How can I deal with grief about selling my house?
August 26, 2013 10:10 AM   Subscribe

I owned a beautiful new home for seven years and had to sell it this year due to practical factors such as distance to work for my wife, daycare, and so on. I am struggling with a kind of grief about it. The new owners move in today and last night I had a farewell party with some friends at the house which helped, but I stayed there all night taking photos and crying and trying to memorize every inch of it. I'm talking literally crying on the front lawn and feeling like I couldn't breathe.

This was a home I saw being built from the ground up and which I poured a lot of energy and time into, thinking it was my forever home. I am absolutely sick at heart to have lost it, even though I made a considerable profit from it.

Now we are renting an apartment while we house search, but this only makes it worse -- the decent homes in our new area (Toronto) are way out of our price range and there are only small, fixer uppers full of asbestos, musty basements, etc within our grasp. This has caused considerable stress for us, because I refuse to settle for something less than what I had even though this is now impossible, but my wife is more willing to buy a home that requires extensive renovation. I'm on the verge of giving up and just renting indefinitely, even as I struggle with some difficult feelings of regret, sadness, and the strange sense that I somehow betrayed my old home by selling it.

Am I overreacting or is this level of grief and sadness normal when selling a beloved home? And how can I move on from a place that I never wanted to leave?
posted by The Hyacinth Girl to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It seems pretty normal to me, in context. You brought this house into the world, and had seven years of memories there. You planned a future there. It was woven into your life, and you're having to let it go. You can grieve for a place, or a thing, as much as you can for a person, or a pet. Cry all you want. Give yourself permission to be bereft.

How can you move on? Same way as always--a day at a time. Your rental may not be perfect, and it may not be forever, but it's where you are now. Make it nice, make new friends, make new memories. After a while, you'll find things you like, and maybe then things you love. You don't have to be there forever--and one of the good things about renting is that you can move. Plus, you can invest that tidy sum you got from selling the house and plan for other adventures--the next house, the big trip, education.

Take a handful of soil from your yard, and grow something in it at your new apartment.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:20 AM on August 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

I think houses represent a lot of powerful feelings: hope, security, pride, family, achievement. I mean, there are the floorboards where little feet stepped! I don't have any magical solution except to tell you -- encourage you -- to allow yourself to mourn, cause that's what it is. And grief is grief, right? I still struggle with the loss of my own beloved home twelve years ago. I recently drove through the town and I had to avoid our old street! Time will help (a little), and you will find another house in which to make new memories.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:20 AM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

The decent homes in our new area (Toronto) are way out of our price range and there are only small, fixer uppers full of asbestos, musty basements, etc within our grasp.

I don't know your price range, but if you sold a new house (I am guessing in the 905 perhaps) you can find a house you love in the city proper. They are not all priced in the stratosphere -- there are more than likely some nice houses you can afford.

Rent for a while, take your time looking, but be optimistic -- and get a good agent.
And yeah, grieve your're going to be sad. But it will get better.
posted by Lescha at 10:31 AM on August 26, 2013

Tremendously normal! I remember reading somewhere that our minds gradually map our homes --and also cars, apparently--as something similar to a part of our bodies. (This was by way of explaining why when peoples' homes are robbed, or their cars are hit, one of the overriding emotional reactions is a feeling of violation.)

There is no reason not to mourn the loss of something with which you are so tightly and almost physiologically bound. That said, how you deal with it is the way you deal with most mourning: accept the loss, accept the feelings of pain and grief, and honor the memory as best you can. Time will help. Hang in there!
posted by like_a_friend at 10:32 AM on August 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's Ok to be sad about it. I had much the same reaction when I sold a house that I had spent 10 years renovating from a falling down ruin to a lovely cottage. It broke my heart to sell it, but what helped me was the fact that people had lived in that house before me (the house is about 150 years old) and it had sheltered them and made them happy, and I got to be part of that chain and it was now sheltering some other family and making them happy.

You built your house with love and these people that bought it obviously saw the same thing if they are moving in so fast. You made that house a place that will "look after" other people and they will add their mark to it and then move on and others will move in, you were the first step in the chain. Now you get to either rent or buy another house and be part of another chain. The cool part about getting a fixer upper is you get to make your mark on another house and make it your own again.

The cool part is, you will come to realize that home is where your wife and your stuff is, and maybe not even your stuff. Also it's only been a day, be gentle to yourself and make no big decisions about living arrangements for a week or 2 just take it all off the table and give yourself a little breathing space, and then when you are ready start looking.
posted by wwax at 10:34 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's okay to feel that way. It will pass, I promise. I've grieved every house I've left and every car I've owned, sometimes dreaming about them years later (often in connection with pets who lived there who are now gone), but the dreams start to feel like visits to an old friend after a while.

You will start to see the upsides of your new situation soon, and realize some of the downsides of where you were before. Be kind to yourself in the meantime.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:34 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Listen to this song (lyrics here) and understand that you're not alone. We all get attached, in varying degrees, to the physical places where our stories take place. It's supposed to be this way. And now you get to start a new narrative in a new physical place!
posted by jbickers at 10:41 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm on the verge of giving up and just renting indefinitely

Take the "indefinitely" part out of this sentence and replace it with "until my emotions have settled to the point where I can engage with the househunting process without all this looming over me." Then it's a fine plan.

The emotions you're feeling are perfectly reasonable, they're fine to have, and they're totally going to get in the way if you try to buy a new house now; everything you look at is going to suffer by comparison to the emotional idealized picture of your old place you still have in your head.

Just rent for a while. It's not forever, it's just until you've finished the grieving process and can, literally, move on.
posted by ook at 11:02 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just came to give you a different perspective. I too am closing on selling our house this week (it was supposed to be today, but the seller biffed her condo closing.)

Right now is not a great time to be invested in real estate. While Canada isn't the US, real estate is over-priced, especially in Toronto. And it's a bubble that can't last forever.

A home is where your family is, not the structure where it lives. You didn't lose your home, you moved because of some very real functionality issues. Your old home, while a place you loved and enjoyed, was no longer functional for you and for your family. Now it's moving on to a new place where things will be better for y'all.

Keep saving your money, don't just jump into something because the prevailing wisdom has always been, MUST. OWN. HOME. You don't even get tax breaks for owning a home!

I'm getting accustomed to being a renter after owning a series of homes over the past 20 years. What I'm discovering is that it's freaking-AWESOME! I have a lot of amenities that I don't have to maintain. I have a nice, large space. I'm so close to my job and the places I enjoy going. Really, I'm waiting for something to take the polish off the apple, but I'm even ga-ga over this thing they have at our apartment called, "garbage valet". Basically I just put the bag outside the door in the evening and elves take it away!

I'd say, really groove on dwelling where you are right now. Personalize your space, make new friends, enjoy the aminities in your new community.

Find things to appreciate about where you are right now.

It's okay to pine for your house, but put it in perspective. You voluntarily left, made a profit in doing so and have options going forward.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:02 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree that Toronto house prices are ridiculous. You might try looking at the area west of Prospect Cemetary (Keesdale) where you can find a lot of cute bungalos. Prices have risen there too but it still seems a bit cheaper.

Maybe try to embrace all the positive things about renting: you can vacation without making a lot of arrangements around getting people to watch the house, have hobby that doesn't revolve around home improvement, more time for family activities.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:51 PM on August 26, 2013

I'm on the verge of giving up and just renting indefinitely

1. There's nothing wrong with renting indefinitely.

2. You are viewing this as if your options are to either buy a house NOW or rent forever. Maybe you will rent until you feel it is a good time to buy a house.

Talk to your wife about waiting a bit on the house search, your are grieving your old house and aren't going to able to make good decisions about another house right now. Buying a house now is a terrible idea for you.
posted by yohko at 1:11 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was a tearful wreck when my parents sold the house in which I grew up. I had dreams of bringing my one-day grandchildren there and showing them my old room. It literally felt like my heart was being ripped out. It was like a bad break-up. I allowed myself to cry and eventually the pain subsided. I still avoid driving past that house and I even dream about that house sometimes. I'm past the grief though. It really just took time. I'm not the only one among my friends who mourned the loss of an old home and I think the way you are feeling is within the normal range of human emotions.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:30 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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