Detaching, reflecting, and moving house — how a home becomes a house

September 21 | Guest post by Ruth
Cobweb © by shioshvili, used under Creative Commons license.
It's strange how, when you know you're going to be moving, you start to look around where you live and see things in a completely different way. Even before the For Sale sign has gone up outside and the first potential buyers have stepped in the door, it stops being quite so much of a home and starts turning back into a house.

You refer to it, in emails to estate agents, as your "property." You start to notice the cobwebs in the corners, and you add "long-handled duster" to the shopping list in your head. You spot the scuffs in the paintwork, the cracks in the cornicing, and all those trails of spilled smoothie on the cream carpet… and then you realise that you still haven't fixed the hole where the neighbour's hamster chewed through your wall. You wish you'd had the time and money to do the bathroom, and the den, and the windows.

Jeez, you think. Where are we going to put all these books? And paintings? And rugs? Maybe, you think, it's time to get rid of all the old baby clothes.

You try and remember how the wardrobe comes apart, at what angle you have to hold the dining room table to fit it through the doorframe, and where you put that special screwdriver that you need to disassemble the bed.

You start to become very objective about it all, very distant. And then a draft of the particulars arrives in your inbox — all adjectives and professional photos.

Gosh, you think, what a lovely house.

There is the dining room, where you sat with friends over long dinners, drank wine and whisky in front of the fire. There is one bedroom, where you were helped into your wedding dress; and there is the other, where you stood over your days-old son in his Moses basket, leaned in to hear him breathe. There is the kitchen, cosy and cluttered; pureed blueberry spattered on the wall and always, always, music playing. There is the den, where you took family naps on the sofa; and the hallway, where entire cities were built out of LEGO.

Gosh, you think, what a lovely home.

Haven't we been lucky to call it ours? We have warmed up the old, stone walls and filled the rooms with laughter and love. We have tended the garden, mended the fence, and added a beautiful piece of stained glass to the entrance hall.

There is an advert for something — I forget what, perhaps a watch — that says "You never own it. You merely look after it for the next generation."

It's a good way of thinking about material things. We have never really "owned" this house — just made it our home until it was the turn of another family. I hope they don't mind the cobwebs. I hope they keep the walls warm. I hope I remember where that screwdriver is.

  1. Ugh, I'm crying now… That was beautiful. I hate moving, when everything is moved out and you have to clean up the empty rooms and walls… It's definitely not your home anymore. My mom comes to love her houses, and every time she has moved, she made us all leave before her, and she will go around and kiss every single wall in the house good-bye. Sigh – I hope our new house becomes a good home, and I hope I actually get to trimming the bushes and fixing the fence….

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    • I actually do this too…not kiss the walls, but I go in to every room and say goodbye. I've done it since I initially moved to college and every time since then. You have to bless the space you're in It held you; you kept it. And you have to say goodbye when its time to leave.

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      • I think this comment is as beautiful as the article… and the article has made me cry as we have a move coming up soon too.

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  2. It REALLY sucks when the neighborhood around your home is slowly going to shit, and you know that whoever gets the place next is not going to respect it. That's where my parents' home (the one I spent birth to 18 yrs, then three more years in) is right now. I've thought about it and am trying to come to terms with that but it's still hard to know for an almost absolute fact that the place I grew up in, had friends over to, had holiday dinners opened Christmas gifts in is going to be unattended to, neglected and left to fall apart.
    Who knows, we might get a lovely couple or family or person to buy it and take care of it. I'm really hoping.

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    • Even if it happens that the next people don't respect it and love it the way you did, maybe in 10 years when the neighborhood starts improving again, someone will drive by and their breath will catch in their throat and they'll think "This house has such incredible potential! If we just gave it a little love, our family could really grow here."

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  3. Even though we moved from a much too small and rundown house in a bad neighborhood into our gorgeous current house, that tiny house will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first home Mr. Bear and I shared. I will always remember it fondly.

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  4. My husband and I are moving to a different province at the end of October (7 moves in 5 years ugh). Even though we have been in this rental for almost year, its the first place we've had together since I immigrated. All of our other places weren't really our home since we were traveling for 2 years to see one another. I will miss this place a lot, but I've started to look at it again like an apartment. I'm having to clean it and make it presentable to the next tenants.
    This most totally made my night 🙂

  5. Aww! we've finally decided what to do for our future and will be selling the boat in the new year. I'm so in two minds at the moment. Sad one minute to see it go then happy because this place drives me nuts. It's like an old friend that rubs you up the wrong way but you love them all the same.

    • Ha! This is exactly how I felt about the house I just moved out of! It wasn't one my hubs and I chose – it sort of became ours by necessity. The previous owners (my in-laws) kept storing many of their things in our basement, so the house never truly felt like ours. But it was still our first home, still the place we started out together. I never really liked it, but I did come to love it.

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  6. I love this. I think the process starts really early, when you stop doing things to the house because you know you're moving. I recently came up with an awesome way to create a landing strip in our entry-less flat, but eh, we're moving in a few months and who knows if that furniture will live in the new place? I've started detaching. Thinking about things that are "wrong" with this flat (once our dream home!) that I want to avoid in the next one. Onwards, onwards… still sad though. Always.

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  7. This article is amazing! I work in the broadcasting industry, so I have moved 17 times in 10 years. I have learned to love where I live and make it mine, but I knew it was temporary so I never got attached…until the last place I lived before moving back home to continue my career. I LOVED my last apartment. It was big, and roomy, and bright…but it was all the amazing things that happened in that apartment. It was always filled with friends and fun and food and laughter and games. The morning I moved out, it was completely empty, and I watched the sun rise through the windows. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. People think…"but it's just an apartment". Not if you were ever in it. Thinking about it now chokes me up.

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  8. Aww, thank you all so very much for your kind words – for taking the time to read and comment, and for sharing all your own stories. You've made me all emotional over here! It's good to hear I'm not the only person who gets attached to the four walls around them… and also very reassuring to hear from those of you who have moved regularly and enjoyed the journey. Thanks again – maybe I'll be able to write something else when we find the next house and start to make our new home.

  9. i couldn't have found this at a better time. i'll be moving in january to a very strange place for me…orange county, california! i've lived in my little studio apartment for 5 years and i love it tremendously. i am superexcited that my boyfriend and i will finally be living together, and that we'll be living in a new complex that won't have silverfish :gagvomitgag: but this house is old and has the cutest tiny kitchen with a built-in hideaway table and ironing board, and the most amazeballs walk-in closet in the history of ever. i'm freaking out about the move a bit, and scared that the new place in an oc complex will eat my brain. this has been so much a home, the first time i've had my own little place that no one else could tell me how to decorate or throw me out of. the new place will come to be home, too. we'll just have to do a bit of nesting 🙂

  10. Thank you for this. I'm struggling with it myself. Getting ready to purchase a home with my fiance and SO excited to make it our own and start a life together. But selling my townhouse is going to be hard. It's the place where I licked my wounds and recovered from a divorce and started over surrounded with friends and the excitement of making the place "mine."

  11. This is absolutely beautiful. I'm getting ready to move and it's so comforting to see this out there. The love of a home and the respect and comfort of change.
    Thank you for putting this out into the world.

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  12. We are preparing to move from our first "real" home. My man and I have been married for 12 years and bought this house 5 years ago after many, many military moves, on post housing, and tiny apartments. It's the only home our children have known. We aren't just leaving the house but the military and jumping into new careers and we have no idea at this point where we will be. It's terrifying and exciting and sad all at once. I keep thinking of all we could have done to make it more, but it was perfect just the way it was. Lived in and loved in, it was home.

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