What would you save in a fire?

Thatched house in the fog, Wherwell, Hampsire (Neil Howard, Flickr)

This weekend, we were cleaning out all that extra stuff that accumulates in a home over time. I used my favorite declutter trick to help get rid of things I was on the fence about, but it also got me thinking —

What would I save from our home if there was a fire?

This is a helpful question when thinking about what we really need in our homes. (Funny aside — this is why I always wear clothes to sleep. I grew up next door to a family with 3 boys, and I worried that if there was a fire I’d have to run outside with no pants on and have them see me. The things we think about!)

I like to think I would take a tactical approach, prioritizing things in order of 1) irreplaceability, 2) sentimental value, and 3) importance. I am of course assuming all humans and pets are already out safely.

What things in our home are irreplaceable and have high sentimental value?

I would first focus on family heirlooms and photos/journals that cannot be replaced and are of important moments in our lives:

  • My wedding and engagement rings, if I weren’t already wearing them.
  • My husband’s wedding band, if he wasn’t wearing it.
  • The quilt made by my grandmother’s grandmother, my great great grandmother.
  • The quilt made by my grandmother.
  • The coffee and tea serving set and silverware passed down from my other grandparents.
  • The three framed crochet pieces on our mantle made by my grandmother.
  • The journal my husband and I kept while on our honeymoon.
  • Photo albums and my box of cards and other memorabilia.
  • My box of my grandmother’s jewelry.
  • A box of our wedding memorabilia.
  • My grandmother’s old music box.

What other things in our home are not replaceable?

These items might hold slightly less sentimental value or be more easily replaced since the people who made and gave them to us are still in our lives:

  • Pillows, curtains, and scarves made by my mother.
  • A quilt made by my mother-in-law.
  • A handmade game score-keeping thing that my in-laws made for us.

What remaining things have high sentimental value?

Though these can be replaced, I would be sad to lose them all the same.

  • Framed family photos and canvas prints from our wedding.
  • Gifts from my husband or things bought while traveling together.
  • A set of mini bowls (perfect for ice cream!) given to us by my sister.
  • A stuffed panda given to me by my husband soon after we started dating.
  • A little jade buddha I keep on my bedside table.

What important documents are difficult to replace?

  • Medical records.
  • Passport.
  • Birth certificate.
  • Marriage certificate.
  • Social security card.
  • Car title.

I hope I’m not forgetting anything important! But I think this is such a great way to get ourselves thinking about what really matters in our lives, and what we can live without. And there’s so much we can live without!

Case in point: my husband recently lost his (handmade, by him) wedding band on a flight. It’s flying somewhere above the world on an American Airlines plane. I was incredibly sad at first — it’s the ring I put on his finger on our wedding day — but then I came to realize that it’s just a piece of metal. He’s still here, and that’s what matters. He made a new band that looks (almost) exactly like the original. And that one will see us through many great life experiences, including our first child who’s due to arrive this summer, and it will be a part of many incredible memories.

What would you save from your home in a fire? What do you have in your home but know you can live without?

(Photo credit: Neil Howard, Flickr)


How do you stop the flood of unnecessary baby gifts?

Vintage baby toys (Julia Wright, Flickr)

We’re expecting our first baby this summer, and the gifts are just starting to roll in. They’re so sweet, and we really appreciate the thought that went into each and every one of them. At the same time, the minimalist in me does not want to have much more than the essentials.

We set up a registry and carefully selected only the things we think we really need. When people send other gifts, it’s because they’ve put thought into what we or the baby might love, and I appreciate this thought so incredibly much. But these extra gifts take extra space and can feel unnecessary. In the worst case scenario, they can even begin to feel like a burden.

(I should pause here to clarify that I’m talking mostly about toys and clothes, and not about handmade quilts or other such irreplaceable gifts that we’ll adore and treasure.)

What are expecting parents to do? Here are the options I’ve considered:

Keep the gifts

And be thankful for such nice people in our lives. Store them away somewhere or find a way to use them.

Return the gifts and use the money for other baby gear we really need

And still be thankful for the nice people in our lives. My worry is that if these friends or family ever come over they might notice that we don’t have their gift anywhere in sight. Often they’ve put a lot of thought into a gift, and I’d feel bad rejecting such a gift. Do you worry about this? Or is it not such a big deal since baby gear changes as the kids grow older?

Tell friends and family in advance that we’d prefer registry or cash gifts

We could cite the small size of our apartment as the reason behind this request, but this one still feels a little bit uncomfortable to me, like we’re assuming that they will want to get us a gift in the first place.

Fill the registry with more essentials, including things for older ages

This option is based on the assumption that if the registry has enough options — price points and types of gifts — that people will have a better chance of finding a gift there that they are happy to give, and feel less compelled to add other extra gifts. My concern here is that we won’t get the registry items that we really need for an infant if people buy more of the gifts intended for an older age.

I think I’m leaning toward the first or second option, depending on the gift and the likelihood that we would use it.

The most heartwarming thing I’ve observed about parents is that they share and pass along things they don’t need or use anymore. This virtuous cycle means there is another option.

We could try trading some extras for things that we do need.

It would even better if our extras were exactly what other parents were looking for. It could be a win-win for everyone involved.

Parents, I’d love to hear how you keep all these toys and extras at bay. Non-parents, I’d love to hear what route you would recommend. And all gift-givers, which option would you prefer that your recipients take if your gift wasn’t something they really needed?

(Photo credit: Julia Wright, Flickr)

My number one tip for a clutter-free home


I’d love to share my number one tip for a clutter-free home.

We’ve all been there. Tidying up, assessing what we want to keep and what we want to toss or donate, when we realize we’re on the fence about too many things. We know we really don’t need them, but we feel somehow compelled to keep them.

Maybe it’s because we’re sentimental, maybe it’s because we have good memories associated with them, maybe it’s because they were gifts. But they’re holding us down, literally weighing down our homes.

Tip: Take photos of things that you’re having a hard time parting with. Then get rid of them.

For me, it was all the books I read growing up. My parents no longer wanted them in their house, so I’d been lugging them from apartment to apartment since college. I just felt so sentimental about them. I wanted to see my own kids read them some day. Although I knew it was ridiculous to have so many books when libraries and ebooks are so prevalent, I struggled to actually part with them.

But then it hit me – I should take photos of the front covers! That way, I could remember my personal copy, not forget all the great books I’d read, and then donate the books to people who will actually read them in the near future!

Once I had this idea, it took off. I used this idea for all kinds of things, with no regrets:

Art projects from grade school

I’ll never actually display them, but a photo can bring back the same memories as the art itself, without taking up room in a box somewhere.

High school yearbooks

In this case, I took photos of the cover and any pages I cared about. It took a little more time but, given how heavy and big yearbooks are, it was completely worth it.

Stuffed animals from growing up

I had a blue elephant that my grandparents’ friend Helen gave me when I was little. It was a favorite for many years, and incredibly hard to part with. But a photo will bring me all the happiness and memories that the actual elephant will!

Decorations from our wedding

We had a bunch of milk glass bud vases left from our wedding, and of course I have no need for 18 bud vases. This one was easier since we already have beautiful photos from our wedding itself.

Do you aim for a minimalist home? If so, what do you do to help yourself achieve that goal? I’d love to hear your tips.

(Photo credit: Brent Pearson, Flickr)