Nearly a decade ago I read Richard Carlson’s bestseller Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and the opening scene is etched in my mind: he urges readers to imagine holding their favorite coffee mug—to picture themselves sitting on the front porch, perhaps a cheerful bird is chirping in the background, lifting the cup to their lips and then—SMASH! The cup slips and shatters into tiny porcelain shards across the deck.
As we enter Hurricane season here in the Cape Fear region, this jarring image has marched to the forefront of my mind once again.
Last year in anticipation of Hurricane Florence, my husband and I along with thousands of others decided to evacuate. I was visiting my sister in Houston at the time, so my husband was on his own to prepare our home. With Florence predicted to touch down as a category four hurricane, he was preparing for us to lose it all.
After completing all of the precautionary measures- boarding up the windows, placing sandbags along doorways, hauling every stick of furniture and potted plant into our garage- it was time to pack the car.
He called me via FaceTime and we moved through the house room-by-room to determine what we could fit in the car along with the dog and the cat. Having used Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” method in our entire home, the two storage bins were quickly filling up. With the exception of the pile of half-worn clothes my husband likes to stash behind the closet door, I had carefully selected every item in our home with care and purpose. For the first time, the “spark joy” method was failing me:
In a house filled with items that spark joy, how do you decide what to take with you?
Fighting back tears, we focused on the irreplaceable items: my mother’s jewelry box, my dad’s jar of marbles, the scrapbook my husband made for me when he proposed, the guitar my father-in-law built by hand, the jars with sand collected from every beach we’ve ever been to, including the one on which we made our vows— these items were among the chosen. They made the six-hour drive to DC and camped out at my in-laws with us for two and half weeks.
Like many, we sat on pins and needles, glued to the television for days while Florence strolled across the state, praying that our house would hold up. When it was finally deemed safe to return, we made our way back to Wilmington, carefully navigating the few open roads leading into the city: a six-hour drive now a twelve-hour one.
When we arrived home, we held our breath as we opened the front door, once again moving room-by-room through our house, unsure of what we would find. With each room, the weights that had been sitting on my chest for weeks lifted one by one:
There was the desk my dad made when he was fifteen. There was our comfy couch where we gather to relax after a tough day. There were our books and our shoes and our Christmas decorations and our favorite coffee mugs. There even was that pile of half-worn clothes behind the closet door.
All of our things were there to greet us. Our home had been spared.
Never had I been so happy to be home than in that moment.
And for the first time, I truly understood why Richard Carlson had his readers envision their favorite coffee mug shattering to pieces.
In preparing to lose it all, you gain a deep appreciation for what you have in front of you right now.
In the days following our return, we passed by many homes that were not so lucky. Households emptied of all their contents. Piles of belongings dumped curbside for pick up. The news filled with reports of tragic accidents and loss of life—and for those families, their material possessions had in fact become immaterial.
For someone who spends a great deal of time thinking about, writing about and helping people with stuff, the impact was significant: the future is uncertain, our possessions temporary and fleeting; embrace what brings you joy while you can.
Your favorite dishes? Use them.
Your favorite dress? Wear it.
Your favorite family photo? Frame it.
That quirky figurine you picked up on a family trip that makes you smile? Display it.
Your favorite hobby? Make time for it.
That dream you’ve been putting off? Go for it.
That friend you love but haven’t spoken to in forever? Call her.
Life changes in an instant. If you are waiting for the right moment to put things in order in your home or your heart, there is no better time than right now.
Until next time,
*Revised on 9/03/19