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What Would You Take?

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If you had sixty seconds, what would you take? It’s a question that seems to come up again and again.

This marks the eleven-year anniversary of my house burning down. Yes, my entire house burned to the ground. I lost every material thing I had ever known. I remember in college taking a psychology class where we were asked what we would take, and everyone said photos. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. My favorite photos, the ones I had put in frames, truly disintegrated in the fire. Interestingly enough, the ones I had in albums either were badly singed or were soaked in an effort to extinguish the fire. After going through the rubble, I decided to keep only the album with my son’s baby pictures in it. Eleven years later, that photo album still reeks of smoke.

Oddly enough, I can still conjure up in my memory what those discarded pictures were. Now I am diligent at putting all my pictures online on photo sites such as Flickr and Snapfish. 

It’s a constant reminder that material things are replaceable. At the end of the day, what really matters are your memories. Everything else is just stuff.

Of course, you should also be prepared. I can’t emphasize enough how important proper insurance is. When I walked out of my house eleven years ago, it never occurred to me that my entire house would burn to the ground. I didn’t even think to take my engagement ring with me. I thought I would lose a room or two. It never crossed my mind to take anything but my family. As long as I had them, nothing else mattered. Even more poignant, it made me begin to realize what I really need. 

In the early days following the fire, as I was back in the gathering stages of life yet again, I had a lofty ideal that I would simplify my life. I would never have an overstuffed closet again. I vowed to myself to buy clothing in only black, white, and beige. Everything would work together. One of my first purchases was a black pantsuit, to replace one I had purchased shortly before the fire. Getting ready to go out became easy all of a sudden—I could just wear the black pantsuit. It sounded great on paper … but that theme lasted about a nanosecond. How could I ever live without my beloved pink and orange?

Even if I had been prepared for something as catastrophic as a fire, there’s no guarantee that my possessions would have been in a place that I could get to. Think about it: even if you had a plan, who’s to say the place where you store all your important items would be accessible in the event of an emergency?

As the environmental educator Steve van Matre saw it, “The key to a good life is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.”

Living with less (or not desiring more) can be the route to a simpler and happier life. And it sure makes it easier to decide what to take with you, when the carpet is suddenly pulled out from beneath your life as you knew it.


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