68: Fire Drills

68: Fire Drills

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


Fire Drills

You know you have reached perfection of design not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.

~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“What are we going to do with all this stuff?” I asked my husband while I sniffled and wiped away tears.

Mark came up with a solution, “Why don’t we have a fire drill?”

I gave him a blank stare and then it came to me, “Of course, let’s do it!”

We had moved thirty-two times in thirty-five years, so we were accustomed to the moving part, but we weren’t so good at getting rid of stuff. Our “baggage” kept following us around the world. This was our last international move and we were only taking six suitcases with us to Ecuador. After the garage sale, we still had books, photo albums, the boys’ baby things, all their schoolwork and awards, dishes, and clothes. The boxes filled the entire living room and we had exactly one week before we had to vacate our home so the new owners could move in.

Mark suggested that we set the kitchen timer for ten-minute “fire drills” and take everything of importance and place it on the dining room table.

I actually felt like I was in a race for my life and carefully scoped out the living room and its contents; I already knew what box I would salvage first.

“Ready, set, go!” Mark shouted. I could hear the timer ticking in the background as I ran to the baby and family photo albums first. There were four heavy boxes and I had to scoot them across the living room into the dining room. Whatever I placed on the table would eventually have to fit into six suitcases, so I had to be selective.

I heard the timer go off just as I dragged the last box into the dining room. As I glanced at the cardboard boxes, I realized there was already too much stuff and we had just started. I picked up our younger son’s baby album and opened it to the first page. Tears trickled down my cheeks and then an envelope dropped out of the album. Mark grabbed it up off the floor and opened its contents. “What’s this?” he asked in pure disbelief.

“That’s Jon’s umbilical cord clamp,” I whimpered, and snatched it from his hand. “It’s coming with me and that’s final.”

I had spent untold hours on each album. How was I ever going to let go of all those memories and the boxes of photos that had followed us around for thirty-five years? There was absolutely no way I could part with those photos and the family heritage album that took me a year to complete. I lingered on each page of the boys’ albums — recalling all their “firsts”: first smile, first tooth, first words, and the first day of school. Jeremy — our older son — didn’t want his picture taken the first day of kindergarten, but after some coaxing he proudly posed with his Ninja Turtles lunchbox by the juniper trees in the front yard. I could almost smell the peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crust cut off — just the way he liked it!

While I held on tightly to Jon’s umbilical cord clamp, Mark suggested an alternative. “Let’s put all the albums in these sealable blue tubs and give them to the boys for safekeeping.”

What a great idea, I thought. Why didn’t I think of that?

That was round one of the fire drills and it took approximately six more to whittle the living room down to three medium-sized boxes — none of which was going in our suitcases, but to the boys. The boxes now contained family heirlooms, including Mark’s grandfather’s mandolin from Sicily. We labeled each bin with all of its contents on the side and on the top of the lid, so if I ever felt like I absolutely needed something it would be easy to locate.

The other boxes labeled “Goodwill” and “incinerator” were easy to take care of and we did that the following day. Our home was empty except for six suitcases, which mostly contained clothes. The blue tubs were stacked by the front door to be distributed to our sons — ages twenty-three and twenty-eight. Since our younger son was getting married, my future daughter-in-law, Kim, had already requested Jon’s baby albums and I lovingly handed them over to her.

At age fifty-five, we had done something we never thought was possible. The stuff that had been following us around was finally gone. We had pared thirty-five years down to six suitcases.

It’s been five years since we “cleaned” house and gave up or gave away all of our worldly possessions. We’ve never looked back. We’ve spared our children the trauma of having to go through all of our stuff when we pass away. And now that there’s just the two of us in our small two-bedroom, two-bath sparsely furnished condo, we have a new lease on life. Letting go of our possessions gave us the freedom to do the things we’ve always wanted to do — like traveling the world, learning new languages, and teaching ESL (English as a Second Language). There’s nothing tying us down or holding us back. We’ve never been happier. And we don’t need to have any more “fire drills.”

~Connie K. Pombo


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