It’s easy to tell yourself that your house is just a building made of walls and ceilings and light fixtures and flooring, but when it comes time to sell, you may start to feel the sting of grief.
After all, you don’t know if the new owners will take care of the rows and rows of brilliant iris that line the fence in the spring or if they’ll cut down the tree where robins have nested for years because they don’t realize it waits for the first burst of summer heat to spring back to life.
Will they paint your child's former bedroom and cover up the jamb that marks their height each year? Will they take out the built-in desk and bookcases you made that summer?
Maybe saying goodbye isn’t the easy process you thought it would be. Selling your family home is a type of loss.
When you’re selling your family home, it’s not just a building that you’re saying goodbye to. It’s all the memories you made there, the familiariarity and, maybe most importantly, the security of that one place you could always fall back to if life started kicking you too hard. This goes for the house that you raised your kids in as well as the house where you were raised — both are genuine losses.
“You’re dismantling something that was once precious, and you have to go through grief and mourning when this happens.” psychologist Dr. Arthur Kovacs explained in an interview with the Chicago Times.
Of course, that’s only part of the story. Another element that makes it so hard to quit a family home is the link between memory and physical space. When your memories are tangled in with your home, it can be hard to let go.
“We have memories and associations that are connected to all of those things that make houses so heavily connected to ourselves,” Duke University’s department of psychology and neuroscience chair, Dr. Scott Huettel, goes on to explain the phenomenon to the New York Times.
Much of the time when you’re looking to sell a family home, it’s due to a big change in life. Maybe your kids have all grown and you’re planning to simplify your life or maybe your parents have died and you’re having to liquidate their estate. No matter the reason, it’s one of the hardest things you can do, even if you think you’re totally prepared.
How do you get ready for such a big shift in your life? It’s all about your mindset. Start to detach from the house by taking down and packing anything that’s personal. This includes photos, crafted decorations, paintings and so forth. As you take these things off the walls, the space starts to become more generic, less personal and it gets easier to consider selling the house.
If you’re still feeling the pain at this point, work on other parts of the house. Remember that crack in the wall from four years ago when the game controller flew from your daughter’s hand and hit the wall at full force? Patch that up. Your buyer probably won’t even notice it, but you will.
When the Offer Comes Through
The day will come that you get an offer. Resist the urge to flat out reject it, no matter the price. This is where the rubber meets the road — it’s now grossly apparent that you’re selling the house you poured so much of yourself into rather than just thinking about it. Here's where your excellent agent comes to the rescue (hi there!)
Getting Ready to Hand Over the Keys
It's time for a party! Call it a “remembrance party” or something festive, but the whole point is to say goodbye in a big way so you can get the closure you need. Some people go room by room to have one last good walk down memory lane, others celebrate by doing something they hadn’t gotten around to doing, like hosting a luau.
Your goodbye will be best if you do it in a way that’s meaningful to you and your family. There aren’t really any shortcuts when it comes to grief, unfortunately. Don’t beat yourself up, it’s not “just a house.” That’s the building that sheltered and protected you year after year. That’s the stuff that attachment is made of.
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