05/20/2014 12:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Lessons From a Brush Fire: "What Do You Want Us to Grab, Honey?"

"What do you want us to grab, honey?" my mom asks me on the phone.

I should know, right? I called my mom for help. I'm flying to Chicago as a big brush fire rages near my house and cats (kids are safe and sound elsewhere). Since my wife just went overseas, I need help. My mom is on the phone -- ready to make a list of things to grab for us.

"It's an interesting exercise," she said later. She is right. Of course, I mean in no way to trivialize the loss suffered by neighbors in this fire or any tornado, hurricane, tsunami, mud slide (you name it). I think there is value, though, in considering this question. You don't have much time. Maybe a suitcase or two. A trunk load. What do you fill your cases with?


It happened once before. I was a kid. Our home was evacuated. But I don't remember the stress on me. I remember how stressful it was for my folks and our friends. So, it's really my first time. The same house we were evacuated from when I was a child burned down many years later in another brush fire. We didn't live there, but I still feel a deep sadness whenever I see the empty lot where that house once stood. I hope the family living there had time to grab what was important to them.

This time it was my turn to answer the question. There's a fire raging towards my house. I'm not there. Someone else has to help me. "What do you want us to grab, honey?"

• Laptops, phones, tablets (though replaceable these have become vaults of irreplaceable stuff for many of us)
• Photo albums (if not covered above)
• Keepsakes
• The kids' special things (each have a memory box filled with stuff they want to preserve).
• Jewelry
• Documents
• My wife's wedding dress, my tux, the toppers from our cake
• The photos that I've taken

Things you cannot replace -- or that are very hard to replace.

Not much else, though. It makes me wonder if I should get rid of some of the other knick-knacks and things in our home. They are nice. Pretty. Some have good memories. But if they aren't important enough to grab if the time comes, should they occupy a place in my home and heart? Are they just taking up space where other more important things/photos could go? Things/photos that I would grab?

Now, obviously this "should I clear out the clutter" question doesn't apply to your couch, your TV, your dishes. We need these things. They make life easier. More enjoyable. Hard to move in an emergency, though, so I'll categorize these things as replaceable and not donate them. Those cool little metal boxes that look like cameras though? The ones that just get dusty? I'm not so sure.

How about you? If you have to decide what to grab, what would you take? If you wouldn't take something, should you clear it out to make way for other things? Those things you would grab?

It's Butch to think about what's important to you in a crisis (people, pets, special keepsakes, family photos, passports). It's even more Butch to remember this when things are calm. Be Butch.