What I Learned About The In-Between Things

By Adam Johnson  

Are there disaster situations where you would want to save non-essential material possessions? Probably so.

Working for Emergency Zone, I spend plenty of my waking hours thinking about how to prepare for emergencies and what to do if one strikes. When a natural disaster came to my own doorstep, I found out that no amount of preparation and studying the subject could simulate the sense of reality sinking in when you see it with your own eyes from your own house. Last year, during another dry summer out west, a series of large fires broke out around my community and the surrounding towns and cities. A number of communities were evacuated; and the nearby hills, walking distance away, were illuminated by a mountain of brown smoke. I carefully kept updated on the status of the situation, until word came in that my neighborhood was given the pre-evacuation designation. People opened their homes to the evacuees and prayers rose up from all the chapels.
In spite of how near the fire was, the wind was blowing it towards an already evacuated town, meaning I had several days to assess the situation. But the wind only had to change direction and my home would be in danger. We filled buckets and pots full of water and put them around the house, in the hopes of reducing the damage if the fire made it that far. We reviewed our pre-evacuation checklist. The flames were cresting the hill into view when I made the decision to evacuate and stay with relatives.

When your life isn't at risk, but your possessions are.

In spite of all the situations I have considered, this was one I overlooked. I had days to decide what I would leave behind and what I would bring. If I really wanted to, I could have packed the whole house into trucks and trailers and made multiple trips in that amount of time.

Make no mistake. Family is what's important in life and the value of material things cannot come close in comparison. As long as you have each other, you are truly rich. In an immediate emergency, trying to save your possessions could get you killed. But this situation was different.
Thanks to the valiant efforts of the firefighters, my neighborhood was spared. But say the wind changed. Say that 2% chance of my house burning down came true (When it's your house, that number feels a lot bigger). I would be sitting there thinking how I could have saved more of my possessions at no risk to my life or my family. Sure, you can get your house insured and you can buy several replacement things, but there are things of yours that are sentimental and could never be replaced. Precious family heirlooms, memorabilia, things with a deep, personal history that you look forward to passing on to the next generation. These are the in-between thingsfloating in the grey area between the important and the unimportant. They especially become a concern with the more frequent, slow-moving disasters where your odds are good, but the danger is much higher than normal. How do you decide what is worth putting in the effort to save, and how do you weigh that against the risk of it being lost?
Losing your house is a tragedy, and there's no way to make it not a tragedy. That's not what I'm trying to do here. This is about easy, simple things you can do to reduce the impact of such an event. It's not worrying and obsessing. It's preparing.

Three categories

All you need to do is divide the things in your life into three categories:
  • Necessities
  • Non-Necessities
  • Sentimental (In-Between Things)
You may have the first two already separated out, especially if you are a prepper, but I will go over these, too, to show where they fall in relation to the in-between things.


This is what preppers live for. Collecting the supplies you need to survive for when all hell breaks loose. Shelter. Water. Medical supplies. When you are sheltering in place, these supplies can be extensive; but, since this article is focusing on evacuation, these are the things that will go in your "bug out bag". Here is an Ultimate Guide to 72 Hour Kits and bug out bags. Bug out bags can also carry a few of the smaller sentimentals, like a picture of your family.


To minimize the impact of losing your possessions (including some of the sentimental ones), do three things:
  • Get it insured. Homeowner's insurance if you own, renters insurance if you rent. Your landlord's policy most likely doesn't cover your personal possessions.
  • Get it digitized. Take well-lit photos of your belongings in every room of the house, especially the valuable things. This is for the insurance company, but it may also allow the memory of things to live on. Scan and digitize photo albums, documents, journals and letters. In many cases, the digitized will not be the same as holding the original, but it's better than nothing.
  • Back it up. If your files were not already valuable to you before, they are now that they contain all of your pictures and precious documents for future generations. There are many options for data backup, and they all have their pros and cons. Cloud storage means your files will always be miles away from any local disaster, while external storage is the most difficult for hackers to access and could make a great addition for your bug out bag.

The In-Between Things.

After doing everything above, the remaining part is simple. Make a list of those irreplaceable things in your house. This is much easier to do now than when you are frantically putting things in order with the approach of a disaster.

Not everything on the list has to have some kind of deep meaning. Simply stated, an in-between thing is something an insurance payout cannot replace. You keep that autographed poster of your favorite band because you would rather have it than the money it's worth, right? Might as well put it on the list. Still, the list should be short. If it's not, that either means you curate a personal museum of artifacts, or that you should re-prioritize where material things belong in your life.

The hardest thing, by far, is assessing an incoming disaster and deciding when the risk is significant enough to go to the trouble of moving the belongings on the list out. If you have your list stored alongside your emergency supplies, however, you will be better prepared and equipped to make these decisions in the moment.

Make note of what things you will need help with transporting, like an antique piano. These belong in a subcategory, and you decide beforehand how high the risk has to be before you enlist support in moving them out of the area. You should make friends with your neighbors, so you can help each other during a crisis and so you know who to trust. A stereotypical prepper thinks his neighbors would murder his family for a bottle of ketchup as soon as things go south, but the truth is disasters bring out the best in people more often than they bring out the worst.

When talking about survival and emergency preparedness, discussing nonessential material belongings can seem counterintuitive. Could a fondness for material things bog down our chances for survival? My thoughts go to my grandmother, who passed a few months prior to the fires at the age of 101. She was a serious prepper ready for the end times and very familiar with poverty and survival from her early life. In spite of this, she was very sentimental about her possessions, and her house was filled with all kinds of art and antiques. If she could find that balance, maybe we can, too.

*For more information on wildfire home insurance and how you can better protect your home, check out How to protect your home from wildfire or Heat waves and wildfires: How to prepare for internet outages
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