How to Say Goodbye to a House
I recently got back from England – from Sheffield – where I just spent what I would categorize as the hardest two weeks of my life, sorting, organizing, and making my parents’ house ready for its new owners. It was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting.
We moved there over forty years ago when I was 12, and while I haven’t lived there permanently since I was 18, it’s been a constant fixture in my life ever since, and a home away from home whenever I’m in England.
Saying goodbye to this house was so difficult, and of course represents much more than losing a house, though that in itself is plenty.
I am so grateful that I had years of practicing the Alexander Technique to help me at this stressful time, as well as the love and support of my dearest and oldest friends. I don’t know what I would have done without you.
A few friends suggested I set aside time to say a proper goodbye.
Another commented on my blog about having a final look around somewhere he was leaving once it was completely empty. That sounded very appealing to me. I have distinct memories of “exploring” the house with a friend before we actually moved in when it was empty, so it would have felt like full circle to do that again at the end.
Sadly, I was not be able to do that, as the final clearing of the house by the professionals was done after I’d left. Even so, I did, of course, have a final look around, when much had been removed and dismantled, though it was not completely empty.
It felt important to say goodbye properly.
I combined the suggestions that appealed to me most. On my own in the house for the very last time, this is what I did:
I have the photos of the house looking its best taken by a professional photographer this summer for the marketing when it went up for sale (including the one at the top of this post). They kindly gave me all of them. I also have several I have taken myself. On my very last time in the house, however, I took photos of every room, just as they were – somewhat disheveled and dismantled, but with corners that looked the same as always. Real photos.
I silently made a video starting with me walking up to the house and in and out of every room. I haven’t had the courage to look at it yet, but I’m so glad I have it.
- Keep Memories and Release
The very last thing I did was to go intentionally again into each room in turn. I consciously thought to myself that I was keeping MY memories, reminding myself that they would always be mine. I then released the room on to the new owners. It felt important and right.
One of the last rooms I went in was the kitchen. As I started thinking about releasing it to the new owners, I saw a basket sitting on the floor by the back door – it’s place for many years. That basket has been in my life as long as I can remember. Perhaps my parents received it as a wedding present.
I vaguely remember my mother using it as a shopping basket when I was a very young child. In more recent years it was used to collect papers for recycling.
When I saw the basket, I didn’t want to release it!
So, I released everything else in the kitchen and took the basket with me. It now has a new home with my friend Miriam, and I’ll now see it whenever I visit Sheffield, along with a few other items she, and other friends, have received, including pictures, mugs, the dining room table, my old desk, and even my mum’s old music cabinet.
Finally, after I left the last set of keys in a drawer for the new owners and clicked the door shut behind me for the very last time, I thought again about keeping my memories of being in the house – all of them – and released it to the new owners, wishing them well as they start making a new home for themselves and their own memories.
This is how I said goodbye. I am grateful for the many wonderful years and visits I spent there.
Now I’m back in my own home in the U.S., I feel weirdly disconnected from my life – I don’t really know how else to describe it.
I do know that it always helps me to remember, I am free to feel whatever I am feeling – that I am free to feel ALL my emotions. I don’t have to be able to describe them, or even understand them. There’s no “right” way to be or feel or do things.
I am free to be me.
How have you said goodbye when you’ve had to leave important places in your life? Have you had something of a ritual, or been intentional about it in some way? What would you like to do in future?
As always, I welcome your comments. Please leave them in the space below.
In 2009/10 I said goodbye to my mum’s house, clearing out, sorting, not being able to spend the time I needed. I put my effort into making sure it went to someone who would love it. My mum’s solicitor and her family bought it. That continuation helped. While clearing it out, I went to a pool near Ipswich and first saw someone teaching the Shaw Method. Two years later, that led me to the Alexander Technique. I have just graduated in both of these. It started with the clearing out of a house. Life is full of surprises amongst the heartache. My thoughts with you, Imogene.
It is amazing sometimes how challenging times lead us to some of the most rewarding things in our lives. So happy you found the Technique…AND the Shaw Method! Thanks so much for your comment, Bridget.
Wow, now that we are in the process of preparing our home of 25 years to sell, reading this made me sad!
It is a challenging, bittersweet time. Wishing you well in your move, Antoinette.
I left my Mum and Dad’s house after 32 years of living there (sold after their deaths). Clearing wasn’t easy but I had much more time to do it that you did so that helped a lot. Three piles while clearing – keep, go, and still to decide. Still to decide things were decided at a later date (as I say we had much more time). I was numb on the day we left; sat on the doorstep while my brother went through various items with new owner. All felt so unreal. It was made worst by the new owners wanting to show us the plans for the new house they wanted to build after pulling our home down. I remember thinking this is not what I want to hear now at this point. I’m afraid I couldn’t show much interest in their plans. One minute after leaving the house for the last time I had a flat tyre in my car and pulled into a nearby pub car park. My brother had already driven off to Durham. I sat in my car and thought I can laugh or I can cry. I chose not to cry. It was a very different weird day. I have a lovely photo album of photos my sister took of each room in the house before we did any serious emptying so it is lovely to see that occasionally. But I can candidly say I rarely now think about the house because if I do I usually make myself think of something else. I am truly grateful for the years I was there – they were extremely happy – but it can make me sad if I think about it too much.
Hi Hanneke! It’s so amazing to hear from you, and find out you read my blog!! I’m sure I remember visiting you at your parents’ house when I still lived in Manchester, which seems like a lifetime ago. Your story is so sad. I’m glad I didn’t meet the new owners of my parents’ house, nor learn of any of their plans (though another part of me is intensely curious!). Thankfully I don’t think pulling it down will be an option as it’s a semi. I like to imagine new life being breathed into it, and maybe a next generation enjoying it and building their own memories. I’m having a lots of dreams about being in the house at the moment in very weird circumstances. Thank you so much for writing. Leaving a house – a home – like that is a huge deal. You will always have your memories, which it sounds like you treasure. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
I find this interesting because I’ve been forced to leave a couple of houses. I didn’t really have a chance to do this for one.
About 11 years ago, my father was out of the country and his business partner did something illegal. Unfortunately, that prevented him from coming back to the states. With his source of income gone, we were forced to leave a house that we’d moved into. Moving a 4 bedroom house out in a matter of a couple days, especially right at the end of my teens, was like having everything taken in a whirlwind. And then I’d had a series of places that I lived, sometimes moving every 6 months, until I was finally able to get things back on track and stable 4-5 years later. But now I have to think back to that house and try to remember it without ever having had that closure. I guess that’s why I do what I do now in real estate to help people that are going through tough times.
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