What If Your House Catches Fire?

Girl near fire

A lot of people don’t like to think about negative situations. Some believe it attracts bad luck, while others are simply not comfortable with dwelling on negative possibilities.

But sometimes it makes sense to ask yourself, “What if?” What if this X, Y, or Z situation happens? What will you do?

In my minimalism journey, one of the questions I frequently ask myself is: “What if my house catches fire?” The possible answers are definitely not alluring, and most of them lead to depressing scenarios. But I force myself to face this possibility because 1) it can happen to anybody at any given time, and 2) asking myself this question helps me identify what’s really important to me.

Whether you’d like to practice minimalism or just want to be prepared for any scenario, I encourage you to ask: “What if my house/apartment/dorm room catches fire?” You can break it down into three sub-questions:

1. What will you save?

Assuming you have a few seconds to grab some items before you run out the door, which items will you grab? Limit yourself to five things or less; in a real-life fire, you probably won’t have time to pile dozens of things on your arms. And be realistic: you can’t expect yourself to lift your foosball table or 60-inch flat-screen TV all by yourself.

Different people have different answers. For me, I’ve decided to save my laptop (because I need it for my work) and the plastic envelope in which I keep my important papers (because getting a new copy of my birth certificate, college diploma, etc. would be a pain). I’ll also grab my messenger bag, which contains my ID cards, ATM cards, and a bit of cash. If I have enough time, I’ll grab my laptop charger and pocket Wi-Fi so I can still work and earn money to support myself.

My dad, on the other hand, saved his newly bought television when the apartment he shared with my mom almost caught fire more than 30 years ago. This was not a scruffy little TV; it’s one of those huge-ass television sets in the 1980s that came with its own heavy cabinet. He was able to carry it down a flight of stairs and into the street, but he had an asthma attack once the adrenaline rush went out. I don’t know what he planned to do with a TV if their apartment burned down and they ended up homeless. (My mom, during the same incident, grabbed a couple of suitcases without realizing they were filled with her old college textbooks and nothing else.)

Your answer will be different from mine and my parents’, and that’s okay. The important thing is that you identify the things that you need to survive and thrive after disaster strikes. In the process, you’ll discover which items are truly necessary for you and which ones are not.

2. What can you leave behind?

Once you’ve answered Question #1, it’s easy to answer Question #2. Basically, anything that’s not on your Must-Grab list should be left behind — yes, even your most valuable and most expensive possessions. It might seem difficult at first glance but, if you look closer, you’ll see that it’s actually doable. This is especially true when you finally let go of sentimental value and see your things for what they truly are: just things.

In my case, I realized that it’s impossible — not to mention impractical — to prioritize my books. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve downsized my book collection from 200+ to just 16 but, even then, it won’t make sense for me to grab them first when there are more important items to secure. This has helped me realize that I can live without my books and that I’ve finally let go of my emotional attachment to them.

This applies to my clothes, too. I’m not a fashionista so I’m not too attached to my wardrobe, but I do appreciate the importance of having clean, decent clothes that fit me well. Asking myself the “What if” question has helped me realize that I can live with just the clothes on my back, if worst comes to worst.

These don’t mean, though, that I’ll throw all my books away or donate all my clothes and live with just one set of clothing. It just means that I’m ready to face a life with less.

3. Are you willing to leave everything behind?

This is a difficult question to answer, but the answer should be “Yes”. Many people have successfully escaped from their burning house, only to end up injured or even dead because they went back to save valuable possessions. Don’t let yourself become one of them. Prioritize yourself and your loved ones; you can buy another TV or laptop or electric guitar, but you can’t buy another life.

Perhaps you’re not ready to say “Yes” right now. That’s okay; it takes a lot of time before you can completely let go of your emotional attachments to your possessions. What’s important is that you make the effort to recognize that things are just things; it’s only us who add sentimental value to them. You also have to realize that our memories are not in our stuff but are within us. As long as we nurture our relationships and are mentally and emotionally present in every moment, we don’t need physical objects to remember our loved ones.

Final Thoughts

I don’t mean to trivialize the mental, emotional, physical, and financial impact of having your house burn down to the ground. Those who have gone through this experience will tell you that it’s an extremely difficult situation to be in, especially if you lose everything you own or even lose a loved one during the incident. But, while we can’t tell when house fires would happen nor completely prevent them, we can do something to be more prepared in case they do take place.

Most people find it hard to let go of their stuff, and they end up believing that everything they own is important. They only find out the truth when they face a disaster, which forces them to accept that they can, in fact, live without most of their possessions. Don’t wait for this to happen. As early as possible, go through your things and decide which of them are truly important and which ones are just there as pacifiers. Doing this will help you be more prepared for house fires and other unfortunate events and become ready for anything that might happen. Who knows? Along the way, you might find yourself adopting minimalism principles and using them to live a freer and more meaningful life that’s not burdened by unnecessary stuff.

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