Things She Lost in the Fire

I am constantly inspired by the story of a woman who lost everything in a house fire. She and her husband had gone out for the evening and when they came home, their house had been razed to the ground.

All she had left, were the clothes she was standing in and the contents of her handbag. What a disaster, you might think... a nightmare!

But the woman's take on it was different. Yes, I'm sure she was devastated, as any sane person would be, but ultimately, she said, it gave her a new lease of life. She was forced to do what many of us dream of doing, namely, start from scratch.

I'm not saying that everyone has such an enlightening experience when faced with such a disaster. I'm not saying that the woman in question doesn't deserve our sympathy, or that she experienced no sorrow over the loss. Nor am I suggesting that we all hold an almighty bonfire and toss every stitch, every trinket, bauble and utensil into the flames, but just think, for a moment, about the real value of the things we hold onto.

"I bet most of us have experienced at some point the joys of less: college -- in your dorm, traveling -- in a hotel room, camping... Whatever it was for you, I bet that, among other things, this gave you a little more freedom, a little more time." - Graham Hill

With this in mind, I've started a list. Instead of standing in front of my open wardrobe, I'm making a list of the things I would pack if I had to leave and I knew I was never coming back.

First of all, sitting downstairs at the dining table, if I can't even call to mind 50% of what I have up there in my drawers and on my clothes rail, why do I have it at all? 

The main difference is, and the main problem lies in the taking of responsibility for the decision.

Dan Gilbert, author of "Stumbling on Happiness", puts it like this, "The psychological immune system works best when we are totally stuck, when we are trapped. This is the difference between dating and marriage, right? I mean, you go out on a date with a guy, and he picks his nose; you don't go out on another date. You're married to a guy and he picks his nose? Yeah, he has a heart of gold; don't touch the fruitcake. Right? You find a way to be happy with what's happened."

We all know that feeling - you throw away that coat you wore once in a while, then, a week later you think of someone who would have loved it or a way you could have re-styled it or you find the perfect shoes to wear with it. The responsiblity is ours, we made the decision to bin/donate it. If it had been stolen or lost a fire, we wouldn't have that "Why did I do that?" feeling which we all try to avoid.

In his talk, The Surprising Science of Happiness, Gilbert illustrates that the longer we procrastinate, the less likely we are to be satisfied with the decisions we make.

Here's a short talk by Graham Hill with some tips on how to edit ruthlessly.

I'm still making the list. The plan is to make the decision of what to keep and, when the time comes, if it isn't on the list, it will be edited without too much thought... that's the idea at least. 

And I'm keeping the Fire Lady in mind. How would I feel if I never saw those precious black, vintage winkle-pickers ever again (I can't even stand in them anymore, let alone walk in them!)? Would I feel relieved? I actually think I might.


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