Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

The Things We Carry

Last night at 2:32am the fire alarm in my building went off. This is not one of those get-the-ladder-and-press-the-button alarms, but a building-wide system, whose blare penetrated every square foot and eardrum in the building and requires the super to turn off. My wife and I threw some clothes on ourselves and infant son, tossed the cat into his travel box, I made sure I had my phone and wallet and we headed out the door.

The building’s residents congregated in the outside doorway, clad in their winter coats and pajamas. The fire department eventually arrived. They reported that there was no danger. After their coast-is-clear confirmation, we shuffled back to our apartments.

Beyond gratitude for the safety for all parties concerned (we appreciate that these situations can turn tragic), the experience revealed a few things about our relationship to stuff:

  1. We didn’t really consider stuff until after the incident ended; we were only concerned about making sure the baby and cat were safe.
  2. If we could only take what we could carry, my wife, who is a designer, said she would take her old photos, her computer, whose harddrive contains most of her professional portfolio and a vintage teddy bear. I would take my harddrive which holds all of my non-cloud stored files and some sculptures my father gave us. These were the only items we considered irreplaceable.
  3. Useful stuff trumps “valuable” stuff. When contemplating the second tier of things we would take from our smoldering home, both of us thought of the stuff we use everyday. My wife, who has a fondness for nice eyeglass frames, intuitively grabbed her most versatile pair, the ones with the neutral style and whose lenses tint in the sunlight. She would also grab her diaper bag/purse, a few pair of her favorite jeans and the designer peacoat she’s had for years. I would grab the Outlier pants I wear daily, my EMS soft-shell winter jacket that keeps me dry and thermoregulated from 25-70 degrees, my yellow waterproof Ortlieb backpack, my vintage Basso that has become my main commuter bike (both pictured above) and, if I could lift it, our cast iron pan. Expensive cocktail dresses, jewelry, wool suits, even most of our artwork, took backseat to the things we use day in, day out.

How about you? What would you take with you? Have you a been in a situation where you had to flee your home? What did you take, if anything? What did you learn about your relationship to stuff? We’d love to hear.

12 Comments

  1. We had a similar fire alarm go off a few weeks ago. It was due to some construction dust on the second floor. I grabbed our pet turtle and phone and was out the door. My husband and I were talking about it later that night and then put together all our important documentation, in a file holder (passports, certifications, important paperwork). So in case of a real fire, I would grab that, the hard drives and our turtle. I am lucky, a few years ago I scanned every family photo (used a 3rd party service and a groupon). I hold the originals but keep the copies in the google cloud so I will always have them. Heirlooms are always tough to leave behind but I would in a heart beat to save my life if I needed to get out fast.

  2. Monica M. says:

    I have a vintage suitcase that (when not traveling) holds our important documents, external harddrive, and passports. We have three cats and a dog, and I’m not sure we’d have any time to save much else – so I try not to worry about my great grandmother’s blanket – I have her wedding ring on 24/7, after all!

  3. William Latham says:

    This is a whole website dedicated to this question (pictorial form by each person)

    http://theburninghouse.com/

  4. Setter Rob says:

    Pen, pocket notebook, folding knife, small tactical flashlight, computer, phone, and above all the dogs.

  5. Randall says:

    Ipad. Phone. Folder with important docs me and as many shoes as I can grab I only own 8 pair total my foot is narrow and is hard to fit. All else I can replace. Actually I do not own too much more

  6. ceidefields says:

    So I haven’t been in a situation where I had to flee my home, but I have had my house burn to the ground while we were away. I think most of the time the idea that you’ll be able to grab items and then leave isn’t true. I highly recommend a fireproof safe and put everything that you value in there. Then when the fire investigators are sifting through the rubble, your safe will still be there!

  7. only4daddy says:

    Two weeks ago I threw out a bunch of “stuff”… it felt great! I think the “stuff” crawled back from the dump, into my house. This weekend I will throw away much more “stuff”, and feel great about it.

  8. only4daddy says:

    Wife and kids first then..Pad, MacBook Pro, and two portable hard drives loaded with photos…

  9. My cellphone and my bass guitar.

  10. s4ds says:

    my electric guitar, phone n wallet n portable harddisk(where i store all my non-cloud files) n im out. I also have a small “shaving kit” pouch where i keep my valued (irreplaceable)belongings plus some emergency cash(to last me 3 months). If a have a few more seconds Id grab that too.

    I like the idea commented by “ceidefields” wherein u store all ur valuables in a fireproof safe. that way in an emergency situation u just run.

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