What You'd Run into a Burning Building For
What You'd Run into a Burning Building For
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What You'd Run into a Burning Building For

By Olivia Harlow
What would you grab if your house caught on fire? At some point in everyone’s life, we are asked this seemingly unanswerable question. A conflict between what’s the most valuable, practical and sentimental, the question is a toughie. After all, you only have two hands and so much time before the house turns to ash, right? Do you grab the one-of-a-kind painting hanging in your living room, the expensive jeweled necklace your husband bought for you last Christmas, the important ownership documents stored in the basement lockbox, the large collection of old family VHS tapes, the kids’ favorite toys, or the pile of college-day film photographs that stir emotional nostalgia? Although each of us would grab different belongings according to personal priorities, here’s a short list of “must-grab” items:


Grab the photo albums and VHS tapes—any documented familial memories must be saved! Not only will you want to look back on your mom’s prom album and revered baby pictures, but your children and your children’s children will want to as well. These family relics are worth remembering and are able to form central bonds, both now and in the future.


Do you have photos saved to your laptop or PC? Any written documents? Need your laptop for work or personal projects? Losing your laptop could be the ultimate career catastrophe. And if you have important family photos or hobby-related work on the computer, your heart might break to an even greater degree. (That said, be sure to back up all your media onto external drives, so that you aren’t totally dependent on one source for back-up. Remember that eventually, all technological equipment fails!)


This should be a no-brainer if you have a pet of any kind. Fluffy chinchillas, obscure chameleons, snuggly dogs, and even the demon-like cats—get ‘em all on board!


Mom’s hair crimper and bell bottom jeans from high school that you hope to one day give your little dumpling? Great granny’s ruby earrings? The ancient dictionary that’s been passed down for generations? Gather together as many familial treasures as you can. After all, future grand-kiddies depend on you for any keepsakes in your current possession.


I would hate myself if I left my swanky triathlon bike or camera gear inside a burning house. Anything that feeds your passions and holds both sentimental and price value should be grabbed. Sure, you can replace some of these things, but insurance won’t always cover the expensive stuff. And nothing can replace the sentimental worth.


Not everyone keeps a journal, but those who do would probably rather die in the fire than have their journal catch flame. Looking back on all the crazy adventures and silly crushes and stupid things we did help us see our own personal journeys come to life. Keeping a journal is necessary for ultimate reminiscence. Plus, they’re super lightweight (normally) and can easily be snagged up in a quick gathering.


Have any one-of-a-kind decorations? Are any pieces of art linked to your international travels or memorable cross-country trips with friends or family? Even the silly little sculptures you bought at a yard sale back in high school with your two best friends (who have the same matching collection) are worth grabbing. Oh, and don’t forget the nifty ceramic vase your aunt made for you on your 30th birthday! Any unique creations are worth grabbing—not only for sentimental or price value, but because they physically cannot ever be made exactly the same.


OK, so as heartbreaking as it is, the grand piano might have to be left behind, unless you have superhuman Hulk arms or an available team of shirtless heavyweight lifters close by. The good news is if you’re attached to any smaller musical instruments— such as guitars or flutes or drums—these can easily be brought along. Whatever you do, don’t save the best for last. While a fire might not actually burn the house down, it never hurts to be prepared. And reflecting what possessions mean the most to you is beneficial to recognizing where priorities lie. At the very least, next time you’re asked the cliché question, what would you grab if your house burns down?, you’ll have an answer ready.
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