Your House Is Burning Down, What Do You Grab?

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We all think about it from time to time.

What would you take when your house is suddenly burning?

But actually gathering your most beloved belongings (and taking a picture) is less common.

Here are some real life examples of things people would take. Including my own.


Marie W Matta



Name: Marie W Matta
Age: 25
Location: Detroit Michigan
Occupation: architect, in training


  • selected sketchbooks from architecture school + WD hard drive containing every drawing I’ve ever made
  • B+L red cat-eyes
  • ever-present turquoise rings
  • assorted personal ephemera, mostly photographic history
  • minolta SLR, formerly my mother’s
  • gifted leather klein tools toolbag
  • dogeared selection of favorite books
  • trusted phone and well-worn wallet
  • italian knit fisherman’s sweater from salvation army
  • two most loved pairs of shoes: beat up brogues + all-star hi tops
  • architectural model from my senior thesis, made of paper and gold leaf
  • feline companion





Age: 40
Location: The Netherlands
Occupation: dotconnector at Hodgepodges


  • wallet
  • phone
  • and Swiss pocket knife (have these always on me so don’t really have to grab them)
  • some extra clothes for the first days
  • some notebooks with doodles and work-related and personal notes
  • vintage metal box with cash money, cards, licenses, and talismans
  • mobile office (iPad and netbook)
  • toiletry bag with medicines etc.
  • Two favorite paintings made by my late father ( I’d grab more in lieu of clothes and toiletries but that wouldn’t fit on the photo)




Name: Märta
Age: 17
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Occupation: Student of aesthetics

  • Shoes
  • Brushes
  • Oil paint
  • Matches
  • Book of sheets by Jan Johansson and other classical pieces
  • Passport and its bag
  • Coins
  • Harmonica
  • Mora knife
  • Diary
  • Apple


Jefferson Q.

house-burning-down-what would you grab

Name: Jefferson Q.
Age: 19
Location: Fortaleza, Brazil
Occupation: Student

  • Medals
  • Harmonica
  • Two cents of 1945
  • Orange rock
  • Dinosaur
  • Hard drive
  • Old tin
  • Conch


Hannah Queen


house burning down-hannah queen

Name: Hannah Queen
Age: 20
Location: Blue Ridge, Georgia
Occupation: Photographer

  • basket of family photos, old and new
  • macbook
  • iphone
  • wallet
  • cast iron skillet
  • leather bracelet with mustard seed charm, which was my grandmothers
  • leather bracelet, a gift from my mom
  • l’occitane lavender hand cream
  • l’oreal voluminous million lashes
  • lancome teint idole ultra
  • letters & postcards from friends
  • favorite tea towel, which was a gift
  • the complete works of jane austen
  • blue ball jar, filled with river rocks. souvenirs from a perfect day.
  • minnetonka moccasins
  • favorite wooden spoon
  • two forks from old family silverware
  • twig spoon, a gift from a friend
  • not pictured, canon 5d mark ii


Foster Huntington


Name: Foster Huntington
Location: New York City
Occupation: Fashion


  • My Grandfather’s Explorer Scout Shirt
  • Naked and Famous Jeans
  • Zeiss 35mm f/2
  • Nike SFB boots
  • Ralph Lauren Alligator Belt
  • Leatherman Wave Black
  • One basalt rock from the Columbia River Gorge
  • One shell from Nicaragua
  • Three shells and one stone from the Maine coast
  • 45 RPM Orange Bandanna
  • Vintage Woolrich Horse skin hunting gloves
  • LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive (all of my photos and image research)
  • Rolex Submariner Date with Zulu Ballistic Nylon Band
  • Oakley Razor Blades
  • Ernest Thompson Seaton, “Two Little Savages” (well worth a read)
  • iPhone 4
  • Not Pictures
  • Canon 5D Mark II
  • Sigma 50mm f/1.4


Deciding what you would grab if the shit hits the fan can be both liberating as well as a useful exercise.

Some of the more prepared among us even have an already packed go back (bug out bag) sitting at the door.


More ‘burning house photos’

In 2011, Foster Huntington started this The Burning House project in which people photograph the selection of things they would take from their burning abode. It quickly spread and is still alive.

The project appeals to our survival instincts. What if the flames actually scorch your home? It also helps you focus on what’s truly important.

Stuff is trivial and realizing that offers a peak behind the curtain of enlightenment. It may help you cut the Buddhist root of suffering that is attachment.  It’s a spiritual exercise actually.


What would YOU take?

Do you take mostly practical items like cash money and food? Or do you grab valuable possessions such as that expensive vase or items of sentimental value such as photos and letters?

It’s not only fascinating to see what other people would take but it’s a powerful exercise in minimalism too.

What’s essential to you and what is a burden?



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  • If your house is burning down, you wouldnt be grabbing two pairs of shoes… Paintings etc. Unlrss you had a whole lot of time and I’m sure there are more important things than a second pair of shoes. Just my thoughts.

    I would grab my jacket (which has phone chargers in it and headphones erc), phones, throw on my survival pack, keys, wallet. I can do all this FAST.

    If i thought i had time i would grab my battery banks, external hard drives and laptops, and ereader and dig out my sin card and birth certificate from the gun locker.

    My survival pack has almost everything. Cloths, food, water, fire starting things, compasses, first aid, solar panel, crank emergency radio, hammock, sleeping bag, knives, hatchet, rain gear, thermal blankets, lifestraw water filter, fly net… List goes on and on. Itd be the main thing i grabbed for sure!!

    • True Jon. Yet the Burning House concept is more of a thought experiment in minimalism than a serious instructional purpose on what to do when your house is burning.