Decluttering: The Evacuation Method

I’m finally unpacking my evacuation bag.

Last week the forest was burning around us and we were reviewing our emergency plan to get out. My good friend from Calgary called to make sure we were okay and we talked through the essentials of what to take (water, passports, birth certificates, cash, credit cards, medications, dog food, etc.). Hooray for the cloud, at least we knew most of our digital files and records would be safe. The fire was still far away so we had plenty of time to get ready.

My friend was trying to be helpful and said, “at least you’ve got enough time to go through the house and gather all the important sentimental things.” I paused and looked around my home office where I was pacing back and forth. I was surrounded by family photos, travel mementos, degrees and awards, special books, antique jewelry. The house is filled with every Christmas card, note or meaningful gift we’ve ever received. And in one moment everything we cherish was reduced to emotional clutter.

“Either we take everything or we take nothing,” I replied.

It was entirely possible that we could lose everything, the home my husband has spent more than ten years lovingly restoring with his own hands, the tiny courtyard garden I have been learning to nurture, the barn filled with machinery and carpentry tools, and every sentimental item that we hold dear. It was a devastating reality to face and it wouldn’t be useful to waste any more words on that kind of anxiety. Long story short, unlike many people who were not so fortunate we are safe and the recent fires never came closer than 20 km to our home. This was by no means the first or the closest forest fire we’ve experienced in Central Portugal and it most certainly won’t be the last but for those who lost their loved ones it was unquestionably the worst.

Sometimes we need to be faced with losing everything in order to focus on the critical essentials. In our personal lives as well as in business it’s easy to become surrounded by meaningful additions, layers of emotional nice-to-haves. After this week I believe it will be a lot easier for me to deal with clutter. My to-do list has been edited to include only the critical, the tasks that truly demand my time and energy.

I urge you to step back and take a look at what’s essential in your environment and in your business or professional life. What would you save if you were faced with losing everything?

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