Disaster uncluttering: Looking back

Today we welcome back Unclutterer programmer, Gary DuVall. In the In the first, second, and third posts in this series, he discussed how to prepare yourself and your home in case of a disaster and what to do if it unfortunately happens. This is his final post in the series. He is writing for us based on his personal experience of losing everything he owned in a fire.

By January, life started to feel normal again. The fire, the struggles with the insurance company, and finding a new place to live were all behind us. We were rebuilding and moving on.

We realized we hadn’t given much thought to the loss of our things but had spent all of our time worrying about our general predicament (Where will we live? I can’t believe this happened. How do I go to work tomorrow?) We discovered just how little the material stuff meant to us. This realization presented us with the peculiar ability to remain positive (for the most part) during the process. We talked about this being an opportunity rather than a devastating blow. (Losing intimate, irreplaceable items from our families, friends, and shared experiences did, for a time, bother us; however, that also faded.)

Thumbing through the more than 30-page inventory that listed what we once owned made us realize just how much we had, and, perhaps more importantly, how much we didn’t want to replace. So far, we have only replaced 20 percent of what we previously owned. To be comfortable, we don’t need a lot of stuff. Everything we have repurchased, we have been very thoughtful about quality and where everything will live in our home. No clutter.

Did we make mistakes along the way? Sure we did. We didn’t have an inventory prepared ahead of time, despite telling ourselves we’d “get to it one day.” Receipts we had kept prior to the fire weren’t filed in our records box, resulting in their loss. We hadn’t read through and understood completely our insurance policy, which, had we lost it in the fire, could have left us at a vast disadvantage. Knowing what we do now, these aren’t mistakes we’ll repeat in the future.

When we look back at what happened on June 27, 2008, we look at it for what it is: an experience nobody should ever go through. But, at the same time, it was an experience that afforded us a rare “reboot” button. We were able to re-examine and take stock of what we had, and act decisively toward a new beginning.

As strange as it might be, considering the setbacks, inconveniences, angry phone calls and other problems I’ve written about during the course of this series, I like to think we ended up better for it in the end.

6 Comments for “Disaster uncluttering: Looking back”

  1. posted by Suzyn on

    Thanks for writing this series – it’s been fascinating (and eye-opening!)

    I’m curious as to what you DID buy. Despite diligent efforts to de-clutter my life, I know that there is a lot of stuff in my house I would NOT replace. If only there was a less traumatic way to press the restart button…

  2. posted by Jesse on

    I love the analogy of a Reboot button for life. That’s exactly what I feel like I need sometimes, an easy way to do a soft reboot, or what we used to call a Do-Over.

    I second the above question about what you did choose to repurchase. I’m in the process of purging in preparation for an international move and an finding it difficult to get rid of some things that I KNOW I’m not going to need once I move, yet just can’t seem to part with…

    Thanks for this series, hope it helped the healing process…

  3. posted by Pammyfay on

    As weird as it might sound, Gary, we are all the better for your horrible situation, too. Excellent advice, and we are thankful that both of you are OK and can actually see a positive side to it and want to help educate others.

    And I agree w/Jesse, re: the “reboot” button.

  4. posted by Carole on

    Good point about keeping receipts in a fireproof place. Time to get a bigger safe.

  5. posted by cdelphine on

    Wow. I think that this is the perfect example of the impact that a different mindset or perspective can make. It would be easy to stay angry after such an event. Kudos to you for rising above that and focusing on the positive and thanks for sharing your story with us.

  6. posted by Antonia on

    Thank you for this spot on series. Having gone through a similar situation (we spent 8 months in a hotel with two hunting dogs and a cat) and seeing all of our possessions in a dumpster I can tell you that there is a silver lining. My need to have lots of stuff has diminished greatly, I am thankful for the fact that no one was injured and I am daily reminded of the pets who also managed to escape our home fire. There was even a sense of comic when the fire fighters got so excited about the ferocity and energy (electrical fire started by a storm that blew a small tree over onto a high power electrical line and our home line and then melted and exploded a gas line) flowing through our house. So glad someone was happy at the time. As an added note, when everything settled (a year later) I stopped in to see the fire chief and thanked him in person. And if you can, do give your local fire department a donation for their favorite cause.

    Best of luck in your simpler life.

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