Today, I want to introduce you to Unclutterer programmer Gary DuVall. This post is the first in a series that he has agreed to write for us based on his personal experience of losing everything he owned.
June 27, 2008, was like any other day. It was early afternoon, the sun was out, I was working from home, and I was on a conference call with a client. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a plume of smoke coming from what seemed to be our building’s roof.
As the plume grew larger, I began to realize the smoke wasn’t an afternoon pre-Cubs-game barbeque on the rooftop by a couple of guys playing hooky from work — this was a real fire. I ran up the stairs toward the rooftop deck to check things out. By the time I got to the door leading outside, the fire had grown large enough that I could hear it blazing, and I knew there were a half-dozen propane grills on the other side of the metal.
It was most certainly time to go.
Luckily, before the fire had spread downward through the floors, I was able to herd our two cats into the carrier, pack up my work laptop in the bag I always had close by, and make it down the smoke-filled stairway and out the building with a couple of minutes to spare. Unfortunately, in the end, we lost almost everything — but we had our pets, our safety, and an emergency line of communication.
Months before, when my wife and I first moved into the building, I insisted that vital items like our cat carrier be stored in easily accessible places in our apartment (rather than the basement storage area) in the — we thought — unlikely case of just such a situation. Only a couple of minutes of planning for what could happen made that split-second decision-making much easier when it did.
This is the crux of what I like to call “disaster uncluttering”: Being prepared for the unlikely, in case it happens. It takes but a little time and thoughtful review to prevent mind clutter from getting in the way of your safety when you have very little time to spare.
Here’s a checklist of questions to ask yourself and suggestions of what can be done to prevent both mind and physical clutter should a disaster strike you out-of-the-blue:
- Consider where you store things. You should have almost immediate access to the following items: Pet carrier(s), an emergency line of communication (preferably a laptop, netbook, or advanced PDA), a cell phone, your car keys, a rugged flashlight, and, if at all possible, a copy of your renters or homeowners insurance policy.
- Have an escape route ready, and cover your bases. Being on the third level and without a fire escape, our elevator was out and one stairwell had already become dangerously consumed by smoke. Become familiar with every pathway that leads out of your home ahead of time.
- If you have pets, consider putting Pet Safety Alert decals on external windows and your front door to alert neighbors and authorities you have animals (in case you aren’t at home when an emergency happens).
- Spend the time, and take inventory of your belongings. Even if you don’t use an automated system, a video of everything in your home can help spur your memory. Be sure to backup the video so you can still access it if your home is destroyed.
- Are your vital documents protected and organized? Ideally, you’ll want to store them in a fireproof safe and keep a backup copy online. Check out our series on fireproof safes for more information on this subject.
- Consider where you’ll temporarily live if you’re unable to inhabit your home. Will you need to stay in a hotel, or will you have access to the home of a friend or relative?
In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss what happened after the fire. In many ways, the aftermath was far worse than the fire itself.
The image above is what was left of our oak bedroom floor. In addition to soot, it took only a few hours for mold to begin to grow in the water that helped put out the fire.