Thoughts on Natural Disaster

My home town is burning.  And that's in every sense of the words "home town:" I grew up in Ventura, CA; went to high school in Ojai, and my parents have lived in Montecito for 20+ years.  If you're not from Southern California and those names are sounding familiar to you, it's because of the Thomas fire, an epic blaze engulfing huge amounts of land across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. 

Yesterday morning, my parents packed their cars and put the silver in the pool.  (Yes, really – this is a good strategy if you’re short on time or transportation because pool water will not damage silver, and you can also do this with oil paintings although frames may be ruined.)  By the time the mandatory evacuation area included our house, they had already left.  They of course texted my sister and me to ask if there was anything specific we wanted them to save.

My response today is very different than it would have been a few years ago.  You see, I was always a pretty materialistic person – I liked nice things, and I preferred more of them than less. I was also really attached to my stuff, especially the higher value things and those from my childhood.

My work has really changed my perspective on stuff.  As I watch my clients grapple with their possessions and space, it continues to impress on me that what’s important is not the stuff but the memories and relationships the stuff represents.  I’ve also realized that it’s easy in our culture to form an unhealthy connection to said stuff, and to let that replace more meaningful connections to people.

I still love nice things, but I know I don’t need very many of them, and I also know that they are replaceable.  So, when my parents asked if I wanted them to save anything, my answer was no.  Everything I need is with me in my home in SF, and I will always have lovely memories of my childhood, my family, and my friends from across the years.  Of course, if the house is damaged or destroyed, it will be sad.  But practically speaking we will be ok.

Another reason I’m so calm about this is that we’re both mentally and logistically prepared for fire.  We know our house is in a risky area and have prepared to evacuate before, so we know what to pack and when.  Our house is insured and has a spray foam protectant system in place that can be used by the fire department if they have time.  My dad even recently had every single family photo digitized, so we don’t need to take up space in cars with albums and boxes of pictures.

As I said, we’re prepared, safe, and fortunate enough to have the resources to recover and rebuild if necessary.  Many people had much less warning and are less lucky, and will need help from their communities.  If you’d like to pitch in, there’s great info on how to help here: #venturastrong

And don’t wait: prepare for disasters likely to strike your area today.  Coming soon: a post on organizing our earthquake preparation strategies.