How you feel about your new home always affects how you feel about your old home.
If you are happy about your new home, then it will be easy (even exciting) to think about your past. But if you’re not happy with your new home, you won’t want to face the memories of your happy times in the past.
Sounds counterintuitive, I know. But it’s so very true. People have extremely different reactions to downsizing.
I’ll tell you my story and suggest some ways to deal with these dichotomies.
Leaving the home you’ve lived in for many years carries emotional hurdles. Packing it all up is tedious and time-consuming and brings back mounds of memories. Getting the house ready for sale may mean painting over your mother’s favorite lilac paint color, taking away all your personal photos and mementos, losing its personality. You have to replace dad’s tattered-but-incredibly-comfortable Lazy-Boy chair with a neutral gray armchair out of the safe but boring catalogue.
But trust me when I say the most difficult decision you have to make after moving out is if you can ever go back again.
Let’s say your new home is in the same town. Do you regularly drive past your old home or do you go out of your way to avoid it completely?
One Couple, Two Reactions
My spouse and I were shattered when we walked out of our home for the last time, maybe because our oldest daughter was sobbing.
For the first little while, we were busy putting the new house together. And shortly thereafter all our kids left to go back to college. We were busy and our old home was no longer top of mind.
But once we settled in, a strange thing happened. We experienced two polar opposite reactions to the change.
I wanted to bring my old home with me. I felt grateful for having lived there and being part of its long history. I had very little conflict to resolve and I wanted to keep it in my mind and heart.
My other half, on the other hand, hasn’t driven past our old home in the past year-and-a-half. She hasn’t set eyes on it since the day we moved out. I don’t understand that, but it seems to work for her. It’s a perfectly legitimate approach, it’s just not mine.
There are any ways to deal with change, and downsizing is a tough one. But I can’t help but think that you can’t just block your feelings.
Advice For The Sentimental
Here’s what I did and what you should do if you share my feelings:
- Drive by your old house regularly. See it change through the seasons. Notice when your favorite tulips are blooming and if there’s a new swing set in the backyard. I noticed the new owners had put two new cute benches at the front doorway. What a great idea! Why hadn’t we thought of that?
- Go back to pick up mail that’s still being sent to the old address. Work hard to get over that awkward moment when the new owner opens the door. If you feel comfortable, they’ll feel comfortable. They may even ask you to come inside and look at all the changes they’ve made. That’s what happened to me. First off, the new owners had much nicer furniture than we had and painted most of the walls blue. I really don’t like the color blue. Everything there was some shade of blue. Once I got over the initial shock, I realized they were taking superb care of the house and had truly made it their own. That was an important moment for me. I could have reacted badly or felt like a snoop. Instead, because it no longer looked the same, it was easy to come to grips that this wasn’t really my home anymore. And I was just fine about that.
- Become Facebook friends with the new owners. (I’m not being a stalker, really.) They have twins, just like us. Last Easter we saw pictures of a fantastic Easter Egg Hunt in the backyard, just like we used to do when our kids were young. Seeing those photos of the family living and growing up in that house just makes me smile. I’m sincerely happy that we sold our home to just the right people.
- Take some of your old home with you. Literally take things with you. I took my mom’s old rose bushes and a little bit of my garden to replant and nurture in my new one. I know it sounds crazy, but I took my beautiful living room curtains and had them made into pillows for my dining room chairs. I upholstered something else with my dining room curtains. I get to see these familiar prints every day and it makes my whole family smile. There are tons of similar things you could do.
- Make sure to put up your family photos right away (perhaps edited down a bit). Don’t avoid photos of your family pictured at the old house.
- Cook some of your favorite meals. It’s all about sense memory and the smells make your new home feel homey.
- Keep old traditions alive. I was worried about our first Christmas in the new house. It was definitely different not being in that very large living room. But we fit just as many people into our smaller space and it was tons of fun. And the tree might not have been as large as it once was, but it was just right and held all our family ornaments.
- Most importantly, be sure to pick a new home you want to live in. Think through all your priorities, and try to incorporate many of them when you move. I love my new home. It has a mix of elements I absolutely love, and some things that aren’t so great. But I look forward to coming home and I’m happy here.
Advice For Those Who Only Want to Look Forward
Here’s what I would recommend if you feel like shutting out your past:
- Take a very quick drive past your old home. Seriously. It won’t harm you and it might help you come to terms more easily.
- Think of something you’d love to do to your new home that you never had the chance to do at the old one. Grow tomatoes; buy a ping pong table; watch for sales and buy the piece of furniture you would never allow yourself to buy; create a personal room or space. Do something special to your new home that’s just for you.
- Invite over more people who can ooh and aah about the new place. You have to feel good about it.
Which brings me back to my earlier premise. How you feel about your new home affects how you feel about your old home. The more you like where you are, the better adjusted you’ll be about the past.
Joan likes this new home far less than I do. It’s a little out of the way. Since she works from home, it can seem isolating. Not so for me; I’ve replicated so much of my old environment into my new one, that it seems very similar.
All of this confirms my #1 belief about downsizing. First things first, and you may think it’s out of order — but I can assure you that it’s not. You must know where you’re going and be happy with your decision before you can even begin to think about selling your existing home.
More about that another time.