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The column that was supposed to run in this place was about the sense of smell and using it in your organizing process, but right now the only smell filling the air is smoke.

I left my home in northern Calistoga at 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 11 under a mandatory evacuation, taking a few treasures, papers, laptop and cats. My husband stayed behind (which I begged him not to do but he promised he would leave at the first sign of imminent danger).

I’m not the grace-under-pressure type, so I had been shaking nonstop since Sunday night, Oct. 8, when the fires broke out. I found out that I don’t think about food during a disaster (so that’s what it takes!) but I can sleep if exhausted enough — my body shut down for a few hours each night. Though shaky, I had enough presence of mind and was prepared enough to deal with the essentials (pets, medicines, documents).

What did I leave behind? I took less than you’d imagine in the way of everyday clothing, food or toiletries. I had enough friends and family who could lend me toothpaste or whatever. Underwear is easy to buy. I brought just enough basics for a few days. My husband, on the other hand, packed every golf shirt and pair of jeans he owns. There’s no perfect answer; he might have made the smarter choice. We knew we might be homeless or away from home for awhile.

I left all food except individually wrapped protein bars. My reasoning was that food is easy to find or buy, at this point. And if I go some hours without it, it will not be much of a problem.

I left behind a library. On the bright side: books are heavy to move. If I lose them, I’ll never have to lift a box of books again. I’ve read most of them. It will be Kindle or iPad books from now on.

I left behind an art collection. I didn’t even take one art object, and I love them all. I’m insured, and in the future I will be an appreciator, not a collector.

I left behind my chickens. If they were spared, I’d get a crate for them and have an evacuation plan for them in the future. But for now we wet down their coop, opened the door and hoped for the best. My cats were the priority; they had dibs on the crate.

I did not take any handbags. It kind of surprised me that I wasn’t attached to any of them. They represent a lot of money spent, which is one of the things I have in common with my female clients. I urge you from this side of the disaster — stop wasting money on purses! You can use only one at a time.

What did I bring besides cats, cat supplies and essentials (medicines, basic toiletries, sneakers, a change of clothes, pajamas, breathing mask)?

Water — lots of water. I was prepared with many gallons of water in our garage, so brought four gallons plus filled all our water bottles. I also brought my new doTerra vitamins. They have been making me feel so good that I didn’t want to not have them when under so much stress. I brought my doTerra oils too, because aroma therapy can be really helpful for calming down, as a breathing aid, etc.

I brought my favorite shoes and a few wardrobe treasures that I could add to what will be in the future an extremely limited wardrobe.

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I brought all my jewelry. I figured I can sell or barter with it, give it to friends to cheer them up or wear it to have some variety in my now gravely reduced wardrobe. Jewelry is a pretty easy carry (unlike clothes). I had it stored in small trays in a safe, so was easily able (and, of course, had the luxury of a few hours) to put all of the trays in a container and into my car.

I looked on the bright side. It is exhausting to care for all that stuff. It is exhausting to worry about it. It did not bring me perfect happiness, although I love our home. I enjoyed it every day. I love looking at my art, reading my books, swimming and enjoying our beautiful views and thinking, “I am so lucky.” I enjoy getting into bed and sighing with comfort, listening to the creek running or leaves falling or whatever nature sounds were on schedule. If I lose it, well, better to have loved and lost.

I have several clients who lost their homes. I had a moment of questioning: “What good is organizing when you lose everything in a disaster?” But I believe life is better with order and we can’t live as if awaiting disaster. The good news is that those clients, if they had time, which some did not, knew where their photos were. Their computers were likely to be backed up. Their files were in order and they could locate their important documents. Their pathways were clear so that they could move quickly through rooms and garages to retrieve things and get to their cars. I’m saying a prayer that they were a little better off for being organized.

For me, being organized was hugely beneficial for loading our cars with ease and for communicating with our neighbors, family and friends. I left my home thinking, “I did my best. I did a good job with that one; it was a beautiful little home.”

As of my deadline, I knew that maybe my little house might still be there, but if it was not, I would look forward to a new chapter. I’m thinking Airstream trailer and hitting the road with my honey (and cats).

Editor’s note: After Angela Hoxsey filed her column, the evacuation order was lifted and she was able to return home, which she found still standing. And her chickens were OK.

Angela Hoxsey is a professional organizer based in the Napa Valley. For information about her services, go to or call 707-738-4346.