example. It's something we ALL use daily and would all miss dearly if it wasn't there. Yeoldfurt and I jokingly refer to it as 'rolled gold.' I say jokingly, but we take it very seriously. Off the top of your head, if you were new to prepping, would you KNOW how much toilet paper you would need per person for a 12 month supply? Before last year, I wouldn't have. For most people, their initial estimate would tend to be high because their estimate would be influenced by their keen desire not to be caught short. But investing more than you need of one item at some point robs you of the ability to invest enough in some other need. So it's important to be as realistic as possible in your estimation of quantities for all things. Breaking everything down into a one week or even a one day supply will simplify the task.
When we were just starting out, Yeoldfurt found a list online somewhere and built our list from that using Excel spreadsheet software. If you're building the list on the computer, any software will do ...but I highly recommend using a spreadsheet so you can easily sort. Most wordprocessing softwares will sort also if you set them up correctly, but it's not as user friendly. If you have spreadsheet software, that's definitely the best way to go.
Every item on Yeoldfurt's initial list was in alphabetical order. I decided early on that I needed to reorganize it into categories if I was going to be able to use it week to week. I also found that it included a lot of things that we didn't really use. Every family is different and has different needs. I'm the shopper and the cook in our household, so the list had to make sense to ME if I was going to be able to use it efficiently. Every person is different. Every family is different. You have to make sure the list fits your situation.
These are the eight categories that I used to organize our list:
Beverages & Related Condiments
Cooking/Staples & Mixes
An inventory list is only useful if it's kept current. When I pull something out of storage, I write it down on my grocery list for the following week. Then a day or two before I plan to shop, I add any items from the inventory list that we're short of goal on. When I get home from shopping, I update the quantities on the spreadsheet. It's really very easy once you get in the habit.