My life is in boxes: reflections on making a home

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we are moving.  Life has a way of making big changes feel ill-timed.  The past few weeks have been full of planned and unexpected transitions.  Even though we’re moving less than three miles away from our current house, the moving process seems longer.  It feels like we have been packing and schlepping for weeks.  I look around my house now and all I see are boxes.

I have moved many times in my life–several as a child, three times in the years that followed college graduation.  But more recently, I’ve been rooted where I live. You would never believe that I always wanted to be sent away. As a child, I loved stories of girls who went to overnight camp or boarding school, but those scenarios were not financially possible. I always thought I would move far away, but then I met my now husband just a year out of college. He was from Massachusetts and I was from New Jersey so when we landed in Connecticut, I felt really lucky we were able to stay close.  Several years later, the girls joined our family and the idea of displacing ourselves just because we wanted to be far away seemed foolish.  Eventually, though, we felt like we were outgrowing our current house and started looking for another.

Moving a home is daunting when you’ve settled into your space. When we searched for our first home, we were scared to take on what we considered to be “too much house” even though everyone told us we would “fill it.”  I was never concerned with filling it–we don’t typically buy things just to buy them, and it takes us forever to make decisions about big decorating purchases. I felt lucky to own a home at all.  We bought just before the mortgage market fell apart and even then, my mother told me she lamented how expensive real estate (especially in the northeast) had become. My mom never saw our house, but she would have loved it (she would have loved it more if it had air conditioning).

Our house is modest and lovely. It’s eighty-five years old and full of charm. And in the six years we’ve lived here, so many things in our lives have changed.  We’ve painted the walls, hung our pictures, and added our own signature to the house.  And we have acquired so many things, including two little ladies. When you’ve filled a house with things that you use (and things that you simply keep), the prospect of packing them and moving them is debilitating.  Packing a life into boxes makes you face a few sobering realities.

First, I have too many things.  In the last few weeks of packing, we’ve made lovely discoveries in the attic and the basement (and sometimes in my own closet). We have “found” things we thought long gone or recovered things we thought lost or discovered things we never knew we had.  All signs that we have some serious thinking to do about the things that live with us.  I am already making false promises about having fewer things, about using my things more often, and about giving things away.  I hope I’ll keep up my end of this shaky bargain.

Then, there’s the issue of moving into what is known in suburbia as “our forever home.” I haven’t yet called our new house “our forever home” because I feel like it implies that life until this point hasn’t been real. And it also adds too much pressure. “Forever” implies that the future is guaranteed. If I know anything about life, nothing is guaranteed. Having already helped to clear out my family home (my parents’ “forever home”), I understand what it feels like to get attached to a house and to feel sadness over saying goodbye.

More than anything, more than packing the things or reframing how I see the next phase of my life, I feel sad that I can take the tangible things with me but other intangible things are left behind.  It’s not really about the physical house. I can hardly remember the two years we lived in this house before we had our kids.  We brought our daughters home to this house. I watched my preschooler take her first steps on the sidewalk in front of our house. I watched our littles run in the yard together and play together like sisters.  When I got my PhD, we came home to this house. I can’t pack those feelings, those images, those memories in a box with me. I can keep those experiences in my heart but they feel most salient in this place.

I have to keep remembering that the only thing changing with this move is our house. I feel so blessed to move to our new house. Thankfully, we are staying in the town where we’ve been for the last eight years.  I hope to stay here and see my children through school, to make this home a place for them. It might not be forever but it’s where I see us for now.

I’m so excited for the new intangible things I’ll accrue and eventually store in the attic.

About rglw

Sociologist mom writes for work and for pleasure.
This entry was posted in family, kids, lessons learned, marriage, personal, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to My life is in boxes: reflections on making a home

  1. formyfrog says:

    Your post made me think of all the ways we mark passages of time in our lives — births, deaths, marriages, divorces, starting school, graduating — but houses we’ve lived in are like containers for all it. Right now I can visualize houses I’ve lived in since childhood and with each one comes a flood of memories with the feelings of that period. It’s no wonder we become attached to houses!

    • rglw says:

      I also lived in four houses before my parents landed in the same house for a while. And I remember every bit of those houses even the ones I lived in as a little girl. Losing the house feels like temporarily losing the place where we made the memories but I just have to get used to a new place. Change gets harder as you get older. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Bobbi says:

    Your history and your new beginnings will continue to weave the web of family. Enjoy the moment and the future. It is so worth every moment.

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