In our first guest post on this week’s challenge topic of Simplicity, journalist Johanna Derry explains how the 2011 London riots caused her to reflect on what she really needs.
Other than your family and pets, what would you rescue from a burning building? It’s a classic hypothetical question, asked so you can work out what matters most to you. In theory once you know what you value, you can simplify or prioritise your life accordingly.
About 18 months ago, I found myself in the slightly odd situation of actually trying to decide what I to rescue if my flat were to burn. I lived above a Greggs bakery near to Clapham Junction in London and, in August 2011, a handful of Greggs’ in the city were burned to the ground, the carbonised product of a few nights of rioting.
That week I happened not to be staying at home, but house-sitting for friends around the corner. My flatmate was away, so our flat stood empty.
It was the third night of the riots, the night when there weren’t enough police to deal with every troubled hotspot. Friends watching the news in other parts of the country started texting me to see if I was okay. And then friends who lived near to me, started offering their spare rooms. Clearly living on a high street in London above a bakery isn’t the advisable thing to do in a time of civil unrest.
I wasn’t scared for my own safety, but I still got spooked. I decided to brave the streets and go home to rescue the things I valued most, in case my building burned that night too.
It’s weird staring at all your worldly goods, the tangible evidence of the money you’ve worked for and spent, and knowing you could lose it all. What DO you choose to save?
I filled one plastic bag with exactly these things:
two pieces of jewellery that belonged to my grandmothers
a picture of me and one of my sisters as children, painted by my aunt
two Bibles I had been given by family members as gifts
I hovered before I left, wondering if I should take more. I could have definitely carried more, but then where would I have stopped? Even then I knew that I didn’t actually need the stuff I’d put in the bag. I already had a place to stay. I knew my friends would feed me. In the bag were things that made me feel close to my family.
Shelter. Food. Love. That’s all.
Everything else can burn.
Johanna Derry is a journalist, editor and blogger who lives in London (not above a Greggs anymore) and who likes attempting to make bread (she missed the smell of it). She blogs at: http://meandthegirlfromclapham.wordpress.com/