The historic volatility of housing markets surrounding New York City is no secret. Here in Connecticut, prices rose over 20 percent and sales over 30 percent year-over-year in June. This meteoric increase, coupled with our adult daughter’s imminent departure, persuaded my wife and me to sell our home of 23 years.
But pangs of nostalgia are troubling my better half. She swears she will not drive down this street after we leave. The return could only raise angst over a happy era irretrievably gone. I, on the other hand, find myself more focused and present than ever before, all because of the staging process.
The friend who launched me on a path toward heightened awareness is an unlikely spiritual guru. He is a retired business consultant who specialized in manufacturing efficiencies and still impresses like the boss I am sure he was — laconic and gruff because he only needed a few words to get people to do as he asked. A while back I began wallowing in my doubts with this man. I too struggled with the decision to pull up stakes. This cape has encompassed the history of our lives together — myself, my wife and child — and the vast majority is a joy to remember. My friend cut me off mid-complaint. “Find the answer,” he said, “and work to it. You have your answer.” The bottom line informed his advice — outsize demand for a commodity offering diminishing returns to the current owner. However, his injunction to live in “the answer” had more metaphysical consequences for me.
Our Realtor outlined the steps to ready the residence for prospective buyers. There was a punch list of repairs I had neglected, but decluttering accounted for the majority of the work. Two decades had left no surface unencumbered. Our taskmaster couldn’t stress enough that the jumble would keep shoppers from seeing the dwelling’s best face.
In order to achieve this minimalist goal, we had to be ruthless in an assessment of mementos, ephemera and the rest embedded in the living space. Items deemed essential found their way into boxes in the garage. The rest went to charities or the dump. The exercise revealed the truth of what had come to rest around me. So much represented deferred decisions. The “Big Sort” unearthed projects that I set aside, records and notes I meant to act upon, tools and appliance parts put away for later use. I see now the pitfalls of this procrastination. One piece laid down “for future attention” is likely to find company. Similar to a particle in a pipe, it catches other effluvia that passes through. After a while flow is constricted. “Congested” is not a term normally applied to houses but it described ours.
Of course, downsizing advocates have long preached the advantages of this type of cull. Remove the incidental and you will be more productive. However, the upcoming move brought an added benefit. The deadline and uncertainty looming behind it have fixed me in the now.
How so, you ask? First, this upheaval has highlighted the big chunk of my allotted span already consumed. The possessions I keep and those I discard are the wheat and chaff of a score of growing seasons. The cliché is true — it seems only yesterday we brought our infant into the living room. Soon she will drive away to graduate school. The sharpened sense of swift and silent time has made me more honest as I sift. I know better what I want most to accomplish. The number of stalled endeavors in the dustbin is a humbling sight but also a valuable warning as I go forward. When I pick a challenge up, do it then and there.
The approaching departure has also compelled me to have a different perspective on the place we leave. As stated before, I understand my wife’s unease. These walls nurtured our family. They witnessed our trials and progress. They muffled tears but echoed back a great deal more laughter. However, our memories do not reside in this structure. We take those with us also.
There is the question of “Where to?” The real test, and gift, of staying grounded in the present arises from our lack of a concrete response. We have a general idea of the town and type of house we want but we can’t hang our hats on those notions. Conjectures can lead into a landmine. What if we can’t find a place? What if we end up on the street? What if we make a mistake in the new address? The uncertainty can overwhelm. Mindfulness of this one moment steers me clear of that danger. The path to our next happy home springs from what I do now. I remind myself of this often. A mantra, if you will.
Another lesson came clear these last few weeks. We are nearly done with the assignment our Realtor gave us. As I scan the sparsely adorned rooms around me, the true purpose reveals itself. The staging process has sanitized our presence from this house so another family can more easily imagine how they will make it their own. The relative emptiness reminds me of my first visit here. The grown children of the original owners had stripped away every vestige of their childhoods in the way we have done today. The new owners will eventually find themselves doing the same when life moves them on. We are all caretakers of the estates we think we own.
None of what I realized is new. This is ancient wisdom. “Yesterday is but a dream. Tomorrow is only a vision.” — Kalidasa, fifth-century Sanskrit playwright. “Inside the Great Mystery that is, we don’t really own anything. What is this competition we feel then, before we go, one at a time, through the same gate?” — Rumi, 13th-century Persian poet.
Who knew selling a house could be such a zen activity?