The Things That Are Really Important Can't Be Seen
As the fire season in California gets longer and longer, the possibility of evacuation and loss becomes more real. So it wasn't just an intellectual exercise when my husband and I discussed what we would take if that necessity arose.
But as we looked around our home, we realized that we could easily get along without much of the stuff we own.
That's not to say it wouldn't be a hassle if all of our possessions were damaged or destroyed, and it's not to say we wouldn't miss some of them. But we agreed that we can enjoy these things while we have them and at the same time their loss wouldn't be devastating. That's actually a liberating feeling.
We don't have to wait for a dangerous situation. We can begin today to think about what we really need and treasure. We can get rid of the clutter and excess, and loosen our emotional attachments to everything else. This can be a very peaceful way to live.
Look around your house and imagine you have thirty minutes to evacuate, and the only things you can take with you are what you can fit in the back of your car. What would you take? If you did lose it all, and had to start all over again, how would you do it differently?
It's surprising how little we need.
Our happiness really doesn't depend on owning a houseful of stuff. Sure we have basic needs that need to be met: food, utilities, shelter, transportation. Financial adviser Dave Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover, calls these The Four Walls. Along with basic clothing, these are the things you fund first when you're in a financial crisis, because these are the necessities for survival. Everything else is gravy.
But if you're forced to leave your house for any reason, you're probably not worried about your furniture, your TV, or your collections. You don't care that much about your brand-new stand mixer or your deluxe outdoor grill. You're not worried about the items in the back of your clothes closet or the sports equipment in the garage.
In a hurry, you're grabbing your kids and your pets. Medications, important papers, your phone and laptop, and your wallet. You might add a change of clothes and underwear, and your pet's leash, bowls, and litter box. If you have time, you might take some family photos or a scrapbook, and your child might want a favorite toy. But once your family is safe, you'll realize that everything else is either replaceable or completely unimportant.
Who you are, what you really value, and what you can contribute to the world has nothing to do with the stuff you own. The things that are really important can't be seen.
We know this, but we don't always live like we know this.
So when I get too caught up in deciding on new upholstery for my couch, or new curtains for my window, or a new outfit for a special occasion, or whether I should upgrade my phone... that's the time to remember this truth: I need to own some things, but not many, and I certainly don't need to waste much time worrying about them.