Finding Home

House with a sold sign

We sold our house this week. No, we’re not moving overseas again, not even across the country, in fact we may well end up living within walking distance of where we live now. We simply decided, for a number of reasons, that now is time to move from a house to condominium apartment.

Deciding to sell the house was probably one of the most difficult decisions we’ve made. But why? We’ve owned this house 26 years, but almost half that time we were overseas. We owned 4 other houses before it, and have rented 7 other homes since. And yet this house held a special place in our hearts, which made selling it seem akin to selling a family member.

The rational side of me knew that we’d been perfectly happy in all the homes we’ve lived in. The shabby post-soviet apartment in Baku, the gleaming 5* luxury apartment in Dubai, a villa the size of an aircraft hangar and the tiny apartment where everything had to be stowed away like on a submarine, had all been “home” for a while. We cooked, entertained, pursued hobbies and had fulfilling and fun lives no matter where or what we’d lived in. So why did the thought of moving here in Canada break my heart?

A lot of soul searching later, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for us, it’s the years we weren’t there that made this house so special. It became a psychological safe harbor, an anchor, the place we knew we could always return to when culture shock, loneliness, or the stress of not knowing if or when we’d move again overwhelmed us. David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in their book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds talk about “sacred objects” which help connect one part of a global nomad’s life with the next. Perhaps this house had become our sacred object. A place we knew we could always go back to, “home.” It would welcome us, we’d brew a steaming cup of tea and all would be well.

During the decision-making process, and even after the house was listed, tears were shed, although we knew our decision was the right one. But surprisingly, now the house is sold, we’re at peace. Perhaps because it’s been bought by a lovely retired couple who are moving to be close to their children and grandchildren who live a few doors away. Knowing we are passing the torch to immigrants (expats) like ourselves has helped.  The house will be in safe hands.

Living overseas taught us that brick and mortar (or concrete and steel) don’t make a home. It’s the people within it and the life you build for yourself that matters. Home can be anywhere you are and is what you choose to make it.

Perhaps it’s fitting that the theme of the next Families in Global Transition Conference is “Finding Home.” It’ll be just in time for me as I transition yet again from one home to another.

8 thoughts on “Finding Home

  1. Judy- This really hit home, having felt those same emotions and not understanding why.

    As a military kid, we were forever leaving places behind, so moving should have been second nature. I like the ‘sacred object’ term to describe the importance of a home base (a particular home of my grandmother’s shattered me when they sold it).

    A favorite teacher was “sacred” to me- she was always bedrock whenever I would come visit her after being away.

    Our feelings may seem irrational on the surface, yet as you say, there’s something about a home-base that’s important. Thanks for helping put that in perspective!

  2. Congratulations on the sale of your home … and I too love that the fitting segue for those walls … into the hands of another expat family. Leaving place and leaving home has so many connotations for me … I can relate.

  3. It broke my heart too when you announced you were selling your home. Memories of countless dinners and teas, Christmases and even our wedding reception in that lovely backyard. As a new immigrant uprooted from 3 continents, without a safe harbour, your place was my safe harbour too. But you have a knack for making any place home, Judy and Kaye. We look forward to the next safe harbour.

  4. Thanks for sharing. We’re holding onto a house in Seattle that we bought in 2001 and only lived in 4 years before moving overseas… Strange to think how mentally important it is.

  5. Judy, you were lucky to have had that “safe place” in Canada! We never had one! I remember selling the house in the US where we lived for some time during our kids teenage years, because we were going overseas again and it was not a good rental property and too big to just hold on to. So for years and years we were actually “homeless.” It was a strange feeling in the beginning but we got used to it. Later again I wanted to have a little place that we could go back to, so we bought a house that was easy to close up and leave. But it never became the place I wanted to stay for the long run because we never grew roots in the community there. So now we’ve bought a house in France and have put it on the market…

  6. I agree you were lucky to have a home base. I never had one growing but although my aunt’s house kind of ended up being the place we went to every year. Good luck with your move. I am about to move myself and although exciting, can be a bit overwhelming at times.

  7. Thanks everyone for your comments and contributions. The decision to keep a “permanent” home or not is very personal one and depends very much on your circumstances. I’m glad we did, but like all relationships, saying goodbye is hard.

  8. Pingback: Discovering Residence | Posts

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