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This is a problem I ran into while writing a piece set into a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy future.

For a short background: I proposed a world where a large Island-country had disaster struck and regular living has become too dangerous with new predatory creatures as well as environmental changes.

A few different groups have survived at this place, each with their own different solution to the problem.

My protagonist starts out at their home - a modified cathedral now bunker structure originally inhabited by a group labeled as "doomsday" bc they predicted the events around 150 years ago and decided to close off.

There is space for around 150 people (statistically enough to avoid the whole incest thing according to diff. science papers), access to indoor gardening for food etc, but no electricity or ways to go outside. The group displays certain cult like behavior and apart from that the regular chores of cleaning, cooking, washing and farming,

I struggle to give the society anything more recreational to do to fill out their time. There's no need of excessive crafting - not enough spare material combined with the fact that objects are used for a long time.

So how does one survive "bunker" living mentally or better: what can you do in this situation on a day to day basis to have a sense of purpose?

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  • $\begingroup$ Other answers have drawn from historical examples, but science has made huge advances, so there is potential to fast track an industrial revolution. Glass, concrete, plastics, and steel might be priorities as they could support mechanization of manual tasks, refrigeration, canning, etc. $\endgroup$
    – George
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 0:23
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 5:49
  • $\begingroup$ I would suggest watching The 100. When I started reading through your very interesting plot, it took me right back to watching. They first have to live in a space station, then eventually go to earth and fine themselves inside a bunker after an end of world event causes radiation to leak and generations spend a long time underground. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 9:29
  • $\begingroup$ Cathedrals aren't as large as you think they are. 150 people, plus their stuff, places to sleep and live, etc and enough "garden" space definitely won't fit. Especially since gardens won't produce all the calories needed; you need fields of grain. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ For the purposes of plot, you might want one or two to go a little crack-potty. $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 23:19

12 Answers 12

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In villages (70 years before, with no electricity, no petrol, no machines) men went to fields (with bulls and plough) before sunrise and worked till noon. In the afternoon, men gathered in a common place called Shamlat land. Old men talking and smoking, young men playing board games or doing gym exercises. Women milked cows, prepared food, took food to men in the fields, cleaned the house, washed dishes and clothes. Women also gathered at some place for gossip or community work. They also brought their cotton spinning wheels to make thread which was later used for weaving clothes. The group of women spinning together (called Tranjan in Punjabi) spread before the evening to prepare dinner.

There were festivals (specially at the end of crop yielding), marriage parties (for many days).

Same can happen in your bunker.

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    $\begingroup$ Board games (and card games) were the first thing that came to my mind as well. I also like the nostalgic feel in your answer. Upvoted. $\endgroup$
    – ermanen
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ What if there are no farms in the bunker? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Daron It is written in the question, "access to indoor gardening for food". $\endgroup$
    – imtaar
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 12:53
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    $\begingroup$ Nice answer except for the (presumably inadvertant) inference that men talked while women gossiped. $\endgroup$
    – Penguino
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ may be worth noting that shamlat land appears to be a term specific to India, whilst this behaviour (or others that are essentially the same) is pretty much universal in small communities across the world $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 10:25
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the regular chores of cleaning, cooking, washing and farming,

If you have experience of performing those tasks with little to no automation, you know that they leave practically no time to get bored.

Top it with the consideration that being in a bunker they don't even have the bad weather to produce an idle day from farming.

If you really want to give them some social moment, they can do singing and/or drinking, maybe in the time between dinner and going to sleep, as a way to vent off some steam.

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    $\begingroup$ But! But! No internet! Seriously, just laundry takes forever without a washing machine. It takes so much time you end up wearing fewer clothes and changing less often just so you have time to do other things. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ "they leave practically no time to get bored" It's extremely easy to be bored while being busy with mind-numbing chores. But singing is good option, which you can do perfectly well during many chores. $\endgroup$
    – towr
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ @towr Chores are also varied which helps. Many chores are shorter than doing the same repeated thing for hours a day day-after-day. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ subsistence agriculture requires fewer hours per day of labour on average than a modern full-time job, and hunter-gathering requires even less (although obviously isn't possible in this world). The "on average" is doing some heavy lifting here though, during harvest and planting the hours can be quite long, but the rest of the time the work is fairly light. Spinning and weaving enough to keep a community clothed do generally take a substantial amount of time though $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ also worth noting that whilst spinning and weaving do take a lot of hours, they can generally be picked up and put down as needed, and done in parallel with social activities and/or keeping an eye on children (this is likely one of the reasons they have historically been considered women's work, as the women are generally the ones minding the children) $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 10:36
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Given experience with just how difficult it is to keep submarine crews functional I'll argue that if you do this with a random cross-draw of the population that your bunker inhabitants are, in fact, going to go psychotic.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the real answer. Submariners are very carefully selected, are kept trapped indoors for only a limited time, and have a clear mission to fulfill. That's the closest example we have in the real world of people being kept indoors for a not-very-short time and not going insane. 150 random people, with no strong command structure, with no strong convictions, with no particular goal, and yet not going insane while living confined indoors for years, hmmm, it is hard to believe. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ Submarines are narrow and claustrophobic structures, the OP's structure is a modified cathedral and they have an indoor garden as well. It is not as bad as a submarine IMO, where you can have more space and when certain activities are involved. $\endgroup$
    – ermanen
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ @ermanen, I'm a veteran submariner and... you're probably wrong? Probably. Submarine population average age is about 22. Most aren't married and are looking forward to doing things unwed sailors do in France. The average age of this group is going to be more ordinary, they will have Seen Some Things, and there is no adventure on the other side. Surviving this will take the kind of grim eyed determination you see from ground combat vets fortunate enough not to require medication to function normally. $\endgroup$
    – user8827
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Nohbdy submarine crews have extremely different demographics than this community, which likely make it harder. In the community posited by the OP people have the opportunity to form relationships, have sex, raise children and generally do all the things submariners have to wait until they're back in port to do. Those possibilities, together with the fact it's much less cramped could easily make grim eyed determination much less necessary $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Nohbdy it emphatically is not a prison. The people were a pre-existing community and are not subject to any social restrictions beyond those they presumably had beforehand, and the religious leadership will obviously become a de facto government enforcing rule of law (just different law than that of the beforetimes governments). Sure there'll be conflict, cliques, and sometimes violence, but that's true of all communities and not particular to the bunker. They can't leave the bunker, but they are still free to live their lives as they choose - something that is denied to prisoners $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 13:11
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Billiards.

clemens on billiards

The Complete Travel Books, Anecdotes & Memoirs of Mark Twain.

Your people have moved the pews in their cathedral and that space is full of pool tables. They are a motley assortment of tables, gathered from here and there. Some have known idiosyncracies. Persons usually keep their cues with them. At any hour of day or night there are people playing billiards. When not playing billiards, some of your characters think of the world in terms of billiards.

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    $\begingroup$ Nine hours of billiards each day? Land snakes alive my boy -- now we are cooking with petrol! $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Daron - let's go! Best 499 of 999! You can have first break. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ A billiards-obsessed, post-apocalyptic, bunker-society sounds practically Pratchett-like. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @AzorAhai-him- Or something you would find in Fallout New Vegas. $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Mermaker Idk, but i want to read it $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 20:30
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You have described it as similar to a cult, so take a look at other religious enclaves. Abbeys have a large homogenous population who spend most of their time in mundane tasks like gardening & laundry, repairing clothes, feeding themselves etc. The remainder of the time is often spent in contemplation.

Just because the doomsday event your "cult" predicted came to pass, doesn't mean they have stopped predicting or speculating on what did happen and what will happen in the future. They may have developed rituals to "atone" for the original tragedy, they would engage in scholarly discussion on what the future holds, they would contemplate life.
They will probably have regimented their life, so everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing at various points during the day, and while there may be some designated "free time" that will probably still have guidelines on "peaceful contemplation" or "gathering for song" etc.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree that prayer and religious disciplines would be useful, but: monasteries used to have to expel those that wouldn't or couldn't fit in. It was relatively common. Some of the cloistered nunneries though.... $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 6:48
  • $\begingroup$ @SeanOConnor expulsion could also work in this community. Or execution or imprisonment if there is no practical way to send people out of the bunker $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ Abbeys were definitely not self-sufficient. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn But the people who dealt with the outside world were often those in specific roles, everyday members could go months and years without coming close to "outsiders" so they filled their days in a manner similar to the OP's question. $\endgroup$
    – Dragonel
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Even some interaction with the outside world by definiton negates self-sufficiency. "Our (mega-giant) cathedral has enough space and water (positing aquaponics) for growing food for 150 people, and a massive recycling program -- Soylent Green is people!! -- but there's not enough energy to power it all, and... no salt." $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 16:07
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The most obvious thing that you've left out of your description is also one of the most necessary: Books.

Lacking electricity and the internet, reading is one of the most important ways of not going crazy from sheer boredom and monotony. However, books are also critically important sources of information about everything that you need to know (or may need to know) about maintaining your enclave and perhaps even one day reclaiming the outer world.

(This is why I would prefer to establish my secure enclave in a large library, instead of a cathedral).

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Music

I believe music is the only thing that can keep people sane in a long period in an enclosed space. They would make their own music whether through playing or singing. I assume they would have some instruments and they can have jam sessions, or teach playing instruments; even if there are no instruments, they can have a cappella sessions or other ways to make music. If they are a religious group, they can perform religious music whether through chanting, hymns etc. that can involve praying as well.
Nice to have: a hand crank player (gramophone) and records.

There are many scientific studies on the effect and the neuroscience of music, with its mental health benefits. Here are some sources if interested in reading further: 1, 2, 3, 4

Meditation or meditative activities would be a great supplement which can involve different physical activities like yoga, martial arts, dancing etc.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 but don't forget the story part - ballads and such. Plus competitive story telling. They can tell each other outrageous whoppers about people flying and floating around on oceans in boats made of steel. Some of them even came back up to the surface after sinking even! For reals! People spent hours watching moving pictures of cats! Seriously! $\endgroup$
    – user53931
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @CTeegarden Great addition, thank you. I've also mentioned as "other ways to make music" but of course there are many other options to list. $\endgroup$
    – ermanen
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 23:13
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It's not that different from a medieval village.

If there is enough space to grow food for 150 people it's far from claustrophobic. If people have to do everything manually they'll be quite busy.

They'll spend their free time on social events, playing music, playing cards, whittling and so on.

Without modern medicine you’ll also need – just guessing – at least 4 children per woman to sustain your population count, so a lot of time will be spent looking after small children and educating them.

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    $\begingroup$ Presumably a little smaller if they've still got modern plants, but great point. You're going to be looking at a minimum of a square mile of farm land, and presumably more space for firewood. Far from living cheek to jowl they'll be living in a place more spacious than much of Europe. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ @nick012000 Do you mean hydroponics? (Aquaplaning is what happens when a vehicle loses grip because of water between the tyres and the road surface) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 11:07
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    $\begingroup$ @nick012000: Doesn’t that require more advanced technology? Pumps and stuff? And isn’t it usually coupled with artificial light? $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ @JackAidley No, aquaponics is a different setup to hydroponics. It involves adding fish to your plants' watering system so that they'll produce fertiliser for the plants through their excretions. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaponics $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 0:29
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    $\begingroup$ @JackAidley Yes. I didn't notice that autocorrect had corrupted it until after the edit period was over. $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 12:21
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Some answers you'll come across seem to think that before automation of chores and daily tasks, there was little to no leisure time.

I'm no Luddite, but that's very far from true. It flies in the face of all historical evidence, including art and writing by medievals and ancients, a great deal of which is dedicated to the ways that earlier societies and cultures spent their leisure time.

Better answers look to the many and varied ways that societies before (or outside of) recently adopted lifestyles spent that time.

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Cultural pursuits

The inhabitants could pass the time and entertain each other by creating literature, art, music or stage plays. Most of those require very little resources except human creativity.

Sports and Games

Engaging in friendly competition in all kinds of games or sports is another form of entertainment which requires very little resources.

The materials for lots of board or card games can be improvised with very little resources.

Lots of sports require space, which might be difficult to come by. But those could be replaced by sports which focus more on manual dexterity than physical fitness.

Recreational drug use

When your farming capacity allows it, then your people might want to produce and consume all kinds of recreational drugs to keep themselves entertained.

Engaging in carnal pleasures

Give people who find each other sexually attractive some privacy, and they will find ways to entertain each other. Or if you establish the right cultural norms, not even privacy is required.

I just hope that your people have access to contraceptives, or they might run into problems with population control.

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Digging more bunkers

The way I think of a cathedral, the survivors are not hermetically sealed away. Nor is a mishap out of the question, ranging from earthquake to jilted lover. They can and should be turning their attention to making the bunkers where they'll live when this first bunker has fallen. And every new excavation gives families (or lovers) a private, potentially owned space to retreat to, whether for social reasons or because angry monsters are roaming the hallways. There is even a chance of tapping into ancient sewers and basements, with all the adventure and risk that implies.

At this point they live in a harsh environment, but their situation is no longer static. They have frontiers to aspire to.

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Thinking.

Rodin's "Thinker"

Going with Aristotle here, the contemplative life will become the ideal means of passing (free) time opposed to the active life they need to live to put food on the table. They will need very little - almost nothing - to live their contemplative life; all they need is a couple ideas (in their heads) and the ability to ponder said ideas. They will gather to discuss their thoughts and to pass (explain) ideas on to following generations (apart from books and other forms of scripture), and eventually they might even form philosophical or mathematical schools like the ancient greeks, coming to the conclusion that the theoretical-philosophical life is indeed the ideal life for a man to live.

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