Thanks for the memories: the pain of selling the family home

19 February 2013

It’s the moment every young adult flown the nest knows will come, it’s just a matter of when. “Hugh,” my mother begins with a slight hesitation in her voice, “I’m putting the house on the market.” Extrapolate this sentence and what you actually have is: “Hugh, I’m getting rid of the home you grew up in, the building that houses all your childhood memories, which kept you safe, warm and happy, and brings a smile to your face and a tear to your eye every time you return. And it will probably end up in the hands of complete strangers who will fill what was once your room with their expensive but dusty taxidermy collection.”

Deep down, you want to throw a hissy fit, complain it’s just not fair and repeat that inexplicable childhood logic “But Mum…” ad infinitum. But, sadly, though 20-somethings are forgiven for harbouring such adolescent immaturities, we’re not allowed to actually voice them. Especially as it makes perfect sense for my mother, who lives alone in a five-bed house, to sell up and move into a smaller property.
It’s been just over three years since I, freshly returned from university, set up shop in the kitchen and began applying for jobs. Within a month or so, I was off, and that was me gone, flown the nest. More recently, my younger brother did the same over a little longer and more uncertain period. But now, it looks like he’s off too. Gone, flown the nest. My mother had previously announced her intention to sell once the youngest had secured himself employment elsewhere, deliberately holding off for fear of unsettling her youngest son’s first steps into the working world. It was the Phoney War of house-selling.
This could have lasted weeks, months, even years, and provided a nice time cushion to actually come to terms with my childhood home being invaded by new owners, new children, ready to create new memories. My younger brother, in a state of instability at the time, protested further, succeeding in stalling my mum’s plans – but now, with a job away from home, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on as far as telling mum not to sell the house. “It makes no sense for me to be knocking around in this big house when you only come back for a weekend here and there,” says mum. “Yeah, I know, but, it’s nice. It’s, like, where we grew up and stuff,” we say. But sentimental attachment to a house can only dictate where you live for so long. 
And so, with the emotions of us, The Brothers (there’s a third but he’s been hanging out in Bristol for years), neutralised by reason, mum has put the house on the market. She tells me last weekend an estate agent was round taking photos. This makes me feel uncomfortable: a man in a suit casting a mechanical eye over our possessions, our idiosyncracies, our memories. These, so the estate agent says, do not have much of a retail value and my mother has already informed me she has taken all the fridge magnets down. “I never really thought about it because they’ve always been there but now I can see they’re a bit tacky,” she tells me.
Yes, they’re tacky, but they’re OUR tacky. They’re part of the history the Morris family has cultured over more than 25 years in that house - including the brilliant ambiguous cutting from The Times regarding the once education secretary Estelle Morris (no relation): MORRIS INFURIATES TEACHERS WITH BARGEPOLE INSULT. Chortle chortle. This also applies to the rubbish pottery passed off as Christmas presents over the years that litters the kitchen. Or the entire messy-chic aura I’ve carefully created in my bedroom. Apparently, that won’t be able to stay. 
But, as I said, I cannot put together a logical argument as to why my mum should not sell the house. Of course, she should. It’s part of life’s experience with property – rent, buy, sell. In selling up and downsizing she will hopefully pocket some money that can be put to use in something more important than merely preserving memories. The time has come to move on from the family home, as the family has moved on. Generally, there is little room for sentimentality when it comes to financial decisions and, though this can be seen as one of life’s more dramatic transitions, it is a sensible necessity my emotions cannot begrudge.