My parents built their house in June of 1987. I was born that August. We lived there together for the next twenty-six years. I moved out nine years ago when I married, but only four blocks away in the same small town that my father, my husband, and I grew up in. I still visited often, especially when I had my own kids. The house is on a dead-end street, with few neighbors, a lot of space, and deep woods surrounding. It’s a little piece of paradise amid a quaint town you could pass in a blink. It’s a legacy, too, built on property my Opa bought when they immigrated from Germany after World War II. And now it’s been confined to our memories.
I get why my parents wanted to sell. It’s a pretty big house and they are empty-nesters. The house and property were a lot to take care of. Not to mention all the stuff that space had allowed them to accumulate. They were tired of the grind, of taking caring of things they didn’t need, of falling into old habits. They want to travel, to simplify, to discover what’s next. I admire and condone that. Could they have done those things while keeping that house? Possibly. It wasn’t my decision to make.
I didn’t want them to sell. But I never told them that. That would’ve made it much harder to make their decision. We still see each other regularly and they would often talk to me, hemming and hawing over the decision, fantasizing about how their lives could improve if they sold, expressing all their doubts on why maybe they shouldn’t. I know it was a hard decision for them to make. I know that, once decided, it was a hard thing to do. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.
Watching them stumble through thirty-plus years of stuff was tough. I became a “minimalist” around six years ago when my first child was a baby and had a lot of time to figure it out. I had a lot of advice to offer if they asked, but, as you may know, minimalism is really a journey you’ve got to discover for yourself. The pace of my father’s and mother’s journey didn’t always match up, either. And they were under a time crunch once the house was listed for sale. As a result, my brother and I both have a few boxes, a few hangers, a few pieces of equipment stored at our houses. Our parents promised to come back for them after their trip or move them whenever they find a new house. It is prolonging the process.
I must state that I’m relieved that they started this process now. I imagine it would be exponentially harder if they were so much older that their mobility or memory were impaired. Or if one, or both, of them died with over thirty years of stuff left behind, the grief would add another layer of difficulty to the process. They’ve started a kind of Swedish Death Cleaning Lite (Swedish Death Cleaning, or döstädning, is a tradition where the elderly set all their affairs in order in preparation for death), which frankly I appreciate. Getting older, making huge life changes, are hard enough, am I right?
It is a done deal. The house is gone. Well, it’s still there. I could drive by and gaze at it if I ever feel to make that specific trip down a down-end street. But it’s gone from our family. The doors are locked, someone else holding the key. The papers were signed last week. I went alone to give my final farewell and thanks to the house over the weekend. (It was less emotional than I thought – the house has already changed so much from when I was a kid. I’d already been out so long.) My parents cleaned out the last of their existence there, to the last crumb at the bottom of the crisper drawer in the refrigerator, and then, that very night, other people were sleeping there.
Knowing that they were selling was one thing, accepting that it’s now done is another. I assumed that I would always be welcomed back there, a privilege I wasn’t aware I had. Understanding the “why” of my parents’ decision helped a lot, but I still have some internal stuff to go through myself. A grieving process of sorts. It’s not too emotional (again, I believe understanding and supporting my parents’ motivations prevents that), but it still feels weird. It’s been a few days and I dream about it every night – of the new owners destroying the house, of trying to keep my kids away who just want to play there, of finding myself inside like I’m allowed when I know I’m not anymore.
I don’t know what it’s going to be like a few weeks, months, or years from now. I anticipate I’ll forget about it and then suddenly remember, unexpected moments of brief disorientation. It’s a small town, I may meet the new owners. They have a kid the same age as my middle child. Maybe they’ll become friends in school. Maybe we’ll be invited over to play. I can’t imagine how weird that would feel. An expected moment of prolonged disorientation, perhaps.
I take comfort in the idea that I believe that house deserves a family. I hope they take care of it. I hope they enjoy that little piece of paradise down that dead-end dirt road. And I hope that I can make as many cherished memories with my family in our little home as I had in my parents’.