Thursday, February 16, 2012


There's a website I used to read. It's called The Burning House. The description on the website reads:

If your house was burning, what would you take with you? It's a conflict between what's practical, valuable and sentimental. What you would take reflects your interests, background and priorities. Think of it as an interview condensed into one question.

I stopped reading the website a long time ago. It made me roll my eyes every day with each new post. I glanced at the website again today. Most of the entries look like these, where the submitter claims that they would bring a million and two items if, in fact, their house was burning down.

Hagai Farago

Michael Damen

Mitch Morin

Julio Cesar

A dozen books, albums and framed pictures of family members and friends, every camera they have ever owned, notebooks and/or sketchbooks that date back to their second birthday, sticks and stones, useless mementos of their grandfather's uncle's wife's daughter's boyfriend's cousin, twice removed. Even a bottle of wine?

I can't help but think these people are crazy. Honestly, if your house is BURNING TO THE GROUND, would you seriously pick through your belongings to ensure you get every last memento that ever meant anything to you?

I knew someone whose house burnt down. You know what she saved? Nothing.

Because in a moment where your life is on the line, you don't think about your signed Bob Marley vinyl record, your grandfather's pocket watch, or even your $700 pair of Louis Vuitton shoes.

You think about survival. About how you don’t want to, you’re not ready to, die. 

And when you escape the thick smoke, you embrace your loved ones and thank God that everyone is going to be ok.

These posts are more of what I can relate to:


Melania Semerad-Meier

Claire Aberlé

But the one I actually find interesting is David's:

David Ding

Without trying to sound like an obnoxiously idealistic hippie, I don’t think I’d take anything. Or at least not anything specific - I might just grab whatever is closest to me at the time.
Next month, I will move house for the sixth time in five years. With each and every move, I become more and more detached from and unconcerned with my physical possessions. They inevitably become just extra weight to lug around.
Notably, my first move was to the other side of the planet. When I made the move, the airline(s) with which I flew allowed me to check only 20kg of luggage and carry on another 10kg. I packed what I could …and that was that - I choose not to send over any additional belongings of mine, nor have any sent over at a later stage. Managing to survive quite easily and comfortably for a sustained period of time, it was readily apparent that nothing I’d left behind was in any way essential to my life. Subsequent moves only compounded this line of thought.
As such, when I returned to my childhood home after being away for three-and-a-half-years (Move #4), I donated or dumped just about everything that had remained in my absence. I had clearly not needed these things.
This has continued to inform the way I feel about the physical objects I possess: most practical things I own can be very easily replaced. I do not own (and tend to avoid purchasing) any items of significant monetary value - certainly nothing worth delaying an escape from a burning house scenario for.
As for sentimental things, well I cheat a little. Of course, I’m as prone to sentimentality and nostalgia as anyone. Had I been asked this question 15 or 20 years ago, I might have had a substantial list of things I couldn’t bear to part with.  But technology now allows me to cater to these feelings I might have, without having to hoard stuff. These days, everything can be photographed or scanned or digitized in some other way - and then stored online securely (you can store hundreds of different copies in hundreds of different locations, if you want to be extra cautious).
All my old tokens and letters and photos could go up in flames, but their memories (and my memories of them) would be preserved forever (for all intents and purposes: it is unlikely that the entire online world is going to suddenly disappear - and any situation in which it does is probably going to be a lot more catastrophic than any house fire).
Indeed, if anyone who has submitted a Burning House picture did end up losing one of their cherished, irreplaceable belongings in a fire, they might hopefully be able to take some comfort in knowing that an exact image of that object would remain intact, in perpetuity.

My totally non-artist entry would look something like this:

  • The love of my life, Adam.

  • My baby, Coco, who lets me squeeze when I ache for the human one I can't have.

Like David Ding, I have moved a lot in my life and I have slowly rid of mementos and things I once considered valuable. When I moved to Wisconsin, I came with a small UHaul hitched to the back of my car with just my bedroom set, clothes and computer.

I think it's important to remember what's important in life. Things are not important. People are important. Memories and experiences are important. Learning and overcoming.

After all is said and done and we're six feet under, and assuming there's an afterlife, that's all we'll have anyway, right?

1 comment:

  1. Gorgeous post, Tessa. I really relate. If my house was burning down, I'd take my husband, kids, and pets. If I had the presence of mind to grab my computer's external hard drive, that would preserve most of our family photographic memories. All the other stuff is not important in the grand scheme of things.


Thanks, mango! You're a fabulous person and there needs to be more people like you that comment on awesome posts.