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)

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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)

How far would you go to escape the rat race?

somewhere_in_between_Dingli_Cliffs_Malta (bass_nroll, Flickr)

It’s easy to get sucked into the rat race. There are so many external forces telling us that we should go to college, study hard, go to grad school, get a corporate job, work our way up the ladder, get promoted, make lots of money, get married, buy a house, have kids.

Where does it end? When do we get to stop and enjoy what we’ve created for ourselves?

I know I’ve felt like I’m on a train and it’s heading in the wrong direction. In my case, I switched directions in grad school, moving from a lucrative major that totally bored me to a less lucrative field that I love. It was a hard choice at the time — I had committed so much to building a life in that direction — but in the scheme of things it was not so drastic.

I’m always intrigued by people who truly and completely abandon the standard path. People who check out of the rat race and do whatever pleases them that day, that month, that year.

Would you live off the grid to get out of the rat race?

I recently watched a House Hunters episode about a family who moved off the grid to a remote island in Fiji. They had two young children including a 1 year old, and they chose to live on an island that had no electrical grid, no restaurants, no anything. On the 6 days a week that a plane didn’t fly there, it was a 24-hour boat ride to reach an island with modern conveniences like hospitals.

Their reasoning was that they were tired of the rat race. They wanted to feed their family with fish they caught themselves, to focus their energies on basic needs, and leave the rest of their time for simple pleasures.

Their choices are obviously extreme compared to what most of us have chosen. They are also missing an important facet of happiness – increasing meaning in our lives by creating something to work toward in the future. And yet their choice is so beguiling to me.

We create such busy lives for ourselves that we don’t always have time to stop and appreciate what we’re spending all of our time working so hard for. It’s hard for many of us to see, in a tangible way, how all of the time we spend working, from sitting in meetings to writing reports, is improving the world.

Happiness is our ultimate end goal. Money, attained by participating in the rat race, is simply one way to try to get at happiness. It is not useful except in its potential to help us be happier.

There are other ways.

How far would you go to escape the rat race? Would you go off the grid? Have you ever made a drastic change to get out of the rat race? Or do you participate because you think it’s more important to plan for a secure future? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

(Photo credit: bass_nroll, Flickr)