Monday, October 3, 2016

The importance of wish lists

I just finished and submitted a magazine article examining whether or not you should go into debt in order to become prepared (short answer: no). (The notable exception is a rural retreat and an affordable 15-year mortgage.)

During the course of the article, I touched on something Don and I have found extraordinarily useful over the years when it came to setting and achieving goals for our homestead: the power of wish lists.

Wish lists are wonderful because they’re free and the sky’s the limit. Big or small, when you think of something you feel would be useful as a prepper, just add it to the list. Want a rural retreat? Put it on the list. A 1600-lumens flashlight? On the list. A milk cow? On the list.

This kind of list is surprisingly useful for setting goals. When we first moved to Idaho and thought about the many, many projects we wanted to do or things we wanted to purchase, we got overwhelmed. So what we did was to make an extensive list of everything we wanted to do, build, learn, or buy. We spent many days adding to this list, and it was huge. It didn't matter how absurd or how expensive it was; lists are free (and fun!). Items included both short-term and long-term wishes.

Then we divided that list into the As, the Bs, and the Cs. The A category had the highest priority, the C had the lowest. Here's a brief sample:

As you can see, our short-term list included things that were relatively inexpensive and could be done right away, such as stocking up on nonhybrid seeds. We put fruit trees on the A list since they would take awhile to mature. (In fact, we planted fruit trees -- twice -- shortly after moving to Idaho but they all died except for two pears.) Our C list included more expensive things such as the barn, or things that are low priority such as the 1600 lumens flashlight. Needless to say our early wish list was much longer than this, but this gives you some idea of how we organized it.

This wish list doesn’t just have to be things you want to buy. You can make a separate list for skills you want to acquire or projects you want to complete. Want to sew/weld/milk a cow/fix an engine/ knit socks/fence a garden/get chickens? Put it on the list, and be sure to include what tools or materials you’ll need to accomplish the task; then prioritize these in order of importance or do-ability. By having things laid out like this, you can examine your budget and prioritize the things you want to accomplish. Let your imagination soar. Here’s an example:

We were astonished how much this list helped us through the years. If we had a bit of extra money, we looked at the “A” list to see what we might be able to check off. When the A’s were nearly gone, we looked more attentively at the “B” list, while saving up for some items on the “C” list. The list was fluid; sometimes we would add things, or shift an item to a different category, or drop it as unnecessary. This master list allowed us to accomplish a great deal on our homestead over the years, and only two things required going into debt: building the barn, and buying the tractor (both of which are now paid off).

Sometimes at the end of the year, when either a lack of time or a lack of money meant we hardly accomplished anything, it helps to ask ourselves, "Did we move forward? Did we make progress?" Even if we've hardly tackled the list at all, if we can answer "Yes" to those questions, then we've done okay. Homesteading and self-sufficiency are achieved through incremental steps which add up.

I strongly urge you to do something similar with your prepping efforts. When you make the initial list, the sky’s the limit. Let your imagination soar. List a 40-acre rural homestead, if you want. Remember, lists are free! Then you can prioritize your lists into categories, in accordance with your time and income.


  1. When you get around to a windmill and cistern for you well, I'd be willing offer free advice on what works and what doesn't - having just recently lived thru the grueling experience. Especially as it relates to cold weather climates... if'n your interested.

  2. Great advice. This engineering Luddite loves lists. Yep, plan what you do and do what you plan.

    Montana Guy

  3. I like your lists, and how you organized them. Did you ever learn to knit socks? Do you need any needles or yarn? I have so much, and I am getting old and realize I will never complete all the projects that I planned to do. Plus my toddler grandson now lives in Laos and won't need those sweaters that I thought I would make him when his mommy and daddy were living in New Zealand. Man plans, God giggles!

  4. I don't have a homestead yet, that is on my wish list, but wanted to say how helpful this was for me, I can make similar lists for my day to day life and to what i have control over now and my future wish list, I will be sitting down soon to make up my wish lists ..Thanks Shannon in Spokane, However I followed your blog many years while I lived in fla.but so glad to be back to my home town and the PNW :)

  5. Great article. Sort of like a To Do list for life instead of for today.

    Personally, I love lists and make them often. Currently our wish list consists of one thing - reduce our possessions by 25% by Oct 2017. Now we need to be more specific. Reason is that we'll both be in our 70s and it's time to start preparing for the future and with the closest family member 2 hours away, the others about 1200 miles, we need to make it easy on them when we pass. And, besides, the money we make will be always be useful.

  6. I think this might be your best post of the year (and there have been a lot of goodies). That whole "Teach a man to fish" thing.

    Excessively warm hugs from Pennsylvania.

  7. My wife and I are purveyors of multi pile lists. Amazon has a wish list system and we have MANY categories: power, lighting, prep, kitchen, Odd Gadgets (my favorite) and even books (Huh.... Amazon sells books? Who knew?).

    We also have The Whiteboard. This is my domain. It largely includes tasks, but those tasks often have a cost for materials, so...

    The Whiteboard is also the repository for major projects: New roof (Coming, thanks to my folks!), Double pane windows w/radiant barrier, Better power for: the pantry (dehydrator, grain mill, and other large counter sucking appliances), the studio and the data center.

    The nice thing about lists is the eraser or in the case of Amazon, the delete function.

    Wish lists are proposed destinations. If you don't know where you are going how will you know when you get there?

  8. I keep a list like this on my budget spreadsheet. I started this after a few bad years accumulating debt. I put the family on a strict budget, paid the debt and bought just necessities for life and preparedness.

    The other thing I did with my husband is give him the cash he could spend each week and stopped his credit card usage. He spends a lot less if he has to give up his cash.

    The wish list really helped us make better choices with available cash. Now the debt is paid, but we still use the lists and the budget. We have saved a down payment for retreat!

  9. I have used this to surprising good effect for my personal want list. I have started migrating it to more of a household and family option. I will say it really helps just to know the things you want, even if it is just to disagree on them.