Trial By Fire: Experiencing The Freedom Of Minimalism Through Unintentional Loss

Have you ever been asked what you would grab on the way out the door if your house was on fire? In that moment of panic, what would be most important to you (other than family or pets)? What material possessions would be important enough to risk your life to save?  

In some ways, we make these choices everyday, hanging on to possessions that have lost their meaning or purpose.I recently did some cabinet modification work in the home of a customer. The work required her to clean out and reorganize her kitchen cabinets. Everything had to come out so that new pullouts could be installed and make things more accessible. We chatted during the installation - counters piled high with pots and pans, cooking utensils and small kitchen appliances. She talked about having so much stuff and naturally the conversation turned to the possibility of getting rid of some of it. There were several items she found during the clean out that she had forgotten she had owned - a juicer she no longer used and had forgotten about, a dish long hidden in the dark recesses of her cabinet, you can probably relate. Some, she admitted, needed to be gotten rid of, but as she is an avid cook and frequent entertainer, a lot of it would have to stay.

Then she told me a story. A few years ago, she and her family had made a cross country move from California. All of their belongings had been moved into their new Georgia home. And that is when lightening struck, literally. The house and everything in it was a total loss due to the resulting fire. The only personal possessions left were the clothes they were wearing and a beautiful, lace depiction of the Last Supper that had fortunately been at the framers. I can't imagine what that must have been like to live through. Where do you begin to rebuild?

She told me that people asked her at the time how she felt. Her answer was not what I expected to hear. She said she felt free. She was free of all the possessions that had been weighing her down. She didn't have to cook, clean, or maintain anything - at least for awhile. Free. I'm sure there were other emotions she must have had at the time - angst, fear, sadness, confusion, etc. But liberation was what stood out for her years later.

Of course, I wouldn't recommend the fire method of decluttering or downsizing, but it does go to demonstrate, that having all this stuff is not what makes or keeps us happy. Not in the long term. Possessions require work. We must work to acquire them in the first place and then keep on working to maintain, repair, or store them. Yes, some of this is unavoidable. There are things we need day to day, things that bring us enjoyment, or things we cherish and just can't let go. But in that panic to flee your burning house, those things we once believed we could not live without become less important, less vital to our survival. We can live with less, even if it may be difficult, and become more free in the process.