SLT045: Your House Is On Fire, You Can Save 5 Things. What Are They?

What are your most important things? We talk a lot about getting rid of “stuff” on the show, and in our lives that’s what we’ve tried to do. We’ve gotten rid of just about 3000 things this year alone and have a couple hundred people who’ve joined in on it by accepting the Edit & Forget It Challenge.  While we have opted out of following the mass consumerism that most in our society hold dear, there are still some things we ourselves hold dear. We created a scenario: “What 5 things would you grab if your house was on fire?” and then put ourselves to the test to figure out what possessions, out of our entire home, are the most important to us.

What Possessions Would You Save From a Fire?

As we went through this exercise it really challenged us and realized that by spending some time thinking about your most important things…those top 5 things that you would grab out of your burning home, it greases your mental gears to:

  • Identify the your most important things. Things that mean the most to you and why.

  • Contemplate whether you’re giving those things the attention they deserve day to day.

  • Identify ways to keep those things safe now and ready to carry out if necessary.

  • Condition yourself to more easily part with things that didn’t make the list.

  • Get you thinking about being prepared in case of an emergency.

Read more…


Main Topic:

Your House Is On Fire, You Can Save 5 Things…What Are They?

The first time Dan thought about this was over 10 years ago when a colleague of his lost all her possessions when her apartment caught fire. She was devastated when she got the news and came home to find everything gone.

He’s been saying for a while now that we need to sit down and talk about what we’d do in an emergency. What would we take with us if we had the opportunity? What are our most important things?

In the military we use lots of different techniques to teach lessons….like Attention to Detail…a skill that could be transferred and applied to other things. We also talk about planning. To use our own corollary to Dwight Eisenhower’s quote: “Plans are worthless, planning is priceless.” It’s in going through the exercise thoughtfully that will give you the most value. The Plan isn’t as important as the ability to narrow down what’s important to you and why. That is priceless, and something we should do on a continual basis.

Sure, the exercise was all about discerning those 5 things that are really important to us, but the real benefit of the exercise comes from following the natural course of things and asking some follow on questions like:

    • Am I giving this the attention it deserves right now?
    • What are some ways to keep this safe now and ready in case of an emergency?
    • Am I better prepared to part with things that didn’t make the Top 5 list of your most important things?
    • Am I better prepared for an emergency? And will I feel less stress if an emergency did occur?

Conducting the Exercise:

    • Assumptions: Obviously in a real-world situation, you and your family’s safety is the first priority.  But in order to alleviate a lot of  “what if” scenarios, we thought it best to establish some basic “assumptions”:
      • You, your kids, your loved ones (including beloved pets) are safe, sound and out of the house.
      • Following the “fire” all your basic survival needs will be met (food, shelter, etc…).
      • You can choose 5 things that you can carry out of the house (not a couch, bed or pool table).
    • List your Top 5 things and ask the following questions: 
      • What is the Thing and Why?
      • Am I giving this the attention it deserves right now?
      • What are some ways to keep this safe now and ready in case of an emergency?
    • And then ask 2 final questions:
      • How has going through this exercise helped condition you to more easily part with things that didn’t make the list?
      • Do you feel better prepared or better able to plan for  emergencies? Do you think that by doing this you might possibly feel less stress if an emergency did occur?

Our Top 5 things in reverse order…just in case you’re interested:

(Note: for a detailed explanation of why we picked these items, feel free to listen in on the podcast)

    • Item #5
      • Vanessa: 2 gallon baggie with keepsake notes from her sister, letters from her mother and father and some of her childhood art and memorabilia
      • Dan: Grandpa’s shaving mug
    • Item #4
      • Vanessa: Daughter’s baby book
      • Dan: Cross from my Grandfather
    • Item #3
      • Vanessa: Jordanian calligraphy artpiece/wedding gift from Dan
      • Dan: External hard drive
    • Item #2
      • Vanessa: Purse with wallet, key’s and iPad (because it would make life so much easier having credit cards and IDs!)
      • Dan: Notes from kids and Vanessa in Box of military docs
    • Item #1
      • Vanessa: iPhone…her mini-command center
      • Dan: The Guidon…our teardrop camper trailer because we could live out of it as a home!

Our own observations:

    • Going through the exercise was tougher than we thought, especially since we’ve downsized so much already, and what we have left is all somewhat important and useful stuff for us.
    • That being said, as we worked through the exercise, we came to the ultimate conclusion that we would be OK if ALL of it were lost. Our most important things weren’t all that important after all.
    • We acknowledged that downsizing our possessions and being organized will make it a less stressful situation if we were ever in the situation to have  to grab a few things and go.
    • We both picked pragmatic/practical items as well as a few sentimental ones. And interestingly, the sentimental items were things that were for the most part, irreplaceable or told a story of our past…all the other gadgets and high-priced stuff didn’t compare!


So, are you ready to conduct this exercise and figure out what your most important things are? Would you be able to grab them and leave safely in an emergency? After making your list are you better prepared to let go of things that didn’t make your list? We’d love to hear what works for you.  You can leave comments below.

Thing Segment:

Dan’s Thing: Some of Apple’s iOS7 update for iPhone…especially the Audible App. The new iOS lets you still control many functions of the audio player in the Audible App even after the screen has locked and that when using the multitask function. Also, the ability to simply swipe upwards from the bottom of the screen to reveal the player’s controls is pretty cool!

Vanessa’s Thing: Bose Soundlink Mini: It’s only 7″w x 2″h x 2″d, is portable, versatile, bluetooth enabled, lasts for hours on its battery, and has beautiful sound.  It’s not cheap but was a cheaper substitute for what we were going to have installed in our teardrop camper.


  • If you’re looking for more great content to help you simplify your life, check out our Recommendations Page at the top of our website here.
  • You’ll find links to a bunch of great blogs, website, podcasts, and even a couple of books that we recommend.
  • Many of these bloggers or podcasters have been on the show or their folks we know and follow. So pass it on!
  • Special thanks also go out to our friend Brooks Duncan, for the great post he did on us for You can read it at and check out all his great tips about going digital to make your life simpler there, too.


You can download a PDF of our show prep, too.

Resources and Links:

SLT 003: Digital Back-Up

SLT 016: Making Decisions Like a Fighter Pilot (OODA Loop)

SLT 017/018: Evernote Simplified Part 1 and Part 2

SLT: 027 Organizing Important Documents

Bose Soundlink Mini

Photo Courtesy of Kevin Gebhardt

Please note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

11 thoughts on “SLT045: Your House Is On Fire, You Can Save 5 Things. What Are They?

  1. Well, you just made me realize how unsentimental I am because my five things are primarily tech or camera equipment. Although I have a few sentimental things in my home like a Japanese jewelry box my grandmother gave me when I was five and my mother’s copy of Little Women, if push came to shove I’d grab the things that bring me creative joy on a regular basis and that are expensive to replace. The MacBook, Time Machine, the DSLR + two lens and like Vanessa, my purse with my iPhone, iPhone camera lens and iPad in it. I think I’d also pull on a pair of boyfriend jeans, a black T and my knee length 3/4 sleeve black Eileen Fisher dress because I’d be ok wardrobe wise with those three minimal pieces for quite some time. The only sentimental piece I’d take is my wedding ring and I’m not even married anymore! But, I was with my husband for twenty years. That ring represents most of my adult life and although we don’t talk much now, we still like each other. Your podcast did make me realize though that I need to store my camera/lens so I can just easily grab it and run out the door. Right now, I tend to just throw one of three camera bags in the closet with whatever lens I used that day so my gear is sometimes spread out through multiple bags but I think now I’ll always make sure the body, my main lens and my macro lens are always together in the same bag while stored. I’ll keep all the gear that I use the most together so it’s grab and go.

    • Hahaha, Tania! Nothing wrong with being practical with a little dash of sentimentality! I think what you’d grab makes great sense. You’d definitely look more stylish in your clothes than me in my soccer-mom attire or pajamas ;o)

      I think what was so amazing about this seemingly simple scenario, was how much you really had to think about what you would take. For a self-proclaimed “not-so-sentimental” gal…I tended to grab a lot of sentimental items…things that I couldn’t replace. But I also erred a little on the practical side with grabbing the purse and iphone! And then I went into: “how can I get the best bang for my buck” mode with trying to nest multiple items in one…like consolidating your camera equipment. What a fun, yet practical exercise.

      We’re glad it got you thinking! Thanks so much for sharing!!!!!

  2. OMG! I LOVED this podcast and it was SO timely. This actually came up in a conversation I was having with my husband when we renewed our homeowner’s insurance–what would be important to us if the house went up in flames. The first thing I thought of were our family pictures, not the ones from the past 20 years of our life together, but also the heirloom pics we have of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. I decided right then to start scanning those old pics and backed them up to an external hard drive. The second thing I had been contemplating is a box of about 20-30 VHS tapes (about 12 years worth of memories). In fact, they aren’t even “tapes” they are the little cartridges that went to our now defunct video camera. Yesterday I started copying them to digital files using a Roxio VHS to DVD converter. After listening to the podcast, I’m going to complete my list of 5 things I would grab in a fire and make sure I’m caring for those things and making them ready in case of an emergency. Love you guys!

    • Toni,
      It’s so crazy how this simple scenario really gets you thinking! Like you, I started grabbing things and making a to-do list. Matter of fact, I’ve got my stack of keepsakes right next to me here in the World Shedquarters where I scan a little bit at a time. And like you…it’s the older, non-digitized things that I care the most about. So glad that this podcast helped and that you are taking action to preserve those old memories too. YOu know, Dan and I love doing the show and sharing ideas and tips with our listeners……but I tell you what…I think we’re learning just as much as we’re sharing!!!

      Thanks for sharing…as always ;o)

    • OK, Dan…I get the hint! I’ll do a quickie post on my sausage recipe and some photos soon! Thanks for the gentle nudge!

  3. I love this episode. After a bit of reflection, my 5 things were 1) my bike (handbuilt by me), 2). Ukulele 3) my grandmothers sewing machine 4) my great-grandmother’s cookie jar and 5) photos from wedding

    I see reflected in these choices a couple of deeply held values – my connection to family and friends and my love of making things (bikes, sewing, music…)

    Thanks for a great podcast!

    • That’s exactly what I realized too Natalie. My attachments were to things that had a personal connection to my family and were made or created by them. Glad you liked the episode and thanks for sharing!

  4. My sister’s family went through this in the summer of 2013 in the Colorado Springs Black Forest fire. They had a plan. Push came to GO and the plan wasn’t as tight as needed. I’ll tell ya, they have a plan now! Knowing what you would grab is key as is knowing how you will leave your home for first responders who might come through.

    My sister came out of it with a serious physical condition due to the adrenaline that kicks in at the time. They were prepared, but it still is a kick in the gut.

    This fire also affected our family circle as my sister has all of our early family pictures, movies, moments for us to sort through someday. We all had to reconcile with the fact that we might not ever see it again. In contrast to the safety of loved ones…Id rather, they just go. Its was an interesting exercise. Whew.

    Thanks for this article!

    • Wow, Jenn, that is an amazing story about your sister’s situation. It just goes to show that we can’t be too prepared. Thanks goodness she and her family made it through, albeit not unscathed.

      When we hear stories of family homes burning, of course the first comment is always about the safety/wellbeing of the family. Interestingly, the second comment always seems to be about photos. Photos represent memories to most. While I love a good photo, I tend to hold my memories a lot closer these days.

      Thanks for taking the time to write in, Jenn. Take care and our best wishes for your sister’s complete recovery.

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