Your House is Burning – What Do You Grab?

A thought experiment, if you would. Your house is burning. What do you take with you? Let’s assume for the sake of discussion:

  • You wake up in your bed and realize there’s a fire you can’t put out; you need to get out.
  • You have a safe exit, but not for long.
  • You have some kind of small bag handy, like a backpack or a pillowcase, that you can throw stuff into.
  • You can only make one trip. Once you’re out, you’re out; no going back in for more.

What do you grab? Some people would try to grab a typewriter, a guitar and some boxes; others think they’ll have time to shuffle a vintage table-style record player out the door; and still others think all they need is their wedding ring and some smokes. I’m not sure these people quite grasp the concept of your house is burning down you need to get out now or you’ll die of being on FIRE.

So my question is: what would you take?


My list is a bit more spartan and probably a lot more practical. I don’t have any children or pets, so it’s just me and some stuff. I’ve put a bit of thought into this over the last year or so:

  1. Jeans. Into the pockets go, in order (all swiped from the stand next to my bed):
    1. Wallet (ID, debit/credit cards, some cash) – I’m going to need these all very shortly.
    2. Phone – while a physical device can be replaced, and all my data is backed up, I’m going to need to contact people and I don’t have the organic memory to store all their information.
    3. Keys – let’s assume my car isn’t parked in my living room; I’ll be wanting to use it.
  2. Laptop, thrown into its bag – as with the phone, a device can be replaced, but my laptop is easily the most valuable and personal object I own, so it’s coming with if I’ve got the five seconds it takes to grab it.
  3. A shirt and a pair of shoes – I may not have time to put them on, but they’ll be important once I’m out.
  4. Glasses and contact lenses (in their cases) – if I’m not wearing one or the other already, I’ll need them shortly. I can see without them well enough to get out of the house, though.
  5. On my way out, try to roll my bike out the door with me.

That’s really it. Everything else, while it will be hard to lose, can burn. I’m not going to risk my life trying to save my TV, or try to box up all my DVDs, or carry a chair out. Important documents like my insurance policies, etc, are stored in an offsite safe and backed up digitally elsewhere; insurance will cover the lost belongings.

So what would you take with you?

What are your priorities when faced with losing everything? It’s good to take a step back sometimes and evaluate your life, what you’ve surrounded yourself with, and what you could (or couldn’t) bear to lose if it came down to it.

Photo by Dave Hogg. (License: Creative Commons)


Join the conversation

comment 6 comments
  • Sam Dodge

    Having literally lived through this situation, I can say that you are not far off from what an unprepared person would grab.

    My items:
    – Shoes/socks
    – Laptop (no power adapter, easy to buy) and external hard drives
    – My camera and lenses
    – Everything went in my bag with wallet/keys/paper/etc

    – Should have grabbed clothes as I was stuck in sweatpants for too long
    – Should have a small package of essential documents easy to grab (like passport or whatever)

    I have a lot of paper notes and such that I would have lost, and I should probably install a process to scan and online backup that stuff so I’m not beholden to the physical copy, even though I enjoy perusing the physical copies more than a pdf. All my other important documents are on my computer or online storage.

    I didn’t grab a bike, though at that time I had a car, so it wasn’t essential. Nowadays, I’d probably end up dying in the house fire while I tried to decide which bike to take or while attempting to roll 4 bikes out the door.

  • Tom Henrich

    What I didn’t note in my post above was that I actually have a sort of “go-bag” that I keep in the corner of my room.

    It’s just a standard backpack, but it has two changes of clothes, a poncho, a small first aid kit, a small toiletries kit, etc. Certainly not something I could go camping with, but enough to make the next 48 hours a little easier.

    And now I’m picturing you standing in a living room, with flames climbing the walls, as you stare at your collection of bikes trying to determine which one to save.

  • Sarah

    1. Put on a pair of pants. I can guarantee in this scenario I am not wearing pants.

    2. Grab wedding ring, stuffed bear, inhaler, and day-of-the-week pillbox. Not only am I ridiculously sentimental, but also apparently five years old and eighty at the same time.

    3. Pick up phone, exit, head to car, already stocked at all times with extra clothes, food, blankets and other gear. Which is less a factor of my paranoia and more about trying to survive during winters in rural Wisconsin.

  • Tom Henrich

    I’m impressed! I’ve been meaning to put together a bag for my car for exactly that reason. There’s still time, fortunately, before that season is really truly here.

    What kind of food and gear do you keep in your car? Just basics like granola bars and flashlights, or do you have a more in-depth setup?

  • Georgina

    Firstly I would grab my pet bearded dragon and put him in my jacket to keep him warm as he needs heat to survive, then I’d make sure my dog got out of the house, I’d then grab my iPhone (if I didn’t allready have it in my pocket
    That is) id then grab my keys and a pile of random clothes from my room, I’d then grab some extra food (but I allready do have some in my car but not too much) then i’d grab all of my money, and then my pile of DVDs whih are just by my bed side so easy enough to grab! Then when I got out id get my dog in my car and then I allready have a sleeping bag, torches, food, pillows, water, and a first aid kit so from there I should be fine for the next two or three days!

  • Tom Henrich

    You would grab food and DVDs? Your house is on fire, your life is in danger, and you’d grab DVDs? Surely there’s food available outside your house. I’m curious how you’d grab “all your money” – not just a wallet?

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