What’s more valuable – your stuff or your life?

Some people are so attached to their personal belongings that they will risk their own life and the lives of others to rescue their precious things in an emergency situation.

Fireman fighting fire

Your plane has to make a crash landing and the cabin crew tells everyone to evacuate as quickly as possible, leaving all their bags behind. Smoke is billowing everywhere and it’s clear that time is of the essence.

You’d think that most people would be happy to escape with their lives. But photos taken after emergency situations like this tend to prove otherwise. Some people are so attached to their personal belongings that they risk their own life and the lives of others to grab their bags before leaving, as you can see in these astonishing photos of crashed Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco in 2013.

It’s the same with burning buildings. There are countless tales of people running back into an inferno to save their precious possessions, which can often be the death of them. There was a woman in Illinois, for example, who safely escaped a blaze with her daughter and then rushed back into the house to get her cell phone. She didn’t make it out alive the second time.

How to safely evacuate a plane

Experts agree that a little education about emergency situations can make all the difference. Do you know, for example, that aircraft slides are made of urethane-coated nylon? That’s why women are asked to take off high heels – to avoid ripping the nylon. A zip or metal catch on a bag can do just as much damage. You have to ask yourself, how would you feel if your precious bag wrecked the slide so badly that no one else could get off the plane?

Sliding down isn’t so easy either. Some slides are the height of a house. Sitting up, not lying down, is the recommended way to do it, and rather than clutching a bag, you’ll need your hands free to regain your balance and move quickly away at the bottom, which is where pile-ups and injuries can happen.

This video of an Airbus A380 simulation shows the speed at which over 800 people can be evacuated in 78 seconds flat without the chaos of a real crash situation. And without anyone attempting to take a bag with them.

Airbus A380 Evacuation Test

It replaces a video of a previous Airbus A380 evacuation that has now been taken offline, presumably because on that occasion one person’s leg got broken and 33 of the volunteers suffered slide burns.

The real problem is that most people have never thought through how they would react in an emergency and what they would take with them. What would you do? Is your stuff more valuable than your life?

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2015, updated 2021

Related articles
Taking your baggage with you in an emergency may kill you
How to escape down an airplane slide
How to survive a plane crash

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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8 Responses to What’s more valuable – your stuff or your life?

  1. Looking at the first 5 photos I was simply amazed by all the stuff the survivors carried. Wow!! Not having or losing your stuff is NOT the end of the world. It looks like these pasengers did not treat this like a crash, but like an event that just happened. Amazing how the worth of stuff has replaced the worth of life. For all those who believe its a disaster losing your stuff… if its important, it will find its way back to you again. But that’s just my personal opinion.

  2. This was a very interesting article.

    Reading the title I thought it was about rather living than piling up stuff (I was thinking a lot about why it seems nicer and nicer to get “experience” presents than “goodie” presents lately, and I just went on the whale watching trip my husband gave me for christmas! Amazing!), so i was totally on a different train of thoughts.

    Actually, for me, I think a lot of my technology freed me of fearing to loose a lot of my belongings. All my books? They are in my kindle cloud. If my kindle sinks down the ocean, I just buy a new one, sign in an -tadada- I get all my books back. Same for my music – phone gone, music still stored electronically in my account. Same for pictures. Don’t need them on paper.

    When we moved to the US, all our belongings where in a container, crossing the ocean. In the weeks between our arrival in the States and the Container coming in, I thought several times: I wish that thing would drown and we could just have a fresh start without ALL that DAMN stuff.
    Okay, I might have really missed out on some of our photo albums – but it would have been nice, a fresh start. No freight.
    Sadly, that thing did not drown.

    I am a proud owner of a German first edition of clutter clearing. One of the few physical books I still possess. I try to get rid of some clutter each day, each week each month.
    I wish you could tell me how to persuade other family members to do the same.
    My husband really believes in the value of his chemistry middle school book. *g*

    Well, it freed me.
    The knowledge: if it comes down to it, I won’t really miss any of this stuff cluttering our house and lives.
    I don’t really need more than my laptop, my kindle and my phone.
    And again, I am not attached to the ones I own (though I wouldn’t leave them behind without being forced to), I can easily replace them.
    I am free.

    Thank you, for your book,
    and all of your interesting and inspiring newsletters.

  3. I was obviously not clear enough in my reply to your article. I was not implying that my handbag or any other item I own was worth more than my own life or that of any other person (or animal for that matter!). I wrote that my first reaction would be to WANT to grab my handbag for the reasons I mentioned (I should have specified in ALL kinds of emergencies, not just implying aeroplanes since you also mentioned other types of catastrophes in your article) . I also included myself in the not-thinking-everything-through-in-advance-in-case-of an-emergency-scenario which implied that I realise that that first reaction may not be the best. But let’s be honest, it’s stuff we don’t want to think about and even if we do, unless we’ve “been there”, none of us knows exactly how we would react. At best we know what we SHOULD do, not what we WOULD do.

    1. Thank you for the clarification. I was talking yesterday with a friend whose wife works as an air hostess on British Airways, where the crew do regular enactments of emergency evacuations with false smoke and other things to make it all feel as real as possible, so that they are well practiced in what to do if the real situation ever occurs. For those of us who fly as passengers, the next best thing is to think it through ahead of time, and the same applies to having an escape plan if your home catches fire. This may be a bit outside the comfort zone of some folks, but I decided to write the article anyway. It may even save lives.

  4. Thank you for this very interesting article! You are so right: one doesn’t think through how one would react in case of an emergency. I include myself in this: my first reaction would be to want to take my handbag with me. It’s not very big but has all my “essentials”. I’m not including a mobile phone (or an MP3 player!!) in those “essentials” as I don’t really use the vintage mobile that I own, but rather stuff like ID and my small bottle of Rescue Remedy that would no doubt be useful in a stressful situation. Hmm… That’s a tough one. I would NOT however try to get luggage and such down from overhead compartments in an airplane for instance. I find that manoeuvre difficult enough in non stressful situations!

    Thanks for great tips!

    1. The thing is, airlines really do mean it when they say that passengers must leave ALL belongings behind in an emergency evacuation, for all the reasons I’ve explained. Crucial seconds can be lost, bags can damage the slides, holding on to a bag while going down the slide can cause you to get injured (the slides are very high, very steep, and very fast). And although it may be inconvenient to lose some of your possessions, it’s a lot more inconvenient to lose your life or end up with a broken limb.

      NO ITEM is so important that it’s worth risking your own life for or the lives of your fellow passengers’ lives. I hope that people reading this article will realize the folly of attempting to take even a handbag with them if they ever find themselves in that situation. Please consider purchasing a lightweight neck pouch or waist wallet if you want to carry ID and a few small items you feel would be essential after surviving an air crash.

  5. But… I absolutely agree, but I was amazed after a recent move at how bereft I felt without my “stuff.” It arrived 12 days after I moved in; I used paper plates and slept on a blow up bed. I was surprised at how much comfort I felt from being surrounded by my own things once they arrived. Even my cats became less stressed. And the feeling of home and comfort was separate from the relief that everything arrived safely.

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