Inventory and Preventative Maintenance
The sexy side of recordkeeping....
Is there a sexy side to recordkeeping? Okay, it’s not the most scintillating topic but if you think having hot water and eating is sexy, then recordkeeping is the precursor.
I’ll admit, I actually enjoy creating spreadsheets for budgeting and inventory - I even have one for my garden journal so I can compare, year to year, what I planted and the results. Every year, I modify my practices based on what I learned from the year before.
Keeping records of our stocks reveals what we actually use and what we need more of. Also, being able to see the things we thought we’d use but didn’t (like powdered eggs) prevents wasted energy continuing to buy and store them. One day, these things might serve as valuable barter items because someone else might love to have them.
Simply put, keeping track helps you make the most of what you have. It also makes me feel very good inside, for some odd reason.
When I was in Elementary school, my mother worked in the school library. After class, I had another hour to kill before her workday ended. Often, she put me to work returning books to the shelves. I felt a sense of joy and accomplishment as I made sure every book found its proper spot in accordance with the magical Dewey decimal system.
Even as a young child, that system made sense to me. It was logical and kept everything in its place. Yes, my nerdiness began early.
Later on, when I was assigned to write a school report with a Table of Contents, I had a hard time keeping it simple. I imagine Dewey wrestled similar demons when he thought of the category Mathematics. The label Mathematics falls short of the description needed. In the end, we have this sort of breakdown, thanks to Dewey:
500 Natural sciences and mathematics
516.3 Analytic geometries
516.37 Metric differential geometries
516.375 Finsler geometry
Bless your heart, Dewey. I feel you.
The first inventory sheet I made started to look a lot like Dewey’s Mathematics category. It was overwhelming because I was trying too hard to achieve specificity that, in the end, doesn’t really matter.
Since that first sheet, I’ve learned to simplify. I’m not categorizing a world of library books, after all, and no one but me and John will ever use our lists. Thus, I’ve simplified and personalized my system.
Instead of having dozens of types of beef, I have finally settled on a few categories like Beef Roast, Beef Ground, and Beef Steaks. Flour is still at six types, but that’s manageable down from ten.
I say all this to make a simple point: While it’s absolutely vital to know what you have, don’t get lost in the minutia of brands and cuts of meat. It just doesn’t matter. But DO keep track. Whether you use an Excel spreadsheet or paper and pencil (not pen!), keeping track of your supplies and systems is vital to preparedness.
I’ll include a list of inventory items at the end of this post. My actual spreadsheet includes columns for Pantry/Freezer/Cellar, but yours may look different. Peruse the list to see if it reminds you to add anything to your stocks, and add a comment if you notice I’m missing something important.
Some Stocking Tips:
When you stock your shelves, rotate the older items forward. Think like a grocer - because you are. Always label your purchases with the date (month and year). When you open something, write the date on it. For instance, I know that a tube of toothpaste lasts me six months. I don’t know if that’s a long time or not relative to anyone else, but I know how many years worth I have in stock because I track it.
Some people say they have “Two years worth of food”, but how do they know? Hopefully, they know because they’ve been tracking their actual practices.
I did a post last summer about Preserving foods so if you want to dig deeper into building your stocks, you’ll find helpful information there.
While I’m usually the one who takes care of growing, tracking, buying and cooking the food, John keeps a watchful eye on our systems. John was a maintenance supervisor for several years and a hands-on maintenance guy for almost twenty years, so preventative maintenance is in his blood.
Every Sunday, like clockwork, John checks the water level of our cistern by dipping a measuring stick in the top and recording the level. He set our well pump to automatically come on when the water falls to a certain level in the tank. Sometimes we notice it come on, sometimes we don’t notice.
You don’t want to find out your well pump has an issue by turning on the faucet and having no water come out. That’s finding out the hard way. By checking the water level every week, he can make sure it stays at a good level and nothing is amiss. If it’s off, he can investigate it before it becomes an emergency.
Next, John checks the propane level of our main tank and records it. We’ve been doing this for a little over three years now so we have a good understanding of how much propane we use. Checking the level will alert us to any possible leaks if our level dips below what’s normal for us.
Finally, John checks and records the generator hours. We usually notice when the generator comes on (it’s set to come on automatically if the batteries dip below a certain level), but it’s possible we could miss it. While he’s there, he’s also checking for any faults that might be have been triggered.
John jots all of these Sunday metrics on our calendar so they’re easy to keep an eye on. We now have three years worth of info to compare. Because of this, we know how much propane we need to budget for, approximately how long our generator should last us, and how much water we use in winter vs. summer. These are helpful tools in planning for the future.
Other preventative maintenance (although not weekly), includes checking the mouse traps (yeah, he can do that…), monitoring the water level of the lead acid batteries, battery equalization, changing the oil in the generator (and vehicles, tractor and snowmobiles), and so on. The frequency of these jobs will obviously vary but I stress: Get in the habit of keeping an eye on things so you can address problems before they become emergencies.
“They used to check your oil when you got gas. Usually the oil is fine, but just the act of opening the hood is important. You might see something while you’re in there like a leak or a worn belt and you can fix it before it becomes an issue.”
Wise words from John
While service station attendants that check your oil don’t exist anymore (do they?), the philosophy is sound. Just by being in the space and having a look around, you might discover an issue you didn’t know you had. For instance, I lost a lot of salt and baking soda several months ago because we didn’t realize how much humidity we had in the cellar. As a result, all my salt and baking soda solidified into bricks.
We live in a very dry climate - usually. Winters are different, with all the snow and snow melt. Now we know. We’ve since put some dehumidifiers in the cellar and installed a couple ventilation fans. While I had to throw out what was ruined, I now store our salts, baking soda and other powdered items in the indoor pantry. I’m glad I didn’t discover my salt bricks two years from now.
I also make a habit of checking for soft potatoes, pumpkins and squash in the cellar. One soft potato can ruin a whole bag. I also pay attention to my cans to look for rust or bloating (none so far!); I check my jars for leaks, cracks and discoloration (again, none so far!). While I’m looking, I keep any eye out for any rodent droppings in the cellar (which is rare). If we find any, we address it right away.
Familiar eyes overlook much.
We stop seeing the things we walk by everyday. We get used to our environment and become desensitized. Take care to set aside time to really see your home and belongings, to look for problems, and think of ways you can improve your systems.
Here’s that inventory list I promised you. We’re always refining it and trying to replace or supplement stock items with things we can produce ourselves (like supplementing store-bought chicken feed with our own grains and corn). It’s a work in progress, but it’s a system that works for us.
Some of the items are necessities, some are luxuries, and some are things you might not even need but could possibly use to barter later (like reading glasses!).
If my list helps you with your preps, feel free to use it and share with a friend.
Meats (Canned, dried, and frozen)
Vegetables (canned, dried and frozen)
Fruits (canned, dried and frozen)
Au Gratin Potatoes
Mashed Potatoes Instant
Rice Whole Grain
Ghee (Make your own)
Heavy Cream Mix
Storable Whole Milk Dried
All Purpose Flour
Fine Baking Sugar
Yeast (very important)
Broths (useful in canning, but you can use water also)
Mixes (none of these are necessary, but they’re nice to have sometimes)
Cheese Biscuit Mix
Corn Muffin Mix
Pasta (Pasta isn’t hard to make, by the way, if you run out of stock)
Cranberry Juice (acts to treat Urinary Tract Infections)
Tea (medicinal/herbal and other)
Contacts (you can order online with a scrip from your ophthalmologist)
Bar Soap/Body Wash
Eye glasses (extras!)
Tampons/Etc. (Even if you don’t use these, they’re a great barter item)
Multi-purpose Cleaner (Simple Green concentrate)
Alka Selzer Cold
Antibiotics (Jase Medical is a great resource)
Bleed stop spray and powder
Potassium Iodine (just in case)
Vacuum bags for vacuum sealer
Fish Oil Krill CoQ10
For emergency (CA Vet Supply is a great online resource)
Bleed stop spray and powder
Disinfectant with lidocaine
Grow Crumbles Layer
Someone likes cheese!