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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?