“I smell smoke. Let’s go. NOW!”
I yelled these words to my fiancé, Ben, on Friday after the fire alarm went off in our apartment (yet again). We are accustomed to alarms going off due to some computer glitch or other error. On Friday, the usual announcement that this was a false alarm never came, but we waited in our apartment nonetheless. Annoyed by the repetitive beeping noise, I opened our apartment door to see if our neighbors were leaving their apartments. When I looked into the hall, I saw nobody, and I smelled smoke. Out the door we went to the stairwell. Of course, I thought to myself in a slight panic, everyone else had left the building, and we are the only ones left in the burning structure. I immediately started becoming anxious, and as we made our way down the 14 floors, the smell of smoke grew stronger and we saw more people heading down toward the exit. At that point, my only concern was getting outside with our dog, Lila, who was trembling in my arms. As soon as we got outside, my heart was pounding so loudly that all I thought to do was run, and I called my mom despite the late-night hour so she could share in my panic (which she did, of course). Minutes later, our building was surrounded by fire trucks and passersby, watching in awe at what was happening. Hours went by before we gained any knowledge of what had happened; we went to a nearby hotel and waited. The next morning, we found out there had been an electrical fire and we would have to wait for the fire marshals to deem our building safe to re-enter.
We took nothing but our bodies, our phones, and our dog. We had no IDs or cash, but we felt relieved nonetheless. We had been so unprepared for an emergency, yet, when the moment came, we took nothing of material value – nothing that I would have listed if asked hypothetically what I would grab from a burning building. My response to such a question would not have been “nothing,” yet nothing was exactly what I took.
Now, three days later, I am back in my apartment, seeing it with new eyes. There is so much stuff in here, things I’ve held on to “just in case,” things to help me feel a sense of security. Yet, it is all just worthless stuff. I let it go without even thinking on Friday, so why when there is no emergency do I cling to this clutter? What makes these things so important when my heart isn’t racing? Nothing. We focus so much of our time and energy on deciding what objects to get, cleaning our stuff and keeping a careful inventory of what we have. Why? Although I’m not sure the answer to this question, I had been yearning to return to my space, surrounded by my stuff. I love and need some of it, but certainly not all of it. Now, I feel ready to part with a great majority of the objects that surround me. I would rather focus my time on quality rather than quantity, which seems to be an obvious choice, but it isn’t the norm. I’m ready to part with the concept of “more is better” and begin to edit my life and the stuff that occupies it.
I am ready to cleanse my life of excess and begin a new and more spacious page, bright with possibility! But, how does one start this process?
(image: lizzy janssen found via decor8)