Reminders from Irma


EvacuateWe didn’t evacuate for Hurricane Irma. But we had our bags packed and staged in one area of the house for either a last-minute departure or so we’d have a better chance of finding our most important belongings together amid the rubble.

When you reduce your belongings to one suitcase and two backpacks — I had a second backpack for important documents, most of which are backed up in the cloud anyway – it’s a reminder of how little you need.

Here’s what my suitcase contained: one suit, brown and black shoes, two dress shirts, two ties (probably unnecessary), black belt, six casual shirts (four short-sleeve), five T-shirts, one light jacket (I don’t own a heavy coat), one pair casual slacks, one pair of jeans (I planned to wear a second, along with sneakers and T-shirt No.6), two pairs of shorts, gym shorts, six pairs underwear, and four pairs of socks.

That capsule wardrobe covers me at least 80 percent of the time. Looking at the remainder of a closet I’ve pared down considerably in recent years, there still was a lot of clothing left.

Here’s what was in my first backpack, the one without important documents:  laptop, tablet, chargers, spare keys, safe box keys, ID cards, checkbook, back-up drive, toiletries, camera, and camera cards.

That was it. My wife and sons had similar stashes. Had we departed and a category five hurricane reduced our home to sticks, we would have had everything we needed to start over.

Which begs the question: Why do we have so much other stuff?

hurricane2Not long after we moved to Florida in the late ’90s, we had three hours to evacuate for a hurricane. This was before kids and digital media, so we dedicated much car space to photo albums and CD and DVD collections, which seems downright silly now.

I grabbed a large box that contained my sports card and memorabilia collection (since sold). We also packed a small stereo system (again, the late ’90s) before driving inland for two hours to stay with relatives.

Then, as now, we needed space for a cat carrier (different cat, of course).

As we drove away in 1998, I realized I wouldn’t miss anything if our apartment building washed out to sea. Everything of importance was in that car, which surprisingly wasn’t that loaded down.

We have friends who years ago endured a middle-of-the-night electrical fire. They have four daughters, all 10 and under at the time, and thankfully everyone got out before the house burned to the ground.

A few years later, the father told me he considered it a blessing. “It was very traumatic at the time and putting our life back in order has been challenging,” he said. “But as far as the contents of the house, I don’t miss anything. We never would have gotten rid of a lot of that junk. The fire totally changed our mentality and I’m thankful for that. We don’t collect or accumulate anything and only buy what we absolutely need.”

Every summer since the fire this family of six has rented a large van and traveled the country. They typically take one or two of their nieces as well. People no doubt see their social media postings from some cool, out-of-the-way place and wonder how this big family finds the time and money to do it on two modest incomes.

When you spend only on what you need, it’s amazing the resources you have for experiences. And if disaster strikes, nobody can take those memories away.

When making a discretionary purchase – meaning something you don’t absolutely need – ask yourself if this is something you’d throw in the car during a hurricane evacuation or miss if the house burned down.

If it’s not something you’d grab with three hours to evacuate, it’s probably not worth buying.

I’ve accumulated far too much over the last twenty years. I’m reminded of that when I’m away from home for weeks with just a suitcase or backpack, free from the burden of a houseful of possessions. I was reminded of that Monday, which I spent cleaning up a large yard and literally rearranging deck chairs around a titanic (for me) home.

I’m thankful to have that home still intact, of course. Listening to Irma howl all night was a reminder that many here in Florida, like those in Houston, did not fare so well.

But Irma also was a reminder that the home need not contain nearly so much stuff.