The Burning House
A couple of years ago, when I was living in Santa Barbara, there were crazy wild fires that required my sister and I (amongst many others) to evacuate and actually go through, in real life, the imaginary game you sometimes play with yourself about “what would I grab if my house caught on fire.”
This clever site, The Burning House, asks people to submit a photo of the things they’d take. It’s so interesting to see what people would grab and to wonder if you can imagine what they’re like based on that.
(Also, beyond it’s literal assignment, it’s also inherently an exercise in photo styling, so with a few I wonder, would you really grab that or did it just look good?)
What I realized, when forced to confront this scenario, was that there was very little I truly cared to take. I looked around my apartment, expecting to go into a frenzy, and then the frenzy just didn’t happen. I calmly finished baking the pie I was working on so we’d have something good to eat in our exile, put a few things in a duffel, and walked out the door.
This prompted two epiphanies: 1) hooray, I’m not as materialistic as I thought, and 2) so, all this stuff I’ve bought is pretty meaningless. It was the kind of realization you’ve always known to be true (how many maxims have you heard about “what matters in the end”), but you sort of don’t believe it fully until something hits you over the head with it.
In the end, all I took were my box of letters from family and friends, a box of plane and event tickets I’ve saved my whole life, and photo albums from the pre-digital age– only things representing relationships and experiences– the two things you do hear over and over that make you.
(I also grabbed a small and really poorly thought out selection of clothing that meant I was wearing leather loafers- no socks- for 4 days on a hot dusty ranch where we stayed to ride out the fires.)