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Disaster Prepping in a Tiny Apartment: 17 Actionable Tips for Small Spaces

You want to stockpile water, food, and other disaster preparedness supplies, but you live in a tiny apartment and aren’t sure where you will put all that stuff?

I hear you.  I currently live in a very small apartment.

How small?

When I watch episodes of Tiny Homes, I say, “That’s actually pretty big.”  My apartment (in which I live with my husband and two small children) is under 600 square feet.

More about prefab tiny homes.

Living in a tiny home definitely creates a challenge for prepping, but it isn’t impossible.

Here are some of the tactics I’ve used to get prepared despite the limited space, including specific advice about stockpiling food and water.

Get Rid of Things!

In my experience, everyone has a lot of random stuff in their home that they don’t really need.  I know it is hard to get rid of things when you’ve got a voice in your head saying, “What if I need it someday…?” or “What if I lose weight and it fits me again?”

But trust me: You will feel better once you get all of those things out of your home!   Not to mention all the space it will clear up for disaster prep supplies (and having those supplies will make you feel even better).

I do a twice yearly “purge” where I go through my home and get rid of any items that I don’t need. It always amazes me how much stuff I’m able to get rid of, despite the fact that there isn’t much space in the apartment to begin with.

Need some help with this? I suggest:

Okay, now that you’ve made some additional space, here’s how to use it wisely!

Make a List of Prepping Priorities

I have a big issue with many prepper websites.  They often use fear-mongering tactics to scare the hell out of you and then try to sell you a bunch of stuff.  Yes, this stuff may be useful – but you probably don’t need an inflatable lifeboat before you’ve even gotten bottled water or a backup toilet.

So please resist the urge to buy a bunch of disaster prepping gear because someone told you it is a “must-have” item.  It could end up taking up vital space in your small apartment which could be used for something more important.

Instead, make a list of things you need by priority.  IMO, these should be your priorities (not necessarily in this order):

Depending on where you live and what disasters are likely to occur, these types of disaster supplies might also be priorities:

  • Stove
  • Heating
  • Baby supplies (diapers, formula, pre-sterilized bottles, etc.)
  • Board-up supplies (such as plywood and plastic sheeting)
*Not sure what you should prioritize? Our disaster prepping assessment will give you an idea of what items you really need.

Water Storage Solutions for Tiny Apartments

Water is a really tricky issue.  It’s incredibly important for survival, but takes up a lot of space.  FEMA recommends storing at least 1 gallon of water per person, per day stockpiled.  Ideally, I think you should have at least 30 days’ worth of water, and you’ll probably need more than one gallon per day!

For my family of four, that comes out to a minimum of 120 gallons of water.   It would take 16 cubic feet to store this much water.  Since the water storage jugs take up space too, realistically it’s going to take even more space than that.

How do you stockpile water when space is limited? Here are some ideas:

Get a Very Good Water Purifier

MSR Guardian water filter

If a really bad disaster strikes and you run out of bottled water, then you’ll need a way to treat water.  Most water filters only treat bacteria and parasites.

There are some newer water filters which treat viruses too though.    When chemicals might be in the water (such as after flooding), you’ll need an activated carbon filter to remove them.

Please read our guide to the Best Water Filters for Emergency Preparedness.  These water filters are pretty damn small and some can treat hundreds of gallons of water.  Just make sure to get enough backup filter cartridges!

Can You Put a Water Drum On Your Apartment’s Roof?

55 gallon water drum

A lot of people are waking up to the need to prepare for disasters.  So, if you decide to call a building meeting about preparedness, it might be met with enthusiasm.

See if your building and neighbors will let you put a big water drum on your roof.  These water drums come in various sizes and can even be used for collecting rainwater.  The water will have to be treated before use, but this can usually be taken care of with a basic camping water filter. Read how to choose water barrels.

Your neighbors might even go in with you on the costs of the water drums.  Wouldn’t it be cool to know that everyone in your building would have their water needs met if a disaster struck?

*I know this goes against the common prepping “advice” that you should hide your preps from your neighbors.  But I don’t agree.  We are all safer when everyone is prepared. So instead of hiding things from your neighbors, take steps to get them involved! More on that here.

Invest in Water Bricks

WaterBrick review

Storing water in milk jugs or old soda bottles is a cheap solution.  However, there are some issues with using recycled bottles for water storage (the main one being that they leak).

The shape of these jugs means you lose space.  Instead, get some WaterBricks (read our review here).  These containers can be stacked on top of each other.  The rectangular shape means every bit of space is used effectively.

Emergency Food Storage

emergency food for small apartments
This freeze-dried meal kit by Wise Foods contains 360 servings and doesn’t take up much space.

Stockpiling canned foods is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get prepared for an emergency.  However, canned foods contain a lot of water.  That means you only get a limited amount of calories in the space the can takes up.

When space is at a premium, you’ve got to focus on calorie-dense foods.

Instead of stocking up on canned goods, consider freeze-dried food buckets.  They actually aren’t as pricey as they seem (see cost breakdown here).  Because there isn’t any water in them, the food buckets don’t take up much space.

Freeze-dried foods also doesn’t require much water to be prepared.  All you have to do is add boiling water and let the food rehydrate for a few minutes.

You will need a small camping stove to do this, like the MSR Micro Rocket Stove. (Amazon link) You still have to be careful about carbon monoxide poisoning, but these small stoves are generally okay for short-term indoor use.

DO NOT stockpile foods like rice, dry beans, and flour.  Chances are you don’t have a way to cook these if you live in a tiny apartment!  Making a fire inside your apartment is out of the question.  Even many camping stoves can’t be used indoors because of carbon monoxide risk.

*Check out our picks for the Best Freeze-Dried Emergency Food.

Stock Up on Compact Emergency Gear

There is some emergency gear and supplies which don’t take up much space.  They might not be at the top of your priorities list, but get them anyway since they are easier to store in a small apartment or home.

These emergency items include:

Creative Storage Solutions for Prepping Gear

With four of us living in such a small space, I’ve gotten good at finding creative storage solutions for all of our stuff. Below I’ll go over some solutions I’ve used.

*Before you use any of these solutions for disaster preparedness gear though, please consider how will you access supplies during a disaster?

Supplies won’t do you any good if you can’t reach them! So keep the most important supplies in your safe room or the space which is least likely to be destroyed in a disaster.

Put Bed On Risers

Suprima bed risers
Suprima bed risers on Amazon.

There are cool risers you can get for your bed’s legs.  Yes, this does mean it can feel like you are climbing onto your bed each night – but it will get you a LOT more storage space.

Note that you don’t necessarily have to put your prepping supplies under the bed.  But, if you put other things under the bed (like seasonal clothes), then you can free up space in closets for prepper supplies.

Inside Your Couch

We’ve got a couch in our living room that pulls out to expose storage space underneath.  This is where I keep all of my camping and backpacking gear.  A lot of this gear also doubles as emergency gear (such as survival sleeping bags).

This couch (Amazon link) doubles as a day bed and has lots of storage inside too.

Trunk Instead of Coffee Table

Not only can these look really cool, but it gives you a lot more storage in a space that would otherwise hold nothing.

Check on Amazon.

The WAY Back of Cabinets

The back parts of cabinets (especially top cabinets) often don’t get used.  You can store prepping supplies like water jugs or canned food here.

Think Vertical

cheap vertical storage solution

My apartment might only be 600 square feet, but it contains over 5,200 cubic feet of space.  When you think vertically, it really gives you a lot more space.

Invest in some good shelving units to make use of all this vertical space. Again, your prepping supplies don’t have to be on these shelves.  I keep books, photo boxes, mementos, etc. on my shelves.  This frees up closet space for disaster supplies.

Important Tips:

  • Don’t put shelves over your couch or beds! If an earthquake hits, the shelves can fall on to your head and kill you.
  • Remember to brace shelving units, especially if important gear is stored on them.

Use Vacuum Sealers for Toilet Paper

Toilet paper is one of the most annoying disaster prep items to stockpile because it takes up a lot of space.  A simple solution is to vacuum seal the TP so it takes up much less space.  It will also help waterproof the TP too.

You can also use vacuum sealing for items like diapers and sanitary pads.

Another solution is toilet paper tablets, a relatively new product that is essentially compressed toilet paper which can be re-hydrated.

*Read our posts about TP alternatives here and toilet paper tablets here.

Don’t Forget about an Emergency Toilet

twin bucket toilet

No one likes to think about how they’d go to the bathroom if the plumbing went down.  Yet, it’s one of the most important aspects of disaster prep.  If you are living in an apartment, it’s even more important because you can’t just go down to the garden to poo (not that pooing in your yard is  good idea…).

The simplest solution is to make a two-bucket toilet (read how), you could also consider a camping toilet for short term use.  It’s not glamorous, but it is a lot less messy and smelly than going to the bathroom in a single bucket.

Prepping Gear that Is Worth the Space

This goes back to what I said about prioritizing your prepping supplies.  Some items might take up a lot of space, but are worth having around.  Here are just some of the larger items that you will want to have:

  • Your Bug Out Bag: Building a bug out bag takes a lot of planning, but it is one of the most crucial items to have in case you need to evacuate quickly. Put this at the top of your priorities list. Here’s a good BOB checklist.
  • Hard copies of a few survival and first aid books: Remember that you won’t always be able to access digital copies of books during disasters. These books are good to have on hand as references.
  • Fire extinguishers: Especially in apartments because of the extra fire risk that comes with using gas stoves.
  • Toilet: As mentioned before, this is an item you do NOT want to be caught without!
  • Extra blankets or sleeping bags: Since you probably won’t be able to use a generator or heater, make sure you’ve got blankets on hand for winter power outages. More on emergency blankets.
  • Tools: Apartment dwellers often think they don’t need tools. If a disaster hits though, you might need tools for tasks like boarding up a broken window.

Be Aware of Fire and Carbon Monoxide Risks

A lot of emergency preparedness gear – like generators, stoves, and portable heaters – aren’t safe to use in small spaces like apartments.   Be sure to research the risks that come with these items, learn how to use them safely, and make sure you have CO detectors installed.

Go Over Your Emergency Plan

Finally, make sure you go over your emergency plan in detail.  If your apartment isn’t going to be suitable for hunkering down through a disaster, you need to have a plan for:

  • When will you leave?
  • Where will you go?
  • How will you get there?
  • How will you get in touch with family members?

*For more on this, read our guide to making an emergency plan.

Do you live in a small apartment or home? How do you find space for prepping supplies? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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  1. • Cases of water bottles or totes containing supplies can be stacked, bungee-corded together for stability and a tablecloth tossed over the stack… voila, an end table or coffee table.

    • Create concealed storage in any bookcase… cut balsa wood to the size of shelf opening, paint to match or contrast with bookcase, i.e. cream colored bookcase calls for cream colored paint or charcoal grey bookcase calls for egg yolk yellow paint. Empty shelf and place gear/etc on the back of the shelf. Slide balsa wood partition into shelf opening to conceal “way back” items. Replace the contents of the shelves in remaining space.

    • Create storage in plain sight… use empty cereal boxes to hide MREs and other freeze-dried foods. Wrap #10 cans in wrapping paper (you might want to write in permanent marker on the bottom of the can what’s inside) and use them as small display units for candles, figurines, other gee-gaws.

    • Instead of flimsy laundry baskets, use totes with lids, leaving the lids on the floor of your closet. When you feel a need to pack up and evacuate, dump the dirty clothes on the floor and pack the tote with whatever you need to take with you, assuming you’re evacuating by vehicle.

    • Hang one or more strong hooks on the wall just inside each closet… on each hook hang someone’s BOB, a warm coat with gloves/mittens and some hand warmers in the pockets, and a scarf in the sleeves, and place a pair of good hiking boots on the floor under the hook. This “grab & go” setup will facilitate getting everyone OUT even if there are sleepy (or just slow!) children involved.

    • Just as important as storing stuff well is knowing where the stuff is… maintain a Master List of where you’ve stashed stuff so you, your spouse, even older children can grab stuff and put it into a tote or a BOB.

    TX Griff

  2. I wish you had a PDF for download of your articals so they could be downloaded. This one would be great for my son and daughter in law and my daughter.

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