Sunday, 6 December 2009

What matters most

Torrential rain again, in our delightfully floodprone street. We've only lived here a few weeks but the neighbours, old hands at this, have told us that one more downpour and they expect a flood. So it's time to move the valuable stuff upstairs.
Which begs the question: what is valuable to this family, precious and/or irreplaceable, as opposed to merely expensive? All the obvious things - TV, stereo, all that - are covered by insurance. Which leaves us with the things no insurance company could replace.
So far in the queue to go upstairs we have: all the photographs (from Olden Times, pre-computer storage); the box of still unpacked and unhung pictures pictures; lots of books. Could in theory be replaced on insurance, but we'd never remember the exact mix we've acquired over three decades of reading, and even if we did they'd never have that lovely wellworn feel old paperbacks get, never fall open at the favourite page.
A file of dull paperwork: birth certificates, tax records, bank statements, bla. My journalist's contact book, obviously: phone numbers that took me 15 years to wheedle out of people.
Then it gets more eclectic.
About 20 assorted jars of jam and chutney (results of a bumper crop from the plum tree in the garden of our last house). Yes, I know jam is available at the corner shop. But this is different: it represents a stab at domesticity among the chaos this summer, and reminds me of the old house which I loved.
The Christmas decorations under the stairs. We can always buy more tinsel. But not another fairy like the one we've had for years (admittedly non-traditional: it's a bearded Action Man in a white frock, bought in Soho: long story). Not the lights my husband and I bought the first Christmas we spent together, which probably don't even work now, but anyway.
The blanket chest inherited from my greataunt, even though the dog chewed the corners as a puppy so it looks a bit scruffy. A fistful of children's paintings. Nil for artistic merit, but that's not the point.
As for what we're leaving downstairs, personally am willing to sacrifice my husband's Xbox to the flood, plus a copy of Babar and the Christmas House (the boy has insisted on reading this three times a day for a month now: am heartily sick of the elephant dictator).
Debate rages re the dog: leave him downstairs as usual at night, so he can bark at the first sign of water and rescue entire household, Lassie-style? Or not, given that he is both stupid and very fond of water, and more likely to paddle around happily while the laptop floats past him into the street?
But anyway. Nothing else on the 'rescue' list is worth more than a fiver, but it turns out these are the things we would least like to lose.
So what would you save in a flood/fire/act of God?


  1. What about the leftover mince pies, or did you eat them all up? We'd save Christmas decorations definitely. Two huge boxes of them. In fact one of my first jobs when I stopped working in July was to sort them out before they rotted or were eaten by moths in the cellar and I bought two very large plastic storage boxes and had a jolly good sort out. Very cathartic. Ours have accumulated since we got together and had our first xmas as a couple, then the kids' nursery craft efforts (including numerous fairies which always cause an argument - which one this year? - it's equivalent to choosing your favourite child), extra tinsel we've bought since then as houses and trees have got bigger, the lights which never seem to work from year to year except the cheapest set from Woolworths (where do we get replacement bulbs now Woolworths is no longer??) and a wonderful box of treasures from an American aunt who doesn't have a tree anymore and thought of us. I gave up long ago on the possibility of having a stylish tree, but in fact we were ahead of the curve and how on trend we will be this year, being mostly homemade or second hand. In the spirit of reviving my creativity and saving on presents, I'm making lavender bags for presents this year, aided by my friend Jo who both has a machine and can sew. Wish me luck! Now off to supervise the four year old and the chocolate advent calendar or we'll be at Christmas eve before we know it...PS hope you didn't flood.

  2. Good question, although we live at the top of a hill so no chance of flooding thankfully.

    Hmm, let's see: my grandfather's seachest which apart from the sentimental value is full of old vinyl records and precious cards from long gone grandparents; a briefcase stuffed full of my children's artwork from nursery and school - irreplaceable; two photo collages of my daughters made from photos up until their first birthdays - they're currently propped against a wall after being moved when the dining room was redecorated; photo albums; a framed photo of me with my late brother.

    Funnily enough I've been teaching a topic about values with year 6 children; I took in a shoebox full of precious items and we talked about why they were valuable (the last birthday card from my Nan before she passed away; my daughters' hospital armbands when they were born; a copy of a poem; a photo of our favourite holiday place; etc.) The idea is to teach them that value is not about monetary value but about things that money cannot buy. The children wrote their own lists, many of which were incredibly moving to read. We have since tried to make our own 'treasure boxes' after the artist Joseph Cornell, and the children have really thrown themselves into the activity. I hope it helps to make them think about what is important vs what is just expensive.

  3. I guess it's good that we store our Christmas ornaments in the attic area of our garage, since we have no upstairs. But things we would save--

    much of the stuff you mentioned, photos, the art I've saved, important papers

    Also some of the quilts I've sewn, the one my mom made at our wedding, and some of the heirloom-quality clothes I've made for my girls.

    The Chinese chest my grandparents bought 60 years ago when they lived in Japan, a couple of other things like that, I don't have much.

    Recently I looked at my books, trying to decide which few I would take if I had to lose most of them. That's a tough one, but I could do it if I had to. It was prompted by a visit to my brother's new house, which he bought from a couple who had been unemployed for months. Instead of selling their expensive furniture and stuff, they kept it all and rented two storage units for it. I was thinking about the irrational decisions we sometimes make under stress (and we just went through a similar difficulty ourselves) and feeling that I should be able to let go of my things if I need to. It's the family history and the memories that are more important.

  4. I just got burgled and on the 30 min tube ride home to my sobbing flatmate i mentally totted up all the precious things I couldn't bear losing... i realised on getting home that the loss of a laptop and camera is instantly replaced by the overwhelming joy of realising they missed my great aunt's antique charm bracelet, the jewellery from my dad and the handbag i bought myself with my entire first month's wages.

    ps I think i'd bring the dog upstairs.

  5. We think about this as we live in earthquake country. The kids and pets first, then old school yearbooks and photo albums, a back-up hard drive of all photo's and electronic documents, the diploma's, some jewelry. Other than that, not much can't be replaced.

    As you describe, we have too many books to even begin to think about which one's we'd keep!

    Stay dry!

  6. Photos and jewellery. Maybe my favourite shoes. Definitely the dog - he is a member of the family. Annoying bits of paper from professional bodies etc which are all in a concertina file (which should be fire and water proof but of course isn't) as a real pain to replace. Laptop and ipod; yes the insurance covers them but if like me they aren't as backed up as well as you think they are...

  7. .We live in Lewes but could not afford the Georgian Town houses near the River we are in the Estate built in the 30s which which goes up the Downs. Up here in the cheap seats , by the sheep, you do not get floods , the Ouse below is looking decidedly threatening at the moment though .

    Once again I detect good instincts in you despite what is probably an insubstantial veneer of progressivism . I see you creating traditions, making richer meanings valuing them and protecting them , you are one of us at heart .

  8. Photos definitely. That's about it really. Maybe laptop because now it has all the photos on it (note to self must back up must back up).

    our dog would be kept downstairs. She's such a wuss she'd be straight upstairs first sign of something not exactly how she likes. But given that she insists the sofa is her bed, she probably wouldn't notice the water anyhow.

    Fingers crossed you don't get flooded. We were inches away from it 2 years ago and it wasn't any fun.

  9. You should probably bring the dog upstairs. Sounds exactly like my puppy... who would probably just wash away happily in a flood. Dumb dog.

    Being newly married and settling into our second first house (second houses for us, first together), I can't think of anything yet that we *must* save (except before mentioned dumb dog). I have some things from my childhood that I would want to keep, but mostly I look forward to collecting things that will be worth rescuing someday.

  10. I hope you don't get flooded- did you know about the flooding before you moved in???? We live in an 8th floor apartment so I'm always more scared of fires and not being able to get down! In that case I have a huge box of photos that will get thrown out the window in the hope of saving them.

    Also, I just became your 100th follower. I felt like some kind of celebration noise should have happened. Oh well.

  11. I thought I would have a huge list of things but it turns out I can happily part with all the high value items (as you say, most of these can be replaced by the insurance anyway). Apart from the boys and their father, the things I would save are all on our first floor anyway - a mirror from my parents, my engagement ring and the ring I was given when small boy number 1 was born and three stuffed toys (in varying degrees of mankyness - ages 36, 3 and 10 months) and we'd be good. Perhaps its to do with living abroad that I have not accumalated as many sentimental possessions as I thought I would - half my books are distributed with the rest of my family who have looked after boxes etc as part of our moves, for example.

    Did the floods come?

  12. george's mum - you're right, there should have been a huge klaxon and, i dunno, the offer of a free holiday somewhere exotic! nevermind, welcome aboard anyway and thanks for taking me into three figures.
    i love the sound of notsupermum's lesson, which sounds like exactly the sort of thing you hope good teaching would be about.
    and to all who kindly asked, we're still on dry land so far (fingers crossed). husband now complaining about having to carry loads of heavy boxes upstairs for no reason....keep pointing out winter's not over yet!

  13. oh and ps gwyneth - woolworths lives, online!

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  16. You are funny and quite clever--(the dog happily paddling about while the laptop floated by). What would I save?? I'm thinking of the items that belonged to my Grandmother, mother and children. Whew...that's a lot! One time husband told me to just place those items in a box and then they'd be ready to go, but I have these items on display, not hidden! Once, we rec'd a tornado warning (normal around here) and I spent a half hour getting my 'can't live withouts' together. The tornado, if it had actually hit, would have wiped me out before I had the first item in the box. (During this time,husband kept yelling at me to get to the basement--he was already there.)