‘My house used to be filled with noise, chatter and chaos — it almost echoes now…’
By Donna Cordello
We were always ‘the house,’ the one where everybody congregated — the place where all my children’s friends slept over and woke up to a huge Sunday brunch, the place where the entire family celebrated birthdays and all of the holidays.
I would whip up dinners for 25 people without breaking a sweat. Now, I cook as little as possible and my favorite thing to make is reservations.
I weeded, mowed and mulched my yard, which was always littered with bicycles, balls and toys. I planted a large vegetable and herb garden. Then, my knees and back started begging me to hire landscapers and support local farm markets. So I listened and did both.
My children and their cousins would swim in our pool until their lips turned blue. And for years, when it was dark and without anyone around. I’d strip off my clothes and go ‘chubby’ dipping every night.
That changed when the vast field behind us filled up with dozens of houses. Now, I’m the only person who still uses the pool and it’s just not the same. No more chubby dipping and my husband complains louder every year about the pool maintenance, which he compares to a part-time job.
My house used to be filled with noise, chatter and chaos — it almost echoes now. The kitchen and dining room tables, which were always full, host empty chairs. The bedrooms, which were once littered with piles of clothes, book bags and instruments, now have spotless floors and unoccupied beds.
So a house that we built years ago to grow our children up in has apparently outgrown us. And like many of other people in our situation, we are thinking about downsizing, which is both exciting and somewhat terrifying, especially for someone like me, who becomes attached to people, places and things.
I realize some people move frequently and it’s not a big deal. But I’m not one of them. I’ve literally only lived in a handful of places my entire life and at this address for almost half of my life. Just the thought of packing up almost three decades of all the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years gives me anxiety. I’m overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.
I’ve been told that it’s best to keep the things you love and get rid of the things you don’t like or haven’t used in a year. I figure if I start weeding out now, I might be ready in a year or two. It sounds so simple in theory but I find myself interrupted with nostalgia.
From tee ball to varsity, I’ve kept all the sports jerseys my kids ever wore — along with baskets of trophies. I have their confirmation and graduation gowns, awards, report cards and certificates. I have every gift that they ever made for me; clay sculptures that are supposed to look like something, boxes of cards and, of course, paper Christmas ornaments. I shake my head and wonder, “Are they ever going to want these things after I’m gone?”
I have junk drawers full of “just in case” stuff with items and gadgets that may or may not ever be used. I come across mystery items also, which look important because they apparently belong to something but I don’t know what.
We have a garage full of cans, gallons, aerosols and tools. Shelves of things we might have needed at the time but no longer serve any purpose.
There are bins of all the things my children left behind here when they moved out. They didn’t take these things with them but didn’t want to get rid of them either, assuming Mom and Dad could store them – indefinitely!
I have plastic tubs of photos. I always had the intention of organizing them someday, which still hasn’t come. Half the pictures are of people who aren’t alive anymore and in some of the old photos, I can’t tell which kid is which because my sons looked so much alike when they were small.
Regardless, I’m definitely keeping them. It will probably be a good project for me if and when I ever retire. Or better yet and more likely, a project for my children someday.
I become even more anxious as my husband and I face the next quandary. Where are we going to move? Should we stay in the same neighborhood we are so familiar with or venture out into a new one? Do we want a small house, a townhouse or a condo? Should we try to find an existing structure or go with a new build? It’s confusing and makes me dizzy.
I remember the day we bought our lot which was just a mountain of weeds and dirt. I think back to the excitement of digging the first shovel into the earth and watching the masons lay blocks for the foundation. I was overwhelmed with all the choices we had to make from light fixtures to cabinets, paint colors to vanities, and coordinating all the people who worked on our project. My husband and I were not only the homeowners, but the builders as well. I recall the great sense of pride and excitement we shared when our house was completed.
But we were still far from done. We scrimped and saved every year in order to cross off another line from our wish list. We waited two years until we could afford to buy a dining room set. Another year we added on a deck and yet, another a sidewalk.
Seeds grew into grass. The tiny saplings grew into trees and the minute balls of sticks and leaves became huge bushes. The bulbs magically sprouted into splashes of colorful flowers.
Our children were young when we built our house. So were we. Our house was new and fresh and full of hope and promise for the days and years ahead. We used and enjoyed every single room in it. We hosted parties and had thousands of dinners. We shared laughter and tears, celebrations and tragedies together, as families do. But, above all, our house was always full of love, which made it our home — and is the main reason it will be so difficult for me to leave.
My children grew up here. They became adults and moved out, like they were supposed to do. Now, it’s just the two of us, living in a small portion of a large space. Someday, I’ll drive by and it will be the old house I used to live in.
When we move out, we will be looking back at our past just like the new owners will be looking forward to their future. I hope they bring it back to life and these empty rooms will be messy and loud and chaotic, like they used to be. The garage will be overflowing with sneakers, cleats and sports equipment, and the lights will be on until the kids get home. I hope the next family will share and enjoy all the milestones of raising a family inside this structure, like we did.
Nostalgia aside, downsizing has its benefits. There will be lower expenses and less housework and upkeep, which will be, now that I think of it, maybe wonderful!
Until then, as my husband and I enter the next chapter in our lives, we will have a lot of decisions to make and a great deal of work ahead of us. We face the task of emptying a house we couldn’t wait to fill up.
But, one thing is for sure. I will get rid of all the things I don’t need or use — and take the memories with me.
Donna Cordello, 60, is a freelance writer with local, national and international publications. She lives in Penfield and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.