How Much Would You Replace If You Lost Everything?

Post revision: I wrote this post after seeing images of the horrifying wildfires in California.  This prompted me to think about what would happen in a similar event.  It turns out that someone in the personal finance community was right there.  They were safe but lost everything.  There’s actually a few different posts tied to this topic.  I’m honored to be among them.  See the bottom of the post for the ‘Chain Gang’ on this topic.  

There have been a lot of disasters around the world lately.  Earthquakes.  Hurricanes.  Wild fires.  In each of those tragic situations, many have lost everything.

I live in Michigan.  Many would never consider this a great destination.  Summers are beautiful but short. Because it’s practically surrounded by water, winters are often gray and slushy.

But one thing we have going for us is that we’re not a big target for any natural disasters.

  • Earthquakes – We’re not on or near any known major fault lines.
  • Hurricanes – We’re nowhere near a coastal line.  We might get a day or two of rain a few days after a hurricane fizzles out.
  • Tornadoes – While we’ve had some bad tornadoes, they’re generally not an ongoing, serious threat.
  • Wildfires – We do have a lot of trees here.  There have been instances of fires, of course, but we get enough rain to generally keep things moist enough.  Our worst droughts don’t hold a candle to anything out in California.  Another good benefit from being nearly surrounded by water, I suppose.

What If We Lost Everything?

But it still got me thinking, what happens when you lose everything?  The latest tragedy on the news is the Northern California wildfires.  The images on TV show fire taking out entire neighborhoods.  In many cases, not a thing is left standing.  There is absolutely nothing to save.

So what would you do if that happens to you?

Pretend you have something come in and take out your home and everything inside.  In the scenario, everyone comes out safe, but your stuff?  Gone.  All of it.

So, once you settle with the insurance company, what do you replace?

Nobody will put their house back together exactly as it was.  There’s no way anybody replaces things item for item.  It just doesn’t happen.

What Percentage Of Items Would You Replace?

It got me thinking.  If you lost everything, what percentage of items would you actually replace?

I don’t know if I can have a hard number, but it’s definitely less than 100%.  Let’s think about a few things.

House

Most people will end up replacing their house.  But in some cases, you might not.  You might not rebuild.  You could sell the lot and buy another home.  Even if you did build a home, it would likely be different.  For one, everything will be new.  You might have a different layout.  You’ll choose different finishes and fixtures.

Clothes

If you lost everything, you’d need a new wardrobe.  But would you replace, piece by piece, what you had?  I know I wouldn’t.  I’d probably start off with a much smaller wardrobe to begin.  Think of your current clothes in three tiers: New, Good, Near The End.  New items would likely be replaced, as would some good items.  But right now, you probably have a lot of items that you keep but don’t wear often.  Maybe they’re near the end of their life. Perhaps they’re more reminders of something.  In any case, with shirts, pants, shorts, etc. I can almost guarantee I would have less than I do now.

Kids Stuff

We have a lot of stuff from when the kids were babies or younger than they are now.  Some we keep in case anyone else might need it.  Other items we just haven’t gone through yet.  We’ve got a whole lot of toys that can be sold or donated.  The kids would need to replace stuff they use today, but that’s it.

Bedding and Towels

Let’s face it.  When you replace bed sheets or your towels, you probably keep the old ones.  You stick them aside in case you need them for guests or emergencies.  While you’d need to replace what you use, there’s stuff you don’t that you’d skip.

Holiday Stuff

I know for a fact we wouldn’t replace all of our Christmas stuff.  One of the things I have is a Christmas village. I’ve built up the collection for years.  I love it and put it out every year.  But if we lost everything, I’m not sure I would instantly replace it.  Since many of the items were gifts, or bought at special times, replacing the whole thing piece for piece wouldn’t be the same.

Heirlooms and Other Irreplaceable Items

We’ve got some items that were passed along from family.  You simply couldn’t replace the item.  Even if you did find that exact same china set, it’s not the one your grandmother picked out and used.  The same goes with pictures (pre-digital era) and other treasures.

What Does This Mean?

Thinking about this gives me a few takeaways:

  1. I need an updated digital inventory. It’s hard to imagine going through and documenting things by the item.  But a video walkthrough would let you see much of what you lost.  This would help for insurance purposes.  It’d also help you create a list of items to replace.
  2. There’s a lot of excess. If you could live without something after you lost it, could you now?  I wouldn’t get rid of the heirlooms.  But, chances are you’re sitting on a lot of items that you wouldn’t miss.  Maybe now is your chance to reduce some clutter.
  3. It’s hard to imagine.   You live with the stuff you have.  You spend hours buying it, cleaning it, keeping it.  To imagine not having any of it is pretty hard, isn’t it?
  4. It reminds you of what’s important.  As hard as it is imagining life without your items, it’s just stuff.  I know that if something bad did happen, none of it would matter.  My wife and my kids.  That would be my list of what I’d need.  It would suck to lose everything else.  But even if you did lose everything else, guess what?  Life could still get back to normal one day.

The Chain Gang

Here are other posts.  Please give them a read.

Anchor Post: DadsDollarsDebt – Tubb’s Fire – A Sudden Evacuation19
Co-Anchor: Chief Mom Officer – A Harrowing Escape Inspires The Personal Finance Community – Beyond The Emergency Fund5
1: OthalaFehu – Cool As A Cucumber2
2: The Retirement Manifesto – Am I A Prepper?1
3: Mrs. Retire to Roots – In Case Of Emergency Follow The Plan
4: The Lady In Black – Emergency Preparedness1
5: The Green Swan – Preparing For The Worst1
6: Minafi – Minimal Hurricane Preparation3
7: A Gai Shan Life – Earthquake and disaster preparedness1
8: The Financial Journeyman – Emergency Preparation: Be Proactive1
9: John And Jane Doe – Thinking the Worst: Emergency Planning or Fighting the Last War?
10: Adventure Rich – Emergency Preparation Up North
11: Money Beagle – How Much Would You Replace If You Lost Everything?
12: Crispy Doc – Fighting Fire With FI/RE1
13: She Picks Up Pennies – How Can A Planner Be Unprepared?
14: Chronicles Of A Father-Getting Ready for a Natural Disaster
15: Rogue Dad MD- Disrupting the Equilibrium1
16: Unique Gifter-10 Ways To Help Disaster Victims
17: SomeRandomGuyOnline-Friday Blog Roundup – Emergency Preparedness Edition3
18: 99 to 1 Percent: 15 Frugal Ways To Prepare For An Emergency
19: I Dream Of FIRE – Your house is burning and you can only save 10 things – what do you choose?

Readers, have you ever thought about potentially losing everything?  If every material possession went away, how much do you think you’d replace?  What does this tell you about how much you have now?

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37 thoughts on “How Much Would You Replace If You Lost Everything?

  1. Wow, this is a great idea to ponder, although not a lot of fun. I think we’d be happy to start fresh and work to focus more on the essentials. For me, I work hard to preserve our pictures digitally, so, I would think, even if I lost my computer, I would still have access to all those memories. We would probably be in the “rebuild” thought process though, as we love where we live and the community that surrounds us.
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  2. I have not thought about it but then again I don’t have the financial capacity to replace most of the stuff I have right now. I honestly think I would not even remember or notice some of the missing items so that might be a blessing in disguise since it would force me to downsize. My computer would be one of the first things I would replace since I am in graduate school and I need it for so much.

  3. Great post! It’s def something to ponder. We have so much junk that I think we would only replace like 20% especially if insurance is not paying for it.

    We are insured but insurance companies over here overcharges with their premiums and at the same time they try to find ways not to cover you when disaster hits. Can’t always count on them.

  4. I’m going through this right now, and I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to start fresh. Earlier this year, the 5 year relationship I was in ended while I was away on a work trip, so all I had was 2 carry on suitcases, my laptop, and my car. Even though I had been cutting down on possessions for years, this was a whole new category of minimal. It was inconvenient, but having no home and no stuff gave me the opportunity to travel extensively, and friends have been so kind in sharing their sofas with me. I’ve now fully embraced the freedom that lack of stuff brings, and am resistant to accumulating stuff again. Like Lulu said, you soon forget what you had. I’ve discovered what I need, and it’s certainly less than what I had.

  5. It’s an interesting process. In 2013 my apartment building had a fire & I just had water damage. There were still items to be replaced. I’m frugal, and buy jeans on sale, but I needed jeans, so I spent full price, because Insurance was reimbursing me.
    I agree about not wanting to replace your clothes all at once, and the minimalist idea, however there is a time limit to submit your claims.
    Not having “old” towels any more an interesting thing because people just expect it. Nope, I’ve only got new towels. Also no old pillows.
    That all the heirlooms and sentimental / hand made items were ok was a huge relief.
    I spent the first night not knowing the extent of the damage, and it was incredibly stressful. But it does make you think about what you’re really hoping will be ok if there is anything left. It also changed my perspective, compared to that situation, a lot of other things in life aren’t a big deal.
    P.s. A fire proof / water proof safe is a good idea. That should still be there with important documents if it’s not a tornado. 🙂

    • Good point. We actually do have a small water/fire proof safe for our most important documents. With so much available online it’s not like it used to be where I remember my grandparents having a safe that was ten times as big.

  6. Great question. Virtually everything would have to be replaced I think except for some guns I inherited or used to hunt with but don’t expect to use much now and some jewelry we inherited and just keep for sentimental reasons. We would replace only about half of the clothes probably since I have more than I need now that I side gig from home. But my core hobbies haven’t changed since high school and aren’t likely to change now that I’m early retired so my fishing boat and ATV, tennis and running and hiking gear would all have to be replaced. My work clients would also have to replace my home office gear. Not much around this house that doesn’t get a lot of use. We wouldn’t replace the outdoor pets but they seem indestructible anyway.

  7. Thanks for joining the chain gang. A few years ago our house was broken into and some valuables were stolen. We had insurance to cover the value of these items. As I reflect back, we did not replace any of what was stolen. While it was unnerving to have our house robbed, we were just happy our dog was not harmed because he was home at the time.

  8. Years ago I had to quickly move out of the house with my daughter (her dad was an addict), so I couldn’t take much. I had two trucks lined up and friends swooped down and we left with what we could fit into two pick up trucks. I left 90% of my things behind but the situation was so toxic that I didn’t want to see any of that crap in my new place anyway. Its amazing what you can live without. Only now & then I’ll think, darn, I wish I had kept a journal or something like that. Many women & kids have to run to women’s shelters for safe haven leaving everything behind, so I was lucky I could manage to take some things, and my employer loaned me some cash to rent a new apartment (which I paid back of course when we were back on our feet). It was tough on my daughter that’s for sure. But we made a better life for ourselves and that’s all that really matters.
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