“The Life-Changing Magic of Losing Our Stuff” or “Six Months After the Camp Fire”

I’m going to qualify this post with the fact that we didn’t lose “everything”. We have friends who literally lost Everything. I know we are very lucky because the kids and I were able to grab a few things when evacuated from the Camp Fire:

  • A pre-packed emergency bag with toothbrushes, one change of underwear per person and our matching yellow VBS t-shirts (not exactly what I wanted to be wearing when buying deodorant at Target the next day 🤪).
  • A pre-packed envelope with our birth certificates and social security cards.
  • My purse, wallet and cell phone.
  • Seven of the many quilts my mom made for us.
  • The laptop and a case of DVD’s that happened to be sitting on top of the laptop.
  • The kids each grabbed one stuffie, somehow B ended up with 2.
  • Some other random stuff that was in the mini van.

Today marks six months since our evacuation from the Camp Fire on 11/08/18 at 8:45 am. I want to answer 2 questions that my uncle L.B. from WA asked the kids a few weeks ago in Rancho Mirage, CA, “What’s the hardest item for you to have lost in the Camp Fire?” and “What did the fire teach you?” or “What have you gained or learned from your experience?” These are hard questions to answer, so this is gonna be another long post…

I previously mentioned (How you doin’?) that having less stuff has really been a gift. As part of my journey toward healing from the loss caused by the Camp Fire, I’ve been reading “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. This is a great book, the best book I’ve ever read on organizing and decluttering. I don’t agree with everything Ms. Kondo says in her book, several of her ideas do not match up with my religious beliefs. I do agree that many people have too much stuff (myself included), and that too much stuff isn’t good for anybody. Too much stuff is not healthy or joyful and it’s not the way Jesus wants us to live.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

“…Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Luke 3:11 (NIV)

Reading Ms. Kondo’s book and reading the Bible has helped me to feel like losing our stuff was really a good thing for us and not such a tragedy. Ms. Kondo estimates that it would take the average person about 6 months to tidy their space using her method. Wow! If I can frame things this way, I feel like losing almost all of our things has actually saved us lots of time and energy.

That being said, if I had known the house was going to burn down, I would’ve grabbed a few more items. Here are our answers to the first question, “What was the hardest thing for you to lose in the fire?”:

  • B wishes he could still jump on the 14 ft trampoline. We had it only for a few months, and boy oh boy did we have fun bouncing on it!
  • K had a fuzzy white blanket that was given to me at her baby shower by M.H. She slept with it every night. We’ve tried to replace it twice, but if it isn’t that exact same blanket, it certainly won’t pass her inspection.
  • S misses going to my parents’ house nearly every Sabbath afternoon. He wishes he still had the go-carts and track his grandpa, Bubba, made.
  • E had an awesome home office set-up. He misses his office, desk, chairs, and computers. He was bummed about losing his car (a 2010 orange Honda Element). He replaced his mountain bike very quickly. 😉 It will take him a long time to replace all of his rock climbing equipment. He can never replace the Bible is friend B.B. gave him. It was highlighted and underlined and had notes handwritten in the margins. But what really got to him wasn’t a “thing” that burned up in the house. It was the ability to feel like he could protect his family from danger. He wasn’t there with us during our evacuation. He was halfway across the county, and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. There wasn’t any way he could help his wife or his children. That’s the “thing” the fire took from him that he can’t get back.
  • I lost my wedding ring, the kids baby books, all the quilts I had made and was working on, lots of handmade stuff from my mom, my lifetime recipe collection and my grandma’s vintage brooches. If you’re a close friend, I might be able tell you about the journal I’d written in every Saturday since B was born without tearing up too much. What I can’t tell anyone about, because I can’t seem to get the words to come out without melting into a puddle of tears, is a hospital bracelet. It was the hospital bracelet I wore when I had emergency surgery to repair a ruptured ectopic pregnancy in 2011. That bracelet was the only thing I had from the lost baby. If I could have any one thing back from the fire, it would be that strip of red plastic with a date on it.

But wait, that’s not all, I was talking to my friend M.C. (a fellow Camp Fire survivor) the other day and she hit the nail on the head. We didn’t just lose “things” did we? We lost much more than material possessions. We lost relationships when we decided to move away from friends and family. We lost our neighborhood and our community. We lost our lifestyle. We lost our homeschool group.

“We lost the future we had planned for our families… And we lost so much time.” – M.C.

We have spent countless hours dealing with paperwork and insurance and recovering necessary documents. We have spent hours shopping for clothes and toiletries. We have waited in line for hours to pick up mail. We have waited on hold on the phone. Hours are spent trying to process what happened and trying to figure out what to do next.

Pretty depressing, right? I suppose it should be depressing, shouldn’t it? The Camp Fire was a catastrophic natural disaster, not a teaching moment.

I just finished reading the book of Lamentations in the Bible. In this book, a poet pours out the grief felt by the nation of Israel over the complete destruction of the city of Jerusalem. There’s nothing wrong with lamenting over the destruction of Paradise. All things may work for the glory of God, that does not mean we’re not allowed to be devastated by tragedy. Check out this great 7 minute video about the book of Lamentations by The Bible Project.

One of lessons that I’m learning through all of this is that there are pros and cons to everything. Let’s take a look at the 2nd question, “What have we gained or learned from losing almost every”thing”?”

  • One of the most beautiful things I gained, was spending time with a life-long friend (we’ve been friends for over 30 yrs). After a couple weeks of staying in a hotel in Sacramento, CA, my friend J.G. offered to let us stay with her and her family for a few weeks over Thanksgiving. She was such a welcoming hostess and really made the holiday feel special for us. She planned fun activities for the kiddos like building a gingerbread village and a tour of a botanical garden lit up with Christmas lights. She introduced us to a fabulous boxed pancake mix and the great idea to make a capsule wadrobe. She gave me my new favorite shirt from Loft. She is amazing!
  • We never would’ve moved into an RV if we hadn’t lost our home and it’s contents. We gained this adventure and more time with each other.
  • I was too attached to my stuff to get rid of it on my own. I’m better at discarding things that don’t “spark joy” than I was before.
  • We have visited with far-away family members, met wonderful people and made new friends.
  • We’ve seen some amazing places and beautiful things, and had some awesome experiences that we would not have had otherwise.
  • E is really enjoying his replacement Jones mountain bike.
  • We have more empathy for others who have been affected by natural disaster.
  • I hike. Talk about a miracle. I had spent several months before the Camp Fire coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t enjoy hiking or camping. Most of my friends and fellow homeschoolers are avid outdoor people and it was difficult for me to feel like I didn’t fit in because I didn’t like hiking and camping. Haha! God certainly has a sense of humor! Now we are “glamping” full-time and we go for a family hike almost every Sabbath (Pinnacles National Park & Joshua Tree National Park).

I can say for certain that the Camp Fire was life-changing. I cannot say that we gained more than we lost or lost more than we gained. I can say that we lost a lot and that we gained a lot too. I can say that, for me, there is beauty to be found in the ashes.

(February 2019, Sedona, AZ)

Here is more information about the Camp Fire including a timeline and other facts.

Here’s an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the town of Paradise, CA six months after the Camp Fire.

We ❤️ Paradise!

Thank you all for reading about our displacement adventure!

7 thoughts on ““The Life-Changing Magic of Losing Our Stuff” or “Six Months After the Camp Fire”

  1. Your comments, Dear Jennifer , are so helpful to me. I can share in your grief and in your new perspective on life. Thank you for taking the time to write from your heart. I still can’t imagine what you have gone through. But your heart of understanding and gentleness is a blessing to me. Uncle larryb.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved reading this, Jen. We didn’t lose possessions in the fire but the loss of relationships is something we’re still healing from 6 months later. Your camera skills are impressive! I love seeing all your faces and B is a crack up 😀 Thank you for your thoughtful post!

    Liked by 1 person

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