What Would You Take?

Wildfires (large, uncontrolled fires) are as bad as their name sounds. They are usually driven (pushed) by high winds and fed by dry weather conditions. And they often devour (destroy; consume) everything in their paths.

We have frequent wildfires in California. Lucy wrote about the bad wildfires we had in 2007. One of them came to within a few miles of my house east of Los Angeles. Last year there were bad wildfires in the states of Texas and New Mexico. This year they consumed (burned; destroyed) large areas of Colorado.

Wildfires move fast. And people in their paths often have very little time – sometimes no time – to decide what to save before they flee (quickly leave) their homes.

Two years ago, Foster Huntington asked a group of friends at a dinner party, “If your house were on fire, what would you take with you?” He thought this question would be a “subtle (skillful, clever) way to get people to discuss their values” – what’s really important to them. He believed that the answers would tell something about each person’s interests, background (personal and family history), and priorities (what’s most important).

He and his friends shared their answers and had a lively (full of energy) discussion. After the dinner party, Huntington continued to think about his answer. And he asked other friends what they would take. He used the answers to start a new website – The Burning House – where he asks visitors to answer the question and submit (send, upload) a photograph of the items on their lists.

The Burning House web site went viral (quickly became popular on the Internet) and stories about it appeared in the media (newspapers, television, etc.). As it “snowballed” (grew rapidly), Huntington decided to quit his job as a designer at Ralph Lauren, an American fashion company, so he could travel across the U.S. and talk to people who weren’t typical (usual) Internet users. He wanted to write a book and he wanted to include everyone – young and old, rich and poor, from all parts of the U.S.

Huntington said he learned a lot as he listened to people’s answers. The “conversations almost always centered (focused) on the conflict (opposite feelings) of what you want versus (as compared to) what you need.” Usually, he writes, the important things represent who people are, key (significant or important) moments in their lives, and important relationships. Often they are not worth a lot of money.

In his new book The Burning House, he writes that “developed countries are consuming (using) more than ever. …people desire to define (describe) themselves by the possessions (things)  they [accumulate].” In the end he writes that “this project has taught me that I need a lot fewer material (physical) possessions.”

I encourage you to take a few minutes to look at The Burning House web site. Then come back here and tell us how you would answer the question – if your house were on fire, what would you take with you?

~ Warren Ediger – English tutor and coach, creator of Successful English where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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15 Responses to What Would You Take?

  1. Dan says:

    Hello guys,

    Looking at the pictures at The Burning House, I was struck by two things: In almost every list there is a photo camera, and an Iphone.
    Most of the cameras are Nikon, and I have also seen other products made by Apple.
    Now, I understand the phone. One does not want to lose all the phone numbers of maybe hundreds of people.
    What I do not get is the camera. Why? Besides, there is a good camera in the phone itself.

    Peter and Betty, is the Iphone that good? would you take it as well?

    Actually, now that I think about it I do not have objects that I feel so strong for. I would probably leave after making sure my cats and my mother and myself are safe.


  2. Peter says:

    Dear Warren,
    I guess,enerybody would go by instinct,
    I mean if it is a sudden engulf of the fire you just take what you can snatch on ,in other words , grab on.
    It depends on the time of the disaster the intensity of ,and the distance.
    Let’s face it if the fire advancing in the middle of the night. Definitely, you don’t wanna get out your place almost
    Naked,so the first thing comes to mind is to slip something on whatever that is within reach before you run away for your life.
    If it is in the middle of a lazy ,still afternoon perhaps the basic instict tells you grab some water and food, before you catch fire.
    Seems to to me,nobody ever goes for their possessions. In the fraction of seconds you have got left for scaping ,you go for basic needs to just survive.
    But, I ,my self,definitly snatch my iPhone and iPod, Serious!!
    Because they are small and always withing my reach!!
    The rest is totally depends on the magnetitue of the fire.
    And how fast they are engulfing the area

    Yours ,
    A coward:))

  3. Betty says:

    Thanks, Dan, before I read your comment – which was the first comment of today’s blog, I was thinking of my old father as the first thing I would bring to safety if there is a fire.  He would not be able to run fast like everyone else and I may died of a broken heart if I do not try to save him first.

    In fact he became angry with me since two weeks ago and I had not been to see him in order not to annoy him.  Don’t worry he has a live-in domestic-help and my brothers and sister have been accompanying him 24/7.

    Although my iphone has been in my pocket during day time and under my pillow during bed time since the day I became familiar of how to use it, I will not think of it if there is a fire.  Human’s life is irreplaceable and must be given the first priority.

    My dear English teacher Warren I am sorry I answered Dan’s question first before I thank you for your good article which has given me a chance to think again about the value of life.

    Dan is very clever and if I am his mother I would encourage him to go and enroll to get a degree in the university now that he is free of family commitment.  Don’t stay at home for me and the cats.

    Thanks again, Warren, you are a very good teacher who cares.

    Betty 😉

  4. Peter says:

    Yup ,Dan,
    iPhone is very practical!
    It is a multitasker phone,
    Actually, I m listening to Jeff talking about “J.F Kenedy “,on iphone, as I write in here again using iPhone.
    The phone set makes it possible for me to do both simantenously.
    But , it is not all perfect. There are some glitch to it.
    For example the finger-touch keyboard on iPhone is too cramp .as a result, i typically have a lot of typo-errors everytime I type sth in here.
    All in all, it is a practical phone specially for a Language learner.
    I have the episod of eslpod downloaded directly from iTunes application on iPhone to music application on iPhone.
    Both applications are default applications. By that I mean, you have them on already when you buy the IPone.
    See, I don’t need to connect to any outside sources. I simply touch the itune application and go to Eslpod and download new episods into the music application.
    It takes just 20 seconds or so for every episode to download. You can listen to them directly off the itune app installed on iPhone.
    Yours ,


  5. Peter says:

    Yes Betty, I agree with you
    It is a good post by warren.
    But,you know , you can’t tell unless you are really surrounded by the fire that is spreading out fast. Now, that I think of it, I guess , I don’t run and leave everything behind. My guess is,I stay behind in the disastered area to help other people to escap the fire.
    Just imagine, there is fire spreading out rapidly,and you are the one who managed to get out of your place safely. You are running away,and all of sudden you hear sb asking for help. Do you think it is easy to ignore the person in need just to save yourself. Let me tell you sis, If I ignore the person no matter the age or gender I can’t live with that. I will have it on my conscious for the rest of my life.
    So, I stand corrected.
    If I m sorunded with fire , thd first thing I do is to save myself and the second is to help others who are trapped in the fire. Yes,I will help them out of fire.
    I guess,most people do that
    At least ,most people I know.
    I never leave a kid behind to save my self. I mean ,how could I live by myself if I do so.



  6. Peter says:

    It is nice that you got a care-giver for your father.
    They are very efficient that way
    It is nice that you give your father a 110 percent.
    It is admirable and a moral thing to do.
    The family is a sacred thing. It is on us to homor it


  7. el gatufo says:

    Hi Warren, interesting question and just a good sight of what are the dear treasures or people
    who are through a big shock as waiting their houses were on fire.

    First of all I would take Cuca of course, she can´t walk fast as to put herself out of danger.
    After her I wat my cat Gatufo as one of my precious friends.

    Talking about things, I would like to grasp my Identinty Card, some Visa card or similar to
    have something to survive with if I want to buy some food or be in some hotel and my iPod (with nearly all
    my music through the years, it has 180 gigas with all my cd and records) the iPad to be informed and of
    couse the kindle with lot of books.
    It would be difficult of rescue but I would like to grasp my parents photos, some othe photos of my little
    daughters, also from some pictures of Cuca being the most beatiful girl of all and Cuca´s letters to me
    when we were dating.
    These litle things sould be the most precious theasures after her, my loving wife and my dear cat.

    Just a pleasure to be here again dear Warren, having enough mind and health to write a little.

  8. Dan says:


    I went back for a better look at The Burning House. I wanted to see if Warren himself postrd his list of thinghs. I could not find him.
    Now I understand why so many cameras: 80% of the guys are photographers.
    The rest is all student, artists, designers.

    I am afraid I did not get the question. Are we supposed to make a list of thinghs that reppresents us?
    I wrote the first thing came to my mind. After all, we have been told since we are kids that when there is a fire you MUST leave everything behind.

    Well, my list does not change: Cats and Mom.
    The rest can burn down. Sometimes if one can look, with bad expiriences comes some good.
    It could be a chance to get everything new, or starting a better new life, who knows..

    I am glad this guy discovered that we can live well with less.


  9. el gatufo says:

    Dear Dan, that´s true as in fact we can live nearly with not material things at all.
    On the year 2001 Cuca and me we have to leave home here in Madrid. The house
    we were living since 1970, as we have not place to carry our thing I have to leave
    nearly everything. Some friends keep something that I thought it was important, and
    we went to a city near to Alicante.
    Along three years we did not miss anything we have left behind and afterward
    when we were again in Madrid I have to get ready a new house without all the things
    we have before.
    Some friends gave us the photo albums and some other rememberings but we did
    not remember lot of things.
    All this task was my responsability as my dear Cuca wasn´t quite well at that moments.

    Home is where Cuca and my cat are now, that is enough. Having them close to me
    and knowing that my daughters are good it is enough, I could be really happy.

    My best Dan and congratulations if you have discovered what is the real basic in our


  10. Betty says:

    To my dear friends emiliano, Dan and Peter

    I am very grateful to have your messages to read.

    Not everyone are willing to express their inner feelings in this open world wide web.  We are the more open minded lots here and tell the world our feelings – what really matters to us when we ourselves are facing a moment of life or death.

    It is true, human lives are most important.  I will not even think of money or ID card or anything at all other than save people’s lives.

    Dan is so right, please allow me to quote his wise words here:

    “Sometimes if one can look, with bad experiences comes some good.
    It could be a chance to get everything new, or starting a better new life, who knows..”


    “I am glad this guy discovered that we can live well with less”.

    I am also really happy to find that emiliano you are much better and can write more here again.

    Thanks again to our dear teacher Warren and everyone

    Betty 😉

  11. Betty says:

    I am sorry I did not mention pets when I said I would save human’s life in case of fire.

    I do not have any pets right now, but I think I would also get all the pets out of the burning house if there is a fire.

    Pets are like little children in the house.  They cannot talk but their every movement gives us endless hours of pleasure.

    I think if there is a fire, our dogs will come and wake us up instead of running for their lives first.  We are not even as ‘human’ than the dogs if we don’t try to save our pets’ lives.

    I was lucky to grow up in a home full of pets.  Actually I am reluctant to call them pets because I appreciate them so much that they are true members of the family.  Do you see that many people include their pets when they take family photos?  Do you see many people drive their cars with their little dogs on their laps?

    All the best to you all.

    Betty 😉

  12. kurumi says:

    Hello everyone
    I would certainly take my husband and kids first. And second,take my ‘sony walkman’ . Cuz I can’t survive a day without listening to ESLPOD.^^
    And last not but least,all the pcs os my family including very old ones of my grandparents. But if I don’t have enough time to bring those pics out,I would lose them forever…
    So from now on,I’ll try to save pcs on the internet. And money? yea it will surely be important if I could survive .I need money to live anyway.So i need to make my bank account or things like that very clear,in case I lose them by wildfire.
    Thank you guys,and my teachers! I really like this topic. It made my life simpler in just 5 minuies!

  13. cruzerland says:

    Thinking of it. I haven’t got lot of things that I’m linked. First things on my mind would be my computer , my cell and my audio system.

  14. Dan says:


    I would like to share one of many exeiriences I had with my cats.
    I have already written that I often wear headphones when I am home; I use it to listen to the radio and Tv.
    This way I can’t hear what is going on. I have noticed that just looking at the cats I am able to understand if something is wrong or someone is coming.
    It is like having sensors spread around that feel everything.
    I would recommend cats to deaf people.


  15. ed says:


    first. this is my list to take from burning house.

    1. familly album and 8mm old video tape.
    2. clay sculptures my daughter have been made since she was 5 (she’s 12 now)
    3. my white gold necklice

    simple ?!

    I really tried to come up with some money or jewel I’ve hidden in secret place or lock.
    nothing. it’s clear.

    hi. warren and members.
    thanks for sharing your various opinion from interesting article, I really enjoyed you guys’ story.

    it’s really true there’s nothing more precious than human lives or time.
    and we are living with too much thing that’s not necessary.
    in that spirit, Foster Huntington might started his journey with his humble van.

    I found some common idea from various answers.
    it’s our good memory.

    we are always surving with our good memories.


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