SHTF and the value, above all else, of TIME


I found an article over at Commander Zero’s place that started me thinking.  He writes about what he calls “Lego guns“, and the value of simplicity and ease of repair when it comes to firearms.  I entirely agree with what he says, and I highly recommend that you read his article for yourself.  It’s good advice, IMHO.

However, his words led me to think again about one of my chief bugbears when it comes to the “prepper” mentality.  I’ve run into all sorts of people who confidently claim that they have all the skills they need to do what will be necessary in a SHTF situation, when normal supplies, assistance, etc. may not be available.  Some of them involve gunsmithing.  I’ve known more than a few shooters who know enough to keep a revolver in time, or replace parts on a 1911-style pistol, or tune up a lever-action rifle.  However, few of them have taken into account the simple value of time itself when it comes to keeping their equipment in a good state of repair.

Most of us are accustomed to having all sorts of labor-saving and time-saving devices on hand to make our day-to-day lives easier.  Consider:

  • We have motor vehicles to drive to and from the shops, credit cards to charge our purchases, and delivery services to bring us what we can’t buy locally.  We don’t need to raise or hunt our own food every day, or even prepare it – we can buy ready-made meals, or patronize local restaurants.
  • We have electricity to power our washing machines, driers, dishwashers, and other appliances, all of which take the drudgery and day-to-day labor of housework off our hands.  I can still recall the days of tub-style manual washing machines (which I’m surprised to learn are still available today in some countries – see here, for example).  Everything except the actual washing had to be done by hand, including draining the water and adding fresh water for the rinse cycle.  A mangle or wringer sat on top of our machine, through which clothes were fed to wring out excess water – no spin-driers were available.  A clothes washing day was hard labor for my mother, although a lot better than it was in the days of wooden tubs and washboards.  Today’s automatic washers and driers are a far cry from those days!
  • Maintaining our homes is easy with modern tools:  vacuum cleaners, floor polishers, even robotic systems that clean on demand.
All these modern conveniences save us so much time that we hardly ever think of how it was for our grandparents and great-grandparents.  Being a housewife back then was a full-time occupation, made even more difficult by the absence of reliable birth control.  (One of my grandfathers was the youngest of 21 children, of whom only 14 survived to adulthood.)  Women sometimes literally worked themselves into an early grave with all the hard work they had to do.  Men would slave for long hours in factories and offices (the 8-hour day didn’t become widespread until the late 1800’s in the USA), and add to that a long commute – sometimes on foot or horseback, others via streetcars, omnibuses or steam trains – to and from work.  They might spend twelve hours or more away from home each day, then come back to tackle domestic chores like chopping wood for the fireplace and kitchen stove, or building or repairing furniture, or what have you.  The demands on our time, back then, were astronomically greater than they are now, and the work involved was much more laborious.  Spare time was a rare luxury to be treasured, not an everyday occurrence.

If we find ourselves in a SHTF situation, one of the first things we’ll encounter is a drastic reduction in all the labor-saving devices and amenities to which we’re accustomed.  Stores won’t be restocked regularly;  travel will become more difficult, and possibly more dangerous;  power and other utilities may become intermittent, or be cut off altogether;  police, fire, EMS and other services may be drastically reduced or eliminated.  Suddenly we’ll have to spend a lot more time on basic tasks like finding and preparing food, getting wood or other fuel to heat our homes (assuming we have a fireplace or stove that can use them), and protecting ourselves from threats to our safety and security.  Some of us have generators to keep our equipment running;  but if the emergency goes on long enough, we’ll sooner or later run out of fuel for them.  Meantime, it may become too dangerous to use them, because the sound of a generator will attract “borrowing neighbors” like there’s no tomorrow.

We’re also going to be competing with our neighbors for what we need.  If there are limited food supplies, everybody is going to want them.  If the National Guard or other agency delivers supplies, everyone’s going to be mobbing those trucks, wanting their share.  Good luck getting yours, with that sort of competition!  You think you can survive by hunting deer in the woods outside town?  So do all your neighbors – so those deer won’t be there for long.  The woods themselves will vanish like snow on a hot rock, as everybody cuts down the trees for fuel.  Interlopers from further away, who may have even fewer resources than your area, will try to “butt in” and take what you have.  That may lead to conflict that requires you to be extra vigilant and defend your area – reducing the time you have available to forage and gather.  You get the idea.

You think that’s far-fetched?  I’ve seen it at first hand for years.  I traveled extensively in sub-Saharan Africa.  Why do you think the vast shanty towns surrounding most African towns and cities, and African refugee camps, are so barren?  There’s hardly a tree to be seen for miles – because they’ve been cut down for firewood.  Why is it so difficult to keep wild animals alive in African game reserves?  Because impoverished locals want to eat them, and use the grazing in those reserves for their cattle.  Warlords and local gangs set themselves up in control of local resources like drinking water, and exact tolls if you want to get access.  Foreign food aid, sent to famine-stricken areas, is frequently stolen by those gangs and warlords and sold in local markets rather than distributed free of charge, as the donors intended.  Do a few Internet searches and read about all this for yourselves.  It’s at least as bad, if not worse than, anything I’ve said – and it’s been that way for generations.  It’s not about to change.

The same conditions can, and will, arise here if our present social structures fail.  Look at America’s inner-city ghettoes today.  Go on – look at the pictures at that link.  Would you like to live there, under those conditions?  No-one in his right mind would!  Look at Venezuela today.  It’s gone from First World to Third World status in a decade.  Chavez and Maduro are no better than countless African warlords I’ve known.  What happened there can happen here, too, if we aren’t on our guard to prevent it.

Now, think of maintaining our firearms and ammunition and other security needs in an environment like that.  You think you’re going to have time to spend a few hours every week reloading ammo?  No, you’re not.  Those hours are going to be spent on finding food and fuel, or helping your spouse keep your home in some semblance of order (doing everything by hand with brooms, buckets and mops), or defending your home and neighborhood.  You think you’ll have time to tinker with your pistol or rifle, to keep it in good working order?  Again, no, you probably won’t.  The demands on your time will be so much greater than they are today that it’s almost impossible for modern men and women to imagine them.  What’s more, you may not have enough light to work on them during the hours of darkness.  Fiddling with small parts by the light of a candle or oil lamp can be very tricky (ask me how I know this!), and using a flashlight may be restricted by the availability (or otherwise) of batteries.

That means you should have spares of every essential item.  You carry a pistol or revolver?  Good – but how many backups do you have?  The old adage of “two is one and one is none” applies.  After many years of experience in a Third World environment, I have a simple rule of thumb.  If something is critical to my safety, security and survival, I want three of them.  One is in use or on my person or ready for immediate use if required.  The second is standing by to replace the first if anything goes wrong with it.  The third is a backup for the first two.  If the primary or secondary unit fails, the third will replace it, giving me time to repair the broken unit when convenient (and when no more pressing tasks are demanding my attention).  The third is also available to lend to trusted friends and family who might need it.  If that happens, I’ll still have two – my primary item, and a spare.

I apply this to every important defensive or utility item.  I try to have three of each.  My primary rifles use the same magazines, the same ammunition, the same batteries (if applicable).  So do my pistols.  I don’t have to adjust to a different method of operation if I swap one for another.  I do the same with kitchen utensils;  I have three of each essential item – stirring spoons, ladles, kitchen knives, and what have you.  I have three different methods to filter impure water, plus purification tablets and chlorine if needed.  I have five-gallon buckets to use for laundry, complete with Gamma lids and a manual agitator (and holes cut in the lids to accommodate it), so if we suddenly can’t use our electric washing machine, we have another option.  When it comes to cutting wood, I have at least three different methods of doing so, so that if one breaks or is lost or stolen, I have alternatives.  I also have multiple different ways to cook food, if our primary stove is no longer usable.

This means that I can save a lot of time by not having to worry too much about repairs.  If something breaks, I can set it aside, replace it, and carry on with hardly any interruption to my routine.  The broken item can wait until I’m able to attend to it.  This is where Commander Zero’s advice is also very valuable.  Buy items that won’t break much, or, if they do break, can be fixed relatively easily.  I have a small store of essential spare parts for my weapons and critical gear, and I’ve taught myself how to install them.  I’m not dependent on outside assistance to get them up and running after a minor breakdown.  If it’s something major . . . well, that’s why I have three of each critical item.  Now I’ll have only two of whatever it is – but I won’t be left empty-handed.  The broken item can be cannibalized for spare parts to keep the remaining two running.

The same consideration should guide our stocks of essential supplies.  I don’t believe I’ll have enough free time to reload, so I keep an adequate supply of ammunition in store, enough for my foreseeable needs.  (If I end up in a major conflict zone, I’m probably going to die anyway;  but for short- to medium-term problems, dealing with local issues, I think I’m well fixed.)  I may not have enough time to gather food, and there may not be that much available, or it may be too dangerous to venture out to the shops.  Therefore, my wife and I have in stock at least a month’s worth of good, nutritious food, offering a decent variety.  Much of it is in easy-to-open cans or jars, and can be eaten cold, without cooking it, just in case.  There are a couple more months’ worth of basic foodstuffs like rice and beans, things that can be kept for years if necessary, and are relatively simple to prepare under emergency conditions.  If the problem lasts longer than that, we’re going to be in trouble, but we don’t have the storage space or the budget to prepare for that, so we do the best we can.

Use the value of time as a basic principle when deciding what preparations you need to make for emergencies.  You almost certainly won’t have anything like as much free time then as you do now:  so stock up with that in mind.  Select essential tools and equipment that won’t need much time for maintenance and repair, and stock foodstuffs that won’t take a lot of time and resources to cook.  Simplicity wins, almost every time.  Apply the K.I.S.S. principle.  You’ll be glad you did.



  1. There's a Venezuelan blogger who talks about what life is like in Caracas right now (among other things). He's says he's trying to escape the place, but there are a lot of obstacles to that.

    In one of his recent articles he talked about the water situation —

    Money quote: "When we begin to celebrate the return of something that shouldn’t have been gone in the first place—that’s when you realize how much they’ve broken us. There we are, with our metaphorical legs broken, celebrating that they’re letting us borrow a pair of broken clutches for a few hours/days."

  2. i was raised that way, we were poor though we never knew it. the point was driven home again when i deployed to bosnia. not a tree in sight where stood forests before, little ancient lady hobbled miles down the road every morning to gather a backbreaking load of twigs for the stove. took her til dark. long lines of people with buckets hiking to the only clean water source for miles. during the war snipers set up on water sources to pick off the women and kids. i remember a sea of blue tarps strung up over bombed out houses, winter was coming in. it got minus 20 that year. kids ran along side us begging for anything. the camp we were on closed down. 70 civilian locals killed themselves b/c that was the only jobs in the country and they had extended families to feed and no hope of doing it. these blm/antifas think they got it bad, wait til whitey gets tired of their shit.

  3. Hi, Peter. Okay – how DO you know that fiddling with small parts by candlelight is tricky? 🙂 I can guess….

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