Jul 26, 2023
Photo Credit: Kat Haber, Still Life Still
What would you save if your house was on fire?
Really, if you had only moments to escape with your life, which things would you grab and go?
Earth is in a rolling wildfire streak. It is difficult to tell if it was...
- the massive methane leaks of Russia, torching vast boreal forests
- the loss of an entire town in Alberta, in the heart of extracting Canadian oil sands
- the fire one ridge from my house on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska
- the Grizzly Creek fire closing down I-70 a major artery connecting the USA west to east coasts
- the massive burn of the continent of Australia
- currently the Mediterranean conflagration in Greece and Portugal
As Greta Thunberg declared, "Our house is on fire!" At some point, the alarms will sound in the belly of each human faced with fires at home or elsewhere.
Which of all the possessions you own are so dear to you that you would risk your life to save them?
Here's a stunning stat: Buying 40% of the world's toys, the U.S. has 3% of the world's kids. We are simply overstuffed. How might we trim down our over-consuming lives? Buy things to last, so replacement becomes obsolete. Buy only what is necessary. Buy no new things-tough on the economy, but much needed as the world is populating from 8 to 10 billion humans.
So while you are living, imagine a firesale of your stuff. Your family has run out of money and you are forced to sell the house you designed, built, raised your kids in, made your contribution to the community from, and hosted countless movie nights conferring with other parents about best ways to be caring parents. Which objects, while you are alive, will you retain in your smaller, simpler life, free of most of your stuff? Sharing, not ownership is the way forward. I just did not realize how real this would become in my own life.
Which of these values might each attach to each of a thousand choices I'll make about these objects: sentimental, service, social status, social interaction, sales price, and self-concept?
Earth can only supply sufficient natural resources for 1.5 billion people. Freeing myself from consuming is required for the greatest good of my own family and for us all as we consider the quality of life for all humans. "Let it go, let it go." as the Disney movie Frozen goes.
We need to transform all human systems in Earth: industry, power, food, mobility, governance, fashion, all the things.
Reducing demand is among the solutions. For this behavioral change, I am thinking of the greatest good for the greatest number over the greatest period of time. I feel the stress of having a too-big house and too little cash is having on my 82-year-old-cancer-recovering husband and about-to-have-his-first-son son. It is breaking my heart writing this, forecasting for but a month or possibly two, these will be the final 220-degree views from my beautiful bedroom where I watched daily Grewingk Glacier recede.
Let's play a game. Arrange all those things you would risk your life to save as your house is on fire. Take a photo. Post it to your own story on stuff. Title it "What I would save from my burning house?" Tag it #houseonfire.
Will guys pick objects related to hobbies and sports? Will we women choose family photos and heirlooms? Ask your family members to play along with you. Take photos. Compare what matters most to each of you.
The bottom line: Don't just toss stuff. There are dozens of ways to sell or donate clothes, furniture, trinkets, kitchenware, and souvenirs.
- Donate it to your local thrift shops or Salvation Army or Goodwill. Thrifting is a real thing and needs constant resupply.
- Try Craig's List, The Freecycle Network or the Buy Nothing Project, two massive online networks with millions of people looking to trade goods or buy cheap.
"It's a very strange phenomenon, but when we reduce what we own and essentially 'detox' our house, it has a detox effect on our bodies as well," declares Marie Kondo, creator of the 21st Century minimalist KonMari. I am hoping it will help my family in this way as well.
The circular economy is upon us. Time for us to circle the wagons to do everything that has to be done to recycle our stuff, repurpose our energies, and reduce our stress.
Simplifying my life is painful. So many special moments are memorized in the holding of these special objects. I notice I am only taking one piece of clothing, a t-shirt from when I walked across the country in the Great March for Climate Action.
So what and why are these the things I'd grab and go?
- Document cards-passport, driver's license, credit card. Light, easy to carry & gives access to other places
- T-shirt of the Great March for Climate Action
- Rescue remedy for the physical and mental stresses
- Tweezers for those nasty bothersome whiskers
- iPhone for communications
- Native Alaskan drum and drumstick to conjure up the elements-probably could do the same with my voice, but reminds me of this indigenous place
- Rumi book, philosophy that guides and soothes my soul
- Heart stone, I bought from a 10 year-old-boy who was supporting his mom's efforts to house the homeless in her neighborhood (I gave him most of my dinner while he was making the sale.)
- $2 represents the financial resources needed to make this emergency move.
- Possibly a painting I did of the Kenai river and my dog Mia, a tryptich of my 1-year-old son
- Probably not possible to bring, but would love to schlep my jewelry box of all the trinkets of love expressed in these beautiful walls.
Cell phone, computer, cash, Climate March t-shirt, documents-driver's license, passport card, tweezers, rescue remedy, drum, McKenzy's baby pic, RUMI.
I am also noticing what I am not taking. Tearing up...weaping...missing...
I cry each time I see the disappearance of a forest replaced by a massive strip of storage units. It's so easy to swipe a card (I notice I did include my credit card in my objects to save) to buy stuff. Many today click a button online expecting within a day or two the Amazon truck to drop off the latest hit of stuff. Americans today have bigger houses — or storage sheds — to keep it all. Who is owning whom? Weaning myself from my decades of accumulated things will require feeling feelings in the next month or two when this lightening up will likely be complete. Funny how moving through life stuff seems to stick. Not so funny stripping myself from those memories.
How do I rebuild my life the way I want and stop the stuff I do not want? I am living in the question as I notice the heaviness of the things I do want to retain. My mental health is deeply impacted by these attachments. Feeling the feelings. Supporting others with climate coaching along my own journey. I'll host an Alaska Climate Staycation tomorrow and for the next two days, as I get ready to not stay here. Perhaps the final time I look through these windows. What I really want is loving relations with my family and friends.
The stress of making this immediate move is challenging my own readiness to grab and go. But here we are - all of us - finding our way through all the stuff. We list my house next week. We reached the financial decision two days ago. It is a lot of stuff to consider. All this stuff must find new homes. I am lightening our load.
I am looking at bookshelves of kid's books. Each a story, a laugh, a lesson. Where to redirect those? With loving care each was selected for the boy my son has become. For his boy to come? For the son who is helping me let go of my stuff, I am not burning down my house. I am saving a very few necessary tools, precious artifacts of a former life, and savoring the moments that remain.
What I am taking from my own house on fire is different from the actual go bag I packed when a fire was 10 minutes from my house. And what my parents took from their house when their house burned to the ground when I was two-only us kids and their lives. Starting all over again...and again...again...
Excuse me for now, back to strategizing, simplifying, digitizing, shipping, giving, reflecting, and mostly feeling.