Several years ago, on Christmas Eve, my family home caught fire. At the time, I was working for Outward Bound, moving from one basecamp to the next and was home for the Christmas Holiday. Many of my belongings were lost or damaged, and what remained had to be professionally cleaned, then stored until over a year later when the house was repaired. I felt both annoyed and liberated by the fire. Annoyed at the time I had to spend replacing the basic essentials…toothbrush, sleeping bag, warm clothes, and a journal. I guess it didn’t take all that long. And liberated at having only what I needed. I was free from “stuff” cluttering my life. Moving stuff, repairing stuff, cleaning stuff, insuring stuff, storing stuff, looking at stuff. You get the picture.
Then came the process of identifying damaged items and “working with” the insurance adjuster to determine the value of each item. It was difficult valuing family photo albums or childhood paintings by the cost of the film, or the frame. $3.75 for a whole book of memories. $6.00 for a work of my childhood art, with a nostalgic value of much much more.
When it was time to look at my bedroom, I was blown away by how differently my room looked. It was black from ceiling to floor. The insurance adjuster didn’t waste any time. “What books do you want to keep?” She asked. I had hundreds of books. Books I read as a child, novels, reference books, photo albums, textbooks, and journals. “All of them.” She explained I couldn’t keep all of them, as its more costly to clean books than to replace them. Then she suggested I choose ten. Ten! I had hundreds of books in my room, with inscriptions in the cover, notes in the margins, worn pages from reading them over and over. And so, I chose three photo albums, four journals, a blank journal that I thought was too special to write in but I had kept for years already, a book of poetry, and the only book I knew that was no longer in print. The rest were left in a pile to be disposed of, not even worthy of donating to a thrift store.
Before my family and I drove to my grandparents on Christmas Eve, my mother gave me one blackened, smoke covered gift that was under the tree. It was a novel. For the next few days, I couldn’t put it down. It became my refuge from the memory of the fire, the fear that my family was trapped inside, the do-gooders that were bringing us second hand clothes and cheese baskets, and the crying and fighting that my family would continue through the holidays. When I finished reading it I realized that I had no bookshelf to put it on, no collection to add it too, and no real good reason for keeping it.
I registered the opportunity that the fire was presenting me with, and decided to give the book away. With the blank journal that I thought was too special to write in, I noted the date, title, and author of the book. And so, I began my book list and my journey toward a simpler life.
Here in Portland Oregon we have Powells used bookstore. They buy books. So I make it a habit of selling a few when I go there to buy a new one. It keeps the book collection to a minimum and is a great way to save a lot of trees. A lot of times if I’ve just finished a paperback I’ll just pass it right on to a friend and tell them to do the same after they finish reading them. I have scanned a lot of photos and my son’s childhood art work into the computer and then let them go as well.
Where is Swallows & Amazons?
I’ve donated and otherwise recycled most of my books in anticipation of leaving my place this spring. The purging is wonderful. The ideas are in my head. Better to leave the actual physical book to someone else to enjoy.
We can certainly relate to your loss.
We moved onto our sailboat 2 weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit. We lost everything we had in our storage unit. All our books, clothes, everything. I lost a humidor full of cigars I had been saving for years for a special occasion. 🙁
Thankfully our boat didn’t sink, like so many others around us. We lived with the distruction for too long.
Hey just thought I say hi…. So hi lol. Oh I was kinda wondering what the name of your boat is, I didn’t see the name anywhere that I read so far, just looked over the post kinda fast for now but will read when I have more time on line. I my self am on a 36′ Irwin, Sasi, and living simple, I have no refrigerator and only get ice from time to time , but you get used to it. I also fish alot for food and live off the sea and land as much as I can, some islands you can get freash fruit and things, Oh well I dont wont to bug ya just wanted to wish ya the best and fair winds along the way. OH and one thing I was kinda thinking is that even if someone changes there way of life, I kinda think that real simplicity and happiness has to come from in side one’s self, just my 2 cents.
Hmmm I did I hit the 6 insteed of the 4, lol silly me. It is a 34′ Irwin, sorry about that, lol fair winds.
Beautifully said, Steve. “real simplicity and happiness has to come from inside one’s self”
My boat’s name is Daphne. I named her after my grandmother.
Blush, well I’m not sure how beautifull I said it, but I do belive it, kinda like I belive that you have to like your self and who you are to be able to be understanding and to like or at lest be kind to others, but silly me what do I know lol. Anyway I did come across where you did say the name of your boat in a few places, I like the name it is pretty. I think… and I could be wrong, It is a name of a greek god that the greek god apollo was madly in love with, think she was the nymph God Daphne, I would have to look it up. I think it kinda sweet that you named it after your grandma :). Well agian I wish you the best, and who knows mybe one day are paths my cross and we can share a friendly smile and a few kind words, take care of your self out there ok.
Steve. PS. Remember happiness isn’t always about having what you want, it is wanting what you have.
Great entry, Teresa. Dee’s house burned down when she was in college, and so her life seems to be divided into two parts: before the fire and after the fire. Of course, she’s added many more new parts since then, but it still remains a defining event in her life. Glad to hear that you found not just treasured parts of your old life, but the makings of an entirely new life, amongst the ashes……
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I have my Kindle, and I love it, All the books I could want or need at my fingertips. And if the kindle itself is ever lost or destroyed I lose none of the books. I use a Kindle Paper-white, excellent battery life, touch screen and back-lit.
I enjoy a simple myself at 23 I moved to Hawaii with a backpack, 6 years later I sold all i had including 2 cars, and left Hawaii with a backpack. Having packrats as parents I really do love the simple life and living a minimalists life.
You’re block is inspiring for what I am looking for.