What would you grab?

By Caitlin Kelly


The climate is changing.

If you watch national television news, as we often do, (and/or read thoughtfully and listen carefully), every single North American broadcast now carries yet another enormous forest fire and devastating floods.

Add hurricanes and tornadoes, and the very human wish to remain in your home, surrounded by objects you enjoy, stands in growing opposition to the forces of implacable nature.

Culturally, there’s now, additionally, the cult of Marie Kondo, a Japanese woman whose fetish for de-cluttering has millions of (affluent) people studiously deciding what to keep and what to toss, donate or sell.

Here’s a recent post by Grace, author of the blog Cultural Life, who recently Kondo’ed her closet.

And then there are tiny houses, a trend that has some people sneering in derision at people who can afford much better choices deciding to live in 200 or 300 square feet, some with children or pets. These micro-homes are all the rage, but also, de facto, demand severe paring of all possessions. (Or renting a big storage locker!)

These are all privileged decisions, of course. Some people live with so very few possessions or don’t have a home, or the things they own are so worn out and broken they long to replace them — and cannot.

I often wonder what, if I had to make a snap decision as fire swept through the woods around my house, or flood waters started rising, (neither of which, thank heaven are likely), what I would try to grab.

(We live on the top floor of an apartment building, on top of a high hill, several miles from the Hudson River. Nor is New York a zone typically, historically, prone to hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes.)

Some of my most valued, (not all monetarily valuable), possessions:


— my Canadian passport and my green card, which allows me to live and work legally in the U.S.

— several battered stuffed animals from my childhood

— a pile of journals I kept in my 20s and 30s

— a dress I bought in L.A. years ago and later wore to marry Jose in

— my jewelry

the paintings of my mother done by my father (small, easy to carry!)

— my framed National Magazine Award


— an original print of The Loneliest Job in the World, taken Feb. 10, 1961, an iconic portrait of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy standing silhouetted in the Oval Office of the White House. Ours is signed by the late photographer George Tames, who Jose worked with at the Times.

No matter how minimalist our lives, we do choose and enjoy certain items, some of them markers or identity and status, someΒ  of them inherited or hard-won.

Here’s a list of 20 things to ditch tomorrow.


What would you grab?

14 thoughts on “What would you grab?

  1. I love the photograph.

    Every so often we have fire alarms in the middle of the night. The first few times, I grabbed my laptop, camera and passport. After a few of these false alarms, I leave them behind. But I should make it easy to grab them on the way out in case there is a real fire.

  2. Getting rid of possessions and living a minimalist lifestyle by choice is definitely a privileged option. I was pondering that while clearing out my stuff and thinking in particular about the refugees living in camps, who had to flee and leave almost everything (sometimes including their loved ones) behind. It’s heart-rending.

    Thanks for linking to my post. πŸ™‚

  3. it really makes you think. i would take an envelope of handwritten letters, sent to me by some of the people who i love most in this world, my laptop to continue writing, and favorite photos from a shelf.

  4. Good thinking on the letters. Mine (From my wife) are in a drawer beside my bed. Other than that, I have a bright orange electric guitar, the first one I ever built and still my favorite, that would have to come with me. My coin collection would be easy enough to find. It would be that heavy chunk of slag in the basement.
    I have a lot of cool stuff but sometimes it gets boring and I want a change so I will suspend my normal tendency toward sentimentality and really move some items.
    I prefer to donate items rather than going the garage sale route. I can’t stand fielding ridiculous low-ball offers on my top quality junk. That’s what it is at the end of the day. If it bores me or frustrates me without somehow actually being necessary, then why keep it? Anybody want to buy a lathe?

    1. Ooooh, a lathe! πŸ™‚

      That guitar sounds amazing.

      I woke up one day this summer and suddenly ditched our two armchairs — donated both to the local thrift shop. We can’t afford to replace them for a while, but after 25 years (!) of looking at them, I was done.

  5. I didn’t expect to struggle with answering your question, but I am. Other than my children, my dog and my purse–all else could go. It wouldn’t be easy, or convenient, or without some pain–but it would also, in some ways, bring relief. Starting over with a clean slate. Let’s hope neither one of us ever has to find out that drastically.

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