Using Down Time Wisely

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Written by Jim Cobb

[Note: This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Backwoods Survival Guide #14.]

As the mercury plummets and the snow flies, we tend to find ourselves hunkering down at home more than we do at other times of the year. Rather than spend hours on end in front of the TV, to the point that even Netflix is questioning our life choices, we could instead occupy ourselves with more meaningful pursuits.

Don’t get me wrong, spending some quality time with your favorite movies and TV shows is great, especially if you have a snuggle buddy. But, there’s a lot you can accomplish throughout the winter months that will get you ready to hit the ground running once the snow and ice melt.

Garden Planning

This is a great time to break out the seed catalogs and start deciding what you want to grow in the coming year. Give some thought to experimenting with new-to-you vegetables and fruits that are suitable for your climate. You might even consider expanding your garden space if you have the room to spare.

What many gardeners like to do is draw up diagrams of their garden plots and play around with different configurations of what will be planted where and when. Graph paper works great for this, especially if you follow the Square Foot Gardening method popularized by Mel Bartholomew. Whether that’s your plan or not, do some research into companion gardening, which refers to the practice of pairing complementary plants near one another so they help each other grow strong.

Tool Maintenance

We sometimes put these sorts of chores off during the warmer months because the tools are in use all the time. Since they’re just sitting around during the winter, this is a great time to go over them from stem to stern.

Sharpen all bladed implements as well as shovels, hoes, and other garden tools. White vinegar works great to help remove rust spots. Check wooden handles for rough spots, splinters, or cracks and make repairs as needed. Sometimes all it takes is a few swipes with some fine-grit sandpaper.

If you have the knowledge and skill, as well as space, tune up all of your gas-powered equipment. Change the oil, replace spark plugs and filters, all that fun stuff.

Declutter and Inventory

This is an area many people dread, which is exactly why it needs to be done. Most of us have accumulated at least some amount of stuff that we really don’t want nor need, we just haven’t gotten around to getting rid of it.

Pick one room a week and go through it completely, a little bit each day. As you come across things you’ll be parting with, put them in a designated area, such as spot in the garage. At the end of the week, and this is crucial, do something with that stuff. Don’t just leave it sit. Box it up and take it to a thrift store or just toss it out with the weekly trash pickup. The longer it sits in your garage, the more likely it is to eventually come back into the house, which defeats the purpose of this exercise.

This is also a great opportunity to complete an inventory of your emergency gear and supplies. Since you’ll be going through each room of the home, including attic and basement, keep a notebook with you and make lists of what you have on hand. Odds are, you’ll find at least a few things you forgot you owned. Reorganize your preps in any way that makes sense for you and your situation. The idea is to get a good handle one what you have, so you know if there’s anything critical that you still need to obtain.

Learn New Skills

Instead of just sitting on your hands for a few months, put those hands to work. Fire up your computer and check out YouTube for demonstrations on skill sets you want to master. Pick one or two and really concentrate on them. Knot tying is a great one, for example. All you need are a few lengths of cordage and you’re off to the races.

Don’t overlook your local library as a resource, too. Many libraries today have materials that go way beyond just dusty old books. They have DVDs, audiobooks, e-books, and so much more. What they don’t have on hand, they might be able to obtain for you through inter-library loan.

One more way to go about this is to ask friends to teach you skills they possess, and vice versa. Turn it into a weekly or monthly get-together, where you focus on one or two things that everyone wants to learn. Not only will it be educational, any excuse to hang out with your friends is welcome, especially this time of year.

About Jim Cobb:

Jim Cobb has been a prepper since long before that term ever came into use. He’s been studying, practicing, and now teaching survival and preparedness for about 30 years. Jim has written several books on the subject, including Prepper’s Home Defense, Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide, and Prepper’s Financial Guide. He the Editor in Chief for both Prepper Survival Guide and Backwoods Survival Guide magazines.

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