Non-Doomsday Prepping 7: Some Sundries
Some years back, I started writing a cookbook because I realized a lot of younger families have no idea how to shop, store, and cook affordable food. A lot of folks are living on takeout and spending fortunes on food, having to dine at restaurants or hit the grocery store deli every day, and eating incredibly unhealthy diets. When they tried to eat healthy food, they failed because it was expensive and hard to prepare. In addition, it occurred to me that because they were living day by day, meal by meal, they were unprepared for any emergency (such as the coronavirus we’re looking at right now, job loss or family illness).
So I came up with this concept I called “non-doomsday prepping” — the notion of having a wide variety of shelf-stable food on hand so you can cook at home using ingredients that are on sale, while also being somewhat prepared for emergencies as they arise. Prepping doesn’t mean you’re crazy or weird, it’s actually a great way to save money over the course of time, and it doesn’t even have to take up lots of space.
I’ve divided my cookbook up into smaller essays and I’ll share them here for anyone who is interested.
Part 1 is here: The Case for Being Prepared
Part 2 is here: Shopping for Stocking Up
Part 3 is here: Staples and Beyond
Part 4 is here: Filling in the Gaps
Part 5 is here: Suppertime!
Part 6 is here: What Do I DO With All This???
And if you’re looking for NDP recipes you can find them by clicking my byline or under the Twitter hashtag #nondoomsdayprepping.
Now, some of you may have noticed something about our previous adventures in Non-Doomsday Prepping. So far we have talked just about food, but we buy a lot of other things at the store that are NOT FOOD. Things like paper clips and lip gloss and tile cleaner, which may not be AS necessary to survival as bread and water, but many of which are still pretty darn necessary to survival. The official title I have assigned to these items is sundries. I have compiled a few lists of various sundries that I feel no one would want to be without, not only in a natural disaster/personal emergency/quarantine type of situation, but also just day to day. If you just got married or just bought your first home or have a baby on the way, these are all the things I wish I knew to buy when I was just starting off (and congrats! Don’t waste as much money as I did buying things that were totally unnecessary!)
The rules of stocking sundries are very much the same as with food. Buy only what you will actually use, buy extras on sale whenever you can, and try to avoid running all over town to save pennies, because in the long run, not only do you waste gas and wear and tear on your vehicle, but the more places you shop, the more impulse buy temptation you will experience. If you have a brand of shampoo you really cannot live without that you can only find at one particular store, that’s totally fine, but whenever it’s financially possible, buy several of them at a time to limit the amount of times you have to drive across town to pick some up.
Beware any prepping program that starts off by telling you how to make your own laundry detergent or toothpaste or baby wipes. If you enjoy these types of activities, great. But if the very thought of such ideas makes you want to give up before you even began, that’s ok, I feel you. I wasted so much time and energy chasing the DIY dragon only to realize I hadn’t even saved money and ended up with a much lower quality project. You do not need to do any of those things YOURSELF to succeed at running a household, and in many, many cases the price of getting started is more than the price of just buying the whatever-it-is to begin with, even if over time it pays for itself. Over time, the majority of people who try to make everything themselves give up anyway, sometimes because it’s so much work, and other times because the stuff we make ourselves just isn’t as good. In the Non-Doomsday Prepping Department of Atomic Enterprises, Inc we err on the side of achievable goals.
Despite being long (2-parter!) this is the least fleshed out section of my project, so if you have any ideas, hints, tips, suggestions, or if I have left anything obvious or glaring out, please hit me up in the comments and let me know.
Fifteen Necessary Beauty Supplies
I tried to make it ten but all these feel pretty necessary.
Soap, shampoo, conditioner, hairbrush (at least one spare hairbrush, in reserve, in case yours gets lost or breaks) toothpaste, spare toothbrushes (at least one per person, in reserve), dental floss, Listerine, nail clippers, deodorant, face lotion (I prefer hypoallergenic gentle lotion for the face such as Cetaphil) body lotion (I prefer something more potent, but still hypoallergenic, for the body such as Aveeno or Eucerin, and you may want to get something even more potent for dry hands…though Vaseline is cheap and has many uses), Chapstick (I strongly recommend Blistex Deep Renewal), razors, sharp scissors and/or hair clippers for home haircuts
Note about Listerine — in addition to being a useful plaque-fighting mouthwash, it’s handy in case you or one of your children gets a wound inside your mouth. In a pinch, you can also use booze to clean out oral injuries.
Note about Blistex Deep Renewal — If you have cold sores, Blistex Deep Renewal (it has to be THIS particular type of Blistex, not the other ones) is magical. I bought it once at random when I was getting a cold sore (which I used to get often) and the itching and tingling stopped in its tracks within minutes. The sore went away without ever forming. I had no more cold sores for years, then I ran out. Within a month without Blistex Deep Renewal, I had several cold sores in a row. I know it’s hard to believe a type of chapstick could prevent cold sores, but I swear by it.
Note about scissors and/or clippers — Little did I know when I started this project several years ago, “how will I get my hair cut in an emergency” would become a worldwide dilemma. I had included clippers in my original list anyway because haircuts are expensive, and cutting your own hair is a great way to save several hundred dollars a year (or more, if you have 4 sons like I do). Clippers aren’t expensive and can sit on the shelf till they’re needed, and scissors can, of course, be used for many things…though you’ll have better results if you keep your haircut scissors nice and sharp, using them for hair trimming only.
Optional but for ME mandatory — hair color. As many of us are learning to our great dismay the word “quarantine” means no trips to the salon to deal with our horrible root situation. As an Actual Poor Person, I’ve always colored my hair at home, though, and have pretty good results with it (at least I like to think so anyway). It is much cheaper than a salon, too. You may ordinarily find this intolerable but I promise it’s less intolerable than gray roots.
Optional but for many people, mandatory — makeup. If you can afford it, it never hurts to have an extra of your fave product, bought on sale of course, at the back of the medicine cabinet. Personally I figure I can muddle through any emergency using the dregs of old stuff I forgot to throw away, but if you’re working outside the home and need to appear somewhat more presentable than the Phyllis Diller look that I rock, and get things you’ll use anyway and keep them sealed till you need them so they don’t dry up, it’s money well spent.
This is the stuff you have on hand to keep from getting sick.
Vitamins, birth control, wound disinfectant like rubbing alcohol and/or Bactine, bandages, sugar free gum or mints with Xylitol, antihistamine (I suggest getting both Zyrtec and Benadryl, and also get some for your kids), steroid nasal spray (Rhinocort, Flonase, or similar) Tums, lubricating eyedrops (NOT Visine!), sunscreen
Note about vitamins – While most people eating a healthy and balanced diet get enough nutrients from their diets, in times of upheaval and sickness you may not be eating right, and a vitamin can keep you healthy. DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT buy the types of vitamins that have much more than 100% of anything other than Vitamin D and possibly biotin if you have issues with your hair. Unless you have a proven nutrient deficiency they are not better. They can actually make you sick, not only from overdosing, but because taking a high dose and then stopping it suddenly (like if you run out and can’t get more) can be even worse than taking too much to begin with! And they are also exorbitantly expensive. I personally like the cheap and ubiquitous Women’s One a Day — it has a lot of biotin, which I’d prefer it didn’t, but it’s still better than a lot of other vitamins on the market (I am available for endorsements, One a Day Corp.) I also like Men’s One a Day for guys. If you’re over 50 or drink a lot, you may need somewhat more B12 (and One a Day has Over 50 formulas). Centrum is also good. My kids take good ol’ Flintstones with Iron.
Also, beware the vitamins that have lots of added herbs in them. In fact, beware herbal supplements all together. While herbs and spices can be good for your health, it is best if you just eat more of them in dietary amounts or have the occasional cup of herbal tea instead of taking medicinal doses of things that are not at all tested and have risks and side effects and potential interactions with other medications you may be taking. Just because something is beneficial in the human diet, does not therefore mean it’s a great idea to start taking massive amounts. (Please trust me on this, I have seen people cause themselves serious harm with herbal supplements, even seemingly benign ones like cinnamon and turmeric.)
Special mention for iron supplements — If you are a woman in your childbearing years, particularly if you have heavy menstrual cycles or have been pregnant recently or will be pregnant again soon, please pick up a bottle of iron supplements (I recommend Feosol). Don’t get the kinds that come in hundreds of milligrams, get the kind that come in 30-65 mg as they are formulated differently, are better absorbed, and are much easier on the stomach. Children can take Flintstones with Iron. Iron deficiency anemia is common in both small children (they drink a lot of milk, which blocks iron absorption, and don’t eat much meat) and in women of childbearing age (they drink a lot of tea and coffee, which block iron absorption, many don’t eat much meat, and also of course they menstruate and get pregnant).
Many people have inadequate iron without full blown anemia. If you think you may have low iron or full blown anemia (symptoms include getting tired easily, heart palpitations, feeling cold/dizzy/weak/uncharacteristically unmotivated, pale gums, bruising easily, hair loss, your fingernails curving upward or growing with lots of small indentations in them, and brain fog) I have a very low-tech way to test for it. Take 30-65 mg iron daily for 2 weeks along with something that has Vitamin C in it, like juice or low dose Vit. C supplement. This amount will not hurt you even if you don’t have a deficiency as long as you don’t take it longer than 2 weeks. If you feel drastically, dramatically better — sometimes within an hour of taking the first dose — then take the iron daily for 6-8 weeks and then go to a maintenance dose of 3x a week. If you feel worse when you go to 3x a week, take it daily for 12 weeks before reducing dose. Over time too much iron can harm you, so you don’t want to take more than 100% indefinitely.
Special mention for Vitamin D supplements — If you aren’t taking multivitamins and live in an area with limited daylight in the winter, up to 1000 IU Vitamin D is well tolerated (this is the amount in many multivitamins like Women’s One a Day, about 250% DRV). Children can take Flintstones, drink fortified whole milk (please no skim dairy for kids, particularly under two), or take cod liver oil to get additional Vit. D. You can also allow the sun on your bare skin for ten minutes per day. Any longer and you need to wear sunscreen, because your body stops making its own Vitamin D after ten minutes.
Note about birth control – apps on your phone are NOT birth control. There have been several cases of unintended pregnancies in people relying on their apps for birth control. This is because your cycle can change, and an app only predicts what will happen in the future based on past cycles (even the apps based on OPK strips are still unreliable). The menstrual cycle can change dramatically in times of stress, more exercise, and eating less food, and it doesn’t even take a very large reduction in calories for this to happen. Plus, in an emergency, you may not be able to charge your phone. Have something on hand.
Note about sugar free gum – this may seem like a weird thing to have on this list, but using Xylitol several times a day has been proven to break up the biofilm that causes tooth decay. If you’re in an emergency and possibly not able to brush as much as you should, or if you just want to lower your overall chances of getting cavities and gingivitis, having some Xylitol after your meals can really help prevent those things from happening. And if you have a dry mouth due to autoimmune diseases or aging, it’s IMPERATIVE because dry mouth causes a change in pH that make your teeth very fragile and prone to cavities and breakage.
Note about antihistamine — why two different kinds of antihistamine? If you are having a severe allergic reaction, it is ok to take both Zyrtec (cetirizine) which is a long lasting antihistamine, and Benadryl (diphenhydramine) which is fast acting. This was suggested to me by my son’s allergy doctor and confirmed safe by the pharmacist. Because they act on different parts of the body, they are ok to take at the same time, and doing so can really help nip a severe allergic reaction in the bud. I cannot speak to mixing any other antihistamines, only those two. Benadryl can also act as a temporary sleep aid, although over the course of time it’s best to try other lifestyle changes to fight insomnia. (Melatonin works well for many people, myself included).
Note about steroid nasal sprays — If your allergies are primarily hay fever with a lot of sneezing, check out the nasal sprays like Flonase and my personal fave Rhinocort. They were lifesavers for me and have made it so I rarely have to take antihistamines at all any more.
Note about eyedrops – NOT Visine. Over time the “get the red out” eyedrops actually cause harm to your eyes (and MORE redness than if you’d never used them). Avoid them, and your eye doctor will thank you. What you want is called “natural tears”, “artificial tears”, or lubricating eye drops like Systane and Refresh. They’re more expensive but are better for you in the long run. If you have allergies that manifest themselves with red and itchy eyes, I recommend allergy eye drops such as Zaditor. They’re AWESOME!
If you’re sick or injured, you will appreciate finding these things in your cupboard.
Neosporin or bacitracin, digital thermometer, hydrocortisone cream, antifungal cream, medical tape, Ace bandages, Pepto Bismol, Gatoraid (Pedialyte if you have small children), raw honey, adult and children’s painkillers, chewable aspirin, guaifenesin (brand name Mucinex), saline nasal spray (or NetiPot), blood pressure cuff, Epsom Salt
Note about digital thermometers — It’s usually just cheaper to replace them than it is to buy new batteries when the old batteries die, so you may want to have a new one on hand in case the one you’re using dies. If you intend to use charting your temperature as a method of birth control you will need a digital thermometer that reads into the hundredths place. Otherwise you can use one that goes to the tenths place. While you can use an old school thermometer for measuring fevers, they’re much harder to read and use than the digi ones (plus kids often balk at keeping them under the tongue long enough for the analog thermometers to register). The forehead and ear thermometers may be slightly less reliable, but contrary to popular belief you don’t truly need to know exactly how high a fever is and if you have an uncooperative child, may be worth the greater investment.
Note about medical tape and Ace Bandages — While it’s always best to see a doctor even for little things, if you really can’t get to one in an emergency or because of finances, having these things on hand can help you deal with minor injuries like broken digits and sprains.
Note about antifungal cream (Men, please avert your eyes): While there are other antifungals out there for athlete’s foot or jock itch, what I’m really talking about here is yeast infection cream. If you, like me, have ever wondered “what did Ma Ingalls do when she got a yeast infection?”, the answer to that question was probably “suffer.” Pick up a tube of Miconazole or whatever OTC cream works best for you and stash it. You also might want to grab some Azo UTI painkiller. The bladder is weird because standard painkillers don’t affect it, and Azo works on the bladder itself. Mild UTI can clear up on their own so if you’re stuck at home and can’t get to the doctor, Azo can help. At any point if you’re in severe pain, have a fever or body aches (particularly in the low back), or if you’re pregnant, go to the doctor right away. Cranberry juice does NOT cure an already-existing UTI; it may help prevent them in the future but you need to drink 2 cups daily to see the benefits.
Note about raw honey — While I normally don’t go in for things like the mystical benefits of raw honey, recent studies have found honey works just as well as cough syrup does without the chemistry involved, and raw honey is believed to have some mild antibacterial properties. Please do not give honey to children under two.
Note about painkillers — I recommend getting both ibuprofen and Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetamol) for both adults and children. Ibuprofen has anti-inflammatory qualities and Tylenol doesn’t. You can actually take them simultaneously, and they are even more effective that way. Studies have shown that combined they are as effective as opioid painkillers (which most of us should stay far away from whenever possible due to their addictive properties). That having been said, let me sing the praises of fevers. You don’t need to fear a fever unless it gets very high (105 or more) and 99.99% of the time you would have a very sick individual on your hands in that case, clearly in need of medical attention. Experts agree fevers are normal, natural, and a part of your body’s response to illness. Many nasty buggers do best at normal body temperatures and die off when you have a fever. If at any time a high body temperature occurs because of being overheated, that is a true medical emergency, seek help right away. Do not bundle up a feverish child to try to “sweat the fever out”, this can be very dangerous. Nor is it necessary to take cold baths to bring fevers down. The body has ways of mitigating fevers on its own and it’s best to let those mechanisms work unimpeded.
Note about chewable aspirin – if you have reason to believe you’re having a heart attack or stroke (the kind with a blood clot) chewing a couple aspirin as you dial 911 can save your life. Some people, particularly overweight men aged 45-70 and overweight women ages 60-70 may benefit from daily aspirin. That having been said, a LOT of people are taking a daily aspirin (including young women who are at very low risk of cardiovascular disease) because they heard it prevents heart attacks, and causing themselves potential harm since aspirin is a strong blood thinner and can cause bleeding in the stomach and brain (the other kind of stroke, which is due to brain bleeding). Elderly people are more prone to this kind of bleeding and so they should stop using daily aspirin at about age 70 (and always wean off aspirin, NEVER stop aspirin cold turkey). Do not ever give aspirin to kids under 21 as it can cause Reye’s Syndrome.
Note about Guaifenesin — This is a well-tolerated medication that can thin out mucus secretions. It may help with sinus infections and possibly prevent bacterial pneumonia by keeping mucus thin and easy to cough up (of course, the viral pneumonia associated with coronavirus is an entirely different thing and would not respond to guaifenesin). Be sure you’re getting JUST guaifenesin, as for inexplicable reasons, sometimes it comes mixed with things that actively prevent it from working like cough suppressants and antihistamines. I suggest avoiding drying agents like antihistamine when you have a cold as you want your body to be able to get rid of mucus (even when this process is unpleasant) instead of drying it up.
Note about saline nasal spray (or Neti Pot) – For babies and small children, a little squirt of saline nasal spray like Ocean brand can work wonders for stuffy noses. And for adults, a Neti Pot to rinse your nasal passages can help with allergies and congestion. Please always be sure to use boiled, cooled water in your Neti Pot rather than tap water, as tap water can have microbes in it that are harmful (and rarely even fatal).
Note about Epsom Salt – this is great for soaking wounds that may be prone to getting infected, and is also a handy laxative if you need one. Children should use a little corn syrup in water instead (I mentioned corn syrup in NDP 4) as a laxative if they need one.
If needed – have an Epipen on hand if you or anyone in your family is prone to anaphylaxis.
If needed – an extra asthma inhaler, or if you cannot get one (sometimes doctors refuse to give you an inhaler if you still have a certain number of puffs left) you can buy Primatine Mist as a last ditch rescue to keep you going long enough to get to the hospital if you misplace your inhaler or it malfunctions.
If needed – a humidifier, although I’ve always been a fan of the “pot of water on the stove” and “lots of hot showers” method instead. If your child wakes up in the middle of the night with a horrible croupy cough, a few minutes in the bathroom with the shower running can often put them to rights again.
If needed – a hot water bottle or heating pad can be nice for helping to heal minor injuries like sprains and strains.
UPDATE!!! As I put the finishing touches on Non-Doomsday Prepping 8 where I talk about all the other sundries, I realized that post was too long. Since this one is shorter, I have updated this post with the following section on paper goods.
Ten pretty important paper products
Paper towels, toilet tissue, Q tips, menstruation supplies, diapers (if needed), baby wipes, paper plates, cups, coffee filters (if needed), masks
Note about Q tips – yeah, you’re not supposed to actually stick these in your ear, but yeah, pretty much everyone does. They’re also super handy for lots of other things so even if you never use them for their unintended purpose of ear cleaning, pick up a box. The cheap ones tend to be vastly inferior to the name brand, so stick with the Q.
Note about menstruation supplies – this is one of those things I always put off buying thinking I have time, but then I run out of time and my poor husband gets stuck with the job. They’re ridiculously expensive at most grocery stores, so this is one of those rare instances where an extra trip to WalMart will justify the gas money.
Note about diapers – If you have a baby and the storage space, even if you use cloth normally, a bag or box of disposable diapers can be a godsend if you find yourself unable to do laundry for a few days. Even if your kids are past that age, in case of tummy bugs, a package of diapers or disposable training pants for bigger kids tucked away somewhere still comes in pretty handy. Also, if you’re in need of adult incontinence products, you wouldn’t want to try to live without them during an emergency.
And a quick shout out for large, disposable plastic-lined absorbent pads (they’re typically bright blue on one side, white on the other, and are usually sold alongside adult incontinence products). Someone gave me a package of these gems when I had my first child 29 years ago, and they’re so useful when you have a new baby I bought another package with every child I brought home. Excellent for sick children, sick pets, and sick you.
Note about baby wipes – these are so useful that I tend to have some on hand most of the time even though I no longer have a baby to wipe. Great replacement for toilet paper (the Layer Principle!! Have lots of ways to solve your problems!) Also, incredibly handy for washing hands if you’re out of water, and fantastic if you can’t shower for a day or three.
Note about paper plates and cups – yes, completely optional, but if you’re in an emergency situation you may not want to be dealing with a big bunch of unwashed dishes right then (especially if the power is out and your dishwasher is defunct). The cheapo ones are also great for heating things up in the microwave and both plates and cups make a handy holding dish for prechopped food while you cook. Why waste time, energy, and dish soap washing an actual plate to hold your stir fry veg when you can use a .01 cent paper plate and toss it when you’re done?
You could add disposable silverware to this list too if you think that would be something you’d use; I rarely use these day to day so I left them off the list, but they’re inexpensive and a box or two of plastic forks wouldn’t take up much room in the cupboard.
Note about coffee filters – I suggest you get a French Press instead of a drip coffeemaker; it makes better coffee with no need to buy filters again. You don’t even need electricity to use a French Press, just the ability to boil some water. And despite their frou-frou name, they’re cheaper than drip coffeemakers too and WAYYY cheaper than a Keurig (and you don’t need the expensive K-cup pods to go with a French Press).
Note about masks – This would have been on my list even without the ‘Rona. Asian cultures have known for a long time that wearing a mask when you’re sick is just plain considerate. I despise the tendency in American culture for sick people to go out and about spreading their illness to everyone in the general vicinity (Connie, I’m looking at you here) whilst acting like they are somehow morally superior for doing so. If you have to go out when sick, having a mask available can help prevent the spread of nasty bugs to the unsuspecting person unlucky enough to be near you, which is almost always me for some reason. If you’re living with or frequently around a person who is immunocompromised – including the elderly and babies less than six months old – they’re invaluable. You can also use masks to guard against having to breathe in dust, smoke from forest fires (you need an N95 or P100 respirator to be fully effective against smoke) or even volcanic ash, as I remember not-so-happily from my childhood when a volcano actually did have a very bad day once and barfed out a hellscape’s worth of volcanic ash into millions of people’s unsuspecting lungs. If masks are once again available in your neck of the woods, buy a box of disposable ones, they’re relatively cheap and won’t go bad.
If you’re wondering where lightbulbs and tin foil fit in, stay tuned! In our next installment of Non-Doomsday Prepping, we’ll discuss even more must-have sundries!