If You Could Only Take Three Things From Your Home, What Would They Be?

You have probably been asked some variation of this question before, but I still find it interesting to hear the different responses. Over time I have found things I used to think highly of are now much less relevant in my life, and are not things I would risk life and limb to save.  Actually, it’s worth noting that none of this is really worth risking life and limb to save. In a sudden emergency such as a fire, getting yourself and your family out is a top priority. A life is the only thing on this list that cannot be replaced.

Here’s the scenario: You just found out your house will be demolished by fire, a storm, a flood, or some other catastrophic event in the next few minutes. You have just enough time to rescue three things from your home (not counting your family and your pets) and flee. What three things would you round up to take with you?  Here’s my list:

  • A “bug out bag.” Every family should have a bug out bag, preferably one for each person old enough to carry it out of the house without slowing them down. My go bag includes survival gear items such as fire starter materials, a first aid kit, weather radio, survival knife (with can opener attachment), my emergency credit card, some cash, a roll of quarters, two flashlights, batteries, travel kit (soap, shampoo, travel toothbrush and toothpaste), copy of the SAS Survival Handbook, a couple back up prescriptions, and a change of clothes. Other family members also have a change of clothes packed, in addition to one other category of survival needs.  For instance, another spouse may carry water, and an older child may carry non-perishable food such as dried goods or MREs (meal, ready-to-eat). Be sure to rotate foods and prescriptions so the ones in your kit don’t expire.
  • Our fire-proof lock box. This box contains things like insurance policy forms, deeds and titles, copies of birth certificates, social security cards, a list of bank account numbers and contact info, a copy of our will, etc.
  • Pictures. Young people probably won’t understand this, but we actually have boxes of 4×6 pictures taken by family members and passed down. These are memories that can never be recreated, and pictures that are not stored digitally like practically all pictures are these days. If given enough time I would grab these items on the way out, but only after our go bag and fire-proof lock box were safely retrieved.

A decade ago I might have opted to save things like my computer, my camera, some game system I really loved, or some other material item. However, I now recognize all those things could be replaced by insurance money, or future earnings. They are just things. I’d rather focus my energy, and precious time, on rescuing things that could help us survive, and documents that cannot be easily recreated.

Your turn…which three items would you save from your home?


  1. I understand the value of physical photographs, but you should think about scanning them and saving them somewhere online, or burning them to a CD, just in case!

  2. @Hannah: Definitely! It’s on our to-do list, and something we work on during down time. Probably advantageous to store them online as the CD could be easily destroyed in a fire along with the pictures. I’ll probably store in a couple different ways to improve my chances of recovering them.

  3. Frugal Mom might want to be sure to have sanitary supplies in her “go bag.” After the stories of people stuck in the Superdome for days after Katrina, the idea not having that on hand when needed freaked me out the most.

  4. Only a few minutes? I’d grab my purse because that’s where my wallet is, my fire-proof document box, and my computer. I figure I could replace items in a “go bag” at the nearest K-mart for a fraction of what a new computer would cost. (Friends and family members do have copies of a lot of pictures – but if I didn’t have to count my wallet, you didn’t, then I’d grab a few photo albums).

  5. We actually thought about this after our bus (which we were living in at the time) caught fire. (We were parked in a campground and present – thanks goodness – or our pets would have been toast. It was faulty wiring, installed by an electronics guy who, at the time, we thought merely had issues with time management. The fire illustrated his even more serious issues with electronics.)

    Assuming adult humans could get themselves out, first would come the pets, next my laptop – and only because of all the pictures in it. I’m planning to start backing up everything online so there won’t be any “thing” to take if we have another bus disaster.

  6. I regularly copy my computer files onto a flash drive, both for backup and also so that I can take the flash drive on travel in case I need a document rather than lug the laptop. It can easily be stored in a to-go bag when not in use, so you’ve got the contents of your computer with you. And one of my files is a list of all my account numbers, policy numbers, usernames, and passwords, so those are on the (password-protected) flash drive, too.

    Thank you for the rest of the suggestions – I’ll get right on it!

  7. This is a timely post for me, as it’s something I’ve been thinking about for awhile now.

    I completely agree with Ellen, above. I store all important computer files, including my complete medical records, on my flash drive. And really, these days, why not? Computer memory has become so inexpensive, in the form of flash drives and cds, that it only makes sense to do this. I recently purchased a password protected 4GB jump drive for $8. Plenty of room and dirt cheap! This is something I take with me whenever I leave the house (for the medical record) as it can easily be pulled up on any computer for even my non-regular doctor if needed. Maybe I’m biased on this though, I work in the medical field. 🙂

    As for the other two items I would take? My loaded 9mm pistol (I live in AZ, and it’s perfectly legal to carry a loaded firearm in almost all places as long as it’s visible) and a box that my family maintains of non-perishable canned goods. Those are my picks.

  8. My pictures are absolutely top of my list. I actually store them in the bottom cabinet of a bookshelf near the front door. (I’ve also been procrastinating getting them onto CD- there’s a TON of them). I like the idea of a go-bag. I’ve got an in-home emergency kit with supplies- but it’s not in an out-the-door convenience container.

  9. We live in an area that is prone to fires so were forced to think about this a few years ago when we were evacuated. I would take the things you mentioned, but also the quilt that my grandmother made for me. She died at 101 last year and it is the only other thing besides my actual family members that is irreplaceable. Even before my photos, I think.

  10. Pictures too important to be lost should be scanned to digital and uploaded to an online backup service like Mozy.

    Government documents can be replaced – deeds/titles/etc. are not bearer instruments – they and official documents like birth certificates, passports, etc. can be replaced for a small fee.

    I.e. don’t waste those few minutes looking for a Social Security card buried at the bottom of a drawer.

    Wills and estate documents should be held by the safekeeping service of the law firm that prepared them (copies can’t be probated)

    Big stuff like grandma’s quilt or grandpa’s rocker?

    Realistically, those items are gone.

    Take some pictures now, because in a time-sensitive emergency there’s not time to load up the truck like an Okie heading to California.

  11. We recently were evacuated due to a fast moving forest fire. Thankfully, we were able to return the next day and still had a home to come back to. Not everyone was as fortunate.
    We took our file box with all our important papers in it, our wedding album and a change of clothes. I did take my more special jewellery, and we took our ID. We were just thankful to have a chance to grab a few things and we had our son & dogs. Everyone was together & safe – the most important.
    ONce we got home, we thought about what other things we’d like to take should we need to be evacuated in the future – artwork, guitars etc.
    In the end, it’s all just things.

  12. Photos and old family history papers,(stored together), cell phone, and my pistol. Oregon – ok to carry also if displayed.

    My truck has the emergency bag and a change of clothes always in it.

  13. A few years ago, I had a house fire that resulted in only a bit of damage. I got my kids out first, and then took three other “things”: my purse, my pets, and one other. I had a child who died of cancer at the age of 7 in 1986. I have a memory book of her that my family calls “The Alexa Book.” It’s always on a bookshelf next to the door. The Alexa Book was item number three.

  14. I would grab my laptop, my purse (has all necessary items) and my daughter’s “snuggle” blanket. In a time of crisis, the most important thing would be that we are out and safe and the snuggle blanket would be an item of comfort to a little girl who has no idea what is happening.

  15. This post has prompted me to be more prepared – this weekend’s task will be sorting out things into a bag that can be grabbed on the way out of the door. I would probably grab my laptop which has most of our photos stored on it as well as other financial records which would be painful if they were lost. And pets would be high on the list. We have 4 cats and I wouldn’t want to abandon them.

  16. Wow, this post really was a wake-up call for me and so timely considering these economic times! After reading the Power of Small, I’ve been thinking a lot about small changes I can make in my life and this is one thing I really need to put some thought into now before it potentially becomes a huge problem.

  17. I recently talked about this because we’re considering a big move. Of course, that’s not the same. Moving means time and thinking. And insurance would cover bigger stuff.

    I wouldn’t even consider taking a computer, though if I had a free arm, I might scoop up the laptop.

    But three items… Take the irreplaceable stuff, like you said. There’s a stuffed animal I’ve had since the day I was born. (My first toy, because I was born early and a shower hadn’t been thrown yet.)

    Honestly, I’m not sure beyond that. I really should have a strong box that house important pieces and some irreplaceable pics, plus our wedding certificate and birth certificates.

    Oh, and my cat. I suppose we’d have to scoop her up. she hates being in carriers and being picked up. So we’d probably spend a good chunk of time chasing her around and getting scratched up before we could get going.

  18. A few comments on that disaster kit:

    There’s a good website that covers surviving disasters at http://www.equipped.com/ They also offer a pocket-sized kit that includes the bare essentials for riding out a disaster, including an instruction pamphlet. I don’t have the kit, but it looks pretty good and is a size you can always have on you.

    Also, your disaster kit should be in something that is easy to carry (e.g. a sturdy backpack). And put your kits in a location where you can find it and grab it easily on the way out the door. It’s also a good idea to have a similar kit for each of your vehicles, just in case you happen to be stuck out on the road.

    I’d be tempted to leave out toiletries you listed (with the exception of soap) and include toilet paper in the list. You don’t really require a change of clothes, that’s a nice to have, but if you’re going to be on foot, a pair of good shoes (and socks and moleskin) is more important. Similarly, while a weather radio is nice, a simple transistor radio does the job just as well.

    I’d also add a tarp (or two), duct tape, a fleece blanket and good length of nylon cord. Someone should have a map and a compass and know how to use them together. Finally, each person should have a good, loud whistle.

    I like recycling my camping/backpacking gear as disaster gear. For example, a flashlight is great, but a headlamp is even better since it frees your hands. Similarly, we also have backpacking stoves, a mess kit, and a water filter available to us if needed. Most of our disaster kit resides in a nice internal frame backpack. The downside is that camping and especially backpacking gear are usually more expensive options. The upside is that backpacking gear is generally more compact and lighter.

    Another thing we do is to tape the batteries for our emergency electronics (e.g. radio) to the outside of the device. Batteries can corrode while left in a device. Make sure the batteries for emergency use are normal, non-rechargeable ones. NiMH type batteries will self-discharge and lose their charge if left in storage for long periods of time.

  19. This is a tough question to consider. Assuming all people are out of the house I would say my laptop, my scrapbook albums, and my pillow (I have it broken in just right!).