What Would You Take from The Burning House?

Joy Sullivan, poet, teacher and Pages Artist-in-Residence shared “The Story We Tell With Our Stuff” on the Pages blog.

The On Being post features The Burning House, a project where people submit photos of what they would take with them if their house was burning down.  This inspired me to do the same.  Of course, I am too wordy to just list things, so there is a description, too.


  • A box of letters, cards and notes from people I love.  The box was my grandma’s childhood keepsake and has her name written in the lid in pencil.  One of my favorite pieces in the box is an email I printed from my sister stating, “I feel as though you are my heart living outside my body in some ways.”
  • Three journals starting in May, 2014 to present.  I journal almost every day after my youngest goes to bed.  The journals capture all of my “beautiful moments,” in addition to every dark one, too.  They help me see how I have grown.
  • Three quote books starting in June, 2011 to present.  These are my most prized possessions.  Every book I read is dog-eared and, if it is mine, underlined and annotated.  After I finish a book, I write all of the beautiful, insightful and connecting sentiments I found.  It is a meditative practice to write and reflect upon the words of those whom I admire.
  • A charm bracelet my grandma starting building for me in 1992.  The first charm I received was a poodle originally owned by one of the Rockettes when I was ten.  My grandma passed away in October of 2014, and a month before she died, she attached a final charm to the bracelet.

Here is my four-year-olds Burning House project photo, too.


  • National Parks Commemorative Quarters Collection. “I picked it because I want to keep making the collection until I get all of the Ohio State [sic] National Park quarters.”
  • George (the cat).  “He is one of my favorite stuffed animals, and I don’t want to miss him.”
  • Bamboo (the panda) and Waddles (the penguin).  “I picked these ones because they are my other favorite stuffed animals.”
  • Curious George book bag. “I picked it because I get to carry things in it, so I can carry the things I want to bring along because I might take something there to my new house.”
  • Lego men. “I picked them because they are the bestest [sic] men in the world, and I love them.”

So, what do these objects say about us?

     I am a gatherer and curator of words, thoughts, ideas and reflections.

     My son is practical, likes to see things through, and has a sentimental streak.  

I have to say, these are pretty accurate statements to who we are.

Like many, I have a complicated relationship with objects and possessions, but I can’t deny that the things we cherish most tell a story about our identity.  It is interesting to explore that story.

On a sub-note, when I told my friend Melissa about The Burning House, she told me I should listen to this song, only tangentially and not thematically related.  In her words, however, it is “hauntingly beautiful.”

What would you take with you if your house was burning and why?  Feel free to share in the comments section or send me an email from the “Contact” tab.      

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