Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Sandy Kreps of Modern Simplicity.
One cold, drizzling night in January, I stood on the street watching in disbelief and shock as my house burned. We had just moved into our house three months prior, and we still had a garage full of boxes waiting to be unpacked.
My family was safe, but my beloved pets were lost, as were the majority of our worldly possessions.
In the following months, friends shyly joked I was taking my love of simplicity to the extreme as we struggled to rebuild our lives with the blank slate we had been presented with.
As I shared our struggle on social media, I was inundated with stories from all over the world of how others had coped with rebuilding after a loss, whether it was a fire, a flood, a tornado, a hurricane, a burglary. We weren’t alone. I found comfort in that truth. And even more so in the stories of those who chose voluntary simple living after the tragedy:
A single mom in Louisiana told me that after losing her home in a tornado, she and her daughter moved into a tiny house on her parent’s property in Alabama. She couldn’t be happier.
A widow in Salt Lake City shared with me that following the tragic death of her husband, she moved from their large home of 40 years to a smaller 2-bedroom condo in order to free up resources to spend more time with kids and grandchildren now scattered throughout the country.
A married dad of three in Kansas shared that after a flood wiped out his home and his business property, his family downsized from a 4,000 sq. ft. home into a 1,100 sq. ft. home, and he started working from home. He said the relief he feels from simplifying his family’s lifestyle far outweighs the grief he felt when the flood stole their stuff.
A married couple from my hometown in Texas told me that after losing their expensive condo in Galveston in a hurricane, they chose a cute little bungalow in Dallas. They replaced only the items they needed, living a minimalist lifestyle so they could spend their resources traveling to do mission work in Africa.
Losing everything forces you to evaluate your lifestyle and your needs. In the days following the fire, while we bunked down at my husband’s parents’ house, I found I needed very little. A few clothes and a pair of shoes. Some toiletries. Clothes and school supplies for my kids. A new computer so I could work again. Few other things seemed necessary.
While I hope you never need these tips, I want to share with you a few things I’ve learned from my experience losing everything, as well as tips I’ve gotten from others who’ve lost it all.
Tips for Simplifying After a Tragedy
• First, get yourself and your family safe. Don’t worry about anything except the basics: shelter, food, clothing. Those needs are primary, everything else can wait. Your family (especially if you have young children) will need your strength and protection.
• Let yourself mourn. You can’t recover until you mourn what you lost—whether that’s a loved one, a pet, the loss of your sense of safety, the loss of physical stuff. Get counseling if you need. This is a major life change, and it’s going to take time to heal. Treat it as such.
• Make use of donations. In the days following the fire, neighbors dropped off clothes and shoes for my sons, clothes for me and my husband, small kitchen appliances, books, toys, even home decor. We were so grateful for these items—they bought us time before we needed to spend money replacing items. Use what’s given with a grateful heart, knowing that for those items that are just not quite right, you can pass them on to others who need them after you’re back on your feet.
• Don’t be in a hurry to replace physical stuff. Yes, you’re hurting, but try to take a few moments to dream. This is your chance to put together a new life from the ground up (literally). What does that look like? Write it down. Define the vision of what you want your rebuilt life to look like. Lose all your clothing? Maybe it’s a good time to put together that capsule wardrobe you’ve been thinking about. Lose your books? Maybe it’s a time to switch to a digital library. Lost your home? Maybe it’s time to downsize into something smaller and better suited to your new lifestyle.
• Let people help you. One of the most surprising and most amazing things that happened after the fire was the outpouring of love and support from family and friends, even strangers. Cards and donations from coworkers and clients, Scout groups, friends, neighbors, readers of my blog, even the local donut shop. I have never felt so humbled, blessed, and loved in all my life. A woman in Walmart handed me the last $20 in her wallet after overhearing us talk about the fire while purchasing clothes and supplies to send my kids back to school. These outpourings of love lifted us while we struggled with our loss, and they made us even more aware of the needs around us that we could fill once we got back on our feet.
• Replace items as needed. Once you’re stabilized and have the resources, start replacing items you lost, but don’t rush it. Replace things as you need them, and be choosy about it when you can. Pick things built to last, items you love and will use regularly. Don’t buy just to buy. Try replacing things on an as-needed basis—even borrow when you can until you’re sure you need to buy the item for permanent ownership.
• Never forget to be grateful. It’s very possible that the worst thing that has ever happened to you has just happened. But you’re still here, and people love you. Be grateful. Thank God for your blessings. Point your mind toward the good and the abundant, and place your expectations toward building a life even better than you had before.
I was surprised that I didn’t mourn my stuff so much as the loss of “safety” I had felt—I doubt I’ll ever leave the house again without wondering if it’ll be there when I return. My heart still aches for my lost pets, the only real loss from that night that hurt. But I’m still here, my husband and children are safe, and thanks to insurance, we have the means to rebuild.
Now we’re rebuilding our house carefully and intentionally—trying to decide what to replace of all that was lost.
Life is good, despite tragedy. And we’ve been given a new start to live a simpler lifestyle.