If your home were on fire, what would you take with you?
My roommate, Natalie, and I contemplated this recently in socks and slippers, sprawled in our living room on a rainy weekend afternoon. After establishing that much of what was really valuable to us—travel mementos, yearbooks, hard copies of old photographs—were stowed safely at our parents’ houses, we moved on to what was with us now, as adults, in the little Brooklyn apartment we’ve inhabited for the past two years.
We’d both take our laptops, we decided. Our cameras. Our passports. But what else?
“My signed Strokes album?” Natalie offered.
“My vintage fox collar?” I suggested.
We laughed about this, noting the lack—both surprising and disturbing—of sentimental items in our home. We talked about how lucky we were—that if worst came to worst, nothing of real value would be lost.
Then we wracked our brains for more—surely there must be something we were forgetting.
But there wasn’t.
Things haven’t always been this way, though.
“Your room looks like a museum,” my friend Maya said to me once. “I’m afraid to touch anything in it.”
She was referring to my high school bedroom, where the pillows on my bed were always arranged just so; where there was always a stack of magazines on my nightstand, perfectly straightened; where I had old album covers lining my shelves, as if they were for sale in a record store.
What I remember most about that room, though, wasn’t its obsessive order, but the items that populated it—items I loved, items that represented who I was at that time. There was an electric guitar, seldom used but much-admired. A vintage Who poster, covered in creases from years of display. And a record player, of course, a gift from my godparents.
My college bedroom contained stacks of creative writing papers, stored in boxes under my bed; souvenirs from my trip to India; an entire wall of Polaroids.
Accumulating these things took time. And I exhibited them carefully, almost as if they were items in a shrine. At various points in time, they were things I couldn’t imagine living without.
Today, in my new home, in my new city, I’m working (however slowly) on building a new collection of treasures. As time passes, I add to it here and there—photo booth pictures taped to the wall, frayed notepads stacked on my desk, cards from friends propped against picture frames.
Little by little, my home here is developing its story. It’s a happy work in progress.
Still, I wonder, would I scramble to take it all with me if I had to leave? Thinking it over as I write this, I realize that none of these items (or any of the belongings I prized in the past) are as significant as the experiences they commemorate—and that the most important things I’ve collected over the years aren’t things, they’re memories.
That’s a comforting thought.
Slowly, surely, I’m curating a new museum of my own here in my little apartment. There are things I love in it—things I can hold in my hands—but its most substantial collection is also its most valuable. And it won’t ever burn, won’t ever fall apart, won’t ever be lost.