I had my house burn down and experienced a total loss of my home. Ironically it happened on Ash Wednesday 2019. Luckily my family survived the blaze save for a couple of minor burns. So in the grand scheme of things, we were fortunate. Now that may not be said of other families if a pet, friend or loved one suffers a worse fate. I pray you never have to experience this.
The devastation of losing the house itself is quite a lot to handle, but the fact is that after the smoke clears, the devastation will go away once you realize one stunning fact that will hit you like a ton of bricks: You will now be faced with the largest to-do list you have ever had in your life.
Yep. It’ll feel quite overwhelming, and some of those tasks need to happen immediately. You will need to take plenty of breaks to unwind, recharge, and dive back in, so I won’t include that over and over again in this article. Just know that if you get that panicky overwhelming feeling, stop. Walk away. Take some time off. Your family suffers when you suffer. You have to try to keep your cool at all costs. Trust me, everyone will understand if you feel like you need to take a day off. But once you recharge, go back to hammering on that grindstone.
This article includes a quick, helpful to-do list on getting started with immediate recovery. The faster you act, the faster you move towards your ultimate end-goal of going back to living the life you had, albeit slightly altered.
Start Your Claim Now!
If you’re reading this, you had your house burn down, and you haven’t called the insurance company yet, do me a favor. Take the device that you are currently reading this article with and smash it over your head. If that is your phone, then make the call first and then smash something else over your head. Grab a nearby brick or something.
You have just witnessed everything you have go up in flames. So you need to replace what you lost. That’s what your home insurance is there for. But you need to do it immediately. Temporary housing, getting a replacement for your car if you lost that too, the clothes you lost… the longer you wait, the longer it takes for you to get that money. Call the insurance company immediately.
Call the Red Cross After Your House Burn Down.
The Redcross is your first step toward asking for help. You may not be a person that likes asking for help, but you absolutely need help so it’s time to swallow your pride. Call that number and ask for disaster relief. Once they deem you are in need, someone will meet with you and give you the aid you need. What kind of aid? Items such as emergency blankets, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razor/shaving cream, shampoo/bath soap, and washcloths. Even some small toys for the kids. Yeah… they’re bringing those too. Bet you didn’t realize that you lost those too, right? It totally left your mind.
Do you know what else you forgot? Meds. And no… even if the bottle looks like it is completely intact, the fact is that those pills cooked inside that bottle. Don’t believe me? Open up that bottle and just smell those pills you were able to salvage. Smells like death, right? So, throw them all out. Any narcotic types, turn those into the nearest PD.
The Red Cross will give you a debit card. It’ll cover the co-pay for a refill. If your insurance company recently filled that prescription and will not cover a replacement, the gift card will cover for that too. It may take an extra phone call to up the limit, but they’ll be happy to do it.
Do you need a car? How about a hotel? What about pajamas for the kids? Change of underwear? Yes, insurance will cover these items for you, and there are people that will help you. But it will take a little time for that to kick in and you have to address the gap between then and now.
The Red Cross can cover that gap. Use them. Then feel guilty that you haven’t donated blood in a while. You should probably do that next time a blood drive is nearby.
They may also have a handy little to-do list on what to do from here. It’s surprisingly helpful considering that you now have to deal with the largest to-do list you’ve ever had in your life and you’re pretty scatterbrained.
Game of Thrones ended, so you have probably done that anyway. While you’re at it, cancel your cable and internet. Then water. Then electricity. Then home security. Then the exterminator guy. Then the periodic A/C repairman. Then the lawn guy.
Then any of the other monthly bills that you were paying for your house. Get that all done and out of the way so that’s one less thing to screw with. (Funny story: I canceled my Comcast and told them that my house just burned down. They asked me if I wanted to relocate my service to another address. Poor girl got her butt chewed out by yours truly).
Answer Every Phone Call You Get Over The Next Few Weeks.
This one was tough for me, but yeah… some of those calls you get from random numbers will be very important. Some organizations and individual people will try to reach out to you to help you. Others from the insurance company and the temporary housing people will also reach out. You don’t want to hold up progress by missing those calls. So yeah… if it’s an unknown number, you’re gonna want to answer it for a while.
Keep Every Receipt You Get. Every Single One Of Them.
Between now and when you move into a place with a kitchen, you can’t cook. You gotta eat. You’re gonna go out to eat. A lot. Save those receipts. You need new clothes and more hygiene items than what the Red Cross gave you. Save those receipts. You ran out of socks and underwear so you gotta do a late-night run for Fruit of the Loom.
Save those receipts too. Get a shoebox and pile them all in. Your insurance company will cover those additional living expenses (ALE). Make copies, and deliver them to the insurance company so you can get some of that money back.
When The House Is Safe To Go In, Prepare Yourself Before You Dive In.
You may have had some things of sentimental value that survived the fire. You might also have some items with personal information on them that people could use for identity theft. And after you’ve got these things you might still be in salvage mode. Before you do that, here is a shopping list:
1: A mask or respirator… No, seriously… a freaking mask or respirator. You don’t want to breathe that stuff in as that air is very damaging
2: Rainboots, Rubber shoes, or Crocs in case the floor is wet from the fire hose
4: Trash bags for whatever you collect
5: Baby wipes to get that stuff off your skin
I shouldn’t have to tell you to wear the most beat-up clothes you got. You should already know that.
Help Out The ALE Representative.
“Loss of use” is most likely on your policy. I like to call this the displacement fund. This will take care of the hotel the insurance company will put you in while they look for a rental home or apartment. There is either an ALE person or organization that will take care of this for you. Save that number.
Keep in mind that they don’t have to be the ones to select the place; you can add input. Let them know the location you want to go to and they can give you the thumbs up and tell you when you can move in. While you are at the hotel, they will do the same for a more long-term living arrangement.
Learn what the stipulation is behind that, like what the lease limit is, and help them find the place you want to stay in. It’ll save them time and it’ll save you the heartache of not living in a poop hole. And wherever you end up, let the ALE guy know how it’s going. Do you recommend the place? Do you want to move elsewhere?
They may also rent out furniture for that long-term place, and they may rent out furniture for you as well. Take only what you need as this will come out of the loss of use fund. You may want to take the chance of ruining any of the furniture from Rent-a-Center (in my case, all I am renting out is a washer and dryer).
Plan Out The Longer Tasks.
There are several tasks that will take a LOT of time and effort. We’re talking months and maybe even years. Here are three that will take a bit of planning on your part
1: Claiming all the contents of the old home.
That list is going to be HUGE, and it will take forever! They want the description, the brand, when you got it, where you got it from, how much to fix or replace, and what room it was in. Every. Single. Item. And you HAVE to do this if you want to get money back to replace those items.
Plan on how you are going to organize these lists. Separate the sub-lists by room, by a person, by something. Be systematic, be thorough. If there is more than one person working on the list, communication is vital to ensure that nothing claimed is duplicated.
I found that OneNote is a great way to break lists down into sub-lists and the list will update in real-time and can be accessed on the phone and PC. There is also Google Drive, and there are other tools like this. It may take a little extra work, but it’s worth it.
You will be doing something random and something will come up and you’ll be like “oh, yeah, I forgot about that thing”. Write it down immediately. Take a picture of the item you found at Wal-Mart. Add it in a note on your phone. You want to plug it into whatever claims system your insurance company has in place for you when you’re ready to do it. Make it happen, and add it to whatever kind of organized scheme you came up with.
2: Tasking out what to do with the rubble pile that was your home.
Get quotes, find a tear-down company, find a company that will rebuild if you’re going to rebuild, and see what the requirements are from the insurance company and the mortgage lent. You need permits, go get them or make sure the construction crew has them. Find out the paperwork you need and get it done. Is the contracting company requiring you to rent out things like dumpsters? Make it happen.
There are a ton of tasks here to make the work happen. Also, check with your insurance company. They may be able to cover for a portion of these expenses as well. It’ll take some planning, and that plan may need to be adjusted. Be flexible, but follow through. The house won’t tear itself down.
3: Thank you cards (if you choose).
Remember that list of thank-you cards that you made for the baby shower or the wedding gifts? Yeah, that times ten. In my experience, I learned that there are so many good people in this world that extended a hand and that are very giving. A lot of donations may come your way. If you plan on doing thank you cards, make the list of what everybody got you from day one.
Keep updating it. Watch it grow. Be humbled by it. Then go buy some stamps and cards and take a day or two to sit down and crank them out. Many people will say that it’s not needed, but if you’re going to do them, it’ll take some work. Believe me; it was the most feel-good thing I’ve done.
There might be other large tasks I did not mention here that will take a lot of involvement. You might get overwhelmed. Take a breather, take notes, dive in, and take breaks. Don’t feel bad if you need to ask for help. These things will take a lot of time.
I know I’m forgetting something. You know I’m forgetting something. But I’m not going to stress over it. I’ve had enough stress to deal with. Anything else comes around that I’ve missed, I plan out, tackle it head-on, and get it done. Every little thing that gets done is one step closer to the end goal. Just hang in there, take breaks, stay organized, and stay focused. You’ll get through it.
1. A lot of people will get nosy and some will steal from the rubble. Fact of life. Don’t get bogged down by it. Just keep doing your thing.
2. Sorting through everything you’re given can also be a daunting task… If you think everything you are receiving (clothes, kitchen stuff, etc.) is overwhelming in and of itself and there is way too much to sort, you may be right. Feel free to be selective, and don’t be afraid to give back or donate what you don’t need.
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