By Anita Cheek Moon
So you’re in a bad spot? No money and a week to go before you will have any? Gives the phrase “You never know what you got till it’s gone” a new meaning doesn’t it? The first thing you need to ask yourself is why are you in this situation? Poor planning? Unexpected cash needs? When you figure that out you will have the insight needed to assure you don’t let it happen again. For now though you need to figure out what to do to just get by for a week. It can be done and it can be done regardless of the specifics of your situation. This article will address one of the first concerns many of us would have in this situation–shelter.
Having only $1.27 cash is the least of your concerns if you don’t have a roof over your head and you’re exposed to the elements. More than likely you do and you should thank the Creator for that. If you don’t then you need to immediately figure out if you actually need one. Is it summer or winter? Are you going to freeze to death in a gutter somewhere or fry on the sidewalk? Not if you keep your head about you!
The importance of shelter is primarily relative to the weather. In our modern lifestyles we have come to consider it a necessity. We must have a “box” to live in or we feel that we are in danger. That is only true if you need protection from the elements and, fortunately, the box doesn’t have to be a three thousand square foot home with two baths and central heat and air. If you have that, in fact, you could be at a disadvantage when you are facing tough times. The more expensive our “box,” the more expensive it is to maintain. That might be the answer to why you are currently in this predicament. One man’s blessing can indeed be another man’s curse.
Whatever your situation, you need to figure out one thing: how you are going to maintain your core body temperature at a level that will sustain life. That may seem an odd thing to be thinking about at this time but believe me it is important. How many news accounts have you seen about homeless people freezing to death in their sleep or the elderly dying from heat exhaustion when their power is shut off? I’ve seen too many.
If you have a “box” you need to figure out how to live in it without either of the above occurring. If you don’t have a “box” you might need to get one. You can pick up a sufficient one behind any department store. Even the shade of a tree will temporarily suffice in the summer months. Just figure out a way to get yourself out of the elements. Don’t sit on the side of the road and bake thinking that someone will feel sorry for you and fix all of your problems. You got yourself into this mess and you need to get yourself out!
Perhaps your “box” is indeed that three thousand square foot home. If so then you need to take immediate measures to reduce the money it takes to heat and cool that home. That is true whether you have power or whether it has been shut off. If your power is still on then that means a bill is coming or it is already in hand. If the power has already been shut off then you probably will want to consider how you can afford getting it turned back on sometime in the immediate future. Either way, you need to prepare for the future so that next week you will have less outlay and more retainable money.
It is amazing to me that some complain of power bills they can’t pay while their AC or heating unit is working its heart out maintaining an “ideal” temperature in rooms that aren’t even used. Close off some of your rooms! Block the vents so that the central heat and air only goes into the rooms you absolutely need to survive. Turn off the television, lights, and other appliances when not in use. Unplug them as well. Many appliances draw power even when on standby waiting to be turned on!
It is equally amazing how many people don’t realize that even a tiny hole around a window or your home’s foundation can represent a huge energy loss. Chink those holes with whatever you have at hand. Use plastic grocery bags and a butter knife to push them into the cracks if you have to. Caulking and expandable foam would be nice but it costs more than $1.27. Hang a blanket over the window to insulate it. You might even need to tape around the electrical outlets in an older home to block the draft that is coming through your walls.
According to just how bad of financial shape you are in, you might need to live in your bathroom or kitchen and make sure the utilities are only being used there. Pull your mattress from your bed into whatever room you choose, or put a pallet on the floor and make do. Use a fan instead of the AC or maybe keep an ice chest handy with a wash cloth soaking in the cold water to wipe off and cool down. Keep a cool tub of water to soak in. Line the window with aluminum foil turning the shiny side out to reflect the sun. Take positive steps to address your needs and you will find yourself living rather than your death being tomorrow’s headline.
If it is winter when you find yourself in dire straits then wear warm clothes even while inside. Turn off the central heat if you can and use a small space heater to heat just the small room that you have chosen to live in. No power? Then pile on more blankets and clothing and pay more attention to chinking out the elements. Make sure you stuff a blanket or something under the door to the room because that is where one of the biggest sources of cold air will enter. Sound drastic? Maybe, but it is a doable plan for a seemingly undoable situation. It can be done. Believe me, there are people with a lot bigger problems!
So what if you don’t have that three thousand square foot box to worry about? What if you really are living on the streets? The same concerns apply. You don’t want to freeze to death and you don’t want to fry. Use some common sense. Is there an emergency shelter you could gain access to? If not then look for that box or shade tree. Stop feeling sorry for yourself!
If it is winter the more in terms of wall thickness you can put around you the better. This may only be clothing. It may indeed be cardboard boxes. Try to get several that will fit inside one another and still give you room to crawl inside. Stuff the space between the boxes with leaves, paper, plastic, or whatever dry material you can find laying around. If possible put some plastic sheeting over the whole thing to fend off the rain. Fortunately, in this case at least, we all live in a disposable world and there will likely be tons of stuff at your disposal.
What do you do if you don’t even have a cardboard box to seek shelter in? What if there is no garbage to sort through? Think like a squirrel! Take branches and leaves or whatever you can round up and make yourself some sort of shelter. Dig a hole into the side of a hill or into a snow bank or just huddle behind a big rock to knock off the wind. It is certainly a better option than literally freezing to death! If it is summer you are actually at an advantage if you are outside the big city and its hot asphalt. Find the coolest place you can find to set up your temporary home. This is, after all, only temporary.
By taking charge of your situation you have made it somewhat more manageable. You have, in fact, addressed your first need. You have found shelter. You still have your $1.27 and you also have time to think out your problems. I’ll help you do that in the next articles. You will find out how to find not just shelter but also water and food. What more could you ask for? Well, it would be nice if we could figure out just how to keep you out of this situation in the future. Perhaps we will be able to do that too. Just stay calm and keep reading.
Anita Cheek Moon has devoted much of her life to the environment and the instillation of sustainable living skills, spending her time in the envelope of tough times and managing to claw her way to the other side. She has written in a number of venues including professional biology journals, local news sources, and web content. Check out her website at PrimitivePursuits.org.