“Home is where the heart is.” – Pliny the Elder
Before my father died, my mother had been agitating to sell the family home and downsize to a more manageable property. But Dad was not interested in moving.
When Dad passed away two years ago, Mum put the brakes on the idea of selling. Given Dad’s feelings about it, the house had become synonymous in her mind with him. To sell up seemed to be a sort of betrayal of his memory.
Eventually, though, the burden of managing a big family sized property on her own became too much and she returned to the idea of downsizing. And so, after a very long sales campaign, the family home of 33 years in outer suburban Melbourne was sold and Mum finally moved out last week.
Often when people move they take the opportunity to clear out any junk that has accumulated around the house, rather than take it to the new place. But downsizing brings with it the need to get rid of much more than junk.
Not one to dilly-dally, Mum got down to business the moment the house was sold. She had sold the formal lounge suite and the kitchen table within two days of selling, and she continued selling pieces of furniture to friends and neighbours right up until she moved out.
She also put aside bags and bags of unwanted clothes and homeware to give to her chosen charity, Vinnie’s. She literally filled a room with unwanted goods for them, including some mattresses and an old desk.
Then there were things that no one wanted to buy and the charities wouldn’t take. Everything from an old barbecue to an old television to old chairs and much, much more. In the end, the front yard was filled with junk, to be collected by the local council.
As all of this was taking place, my brother and I were caught up in the activity and excitement of a new start for Mum. We were both aware that saying goodbye to the family home was a big thing, but I think both of us were surprised by the level of emotion it brought with it. As my friend Mary would say, you can know something rationally or intellectually but it sometimes takes a little time to catch up emotionally.
After spending a day moving the junk out of the house and onto the front lawn last Sunday week, my brother left the house and only later realised that that was it, he wouldn’t be returning. He rang me and asked if I’d taken any photos of the house, but as we discussed it we both realised that we already had photos of the house: all the photos we’d taken over the course of the last 33 years there. The ones with us in them. Those were the photos that counted.
There is an exercise that a friend of mine taught me to help you say goodbye to a house. As you leave, you take the good memories and positive vibes with you, and you place them into your next house. My brother and I talked about the fact that we would be taking all the good memories, all the things that made the house our home, with us. There was no need to be sad.
Of course, that’s always easier said than done. On the final day, as Mum and I emptied out the final boxes and bits and pieces and left the house for the last time, we performed the exercise to say goodbye to the house. While Mum was cheery and getting on with it, eager to move on, I went from room to room thinking about the lives we’d led in the house, good times and bad, and tearing up.
I’d also decided to act on the little seed my brother had planted in my mind and take photos of the house and gardens after all. Thanks to digital photography we can all hoard photos to our heart’s content, so I figured why not.
When I uploaded the photos and looked through them, though, it was the strangest thing: The house, empty now of our furniture, our things, and most importantly us, was just that: an empty house.
It reminded me of a lovely quote by humourist Sam Ewing:
“When you finally go back to your old home, you find it wasn’t the old home you missed but your childhood.”
So it is with our old family home. My brother and I are no longer able to revisit our past simply by visiting our mum. Now the house has returned to just being a house, as it was before we lived there. And what we’ll miss about it most is what we put in it ourselves: our lives, our heart.