When I was 15, I went to live with my dad, his new wife and her three children. It literally felt like the Brady Bunch and I was thrilled to have a happy little family. The house had been my step-mother’s and her ex-husband’s house. It was unfinished upstairs so the four of us kids were sleeping in open space with no bathroom. Little by little, my dad finished it and created four bedrooms and a full bathroom. That home became a symbol of a happy, healthy family. Don’t get me wrong, there were rough patches (that’s really saying it mildly!), but it was a real home with two parents who loved us and siblings to share with and fight with every day. It became the home to which I returned with my husband and my children for many many years of gatherings and celebrations and ordinary days. When my dad decided to retire to Florida and sell the home, I reacted…um…shall we say…less than graciously. In other words, I had a hissy fit. I. Did. NOT. Want. Them. To. Sell.
Ya. Well, they did sell and moved to Florida and bought a lovely home. But having to say goodbye to that house was gut-wrenching. I kept reminding myself of that old saying “A house is made of brick and stone. A home is made of love alone.” It helped some. But I still think about that house. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I go through the house room by room, closet by closet and remember. The house might belong to another family, but those memories are mine forever…
The only advantage I had in that case was that my dad didn’t die. He just moved. If you are selling a family home because someone you love died, the emotions are that much more acute. Here are a few suggestions to help you along the process of clearing out the house.
1. Insist on help. Whether it’s your siblings, spouse, kids or close friends, get help. It is such an emotional process that you will need to take some breaks while going through and discovering items you either had long forgotten or never knew about. It will help to have a crew who can continue working while you rest – physically and emotionally.
2. Distribute valued items among family. This can be highly contentious and I’ve known many many families who did not survive this process intact. Too many hot emotions and words said that can never be unsaid. Tread carefully here. Make sure that all distribution of items is done openly and in agreement with the rest of the family.
3. Make piles for the rest. Keep. Donate. Trash. Yard sale. Give to family/friends. You may wish to have boxes for going through at a later date. If you are clearing out an office and don’t have time to go through all of the items, pack them up, label it and go through it another time. Your goal is to empty the house as quickly as possible. Try not to have too many of these boxes. It just delays the process.
4. Take something from the grounds of the house. Various members of my husband’s family have peonies that were taken from their original family home. I took a clipping of an hydrangea bush that grew in the backyard of my house. It’s now a monster of a bush in my backyard and I intend to take a piece of it with me when I move to my next home.
5. Take a final walk through…and leave plenty of time to do this. If you can do this alone, all the better. Allow for any family member who wishes to do this. Stand in each room. Breathe deeply. Remember — all of it. The happy. The sad. The extraordinary and the ordinary. Keep telling yourself what I told myself: A house is made of brick and stone. A home is made of love alone. This house you’re standing in is now a house. Your home exists in your memories and your stories and your legacy.
If you are struggling with a move or a house sale or a transition of any kind, call or email me to discuss how counseling might be helpful.