Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

How to be Unprepared for Almost Any Situation

The world and its many retailers want us to believe we should be prepared for any “what if” situation: What if I have a four course dinner party for 15? What if my parents and in-laws stay over at the same time? What if I am invited to the save-the-seagull gala next month?

In order to be prepared for all of these situations, we must keep arsenals of stuff at the ready–stuff that costs money to buy and store; stuff that will eventually occupy landfills; stuff that clutters our homes and minds.

But what happens on the rare occasion we find ourselves unprepared? Not much, right? We borrow. We hack an alternative solution. We do without. The threats of being unprepared are more social (i.e. fear of being judged) than mortal. The fact is humans as a species are very adaptable and most of our friends don’t care if they have to drink wine from a water glass should we run out of stemware.

Here are a few common places where we tend to unnecessarily err on the side of preparedness and some easy alternative solutions:

Problem: Formal wear. Many of us keep that tuxedo or gown around for that formal occasion that never comes. Or if it comes, it doesn’t justify the real estate necessary to store special garments the rest of the year. Unless you’re a politician or celebrity who attends galas on a regular basis, the chances that you need a tux or gown year-round are low.

Solution: Have two simple and versatile suits or dresses (summer and winter weights) that work for formal occasions. The darker and less flashy, the better. For men, make one of the suits black and invest in a matching tie. Women, accent your plain dress with a necklace. If you really need to dress up, rent a tux or dress.

Problem: Guest rooms. Unless you have stay-over guests more than 10-20% of the year or you use a room for multiple purposes, most guest rooms have a hard time justifying their existences. Between the expense of buying or renting, the energy needed to heat and cool, and the time and energy spent cleaning, having an extra room solely for guests seldom makes sense.

Solution: Have your guests crash in the living room on an inflatable bed or sleeper sofa. Sure, it can be inconvenient and lack privacy, but it’s far less inconvenient than paying thousands of dollars for a room that’s rarely used.

Offer to split Airbnb expenses for your guests. Do the math: A rented room at ~$50-100/night will be a lot cheaper than the associated expenses of having an under-utilized spare room throughout the year.

Lastly, if you’re stuck with a guest room and have no present need for it, consider sealing it off to eliminate energy needs, or renting it out, either with Airbnb or to a longterm tenant.

Problem: Tableware. Somehow the idea has been planted in the collective consciousness that every home should be set up for multi-course dinners for 12-15 people. You’re ungracious if everyone doesn’t have a dedicated glass for water, white and red wines, or enough forks and plates for salads, mains and desserts. Baloney, we say.

Solution: Improvise. Clean plates and silverware between courses. Have a multipurpose glass that works for any beverage. Use a soup spoon to stir your coffee. Serve dessert in a cup. Keep paper plates around for the rare occasion of overcrowding (we do all of these things for dinner parties at the LifeEdited apartment).

Problem: Cooking supplies. Maybe there’s that cake recipe that requires a sifter or a soup recipe that requires a food processor. You want to cook these things, but lack the tools.

Solution: Improvise, borrow or don’t make that dish. Buy pre-sifted flour. Use a blender instead of the food processor. Borrow baking sheets from your neighbor. Choose another dish that works with the kitchen tools you have.

If you are a gourmand who frequently makes elaborate dishes, by all means have the kitchen tools you need. But buying a costly and space-hogging tool for a dish you rarely prepare makes no sense. There are many dishes out there that require only the most basic cooking tools.

Problem: Camping gear and other bulky sports equipment. Many of us think we are still 19 years old–an age when we could jump ship for a two week backpacking trip on a moment’s notice. We keep our tents, sleeping bags and other gear in storage year-round, thinking we’ll use it more than the one or two times a year (or, truthfully, decade) we actually do.

Solution: Rent or borrow. Many big outdoor equipment stores such as REI and EMS rent a wide range of outdoor gear. Also, if it’s a short trip, renting a motel room or cabin in the woods often makes more sense than creating a gear-intensive base-camp.

Where are you frequently unprepared? And how do you handle it? Let us know in our comments section.

Camping gear image via Shutterstock

  • Marrena

    The graphic doesn’t go with the message–because the one place you DO want to be prepared is for a climate emergency, particularly with the weather instability that climate change is bringing. Everyone should have a stash of canned food and a few gallons of water, working flashlights, a solar/handcrank radio, some candles, a can opener, a stash of cash, batteries, a first aid kit, face masks, extra toilet paper, duct tape, garbage bags and a whistle. A solar charger for your cellphone would be handy too. Pare down everything else, but make room for those things.

    • David Friedlander

      thanks marrena for the comment. i had a hard time figuring out what image best represented unpreparedness. as a longtime coloradan, i’m pretty familiar with backcountry preparedness. i agree with your list, though most of those are low-bulk soft goods. the big stuff–the stuff that really adds up in our storage areas–are things like backbacks, sleeping bags (especially if you need more than one) and sleeping pads. all of these things can be rented.

    • Tor

      Don’t forget the occasional seismic emergency, as well, if you live in such a zone.

  • RoseJB

    Does not having a car count? Many people think that when you have a child you need a car, but we get by just fine (though, admittedly there have been some moments of frustration). We ride buses and bicycles, hitch rides with friends, and occasionally borrow my mother’s car when it isn’t in use. We rent a car for trips out of town, or take the train. There are also some sharing services nearby that we’d consider using in the future (bike share for guests, car share for errands).

    • YoungSally

      My nephew is growing up in NYC…when he outgrew his basic umbrella-fold stroller (just past the age of 2, I think)…anywhere he needed to go involved the bus or subway….and he walked/toddled to the stop/station. It certainly wasn’t the fastest way around town….but he got practice walking and he knows every subway and bus route in all five boros.

    • David Friedlander

      a car definitely counts. for many people, especially in mid-to-large size cities with decent public transport and bike passages, don’t need cars. it is trickier with kids, but far from impossible. trips become just a bit longer usually and far more athletic 😉

    • Tor

      I do own a car, though I rarely use it, as I live in a biggish city. Years ago I calculated that I could ride in a taxi daily and rent a car for out of town trips, and it would cost less than owning a car: payments, insurance, parking, tickets, fuel, carwashing, etc. I keep my useless car because it is a classic, but the sense of it declines daily.

  • Gulliver

    I think there is a slightly different angle: fun. When i go to Europe I always go on an airline that works by standby: you just show up and they fill the plane from the line waiting. This means that you can be spontaneous — stay later, or go earlier, or go from a different point of departure. You are living entirely in the moment. The scripted alternative is constraining and boring. So, in terms of fancy dress or extra rooms, I claim that by planning in advance you cut out the opportunity for fun and spontaneity. I do take a poncho and paracord and a tiny stove when i backpack (and a sleeping bag and pad) because not having shelter would not be fun. but in the city this is not a problem — the city has infinite resources.

  • Markus Oliver Pfeil

    I think the general idea is “multipurpose”. A certain amount of preparedness i like, but it can be achieved with few items. When I go out to teh lake with the family a pocket knife does all the cutting, from branch to bread. A large Towel serves to sit and dry and as a changing mat for the little one. Now I did not convert from my olden 19ish days of being fully equipped by choice, but by load. Three kids, two of which need to be carried at least part of the way severly limit the amount of stuff one can pack. Yay to being impro-prepared.

  • Gayle Goddard

    This is a great article! I just gave a similar speech to my Houston Clutter Coaching Meetup Group. You captured the concept very well, thanks!

  • Brigit

    I have to stick up for camping gear. I love my GSI outdoors bugaboo camper cook set and in fact, am thinking about editing my kitchen gear down in favor of high quality collapsible and space saving stuff- most of it made for camping! Plus, having camping gear saves us lots of money on hotels when we travel.

  • Hello World

    Agreed, but camping gear is a must. Especially for wanderers like me. I work in the city n rent a cheap room in the burbs, sometimes camping is a meditative option from making a commute back home.

  • Yvonne

    We just edited 25 years worth of camping gear to a single box. Too much stuff took the fun out of camping and our goal is to eventual edit down to a backpack full. Camping mats are replacing air mattresses. This could solve the guest sleeping issue, too!