Imagine leaving home with a house full of stuff, and returning home to a house left in dust. All through Northern California, residents are starting to return home after wildfires wiped out their homes and entire neighborhoods. We’re hearing countless stories of people who were left with just the clothes on their backs as they fled for their life. 




While firefighters continue to battle the fires in Northern California, a number of evacuees are being allowed to head home. Some of them are discovering they've lost everything.

One of them was Janice Mathis, who found a heap of mangled metal, rocks and blackened trees in place of her three-bedroom, three-bath house. But she considered herself lucky to be alive, she said. 

“I’m realizing you don’t put your boots on and your gloves on and go sift through stuff,” Mathis said. “There’s nothing to sift through.”



Hearing stories like Janice’s and countless others has caused me to consider all the things I own and the role they play in my life. I’ve wondered which items I’d secure and attempt to save from definite destruction and loss as I made a run for my life out of a burning building. If life made it so that I’d lose everything, what would that do to me, and even more importantly, mean to me? 

I wonder if the messenger bag that’s been hanging in my closet for over a year without use would make the cut. How about the shoes that I’ve worn, at most, twice in the last 6 months? Maybe the candles I’ve been holding on to remember my 40th birthday party would be worthy of me sifting through the kitchen “junk” drawer. 

What I’ve discovered is that having everything doesn’t really allow anything to have a place of deep, significant value. Too much stuff makes it difficult to discern the valuable from the expendable.

According to the L.A. Times, the average American home has about 300,000 items. On top of what’s in our homes, 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage—the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. (New York Times Magazine). This is jarring evidence that we own a lot of stuff. With so much stuff, how do we decide what’s most valuable and worth saving? 

Life is unpredictable and loss of anything can be unexpected. With this in mind, we should consider holding onto material things loosely in our hearts while keeping memories of them firmly in our minds. We should make it a goal to own only things that truly add value to our living. When we get down to the core of possessions, only we can determine what is valuable, meaningful and worth possessing. The adage is true that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Yet, holding onto only that which adds value while letting go of that which doesn’t is one of the most liberating things we can do. 

Truth is, nothing is permanent and everything has an expiration date. And although we may never have to sift through a pile of possessions burned down to nothing, we should consider sifting through possessions that don’t really mean anything. Life is short…too short to be lived encumbered by stuff that don’t allow us the space to appreciate the things that are really more than things. 

As we make honest assessments of all that we own, it leads us to ask the deeper question of why…why do we feel we need so much stuff? What areas in our lives are we trying to fulfill by filling our lives with things? It should be telling that more is never enough. The more we get the more we want., which lead us back to accumulating more. If we aren’t careful, we’ll discover that the things we own really own us.

A meaningful life is one that isn’t determined by the things we have but the people we are. Two of the most valuable things in life are moments and memories. And although moments can be attempted to be captured in a picture and framed, I have found that they are better preserved in our memories. Joshua Fields Millburn from the minimalists says that, “Our memories are not in our things. Our memories are in us.” This indeed is refreshing truth. When faced with the possibility of possessional loss, it is refreshing to know that the most valuable things (moments and memories), can never really be lost, if they abide in us. 

So my heart profoundly goes out to those in California who have nothing to sift through because everything was lost. I feel their hurt and sympathize with their new reality. I am also reminded that everything material is temporary and what really matters are the moments we experience, the memories we make and the people we meet along the way.




May we live our lives holding loosely to that which we can actually hold, while grasping tightly that which has internally grabbed a hold of our hearts. 

Hold onto what adds value. 

Let go of what doesn’t. 

Enjoy what you have. 

Give joy with how you live.


Fill your life with experiences, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.


Alright my friends, remember to live today a story you’d want to tell tomorrow. 

- Joel

Joel GonzalezComment