Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When You Can't Take it with You

This post's title comes from an article in November's Real Simple magazine by author Merrill Markoe. She lives in Malibu, an area that was threatened on several occasions by wildfires, during which the police organize evacuations, forcing residents to pack up and leave their homes. Each time, she's had to decide what items are worth saving and which to risk losing forever. She states: "my dogs, the deed to the house, the home-insurance policy, the checkbooks, the computers and the hard drives: These were no-brainers. Other objects were considerably more difficult to ponder."

It got me thinking; what I would do if I were in her situation? It's a bit different from the question that most people have been asked at some point in various "getting to know you games": Your house is on fire and you only have a minute to grab one thing, what will it be? In Markoe's scenario, there is more time for decision making and space for more items. But I wonder if that doesn't make it even more difficult. If you had to pair down your entire life to one carload, how would it feel? Would you be surprised by what you choose? Would it be harder than just picking one item and abandoning the rest? I took some time to think, and here's what my imaginary hoard would look like:
  • The must-haves: All of our official document type items that require dealing with the government to replace. Avoiding that type of hassle is invaluable.
  • Obvious choice: Photo albums, "memory boxes", journals and scrapbooks. This includes surprisingly few things, as most of our memories are stored digitally, but the teenage girl inside me can't bear to part with old movie ticket stubs, and love letters from the early days of my relationship with Dustin.
  • Clothes: Practically speaking I'd bring a small suitcase- a couple pairs of jeans, and a weeks worth of the necessities. (but who am I kidding? I always pack for double the trip length that I initially plan for. For this trip I'd probably stuff a suitcase with 2 months of my finest Old Navy bargains. So silly.) Completely impractically speaking, I'd want to bring my prom dresses and Halloween costumes. I'm somehow justifying their worth due to the memories attached, and the man hours spent to make many of them. And on a purely sentimental note, even though it would take up the entire backseat, I'd have to pack my wedding dress. (this is currently stored at my mom's house so saving it is not technically necessary, but still...) I'm still not quite sure what I'm saving it for, it's just something that you do, and I don't think a crisis is the time to start bucking those kinds of traditions.
  • Jewelry: I don't have much that is of true monetary value, but I wouldn't want to part with gifts from Dustin or my Grandma's vintage items.
  • Basically anything that came from my Grandparents. Age tends to give things an intrinsic value, so it'd be worth the time to bundle up a quilt, a mirror, and a few other hand-me down type things.
So, I came up with this list, but it was harder than I thought. Not because I had too many things to fit in the trunk of my Corolla, but more so because I found it difficult to spontaneously recall my valuables. I have a house full of things, but I had to physically scan various rooms, or dig into my visual memory archives to come up with items that were worth saving. And then even after I did, they didn't seem as valuable. I looked back on my list.....That's it? Normally if you asked me to throw away any of these things, I would balk, choosing to make more room for storage, or pack the closets just a bit more, to avoid having to part with any of my beloved treasures. But thinking of that car full of stuff as the only surviving relics of my life, it all seemed kind of insignificant. I also know that if I was truly in this situation, my rational side would fail me, and I'd end up with tons of "impulse items" in the car. I'd probably have a stuffed animal, my new feather headband that makes me feel so fancy, and a handful of magazines from my vast collection (this would be mostly to prove to Dustin that I hadn't saved them in vain all these years. Abandoning them now would be like admitting defeat!). Thinking about what sort of trinkets I'd insist on bringing makes me laugh, but wonder a bit about what all the stuff I have means about me.

The author found herself in a similar mindset. Toward the end of the article, Markoe asks,
"If all this stuff I own isn't really worth saving, then why is it cluttering up my closets, bookshelves and fireplace mantel? What are all those clothes in my closet doing there anyway? Why do I save all those snow globes? All good questions."

Especially around Thanksgiving it's easy to gain a real sense of perspective and see all the petty material things in our lives for what they are (petty material things). And of course I know that the most important things aren't things at all....relationships with friends and family, and memories of times spent together are of much more value than any tangible item could ever be. But all of the stuff that we fill our lives with must have some significance, otherwise, why would we bother? I might not waste space in my car full of treasures on one tenth of the the things that I choose to keep in my home, but that doesn't mean they're worthless. These things may not deserve a permanent place in my life, but if they are the source of even fleeting joy, maybe that is enough. Because even after going through this exercise, I know I'll still collect tchotchkes for the living room, and buy piles of discount duds from Target but I'm grateful that these items don't define me. I'll appreciate them for now, but find comfort in knowing that they're only temporary, and that is ok. Above all I'm thankful for all that I have, from my relationships with loved ones, to my silly porcelain figurines that inexplicable bring me so much joy. I truly have been richly blessed.

So what about you? What would you pack in your car? Does any of it surprise you?

1 comment :

  1. I agree with you, Miss Courtney.....If I had to, I would pack the standard photos, scrapbooks, the fire safe lock box, any other valuables.....maybe the computer that has pics waiting to be printed. At the same time, I would not be devastated to lose "stuff", but so what if a pair of fancy shoes brings me temporary happiness? As long as I'm secure in what brings eternal joy and strive to put Him first, then bring on the heels!