I don’t remember when I started doing this, but at least since I was in college, once in a while, while I was laying on my bed or relaxing at home, I would ask myself: if the house I’m currently living in burned down, would I care? I did this as a test to find out how attached I was to the place I lived in and the things I had in it. For a long time I had observed how attached people are to the material things they own, it prevented them from taking decisions, moving to another city, changing jobs, or taking a break from work. As the line from Fight Club says, “The things you own end up owning you.” I had seen all this and promised myself that would not be me. So I did this simple exercise where I asked myself if the house I lived in burned down with everything in it, if I would care. If the answer was no, it meant I wasn’t attached to the material things in it, or the place itself. If the answer was yes, well that meant I was.
Every time I asked myself that question, I looked around my room and calculated in my head how much time, money, or effort it would take to replace everything. I’d look at my laptop and phone and think, “My photos are backed up to the cloud, so are my documents, my books, and my contacts and conversations, so no, I wouldn’t care, I can have it all back very easily,” and so on. It would usually cost around $2,000 to $3,000 to replace everything I owned, and I would happily think “Pff that’s not that much, so no, I don’t care if it all burns down.” And what about the house itself? you might ask, well I’ve always rented so that wasn’t a problem, if it burns down I’ll just move to another apartment, building the house back up was someone else’s problem.
I was very happy at the end of the exercise when the answer was always no. I felt free and in control, I knew that the worst-case scenario wasn’t so bad, that the things I owned didn’t own me. Sometimes I even hoped it would happen, because then I’d have a reason to replace my old laptop or buy a simpler wardrobe.
Now, years later, even though I’m married and have a child, my situation hasn’t really changed much compared to those days when I was a single student. I still don’t own too many things, and all of them are easily replaceable. I’d need about $3,000 right now to buy it all back. I think that for a 35-year-old with a family, that’s pretty good, so I’m proud of that number. The difference is that even though we still rent, now we have a much bigger place, full of furniture. Living in Berlin, we have been super fortunate that almost all the furniture in our apartment we got for free, either from classified ads, from other people, from the sidewalk, or they were offered to us by strangers. I know it’s hard to believe, but Berlin is a different place, things just happen randomly here, it’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it yourself. How one day you think of a sofa or a chair you’d like to have, and moments later you find this very thing on the sidewalk just waiting for you to pick it up. At first, it felt like a coincidence, but it has happened so many times that we no longer question it, we just say, “we ask and the universe provides”.
Now when I ask myself if I would care, the answer is a little more complicated because it wouldn’t take money or effort to replace the things, it would be more about believing that the universe will provide again. If I had to buy everything that we have, then yes, sadly I would care if the house burned down, I wouldn’t pass the test! But that’s not how I want to think, I want to believe that great things can happen more than once. That if we were able to get all the furniture for free once, we could get it for free again.
So, if the house burns down, would I care? No, I wouldn’t care, just universe, please keep providing.