Simplification vs. Safety

Concrete SlabsWildfires, earthquakes, and floods are sometimes said to be Southern California’s three seasons. But over the last few years we’ve ignored earthquakes, our collective attention taken up by a series of large-scale wildfires and the inevitable flooding and hillside collapses that occur once winter’s rain hits all the burnt-out areas.

However, earlier this week we Southern Californians felt a nice little rolling quake centered around Chino Hills that was recorded at about a 5.4.

It was the first decent-sized temblor I’ve felt in several years — it was the largest we’ve had in a metro area since 1994′s 6.7 Northridge quake — although it didn’t do much damage. One thing it did do, however, was remind us that we’re still living in earthquake territory.

Now, you get a bit jaded about quakes when you live in Southern California; in fact, a little rocker can be kind of fun. When this one started moving the walls, I unplugged my laptop, tucked it under my arm, and lounged in the doorway a few seconds until it quieted. The ground and buildings rumbled and creaked a little bit, and I could hear my apartment complex neighbors exclaiming, but that was the extent of it. If anything, I was relieved to feel a shake — when you live in a state that the Big One is destined to knock into the ocean someday, you appreciate the small quakes that, you hope, are releasing some of the seismic pressure building up under your feet.

However, as I plugged my laptop back in, I looked around my new apartment and realized that it wasn’t very earthquake safe anymore. I still have a very basic earthquake safety kit stored in a steamer trunk by the table, sure, and most of the other things I’d need scattered around the apartment, but I’d long since stopped buying emergency food and water. Moreover, the vase of flowers on the shallow mantelpiece, the collection of antique poison bottles on the kitchen windowsill, and the other various objets d’art on flat surfaces hadn’t been fastened down with quake putty, even though I keep a pack of the stuff in my office supplies bin.

As I looked around and thought of the things I should do, I realized that it’s hard to be a renter and follow safety guidelines, and sometimes it’s hard to reconcile voluntary simplicity with safety guidelines.

For example, being a renter: If I put safety catches on my cupboard doors, I’d have to drill into them, and that would mean losing some of my security deposit when I moved out.  If I put earthquake putty under the glasses on my windowsill, the grease from the putty will soak into the paint and discolor it — learned that the hard way! — also dinging my security deposit. My solution? Push the glassware and books deeper into the cupboards and, ideally, move the antique glass out of the windowsill or buy something less greasy to secure them, like museum wax.

For some renters, losing part or all of their security deposit is cheaper than potentially replacing all their dishes and glassware, so they’d install the catches. Since I have minimal dishes and glasses and don’t feel attached to any of them, I don’t care if they break. I just have to be sure not to stand around gaping in the kitchen if a big quake hits. Not a problem — we locals start sidling toward doorways whenever the ground starts to heave.

And then, practicing voluntary simplicity: I moved to an apartment with very little built-in storage space, which is OK, because it forces me to stay light.  And it certainly means I don’t have tall bookshelves to secure to the wall or a big TV to buckle down. But … where am I supposed to store three gallons of emergency water? I honestly don’t know, although I’m going to see if I can make some space on a closet shelf. And what about setting in a bunch of canned food? I’ve tried to get rid of cans and eat mostly fresh food, but clearly I need to re-stock some essentials that can stored for a long time and be eaten cold for a few days.

So, this week’s Chino Hills roller was a Good Thing. It served as a modest reminder to secure my belongings and not get so carried away with minimalism that I don’t keep a supply of emergency food and water on hand. I think I’ll go out and buy some today….

Image: Stock.Xchang: Pugmation

Comments are closed.