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Shaken Up

It’s not the ideal way to purge and organize, but I heard from many of my friends, family and clients in the Napa area that they were doing just that after the 6.1 earthquake rocked us out of sleep on Aug. 24. When reporting their quake losses to me, many of them started with, “You’ll probably be happy to hear…” and then listed their breakables that they had swept into the rubbish bin.

Of course, I was definitely not happy to hear it; whether by fire, flood, earthquake or theft, a forced purge is always heartbreaking. The thinnest sliver of a silver lining might be that as we let go of lost possessions, we gain a fresh perspective on what is important, and a new appreciation for what remains.

It is interesting that through the ages, what survives from one generation to the next takes on greater value. A friend of mine lost everything she owned, including her Academy Award, in the Oakland fire of 1991. The fire melted the award into an interesting ovoid shape and amethyst hue. Even though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences replaced the award for her, she treasured the melted one because it had come — sort of — through the flames. Everything else was ashes.

An orderly home with less stuff in it won’t prevent damage from disaster, but can make clean up much easier. There are several things you can do now to protect what you have left and make your home a little more disaster-resistant.

Reality Check: The Napa River flooded one client’s basement regularly until she finally gave up and had shelving built to store things well above the floor. It might look like wasted storage space to some (her grandchildren roller skate down there now) but it’s much better than cleaning, drying and often discarding soggy stuff every few years. Don’t fight a losing battle against Mother Nature, work with her.

Declutter: Now is a good time to take inventory of your possessions and if you aren’t using or don’t love something, let it move on to a new home. An under-stuffed cupboard is less likely to spring open and less stuff means lighter clean up — whether the ground is shaking or not.

Earthquake Putty: If you do collect breakables, from trophies to fine china, be sure to keep your collection secure. Use Quake Hold earthquake putty (available at hardware stores) or museum wax to keep items in place. It will also help to keep valuables stable when you dust. Quake Hold also makes a picture hanger that is worth looking into if you have art, especially if framed with glass, on the walls.

Cupboard Latches: To keep cupboards closed, there are several methods, from the easy and cheap rubber band around the knobs, to the irritating but effective plastic childproof closures, neither of which I recommend. I thought magnetic cabinet closures, the kind you push to release, would be terrific, but one client told me that those were her only cupboards that DID open.

I’ve yet to try the Safe-T Lock brand earthquake activated latches, called the SeismoLatch. I would advise having a handyman install these as the reviews are mixed about the ease of the installation process. Once properly installed, the manufacturer claims that cabinets may be used normally and the latches will only engage if there is an earthquake.

Feng Shui: There is some common sense behind the Chinese beliefs about the positioning of items in the home that is part of feng shui. First, no mirrors or heavy items over the bed! According to feng shui mirrors in the bedroom disrupt sleep, especially when they fall and shatter during an earthquake as a heavy one did right on top of a Brown’s Valley client. She was very lucky to escape unharmed.

Keeping doorways and hallways clear of clutter, another fen shui biggie, is also a tremendous benefit in a disaster, making it easy to leave the premises unimpeded.

Light on Your Feet: Keeping a flashlight in every room is really useful when the power goes out. Check your batteries regularly and always have extras on hand in a place you can find them. I’m also now going to keep a pair of shoes under the bed — almost everyone I talked to said that they were amazed not to have been cut by broken glass on bare feet.