An inside look at Chicago real estate

Moving on – How to let go of your old home and pack up your memories

Kay Severinsen By
Kay Severinsen
   | Moving

The house in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, where my mother-in-law has lived for 58 years, is now for sale.

Soon someone else will be having Sunday dinner on the screened-in back porch, shaded by an ancient maple tree. Maybe they will have white wicker love seats, too.

Some other family will start a tradition of Thanksgiving dinners in the dining room, maybe a new grandma will fuss over the gravy in the kitchen. Different children will leap down the staircase and play basketball in the driveway.

Moving Memories

It seems unthinkable to us, but some other family will start a history here, where my husband’s has been entrenched longer than almost any other Beverly family we know.

The fact is, it can be darned hard to let go of a home that feels like it will still be yours long after the ink has dried on the sales contract, and the longer you have lived there, the more momentous the change may feel.

The previous owners of the place I live in now must have found it difficult. One of them kissed the door screen – an imprint of lips could be seen in just the right light. The daughters signed a wall inside the garage with a Sharpie – they left a wall-sized construction paper garden in the basement. It didn’t feel like our house until we had removed all their wallpaper, re-painted and decorated in our taste.

Some anthropologists have suggested that people tend to link “family” with the idea of “household,” and identify them both with a place. That makes sense especially if you have raised a family in one particular home.

But your family is independent of where they live. If you have a spouse, children, or other relatives that live with you, chances are that they’re going with you to the next place, where you’ll continue to be a family. If the move is prompted by a change in the family structure, it makes sense that the change can feel like more than just a sale.

If you’re thinking about selling in the near future, it’s time now to start disengaging from the walls around you.

My best advice to myself and anyone else facing a move, is to be sure that your memories move with you. Photographs, furniture, movable decorating (some curtains, chairs, area rugs, for example) if they can make the move to your new home, you will feel settled more quickly.

If something momentous happened there – a birth of a child, a marriage proposal – photos and videos can help seal your memory of those times. Often, packing up and throwing things out will unearth some token of a poignant memory, perpetuating the difficulty of making a break. Tuck those special things in a box to take with you – just don’t, as it felt like my own mother did, put everything in that box.

Here’s another suggestion that works great for some: Have a goodbye party for your home. One woman I know of invited her friends for the evening. They walked from room to room with candles, telling each room goodbye.

Finally, plan for great times ahead. What will be the best things about your new home? Get ready to celebrate the larger (or smaller) space, the new carpet, the friends you will meet. Who knows what memories you will make there?


  1. Jim Peters ·

    After we sold my parents house (my childhood home), I walked through and took photos of various rooms and details, including my Mom sweeping a walk and my Dad reading a book in favorite chair. Used an entire 36-exp roll of B&W film and made framed contact sheet prints (remember those) for my siblings. An instant memory book.

    • Kay ·

      Jim, what a great idea! I have been taking pictures of her – and us – around her house, too, and hope to make her a memory book using Snapfish or something like that.

  2. Peggy Taheri ·

    My departing gift “to our home” of 20 years was to personally scrub every inch of the place we had lovingly built and lived in so happily. Even though the house had always been extra tidy, I wanted the new owners to love this home as much as we had and to be extra impressed by its shine and order!! But after five days of perfecting, sanitizing, and organizing, my husband finally made me leave the empty rooms in tears, but pleased with the way this proud home glowed!! Makes me sound a little compulsive, I know, but my way of being able to leave a well loved home!

    • Kay ·

      You’re a clean one, Mrs. Taheri! Today my mother-in-law was out weeding in the 90 degree heat. Not a good idea for her, but she wants it to look perfect.