There’s no way around it; moving is always stressful. Even if moving day goes smoothly, stress can still seep in behind the scenes when you’re drafting budgets, signing documents, screening real estate agents, or packing. The truth is that it’s a taxing process and in the midst of a move, most folks just want it to be over.
But when your home is a hotbed for nostalgia with decades worth of memories and mementos at every turn, that may not be the case; at least not for me.
After living in a modest three-bedroom semi for almost 18 years, my parents have finally decided that it’s time to move on. In addition to my mom, step-dad, brother, sister, and I, our house has served as the unnamed sixth member of our family, consistently setting the scene for almost every major milestone.
While I have no recollection of the initial buying process, photos prove that I was in diapers and my younger brother couldn’t even crawl yet. In June, he will be graduating from high school and by then, we will be living somewhere else for the first time in our lives. I understand that this transition is necessary but I can’t help feeling bereaved.
This obviously isn’t the worst thing that can happen. And it isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. Now that the average selling price for a home in the GTA is up to $916,567, it’s a great time to cash in, especially if you’re looking to downsize like my family.
But despite financial gains on the house, there is still a major sense of loss.
My home is the vessel that has held all of my most cherished memories and although I know nothing will happen to those memories when we move, leaving my childhood home feels as if I am saying goodbye to my childhood altogether.
It doesn’t help that our moving date aligns with my 20th birthday, making our relocation feel like more of a physical reminder that the eclipse on my adolescence is imminent.
Moving isn’t as dire as death, but it can be as painful as any other loss. Heretofore I would have scoffed at such a comparison but throughout this experience I discovered that grieving the loss of a home is totally normal. In fact, it has been therapeutic.
Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross posited that grief is experienced in five distinct stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When I found out that my childhood home was being put up for sale, my reactions aligned with this concept.
I was initially indifferent to the entire process. Moving had been an ongoing conversation since I was in grade three and with no progress 11 years later, I didn’t take my parents seriously when they said that they were finally ready to sell. Even after meetings with real estate agents and visits from contractors, I had a hard time believing that this was all leading up to a move.
But then, the house sold quickly. Like, really quickly. There was no open house, no staging, no sign on the lawn, and no bidding. My parents met with the real estate agent on Tuesday evening and by Wednesday afternoon it had been sold, dissolving all of my doubt and unleashing an array of emotions.
I didn’t get angry until the buyers came over and shared their plans for the house. Even though our home is extremely outdated, for some reason I felt insulted when they brought over a contractor and announced their plans to update virtually everything.
How dare they get rid of our retro kitchen tiles? And how could they have the nerve to strip our basement of the old-school-yet-endearing wood panelling? Didn’t they know that it was making a comeback this year?
I soon realized that my angst stemmed from the fact that I was afraid that the home I grew up in would soon be unrecognizable, bearing no trace of the time that my family spent there. This is a harsh reality, but it’s inescapable. And with my pet hamster buried in the backyard (RIP Stella! Gone too soon!) there will always be a little piece of me at that address, no matter how far I go.
“How cute would it be if I saved, like, one bathroom tile?”
Once I started packing, I began harbouring trinkets as a way to hold on to pieces of the past. So to compensate for losing the house, I clung to everything else, from birthday cards to soccer trophies and tattered baby clothes. And did I mention that my mom kept all of our baby teeth? It’s cute in theory but years later we can’t identify who’s teeth belong to whom and they look very, very creepy. Regardless, I insisted that every last tooth was coming with us no matter what!
While this was initially comforting, I soon realized that it wasn’t feasible. I had to come to terms with the fact that I can’t bring everything with me and that some of the things that I’m going to be leaving behind will have valuable memories attached to them. At the end of the day, bringing everything along is unreasonable and it doesn’t change the fact that we’re going to be leaving.
Until recently, whenever anyone asked how I felt about the move, I would burst into tears. This was especially alarming since I rarely cry in front of people. I was mortified but I genuinely couldn’t help it; I had such a hard time keeping it together.
I would stay awake for hours worried about how much everything was going to change and how little control I had over it. When I endured previous life transitions, my home always provided comforting stability.
I didn’t even recognize this until after I learned that the house had been sold but once I did, it was all the more terrifying that I would be losing that sense of security. But over time I found that the comfort was in coming home to my family and not in the home itself and as I foray into adulthood, I have to become more self-reliant and start working towards creating my own stability apart from my childhood home and apart from my family.
With only one month left until our move, I can finally say that I have accepted it.
A new chapter starts now. And even though I didn’t think that it would begin so abruptly, I’m ready for whatever my family’s future holds. Even though I won’t be moving with my hamster’s carcass or my old soccer trophies in tow, I will always have all of the incredible memories that were made in that house and nothing can change that.
Moving ignited so many emotions but I think that it came at a perfect time. I’m about to turn 20 and by having to go through literally everything that I have ever owned, I was forced into deep reflection. Through this, I developed a true appreciation for my childhood.
After immigrating from Jamaica as a kid, my mom moved around a lot so when she had me and my siblings, she worked very hard to give us the stability that she craved when she was a child. I’m so grateful for that.
I’m not unmoved by the big transition but I am finally unmoored from my childhood and I’m ready to make new memories in my new home. Insert cliche.
I will probably be sad on moving day but after thoroughly grieving the sale of my childhood home, I’m finally at peace.
And when I’m feeling nostalgic, I will be sure to drive by and reminisce. Maybe even peek in the windows and see what they have done with the place. I hope that the new owners find that cute and not creepy.