As we were going through the TWENTY-SIX PAGE LEASE for our new apartment, we discovered that we were required to show proof of renters insurance before we could have the keys. We already had renters insurance, but figured we'd change to their suggested provider, since we were radically downsizing as well as relocating. The main purpose was to insure against potential damage that we might cause to the apartment, since we are such party animals. Secondary was a worksheet estimating the value of our possessions, and this is where it gets interesting. We had until the end of the week to put a price on everything we owned.
We did it in twelve minutes.
We've had numerous conversations over the years about what we would keep and what we would downsize in various situations. We've also had the conversation about how much insurance to get on our stuff. In the world of insurance, there is a lot of fine print, such as whether the policy includes earthquake coverage. (Assume that whatever is the most likely threat of natural disaster in your area, your insurance specifically excludes it, whether that's tornados, UFOs, giant ants, or what-have-you). Our concern was the concept of "replacement value." If our place really was completely destroyed by one of the many hazards of our fair state, not limited to flash floods, landslides, wildfire, typhoon, or earthquake, what would it cost to start from scratch? What would we actually replace and what would we shrug off?
Obviously we would replace our bed, couch, dining table, computers and desks. We would need replacement sheets and towels - but would we buy as many as we currently had? We would need to completely outfit a new kitchen - but again, would we buy as much kitchen gear as we had in our real kitchen? How do you insure food? We would need to replace our clothes and bathroom stuff. Predictably, if we started from zero, with nothing but a blank spot for a house and a big insurance payout, would we really buy the hundreds of items we had in our bedroom and bathroom again?
The shock and horror of losing everything you own must be truly devastating. It wouldn't do to be flippant about such a thought. However. My husband rode out the Northridge Earthquake, a topic that I find endlessly fascinating. We know that disaster is real. For us, a little black comedy helps when contemplating serious crisis. As long as nobody dies, if one of the many temporary homes we've rented were to be destroyed, well, we're insured and so are our landlords. The idea of starting over again, with nothing but a check, can be a cute little fantasy. If we went on a mandatory shopping spree, with hardly a sock to our name, what would we buy?
Lids without matching containers! Junk mail! Dried-up pens! Rusty paperclips! Sheets that don't match any of the mattresses in the house! Shopping extravaganza!
The sad yet liberating truth is that most of our stuff is relatively worthless. We can't calculate a replacement cost for photographs, because we can't go out and buy them again. We can't put a price on souvenirs, mementos, or memorabilia for the same reason. We can't assess the market value of his engineering drawings or software, or my manuscripts, because money wouldn't reproduce them. The only stuff we can buy with money is generic housewares.
That's exactly what insurance money would cover: generic housewares. It's not like we would suddenly be able to level up and hire an interior designer. Also note that when we pay for insurance, the more we buy, the higher the premiums. Insurance is like a fire extinguisher or a first aid kit: you hope you never need them. If we're lucky, we'll have paid hundreds or thousands of dollars over the years for insurance we never need. That would be awesome; let's pick that one.
When we learned that we would need to estimate the replacement value of everything we owned, we were undaunted. Most of what we had, we'd bought together during the past eight years of our marriage. We both attend to the value of a dollar. We had a solid memory of how much the bigger-ticket items cost, and if we didn't, we could check our digital financial records. We were ready.
There was a "Property Worksheet." It had a field for each room, and as I entered numbers, it kept a running total at the bottom. Bedroom 1. Bedroom 2. Office. Den. Kitchen. Bathroom. Living Room. Dining Room. Other/Misc. Additional living expenses.
Well, let's see. We only have one bedroom. We no longer have an office. We've never had a "den" and I have no idea what would go in one. We no longer have a separate dining room, but what the heck, let's put the price of the table and chairs there. We were chatting back and forth over text message, a conversation that included a couple of 'crying laughing' emojis. We did our own independent estimates, and got within $400 of the same amount. Then my husband recalled that none of the rooms listed included the garage, and had to come up with an estimate for his tools. Wow, that's a pretty big number, we thought. I input it in the insurance company's website.
The total price we had estimated for all our worldly goods was barely over half the lowest amount offered.
We fell about laughing, and laughed even harder when I tried changing the optional jewelry coverage. I could replace most of my wardrobe with the default option! Never spend a lot of money on anything that will fit down a drain, that's my advice.
We wound up with the lowest coverage and the highest deductible we could get. After tacking on earthquake coverage, it's still less than a dollar a day. I'd have to check, but it's almost identical to what we were paying before. Now, if our upstairs neighbor leaves the bathtub running or the sprinkler system malfunctions, we'll be financially fine.
The most important consideration, whenever our attention wanders to crisis and disaster, is to think of the living. We plan escape routes. We check our go bags. We rehearse what we'll do if we need to evacuate and get our animals to safety. We bolster our finances, maybe tuck a few more small bills in our go bags just in case. We insist on discussing emergency preparedness with our friends, who usually don't even have a jug of water set aside. We do what we can to try to make sure we'll be on the emergency response team, helping our neighbors.
It also helps to think about the priceless things. Are our work products and tools backed up? If even a single irreplaceable file exists only on one computer or one storage medium, that's asking for trouble. BACK UP YOUR DATA! If we have legacy or heirloom items, have we recorded them in some way in case the original is damaged? Photographs, letters, documents, vital records, family trees, and anything else flat can be scanned. I like to see these things distributed across a family, so everyone has a copy. Pictures can also be taken of the 3D stuff, like furniture or textiles, so that at least some visual record will survive.
Ultimately, it's all just stuff. What's important has a heartbeat. What really makes a legacy is the rich tapestry of stories, relationships, recipes, shared experiences, inside jokes and alternative song lyrics, and little mannerisms that make us family. No physical object of any description is worth a plug nickel in comparison to a strong bond of affection. Maybe we'd do better to make worksheets of our love and loyalty.
As I write this, over 180,000 people have been evacuated from the path of the crumbling Orville Dam. We lived near there just a few years ago. Whenever something like this happens, I pause and reevaluate how well prepared my household is in case of disaster. It's a civic duty. At minimum, we should avoid adding to the workload of first responders. Stay out of their way and don't create extra problems. Ideally, we should be self-sufficient and able to take care of ourselves. Under the right circumstances it would be good to be able to pitch in and help others. There are a lot of homebound people out there who could use an extra hand. Nobody left behind. A thirty-foot wall of water is a clear villain against which we can all unite.
This is the purpose of being organized. It means you have your head on straight and you can survive an emergency. It truly doesn't matter how color-coordinated your spices are and whether you've alphabetized your socks yet. When crisis strikes you need to be able to get out the door.
My people are fantastic about worrying. They have a comprehensive anxiety plan, a worry and concern and stress for every situation. What they're not so fantastic about is forming realistic strategies. I have read run-on paragraphs about all the material objects a person genuinely believes she can rescue in the event of disaster. Like, you really think you can save forty photo albums when your house is on fire? Emergency responders die due to harebrained ideas like this. Take this moment to pause, breathe in, and accept that only living beings can and should be evacuated.
Not a bunch of bric-a-brac.
Stuff is just stuff. No object should ever be rated above a human being, and probably not above an animal either. Get yourself out, get your children out, get your pets out, and check on your neighbors. Then you're done.
I talked to a woman once who had to negotiate to bypass a police barricade to get to her house during a wildfire. She could see the flames from her driveway. She was trying to talk to her husband on her cellphone while loading her frantic, terrified dogs into the Jeep. Trying to decide which papers to go after. It took only about a minute to realize that she had barely enough time to flee for their lives. Papers can be replaced, people can't. She was in and out in five minutes, no papers, but at least she had the dogs. That is the appropriate response. Ellen Ripley took the cat when she was fleeing the Alien, but she didn't try to bring a photo album or her childhood teddy bear. Be like Ripley.
All that being said, a dam is a metaphor. A dam is a physical structure, a bulwark against certain types of disaster. It controls floods. You can use physical objects to protect against certain types of disaster, also. What I have in mind is a Go Bag. This is something you can set up in twenty minutes and inspect for five minutes every month. When the time comes, you can grab your Go Bag and... GO.
You need to have an emergency plan for everyone in your household. Where do you meet? Where do you meet if that place is flooded or on fire? What's your fallback plan if cell phones aren't getting through and you can't communicate? If you've ever been separated in a casino or at the mall, you have a tiny taste of what this could be like. TALK IT OUT. Do not procrastinate on an emergency plan. You can procrastinate on alphabetizing your socks or going to the gym, but don't [censored] around with your disaster planning.
My Go Bag includes a Sharpie marker, some index cards, and masking tape. This is so I can leave messages at and near the house if need be. One of the things I check when I get my monthly 'emergency kit inspection' reminder is that this Sharpie has fresh ink.
I have a sheaf of backup documents in case my ID gets lost. Page of emergency contact phone numbers, because I haven't memorized one since the early Nineties. Color copies of my passport, driver's license, health insurance, AAA card, advance health care directive, and the 800-number to call in case it's time to donate my body to science. Copy of our marriage license. It took me 15 minutes to figure out what I needed, and about 60 cents to make photocopies of it at the public library.
What else is in there? Old, faded casual clothes that I don't care if I lose. (Two t-shirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of jeans, a zippered sweatshirt, old sneakers, socks, bras, and underwear). My travel shower kit. Sun block. Hand sanitizer. First aid kit on top. A little cash in small bills. Spare ATM card. Solar charger and adapter for my phone. Three water bottles, one with a built-in filter, two that I keep filled and freshen up every couple of weeks. It would be super annoying and disappointing if someone took this bag, but there's nothing in there I couldn't live without. Or... Hmm.
My husband's Go Bag is his work backpack. Change of shoes, some cash in small bills, a snack. Photocopies of the same relevant documents that I have. His actual wallet, phone, and glasses.
There's a third bag that we call the Pet Bag. It has some styptic gel with a topical anesthetic in case one of them gets hurt. (Works on people too). It has their nail trimmers. It has at least four days' worth of kibble for each of them. They can both eat what we eat, but it seems expedient to have food for them that humans wouldn't really want. Extra water bottle. The Pet Bag has small food and water bowls, and poo bags. This bag goes with us on road trips and we are in and out of it all the time. They wear their ID; he has a rabies tag on his collar and she has a closed ring leg band.
This is the scenario: I'm on foot, with my Go Bag on my back, the Pet Bag slung over one shoulder, a leash in one hand and a parrot carrier in the other. The bags weigh in at 19 pounds, nearly half my full expedition pack weight. I'm walking about one mile an hour. WHERE would I put a photo album or any other sentimental objects? Balanced on my head? Floating in the air in my thought bubble?
(Answer: I've already scanned them and saved them in cloud storage).
The main goal of the Go Bag is to get us to an emergency shelter. Hopefully we will never be in that situation; hopefully, if we do have to evacuate, we can use passable roads and go to our Plan A backup destination, which is not in our geographical region. Evacuations happen, though. My husband had to leave town after the Northridge Earthquake. We've known other people who had to evacuate due to wildfire, flood, and landslide. In my family tree are people who had to live in Golden Gate Park after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. It happens. We want to be around afterward and live to tell the tale.
I feel it would be unfair not to mention this topic, so: Cardio. If someone screams RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! I pray that you can. A mudslide does not care about body shaming. A thirty-foot wall of floodwater does not care about body shaming. A wildfire coming up your street does not care about body shaming. Reality is judging you. Disaster is not a respecter of persons. Know how fast you can run and how much you can carry. If you can't do it for yourself, do it for your kids, and if you don't have kids, do it for your pets. If you can't do it for any of those reasons, do it for the exhausted emergency responders.
Don't say nobody told you. You've been told.
We do our best to cope when the world gets weird. We try to keep disaster at bay, just as we try to dam the floodwaters. It's unfair and inconvenient, but it happens. Stuff goes wrong. Usually it does it in the middle of the night, when we're barefoot and disoriented. Preparing for the worst is morbid and depressing, but not nearly as much as the alternatives. Let it serve as a memento mori, the purpose of which is to remind us to make the most of today. Say "I love you" while we can. Appreciate what we have while we still have it. If we're fortunate, we'll never need our emergency preparations, and we can wink at ourselves and laugh a little at how silly we've been.
JUST IN CASE. That's a solid reason to keep every single molecule you've ever touched or breathed in your entire life. YOU NEVER KNOW. It's true. YOU MIGHT NEED IT LATER. Most of us spend time sitting in this feeling, this sense that keeping things provides security in life. Some of us eventually realize that this emotion is a phase. It can go away. As for me, the dominant feeling in my life is curiosity. I can't stop at BECAUSE as an answer to anything. Why exactly am I supposed to keep certain papers "indefinitely"? Can't I just scan them and keep digital copies?
The obvious question raised by this imprimatur to keep particular papers is, what if I can't? What if:
Burst water main
I'm an historian. It's a sad fact of the field that priceless relics and invaluable archival material are often lost to the sands of time. All sorts of buildings containing public records burned down in the 19th century because everything was made of wood and the available technology for light and heat was dangerous. There's no viable way to demand that anyone keep a piece of paper unto eternity, because there's no physical way to guarantee its continued existence on the material plane.
The real questions for me are twofold: 1. Do I need to keep it at all? 2. Do I need to keep a hard copy?
I have a fireproof safe. It cost about $120 and I got it at Harbor Freight. "Fireproof" means the papers inside won't spontaneously combust for an hour in a burning building. That's 60 minutes. The safe is more of a sunblock for documents.
What papers need to remain as paper? (As opposed to vellum, papyrus, stone tablet, or other medium of codex?) The stuff we use most often, such as a passport, is more convenient to keep on paper. Never irk a border control agent. Most of our important "papers" are really plastic now. Drivers license, debit and credit cards, various forms of identification. I really want to access these accounts with my fingerprint, or an intense stare, but for now they're plastic. I get why it makes life easier to keep these things, but I'm awaiting the day when they'll become obsolete.
We each have a sheaf of photocopies in our go bag. These are documents suggested by various preparedness websites, including ready.gov. The purpose is to prove who we are in the event that we lose our wallets and there's no phone or grid up for a few days. Plan B, if we have to evacuate our house, is to have basic supplies if we need to go to an emergency shelter. Passport, drivers license, medical and dental insurance cards, AAA card, marriage certificate, and a list of emergency contacts since I stopped memorizing phone numbers around 1993. I sincerely hope we never need these papers. This is the only scenario I can think of when actual, bona fide compressed tree parts would be truly necessary.
Our wedding certificate is in the safe. It makes me feel all gooey when I look at it. We've needed photocopies of it at various times over the years, mostly for health insurance and HR stuff.
The reason I started to delve into the reasoning behind keeping certain papers 'indefinitely' is that I want to get rid of my divorce paperwork. I kept seeing a line item putting these papers in the 'permanent storage' category. I don't want that to be the answer. So I did some research. It turns out that the main reason to hang onto divorce papers is that it can be inconvenient to get copies from the courthouse. If you were married at least ten years before the divorce, you can apply for social security benefits under your former spouse, and you'd need those papers then. That doesn't apply to me. You also might need a copy of your divorce decree if you want to legally change your name. I remarried and changed my name, so that also doesn't apply to me. The only other circumstances would be if you had children or property together, and there were ongoing legal issues affecting them. That doesn't apply to me either. I was divorced 16 years ago, and I haven't heard a peep out of my ex in over a decade. I've started to realize that that part of my life is over-over. Further, I'm pretty sure that what I have on hand is not an official copy of the divorce decree anyway, but merely a photocopy. First I'm going to burn these papers, and then I'm going to rip the tags off my mattress. Go big or go home!
Tax returns - keep them, but you don't need the backup papers after 7 years. Be nice to the IRS because they can pursue you into the afterlife.
Deeds, titles, bonds, other super-official stuff. Keep them too, and if you have a lot of this kind of thing, consider a safe deposit box and/or fireproof safe.
Everything else is optional.
How much are you keeping out of fear?
How much are you keeping out of confusion and lack of information?
How much are you keeping because sorting your stuff would be time-consuming and boring?
How much are you keeping because paper is the least of your worries, and you're clearing other categories of stuff first?
How much are you keeping because you believe memories are solid?
How much are you keeping because it symbolizes a part of your identity?
How much paper is in your home, covering surfaces, because you just don't want to deal with it? How much of that is junk mail, catalogues, expired coupons, and obsolete invitations?
'Getting organized' is about making sure your life runs smoothly. You're trying to take care of problems in the present and not pass the buck to Future Self. Part of the work of getting organized involves physical objects, but almost all of it is about mental bandwidth. It's much more important to be on top of your financial, legal, and career world than it is to have a clean desk. That being said, PAPERS ARE THOUGHTS and releasing them can be a very effective way of liberating your powers of focus and awareness.
Out of ten days, I spent eight traveling and backpacking. Apparently this is a thing I do now. I just got back on Sunday. It is still really weird to me that I have gone from needing help to get out of bed in the morning, to hiking into mountain goat zone with a backpack. Both felt natural at the time. When did I turn into this bushwhacking, rock-clambering person?
On the first trip, I was the eldest of six in our group. This is both strange and not-strange. Almost every single one of the dozens of people we saw on the trail was under 30. Usually, though, backpackers tend to skew a bit older. On weekdays you get retirees. Most endurance sports include more older than younger people due to the cash flow issues. Mature people can afford the equipment, the gas, and the permit fees. We also tend to be better organized, mostly because we have more control over our schedules. Getting a group of half a dozen people to arrive at the same place at the same time can be pretty complicated, especially if most or all of them work unpredictable shifts.
We were fortunate enough to win the permit lottery and hike into the Enchantments, the same route that we did back in September. This proved to be an interesting experiment. We were able to add mileage and camp at a higher elevation, and then do a day hike yet further up the mountain. 5500 feet! It made me want to repeat the Portland Marathon (knowing I would be virtually guaranteed to run a PR). All told, we hiked fourteen miles round-trip, and ten of that while wearing packs. I’m not sure exactly how much my pack weighed, because I crammed more stuff into it after the “official” weigh-in, not wanting my husband to know just how much I was planning to carry. It was at least 40 pounds though.
Why would a 122-pound, small-framed person such as myself want to carry a 40-pound backpack 5000 feet up a mountain? This is the crossroads of minimalism and endurance training. On the one hand, I want to carry as little as possible just to prove to myself that I can do it. On the other hand, I want to carry as much as possible just to prove to myself that I can do it. Here lies a real conundrum. The truth is that I don’t really feel the weight, and I feel like I will wind up carrying more than that if/when I graduate to longer trips. I’d really like to hike the Triple Crown one day, and it seems like being able to carry seven days’ worth of supplies would make that more likely.
Minimalism can often involve quite a lot of stuff. For a backpacker, I’m on the middling-to-absurd end. For a suburbanite, I’m on the extreme end. What have I got in there? I don’t tolerate cold at all well, so most of the heavy gear consists of bedding and clothing. There’s the sleeping bag, air mattress, space blanket, and inflatable pillow. There are the three jackets, the base layer, the hat and gloves and buff and package of hand warmers. I put them on at night and I still sit there shivering; I go to bed at 9 PM more because I’m cold than because I’m tired. There’s the water and the first aid kit, because really. There’s the inflatable solar lantern and the folding chair for luxury. Then there’s the cookpot, the stove, the fuel, and the food. Here is where I can cut weight easily: I tend to bring boil-in-a-bag meals rather than dehydrated food. I’m perfectly capable of dehydrating my own backpacking meals, and I have done so, but it’s so much more work that it seems worth it to just haul a heavy pack. If I cut five pounds of food or gear, I’d almost certainly add back five pounds of gear I don’t usually carry, such as a machete or another base layer. If only I had a 3D printer that could make things out of squashed mosquitos.
The second trip was less physically taxing, but I’ll include it for comedic purposes. A raccoon tore my tent. I got some mosquito bites, and I finally had my beloved Therapik with me, but as soon as I pushed the button I found that the 9V battery had died. The batteries in my head lamp had also gone flat. I packed for cold weather again, only to find that it was over 80 degrees every day, and I hadn’t brought any shorts, swimsuit, or sunblock. I still have never used the sunhat I bought at Goodwill years ago for this purpose, and I have the sunburned ears to prove it. I didn’t bring quarters for the shower. We went to this park specifically in hope of seeing a condor, hiked five miles to the preferred viewing area, and saw nary a one. Just as I was taking down the tent on the way home, a fire ant crawled up my pants and bit my knee. Like it couldn’t wait ten more minutes for me to leave.
It turns out that the outdoor life has toughened me up considerably. I can now state that stinging nettle and fire ant bites rate about the same, as the pain is worse from the fire ant but it only lasts about half as long. I’m (almost) grateful that these things happened, because I was able to endure without setting off a migraine or a fibromyalgia flare-up. I used to be a frail little flower indeed. Now, I’m tougher than just about anyone. Maybe one day I’ll feel that I’ve proved my point and I can convince myself to pack a lighter bag.
I slipped in the shower. Is this not one of the worst nightmares? Naked and incapacitated, waiting to be found by whoever gets home first. A coworker of mine fell off a ladder in her bathroom, broke her leg, and was trapped on the floor by the ladder itself. It took her hours to get past it and crawl to a phone. Having an accident at home is no joke. I was lucky today.
I slipped, but I didn’t fall. Our tub has a (very dated) tile surround, and it’s built up a couple of inches higher than the bathtub. It’s nearly knee-high, and you have to step over it to climb out. I had one foot out, reaching for my towel, when my other foot slipped. I started falling backward, as though someone had shouted FUS RO DAH! I was frightened.
I will take this moment to share that a relative of mine died by slipping in the shower when I was in middle school. She was kind, generous, beautiful, and unlucky.
She wasn’t much older than I am now.
I flailed. I grabbed the shower curtain with my left hand and somehow caught myself on the wall with my right.
Not only did I not fall – I didn’t even tear the shower curtain. I got my sliding foot back under me. I remained upright, startled, a bit shaken, with this odd little scrape on my calf here from the tiles.
What happened? My super powers activated, otherwise known as muscles. I have a strong core from all these years of running and backpacking. The muscles in my back and midriff held me upright and helped me catch my balance. I’m no longer obese, and my scrawny girl arms were strong enough to support my weight where I reached out. If this same accident had happened to me 15 or 20 years ago, the outcome might have been different. In fact, I slipped on the stairs and broke my tailbone when I was heavy, aged 24. Now I wonder if I could have avoided it.
One of my resolutions this year is to quit beating myself up on walls and furniture. I have some attention deficit issues, and I tend to move quickly while distracted, resulting in a continuous stream of scrapes and bruises. A few weeks ago, I tripped and fell on our fire pit, which was fortunately no longer hot. I’m trying to build my situational awareness and tune in more to my surroundings, and it’s not something that comes naturally to me. The world inside my head is much more interesting. The physical world outside is like an obstacle course, only with less mud and open flame.
The year I started running, I slipped in the mud on my favorite trail. I skated about a foot and a half, caught my balance, and went on running. I thought what a paradox it was, that I wouldn’t have caught my balance if I hadn’t built this new fitness level, yet I wouldn’t have fallen at all if I had stayed home on the couch. I can hear the clicking of Past Self rolling her eyes right now. Any form of exercise sounded so repugnant to me back then. I wouldn’t have seen any potential benefits to being fit that might be useful during my ordinary routine.
The truth is that I’m probably at about the halfway point of my life. I turned 40 last summer. It’s a watershed. Either I can continue to push myself and see how strong I can get for how many years, or I can diminish and go into my couch. Not everyone has a burning desire to complete an ultramarathon or do a Spartan Race like I do. The thing is, though, that there’s no such thing as maintenance. At this point, I’m fighting entropy. I have to keep moving just to maintain my ability to do things like carry grocery bags or change lightbulbs. Now that lightbulbs last so much longer than they did in my childhood, changing a lightbulb may turn out to be a once-a-decade fitness challenge.
I participated in Ride Your Bike to Work Day for a couple of years in my early 30s. One of those mornings, I stopped at a refreshment booth, and there was a lovely silver fox. She had to be at least 60. She had visible muscle in her thighs and calves, and her posture was much better than mine. I never spoke to her or learned her name, but her image burned into my memory. YES, I thought. THAT’S FOR ME. I had no way to know what she looked like at my age, but that didn’t matter. I figured that if I kept riding my bike (which I didn’t), then eventually I’d stand as straight as this lady. Years later, when I started participating in foot races, I saw many older men and women who were also fitter, stronger, and faster than me. It is humbling to be passed going up a hill by someone who is older than your own grandmother, and wearing a t-shirt to document it.
What falling in the shower has to teach is that we can’t insulate ourselves. Staying home and making a nest on the couch will not protect us from bumps and bruises. In the decade between 2000 and 2009, 28 people died running marathons. In comparison, 20,000 a year die in accidents in the home. Just like I’m safer in an airplane than I am in an automobile, I feel safer during a mud run than I am in my own neighborhood, or my own house. In a race, trained emergency responders and hundreds of witnesses are standing by. At home, in my own bathroom, I have to hope I’m conscious and able to reach my phone.
I was lucky this morning. The bad kind of luck. I happened to stand in just the wrong position with just the right amount of soap and water in the tub. The part about how I arrested my fall using muscle strength? That had nothing whatsoever to do with luck. That had to do with years of activity, focus, planning, determination, and strenuous activity. I’ve come away with a negligible mark on my skin and a renewed commitment to work on my balance, agility, and strength. Probably I should also work on mindfulness, such as reminding myself to buy a bath mat.
Airports are some of the best places to observe all the different ways that people handle crunch times and stress points. Every emotion will be exhibited, from excited laughter to cries of reunion to full-blown temper tantrums. Every mode, from utter boredom to casual routine to scattered panic, will appear somewhere. Airports are really where the benefits of minimalism, time management, and organization pay off.
I like to sit with my husband and people-watch. My outlook changed after I sprained my back and dislocated my hip and one rib around 20 years ago. I went to an osteopath and a chiropractor. I started becoming aware of the posture and gait of everyone I saw. Suddenly it was like cartoon arrows appeared in the air above people’s bodies, pointing directly to the places where they carried the most tension and pain. Weariness, limps, uneven shoulders, shifting from foot to foot, pinched expressions, all spoke to me. It wasn’t difficult to see the way that different weights of bags or styles of footwear contributed to these coping mechanisms. If there is one place where people carry heavy bags while wearing uncomfortable shoes, the airport is that place. Why do we do this to ourselves? Of all the challenges to take on in life, why choose neck or back pain?
We don’t choose it, of course. We usually don’t make all the connections we could be making between our behaviors and our results. What we’re doing when we drag huge heavy bags around is simply trying to bring what we think we need. We don’t just do it when we travel; we do it every day, or at least some of us do. Women are trained to carry purses (and groceries, and diaper bags, and gym bags, and…) Many men carry laptop bags, backpacks, or toolboxes. One man in my acquaintance was carrying around all his important daily items in a paper lunch sack, rather than risk looking effeminate, although I would venture that a man with a beard can probably carry something with hot pink sequins and still be identifiable as a male human. (And if he can’t, who cares? Do what you want, that’s what I say). We spend so much time hunched over our desks and steering wheels, huddled over our electronics, and pinning our tiny flat phones to our shoulders, that it’s tragic when we drag heavy straps around on our shoulders, too. We just stop noticing. We don’t notice how we’re sitting or standing, and we stop noticing what-all we’re carrying.
What’s in my laptop bag today? My laptop, my phone, my Bluetooth earpiece, a spare pair of earbuds in a candy tin, sunglasses, my wallet, a nylon shopping bag, a packet of tissues, a wet wipe, four keys and a whistle, two pads of sticky notes in different sizes and colors, a screen wiper, a packet of brown sugar (oh lord), a backup battery, a connector cable, a penny, a thumb drive, a hair tie, an empty zip-lock baggie, an eraser, two different kinds of paperclip, spot remover, a mechanical pencil, a container of extra leads, three ink pens, a highlighter pen, two business cards, five postage stamps, receipts for sushi and Thai food, a gift card, two lip balms, a tube of hand lotion, a packet of blank index cards shuffled with some writing notes, my Toastmasters books, two bookmarks, a wadded paper napkin, and two separate doodads for holding books open. Oh, and this loose film from the index cards. Ye gads, what a mess. This is why I work out: so I can walk around town dragging my own mini garbage dump. Hawt.
There’s a trick to it, though. I never go anywhere alone unless I can run up a flight of stairs with what I’m carrying and the shoes I have on. I’ve been physically attacked on the street more than once. Being able to flee to safety was… well, it was the kind of reinforcement that will give a permanent habit to anyone. In my experience, screaming and running away are highly effective ways to end a confrontation. Yeah, I carry a lot of junk that I don’t necessarily need on a daily basis. It’s contained, though. When I’m navigating around town, I keep my head up and my eyes scanning around. If it’s dark, I watch my shadow in the streetlights. I. NEVER. MESS. WITH. MY. STUFF. That thing they tell you, about carrying your keys in your hand to use as a weapon? That’s not why we carry our keys. We carry our keys so we’re ready to get inside. We need to open and shut our car doors or front doors as efficiently as possible. Walk up to door, unlock door, open door, go through door, lock door behind you. Click, click, click, click. We can’t afford to have our eyes down while we rummage in our bags. Having hands free can be a matter of life or death.
One night I dropped my keys down an elevator shaft. My phone was locked in my car. That was a rough few hours! Ever since then, I’ve been hyper-aware of where my keys are. I’ve also smashed my phone screen at least six times now, including once when a bicyclist crashed into me and rode off as fast as he could go, looking over his shoulder at me. Anything we habitually carry in our hands IS going to get dropped, smashed, splashed, lost, grabbed, or otherwise impacted by entropy. Look around one day and notice how many people are encumbered by, oh, here’s one: a woman holding her purse, an iced coffee, and a shopping bag, while clenching a wrapped straw between her teeth. We’re juggling sunglasses, keys, drinks, and bags, while texting at the same time. We’re constantly one second away from a spill, an etiquette incident, and a wardrobe malfunction.
Back to the security line at the airport. Part of why those lines are so long is that so few of us are well organized. I like to point out the most obviously experienced travelers, as they lope confidently along, carrying one slack tote bag or deflated backpack. See the flight attendants and pilots as they bustle along at a 3 MPH pace, towing their sleek small wheelie bags. Watch the rest of us, dragging the overstuffed suitcases we had to sit on to zip closed. We’re trying to walk while hunched sideways, the weight of the world on one shoulder, rolling a juggernaut on the other side, dragging our jackets and sweaters unnoticed along the carpet. The time I flew to New Zealand, I had to walk up to my suitcase where it was circling alone on the conveyor belt, with a missing handle, half a bra hanging out, and a bumper sticker on the side reading ‘OVERWEIGHT.’ Yep, that’s me, the girl with the loser luggage. I had to kick it down the concourse until I could find a cart, because it was too big and heavy for me to lift. I had practice from doing the same at LAX, because the missing handle was my own fault. I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you.
I’m a one-bag traveler now. I carry less luggage than my husband, who is twice my size and whose shoes are, too. I’m the one who zips through the pre-check line. I skip the escalators and trot up the stairs, alone, because those stairs are always empty, with my trusty under-seat bag in one hand. What do I need, really? What can I truly not live without during those vanishing moments when I’m away from home? What can I really not substitute, borrow, or buy at my destination? I’ve learned to quit worrying so much about my STUFF and keep my hands free, ready to grapple with whatever life brings me.
Sam Sheridan’s book, The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse, is the real thing. This is a guy who wants real answers to important questions, and is willing to go to great lengths to get those answers. What do I actually need to know how to do in case of a serious crisis? Will I be able to handle it? Or am I going to vapor-lock at the time I most need to act? Sheridan is not content with idle speculation or ivory tower thought exercises. He goes out and finds experts to train him in various types of combat and survival skills.
People love to talk about what they will do during the “zombie apocalypse.” The Disaster Diaries is full of such scenarios. They are very vivid and surprisingly moving. For instance, Sheridan imagines his wife and child trapped in a car, crying for help. The protector role is motivating for him, and perhaps for many of us who won’t necessarily bother with emergency preparedness for ourselves alone. If we’re not prepared, we become burdens to others. We may find ourselves waiting a long, long time for public services that never arrive. If we are prepared, we can be useful to others. My neighbor is 96, and the guy three doors down from him is 90. It seems legit to me that they might need an extra hand. Planning around vulnerable neighbors helps spur me to plan enough for my own household.
There are three parts to emergency preparedness: the supplies, the skills, and the mindset. Most of us stop before acquiring any of those things. I know from experience that my first reaction under surprise is to stand rooted to the spot and scream uncontrollably. I can’t pretend to myself that I am very good at keeping a cool head during a crisis. I can make up for this ridiculous (yet common) foible by overcompensating in other areas. I have a solid level of confidence in my gear and my fitness level. I know how many hours I can walk and how much I can carry. I know how much food and water I consume under exertion in a given time span. I know I can climb a fence. I know how much I can lift and how fast I can sprint. (Not very). I doubt I would do well in hand-to-hand combat, but I have escaped physical attack a few times when it mattered. Reading a book like The Disaster Diaries helps me fill in a broader schema of the kinds of things it would be helpful to know.
We love to talk about that ol’ zombie apocalypse. I’ve heard people talk about how they would get a flamethrower or a tank. Oh, would you now? From where? Your garage? I like to ask these same people whether they have three days of water stored. Not only do my friends always answer No, they aren’t even sure how much they should have. (A gallon a day per person). They don’t have food, they don’t have first aid kits. They don’t even have extra pet food. Sheridan would probably agree with me that if we like fantasizing so much, we would do well to visualize something both more specific and more practical.
Zombies will be mentioned. Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about a key component of your zombie apocalypse survival strategy. Since you’re probably skipping that whole ‘CARDIO’ part. (Auditions for my personal zombie squad have stringent physical fitness requirements). The majority of preparations we make for zombie attack will coincidentally help us survive other scenarios, and that certainly includes your go bag.
This illustration is a picture of my go bag. It weighs 8.8 pounds, or the same as the food portion of my pack from my four-day backpacking trip last month. There are two important factors here. First, I have recent verification that I can carry this weight for hours without getting tired. (A 9-pound pack is, for me, like wearing a jacket). Second, I am well aware of my daily caloric needs under different activity levels. What I have in my go bag (two protein bars and 16 ounces of water) is only intended to get me through a few hours until we can find a place to buy water and food.
Here are the contents of my go bag. They are relevant to my personal situation. I live in a hot climate; I’m prepared for temperatures from about 50F to about 100F. Given the way I dress in cold weather, if I still lived in the Pacific Northwest, this entire pack would be filled with a parka, hat, scarf, gloves, thermal underwear, and hand warmers. I have old, well-worn clothing for two days, including underwear, bras, socks, shirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of jeans, a light jacket, a bandanna, some sneakers, and some hair ties. My main criterion for these clothes is their practicality. They need to fit me today, and they need to accommodate a high activity level outdoors under a range of temperatures. The second criterion is that they help me blend into an urban environment. Under no circumstances do I want to look like a person with any money or awesome stuff. In fact, if I were doing this right, the backpack should be considerably more scuffed and broken in. I can make that happen by taking it out on a few day hikes.
Included in my pack is the shower kit I bring every time I go on a trip. It has shampoo, conditioner, face wash, shower gel, deodorant, toothpaste, dental floss, nail scissors and clippers, tweezers, a razor, a container of cotton swabs, a couple of cotton balls and a nail file, spot remover, moisturizer, a hairbrush, more hair ties and hair clips, some clips that can hold curtains closed, a container of melatonin and ibuprofen, perfume, and even a little vial of massage oil. Silly, but honest. This shower kit stays in the go bag, partly to keep me aware of its presence. I refill the little bottles of supplies after every trip. I usually also keep a backup packet of my prescription (vitamin BC), and I write the day I started the previous pack in Sharpie on the package.
What else is in the go bag? I have a small charging cable for my phone, and a solar charger with a backup plug for a wall outlet. I have some index cards (for durability), a roll of masking tape, a Sharpie, an ink pen, and a red pen. (You’ve got red on you). The cards, pens, and tape are for leaving messages in case my husband and I get separated. I have sun block, a sewing kit, hand sanitizer, and a copy of the Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook. (The most important thing about this book is that I have read it and made sure I have at least a passing familiarity with the contents, BEFORE I ever need any of the information, which hopefully I never will). My husband's pack has a large first aid kit.
One of the most important items in the entire go bag is that folded wad of paper. That represents three pages of various identification. There is a scanned page, in color, including my driver’s license, AAA card, health insurance, advance health care directive, the number for Science Care (where I’m registered for whole body donation), and my passport. There is a page of emergency contacts, including our parents’ and kid’s phone numbers, the veterinarian, poison control, police and fire non-emergency, etc. (I haven’t had a phone number memorized since the early 2000’s). I keep a copy of this page of emergency contacts on our fridge, where emergency responders can find it, and I update it every time we move. There is a copy of our marriage license in case something happens and I need to prove that I have the right to see my husband. I also have a little wallet with an emergency credit card and a small amount of cash. (Best to use crumpled, small bills when possible).
The main impetus behind my emergency preparations is my abiding love for my animals. If anything happens and we can’t stay in our house, I need to get them out and make sure they survive. I need to remember how terrified they will be if there are earthquake tremors, smoke, fire, sirens, or whatever other pandemonium might be going on. They both completely freak out when so much as the smoke detector goes off, and it might. Their go bag, which we call “the pet bag,” goes with us on road trips. It has four days’ worth of kibble for each of them, a water bottle, poop bags, styptic gel (stops bleeding and includes a topical anaesthetic; also works on humans), and both their nail clippers. (This is their version of my shower kit; every time we trim their nails we are reminded about the pet bag). There is also Spike’s old muzzle, in case we are confined somewhere with other dogs, and a couple of toys. Both our pets are crate-trained, meaning they sleep in a cage, so they don’t panic and hide during the few minutes we would have to evacuate them at night. The parrot has an acrylic carrier, which I store next to her sleeping cage. I keep some old sneakers tied near my side of the bed, in case our window or mirrored closet doors shatter during an earthquake, so I’m not stuck in bed barefoot in a sea of glass shards.
Part of our household routine is keeping the go bags stocked. I have a reminder set in my phone to refill all our water bottles with fresh water every two weeks. That’s probably a little gross, and it wouldn’t be that much more work to do it every week, but we are in a drought and I’ve been doing this for years without needing to use them. Every now and then, we eat the protein bars and put in fresh ones. Every time a bag of pet kibble gets emptied, we feed them what was in their pet bag, and refill the baggies with food from the fresh kibble bag. That way all their food is the same age. In another region with more seasonal temperature variation, someone might set up quarterly reminders to swap out the clothes, too.
It is really important to make sure that your go bag makes sense for you and your situation. Other people might need to include more medications and copies of their prescriptions. If you need glasses, your go bag is a good place to keep an old pair, or a set of contacts and contact solution. If you have kids, obviously you’re going to want to consider their ages and what they would need on the road or in an emergency shelter. You really want to sit back and visualize, in meticulous detail, what you would need if you had to flee your home at 3 AM and couldn’t go back for a week. We’re talking about wildfire, flood, landslides, hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, earthquakes, or several days off-grid with no phone signal, electricity, water, gas, or sanitation. Or, of course, zombies.
Plan A: Stay home, lie low, keep an eye on our neighbors, and help with emergency response wherever possible. My husband is an emergency medical responder (EMR), which is a layperson version of an EMT. We have a fire extinguisher; three days of drinking water in a closet; 1-2 weeks of full meals and pet chow; first aid kits and reference manuals; tools; a UV water sanitizer; and of course a roof, walls, and all our household goods. The pets’ water dishes hold enough for a few days, in case anything happens to us while they are home alone. They deserve a chance to make it until our neighbors wonder why the dog is howling.
Plan B: Evacuate. We have a chosen location roughly four hours away, in a different region, which should put us well out of the range of any natural disaster in our neighborhood. (We live within walking distance of the epicenter of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which you can tell from our seriously mutilated sidewalks). This assumes we’ll be able to get through the roads in our car.
B1: Throw everything/everyone into the car and drive. If he’s at work and has the car, I get stuff ready to load up as soon as he gets here. If we’re lucky, there will be enough time to make a few sandwiches.
B2: I grab the animals and our go bags and speed-walk down the street to our chosen “in case of fire” location. In your neighborhood, this might be a park or very large parking lot; in mine, it’s a sod growing business surrounded by pavement on all sides. Our biggest risks here are wildfire, or fire caused by earthquake damage, downed power lines, gas leaks, etc. In this scenario, I’m alone, with my pack on my back, the pet bag and my husband’s pack slung over my shoulder, the dog leash in one hand, and the parrot carrier in the other. I can do it, but would be ungainly at best, and that’s why the plans stop at a quarter-mile.
Plan C: Go to a designated emergency shelter.
We are both accomplished backpackers. We have the gear and the experience to head to the woods and camp; we’ve camped together for three straight weeks, so this is not hypothetical. However, we live in the center of the San Fernando Valley. At best, on clear roads, it would take us three hours to drive to a viable campsite. We can be in a number of more appealing, well-supplied urban areas in that amount of time. We also have to assume that any public or private land will probably already be inhabited by people who live closer. In my opinion, urban areas are safer because there are more supplies, more services, more hiding places, and more witnesses. What we’re looking for is distance from any disaster area, plus availability of water, food, phone reception, working ATMs, and functional businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels. In 1994, my husband simply drove his wife and kid several hours north to stay with relatives for a few days, until the water and power were back on. The kind of event that would wipe out our entire civilization is going to be bigger than my little go bag can handle. That’s when training, physical and mental stamina, communication, strong relationships, leadership, and problem-solving ability come into play.
Emergency preparedness is a civic duty. First, we want to avoid being someone else’s problem. When we can take care of ourselves, emergency responders are free to take care of someone in greater need, such as a frail, elderly, or ill person. Second, we want to contribute as much as possible. At least three of our near neighbors are elderly, and next door is a stay-at-home mom with tiny kids. We know who has how many of which pets, and we’d try to get them out, too. We are strong and physically active, and we have built useful skill sets. You would definitely want us on your zombie squad.
My husband and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary this weekend. This also roughly coincides with our ninth anniversary as a couple. We have made a ritual out of going to Las Vegas, where we have as much fun as possible, while also doing a life review and making plans for the next year. Most of this is done while hanging out in the pool and listening to pop music. A very solemn occasion, I can assure you.
One of the things we talk about is the great mystery of why, whenever we go on vacation, we encounter so many couples in the midst of bickering or nasty fights. One would think all parties concerned would be happy to have some time off, at least. No cooking, no chores, no commute, plenty of time to sleep in… What’s not to like? You can almost spot the married couples by how much they seem to irritate each other. We call it “getting sloppy.” It’s like there is a tacit agreement that the basic manners, courtesy, and kindness we would show to a stranger off the street can be suspended around the person with whom we spend the most time. That, and we slide down the slippery slope of selfishness, ceasing to realize how mean we can sound.
Example: A young couple in a changing room. She tells him, “You haven’t looked good in anything all day.” Neither of them may have taken it in the peevish tone we heard. There had to have been a more complimentary way to express the idea that ‘a better shirt is possible for you.’ She might have been sweet to him if he was a generic customer and she was the clerk.
But I digress. Part of the reason we enjoy each other’s company is that we take this marriage business very seriously. Marriage is many things. One of those things is a set of responsibilities. Another of those things is a highly personal and intimate contract between people who answer only to each other. That’s where the 100 Questions come in.
If you hadn’t yet realized that I am a Questioner, you will now. The 100 Questions were my idea, although we devised them together. We had been together for two years and we were feeling pretty serious about each other, yet we were both bitter divorcees and thus wary of the whole prospect of legal/financial commitment. We agreed that we would make a list of questions we wanted to know before we took things to the next level. This took a week or two. Our list has an edge to it. Another couple might choose different questions, or make a longer or shorter list, but after reviewing it, I’d do it again the same way.
The trick to going through the 100 Questions was that we each had to do two sets of answers: Our own answers, and what we guessed our partner would answer. Then we went through the list one at a time, sharing our answers and our guesses. That was extremely revealing. We probably got roughly 80-90% correct, but some of the inaccurate guesses were unflattering and a little depressing. “Like, why would you think I would think that?” The positive side of this practice was that we were able to correct each other’s flawed impressions to our mutual benefit.
We’ve always talked about everything, from gossip to deep philosophical questions. It takes trust. It also takes a sense of humor. Nobody really wants to talk about issues like living wills or what to do if one of us becomes maimed or disfigured. It seems like a good idea to discuss them at least once, though, during the course of what is meant to be a lifetime partnership.
This weekend, we went through a different list of questions. These are 36 questions that are supposed to facilitate intimacy. According to legend, various couples have started out as total strangers and wound up marrying each other after participating in this study. We blew off the suggested time limit and wound up spending closer to three hours on them over the course of the day. We did not do the four-minute eye contact exercise. The other thing we did was to think about five things we want more of and five things we want less of. This included a discussion about kitchen appliances and their accompanying malfunctions. Because, you know, a lot of intimacy looks like that: boring quotidian details that are the mortar between the bricks of life.
Here are our 100 Questions in all their intimidating glory.
1. Why did you get married last time?
2. What did you like about your previous marriage?
3. What did you dislike about your previous marriage?
4. What was the worst thing about your divorce?
5. What would your friends at work say if you announced you were getting engaged?
6. What would your family say?
7. Can you think of anyone who would have objections if you married again?
8. What problems do you think getting married would solve?
9. What problems do you think getting married would cause?
10. What problems do you think “shacking up” would solve?
11. What problems do you think “shacking up” would cause?
12. What regrets would you have if you got married again?
13. What regrets would you have if you never got married again?
14. What is your biggest fear about aging?
15. What are the compromises you think you would have to make if you “shacked up” with someone?
16. What are the compromises you think you would have to make if you got married again?
17. What do you feel you have to offer as a marriage partner?
18. What do you think are the flaws that make you hardest to live with?
19. What are your biggest pet peeves?
20. What are your deal breakers?
21. How do you prefer to resolve conflict?
22. What would you do if you began to feel dissatisfied in your relationship?
23. Under what circumstances do you think therapy is appropriate?
24. How often do you think is appropriate to have sex?
25. What would you do if you and your partner wanted different amounts of sex?
26. What would you do if you had sexual desires for things your partner did not find exciting?
27. What are your expectations about your partner’s physical appearance?
28. What are your expectations about your partner’s fitness level?
29. Is there anything you think you would do as a married person that you don’t do now?
30. Is there anything you do now that you wouldn’t do if you were married?
31. Is there anything you haven’t yet done that you would regret if you got married?
32. List the benefits of “shacking up.”
33. List the benefits of getting married.
34. What does ‘engagement’ look like to you?
35. What does a ‘wedding’ look like to you?
36. What kind of dwelling do you want to live in?
37. What kind of dwelling are you willing to live in, assuming sometime in the future you will live somewhere else?
38. Where do you ultimately want to live?
39. Is there any living situation you would refuse?
40. What type of décor do you prefer? Furniture, colors, art, etc?
41. Is there anything that should not be allowed in the house?
42. How do you think household chores should be divided up?
43. What is your least favorite household chore?
44. How would you solve the problem of people living together with different standards for cleanliness?
45. Do you plan on making changes in your career?
46. Do you plan on making a significantly different amount of money in the future?
47. Under what circumstances do you think one partner could quit working?
48. What would you do if your partner could no longer work?
49. What do you think is the best way to divide household expenses?
50. What do you think is the best way to manage household expenses?
51. What is the appropriate amount to save, both by percentage and as a gross total?
52. What is the appropriate amount of consumer debt for a household?
53. What is an appropriate credit card purchase?
54. How do you think debt should be managed?
55. When is it appropriate to lend money to a family member?
56. When is it appropriate to lend money to a friend?
57. How much do you think is appropriate to give to charity?
58. What are your opinions on step-parenting?
59. How do you think discipline issues should be resolved with children?
60. Do you think children should receive an allowance?
61. How would you plan to pay for a child’s college education?
62. What do you think is an appropriate amount of time to spend with extended family?
63. How do you think holidays should be spent or divided?
64. How do you believe vacations should be spent?
65. What do you think of separate vacations?
66. How do you resolve issues with an extended family member?
67. What are your opinions on appropriate gift-giving, amount to spend, etc?
68. Which extended family members do you think should receive cards or gifts?
69. Whose weddings and funerals do you feel obligated to attend?
70. How long do you think a family visit should be at their home?
71. How long do you think a family visit should be at your home?
72. How much time in a given week or month would you like to spend with friends?
73. How much time do you think your partner should spend in a given week or month with friends?
74. Under what circumstances would you want to let a troubled friend stay in your home?
75. How long would you be willing to put a friend up in time of trouble?
76. How do you think conflicts with neighbors should be resolved?
77. What is your opinion on having friends of the opposite sex?
78. What is your opinion on your partner having friends of the opposite sex?
79. What would you do if you didn’t like one of your partner’s friends?
80. What would you do if your partner didn’t like one of your friends?
81. How much time do you want to spend on your hobbies?
82. How much time do you think your partner should spend on hobbies?
83. How much money do you think is appropriate to spend on hobbies, as a percentage and in a year?
84. Are there activities you expect your partner to attend with you?
85. How do you think partners should decide what entertainment to choose, i.e. what music to play or which movie to see?
86. How many pets and of what kind would you like?
87. Whose duty is it to care for and clean up after pets?
88. How do you think discipline issues should be resolved with pets?
89. How to decide when to euthanize a pet?
90. What are your plans for retirement?
91. What do you see yourself doing between now and retirement?
92. Is there anything you absolutely must do before you die?
93. How would you communicate concerns about any health issue you thought your partner was not resolving appropriately?
94. How do you expect your partner to behave if you become ill?
95. What would you do if your partner developed a long-term serious illness?
96. What would you do if your partner became physically disabled?
97. What would you do if your partner became mentally disabled?
98. What would you do if your partner became disfigured?
99. Who has the right to end your life if you are incapacitated?
100. What kind of funeral arrangements do you want?
A conspiracy theorist could make a solid case that there is a mass cabal of chiropractors seducing people into carrying the heaviest possible bags everywhere. The same conspiracy can be demonstrated with laptop advertisements, which are all like public service announcements about poor ergonomics. High heeled shoes are a tangent all their own. Sit in any coffee shop and an astonishing array of bulging satchels, drooping backpacks, and enormous handbags will be displayed. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a particular bag is supposed to be a purse or a diaper bag. Some people, mostly women, will have two or three separate bags. What on earth are we carrying in there?
In college, I carried a huge tote bag that I called my filing cabinet. It had my textbooks, notebooks, and flash cards for the day. It also had my day planner, library book, wallet, keys, pens, lip balm, lunch, hat, gloves, scarf, umbrella, mini flashlight, folding scissors, a whistle, paper napkins, crumpled receipts, mail, business cards, and whatever other detritus I felt I had to have with me. My attitude was to bring everything “just in case.” Since my bag was so big and so full of so many items, stuff would tend to get lost in there. It was like a black hole. Everything got sucked into its gravitational field and nothing ever got out.
Things gradually changed after I got a smartphone and became a distance runner. I would set out to run for two hours, and realize that all I needed was my house key and my phone. I would put my ID and a debit card in my phone case for emergencies, but in practice I never needed them. My comfort level built as I realized that my phone, key, ID, and debit card were all I needed at least 80% of the time. Not carrying a purse became my default; it was something I only used for special occasions when I wouldn’t have pockets. (Speaking of conspiracies, why do most women’s garments lack pockets? It’s like we’re samurai).
My distance running segued into backpacking. There is a big swing between carrying 6 ounces of personal items and carrying 1/3 of your body weight, unless you happen to be a gecko, in which case, Hello! The point of backpacking is to bring everything you will need for physical survival over the length of the trip. It’s exciting, because you can reach pristine, staggeringly beautiful remote areas that otherwise can’t be seen. It doesn’t take long to figure out that clutter has a higher price in a trekking pack. Every ounce of junk is a tradeoff for an ounce of food. Lack of discipline punishes the knees. Backpacking builds confidence in how little we truly need for survival, comfort, and even luxury.
We have “go bags” for ourselves and an extra one for our pets. They’re grouped on a shelf where they will be easy to reach if we ever need them. My husband experienced the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, and had to leave town for a few days until water and power were restored. Where we live, it’s sensible to be prepared for earthquakes, wildfires, flash floods, and mudslides. There’s about a 1:3 chance that we’ll be asleep when the need to evacuate occurs. We want to be able to grab the pets in their crates and get them out safely. There won’t be time to rush around grabbing anything. There won’t be any way to carry armloads of extra stuff, either; not without risking the loss of our panicked critters. It’s not the probability of an event like this that’s important, so much as the level of risk if it ever does.
Our relationship to material objects can be pretty weird. The things we carry every day are often talismans rather than functional tools. We think we’re making our lives easier because we’re prepared “just in case.” That sense of preparation can be an illusion when we’re unprepared for real trouble. We burden ourselves for the sake of a sense of security that should perhaps be gotten by other means.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.