the one thing you’d keep

If you were stranded, or homeless, or if the house burnt down, what’s the one thing you’d keep? It’s a great question. It’s a question that leads to so much whittling down of things. Once you whittle down, where do you stop? Artist Susan Mullaly posed the question to a bunch of people in Waco Texas and photographed the results. Many are homeless or disenfranchised, for various reasons.


Fred Albreight is a homeless carpenter. He says:

I pick up stuffed animals all the time, I got a truck in here too. I found him, this little dog in a dumpster down in the projects in the South Side while I was pickin’ up cans. The reason I picked it up is because whenever I see a little child I give it to him. That’s why I collect them.

When I was a kid, Dad kept our photo albums next to the front door so that if there was a bushfire (and there were several out where I lived), he could grab as we ran out the door. I used to think about this a lot – what would I take?

Now, I really struggle to reduce everything I own down to one thing that matters most. When you put it like that, you realise you don’t really need anything. At least not materially.

That said, I’d like to take a bag of letters I keep in my cupboard. It contains every letter, card, postcard that’s ever been written to me, since I was about four.

I sat down with my best friend from high school a few years back and we showed each other the letters we’d written each other. She’d kept the ones I’d written to her, too. There were dozens and dozens of them. We wrote in class, on weekends. We’d arrive in the morning with a 5-page thesis for each other that we’d stayed up until midnight to compose – our thoughts on life, what mattered, what was hurting us, Jim Morrison quotes…

I guess kids today do it via Twitter DMs or wall posts or IM. If I can tease apart a difference between that kind of connecting and the letters I wrote….letter-writing was a lot more intimate, I think. To sit with nice paper and a pen requires focus and care. And you have to think before you write, because there’s no delete button. I think it’s more authentic.

What’s the one thing you’d keep?

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