If you had to pack up your life in a single suitcase what would you take?

At 3 a.m. yesterday, my friend Carly, an Oak Park resident, learned she had to pack what she could because her neighborhood was on voluntary evacuation due to the fires in the valley area.

My friend packed her scrapbooks and photos, Tiffany’s jewelry, nice clothes and other clothing essentials. Her situation got me thinking: What would I pack if I were in her situation?

As humans, we all seem to accumulate a certain amount of “stuff” over our lifetimes.

There are the packrats who keep every movie stub, every elementary school “Do you like me? Check ‘yes’ or ‘no'” note and every piece of clothing they’ve ever had. There are the sentimentalists, like my cousin Alissa who collects outdated jewelry and purses just because they belonged to our great-grandmother. There are the people who are lost in their own rooms. And there are the minimalists, like myself, who keep what they need and especially like, and not much else.

But how much of what we have is essential to our happiness and livelihood? Do we need “stuff” to remind us of the good times we’ve had, the awards we’ve won or the people who have contributed to our lives? If a picture is worth a thousand words, is it also worth a thousand memories?

It’s not necessarily the “stuff” that we inevitably collect that’s important, but the memories that they represent that we can’t seem to let go of. Although these certain material items act as instant reminders of our past, I seriously doubt that our memories would be void without them. We will always be able to hold on to the inside jokes, the stories and the movies we play inside our heads when all else fails. Hey, remember that time at retreat when everyone started singing “We are the Champions”?

If we can hold on to the memories of our past, whether happy or sad, then we can be the champions of our present. Corny, I know, but it’s true. We only forget what we choose to forget and material possessions only become important when we make them important.

To some, the inanimate objects in a living room represent accomplishment and monetary value more so than memories. A person may look at a TV set that cannot be taken with them and think, “that was my first big pay check” rather than remembering movie nights with friends. That TV set has become a symbol of accomplishment more so than a memory box. Knowing that you might not be able to replace lost items makes the prospect of losing them all the more painful and the process of choosing what is important that much more difficult.

It’s human nature to not want to let go of the things that are important to us. But how much do we remember of what was important to us as kids? I doubt that my favorite Cabbage Patch doll, Claudia, would even enter my mind in a pack-and-run situation. As I get older, the things that I have and that are important to me seem to represent who I am more so than Claudia ever did. Now I have a computer with every article I have written these past three years at the Nexus on it, an iPod filled with music I love and a passport stamped with memories from abroad. If left in a time capsule, these things, although just material possessions, would give someone in the future a more accurate depiction of who I am more so than a piece of clothing or a doll ever could.

I don’t know if I could, in practice, prioritize my memories. How can you choose one memory over another? It’s difficult to put myself in my friend’s position but I can do the best I can to empathize with her.

Here’s my list of things to pack: 10 days worth of clothes, essential medicines, passport, cell phone, a few photos.

This way, if I lost everything in a fire, I could pretend that life didn’t suck while traveling.

Daily Nexus Features Editor Lauren Creamer wouldn’t pack any fudge though.