“The only way I will leave this house is when my cold, dead body is carted away, and even then, my spirit may well decide to hang around the place.” Rae Lesmeister
Yes, I am the author of this quote. Twenty-two years ago I uttered those exact words as I gazed out our window overlooking the woods in our newly built dream home. My reflection on 12 moves in under 25 years prompted a strong determination to create a secure nest where my husband Tim and I and our family and friends would share a lifetime of memories. I imagined bedrooms decorated for our future grandchildren’s visits, friends gathered around the fireplace after a wine tasting, Tim playing his guitar on our screen porch, heart and soul conversations with close family and friends, hiking on the walking trail outside our door, and boat trips on nearby Lake Minnetonka.
Flash forward to the present.
Our truck and trailer are loaded. It looks like the opening scene from the Beverly Hillbilly’s with the last of our belongings in a pick up truck secured by green and red bungie straps.
I am not cold, and I am not dead. I am very much alive after making a choice to sell our home in Minnesota.
How did I go from making a line-in-the sand statement about security and permanency to a truck packed with all of our worldly belongings in the driveway? In this blog I will share why I chose to erase my line in the sand. I will also explore what I lost, what I gained and what I have learned.
Why erase a perfectly good line in the sand; one whose boundary was working out quite well for me? All of the memories I imagined on that first day in our home and so many more have come to pass.
Values. The trouble with values is that you have to live them. One value that Tim and I agreed on even before we married at age 18, was to support one another in living our dreams. The way we put this particular value into practice over the years of our marriage is the “high, medium and low rule”. The rule goes like this: On any issue or decision, each of us declares if the issue at hand is a high, medium, or low need. If one person is a high and the other is a low or medium, the decision goes to the person with the high need. Miraculously, in 46 years of marriage, this rule has worked every time. I think that there is a psychological dynamic at play in that we each want our high needs to be honored and we also care about each other’s needs. From a self-interest perspective, neither of us wants to play the high-need card too often or it would likely change the dynamic and lose its power.
In the case or our home, while Tim did not declare selling it was a high need for him, there was evidence it was. After my retirement from corporate life, we were only at that home in Minnetonka three to four months of the year. Our brief time there was often spent with Tim working on house projects. Rather than enjoying art galleries, restaurants, theater and golf while in the Twin Cities, Tim was redoing plumbing, painting, or re-insulating the attic and other such tasks. If this were not enough fodder for a high rating on the need to sell, Tim, who spent many winters dog sledding and fishing in the boundary waters, ice fishing on Minnesota Lakes, and deer hunting Iowa’s snowy cornfields came to dislike the cold weather and longed for sunny days spent snorkeling and fishing on Maui’s shores. Tim’s increasing discontent was expressed often as he cursed new house projects and lamented leaving the warm weather of the Hawaiian Islands to return home to the cool and rainy midwestern spring season.
Though my own formerly high need to keep our home, had decreased to a strong medium need based on the fact that our now, teenaged grandchildren did not spend as much time with us, I still hesitated to call the question. I hesitated because I knew the answer before I asked the question. Tim had a high need to sell our home but knowing how much I loved it, chose not to call the question either.
Another pesky value was plaguing me, the value that says relationships, especially ours, always trump things. This value left me with no choice but to call the question of what our needs were around selling our home. After many hours of conversation, we both realized that we did not want our time spent on house projects and we did want to spend our time on our creative life purposes, Tim writing and performing music, and me on Significance Matters. We also realized that not only would selling our home give us more time for our creative work, we would have more time to travel and explore new places. So the question was called and answered. We made the decision to sell our home, listed it, and sold it within one week.
That brings me to the second part of the equation. What did I lose; what was the emotional cost? What did I gain? I say “I” instead of “we” because Tim would say that for him there was/is no sense of loss as he had been ready for a change for some time.
In the beginning of our discussions about the house, I thought about the decision in terms of losses and gains. As I walked through the rooms of our home, I felt a sense of loss imagining that our son and daughter-in-law would no longer have our home as a haven for their fall retreat from Alaska. I wondered if I would forever lose that deep sense of security, that sense of coming home that I always felt as we pulled in the driveway after our absence. I wondered what I would do with all of our furniture, artwork, and household possessions. Would letting them go result in the loss of comfortable familiarity? Would I experience sentimental regret at dismantling cozy rooms that reflected treasures collected from world travels, gifts from thoughtful friends and family, and hours spent searching for just the right fabric or art?
On the gains side of the equation, I mentally listed upholding values, adventure seeking and fulfilling purpose. There was a deep sense of rightness in honoring my values and responding to Tim’s heart’s call for change. I have never forgotten that at the height of running his communications business in the outdoor industry, he figured out a way to move to England so I could take an expat assignment there. I also felt a sense of emerging satisfaction that we were choosing the adventure card and going for it; not playing it safe, abandoning the predictable. I had moments of anticipation imagining travel to new places and returning to favorite haunts from the past. Finally, I knew that a more focused pursuit of our creative purposes would yield dividends in personal joy and hopefully bring hope, joy and provoke reflection in others.
Separating the emotional wheat from the chaff of my possessions gave me clarity about what matters to me. Perhaps an even greater gain is an increased cherishing of my and our relationships. As I wrote about in my blog, Relationship by Intention, over the years I have become very thoughtful about holding close those people with whom I have developed deep trust and connection. The move pushed me to a deeper level of consideration about my relationships. Though I have friendships with people around the world, our move forced me to reflect on the geography of friendship. It was sobering as I thought about those friends who lived nearby. I knew that I would no longer be able to call a friend for a spontaneous lunch, or respond yes to an invitation to try a favorite wine, or simply stop by to offer comfort. I came away from this realization knowing that I would need to up the bar on being very intentional and creative in crossing the boundaries that geographic obstacles can sometimes pose.
In the end, the sale of our home, our move, and the resulting emotions did not fit into tidy columns of losses and gains. Even though our home sold within a week of putting it on the market, the process of letting go was a gradual one. Making the decision over time, with lots of dialogue, helped me get mentally and emotionally ready to let go of our home. The process of getting our home ready for sale, gradually erased the physical traces of vibrant family memories.
Nothing forced the question of what to keep more then moving from a reasonably sized home to a small apartment. I found it gratifying to give away couches, bookcases, bedroom sets, and household items to family members who I knew would enjoy them. In terms of monetary value, the things I chose to keep did not compare to those things I gave away. Yet their value was far beyond anything that could be counted in dollars.
The things I kept. You will still find an old Betty Crocker Cookbook, a wedding gift from my sister Jeanne on my kitchen shelf. Though she left this earthly life much too soon, her inscription, a batter stained note on the first page, creates a visceral memory of her when I trace her writing with my finger. My old cedar chest sits in my entryway. This garage sale purchase at age 15, contains love letters from Tim spanning almost 50 years, letters from our son Jason when he followed his dream and first moved to Alaska to be a fishing guide, letters from each of our sons, written in a sophomore communications class as a tribute telling me I made a difference in their lives, a bit of fabric trim with its white daisies and pink centers reminding me of my mother’s sacrifice working late into the night to surprise me with an eighth-grade graduation dress. I kept an antique picnic banquet, not so much for the basket, but for the lining, napkins and table cloth that a friend, knowing my love of creating beautiful settings and experiences, made for me. I could not part with my 10 china settings, each from a different family member or friend who knows I love unmatched dishes. If you looked in our closets you would find my still unpacked art from our move. My experience visiting the artist’s small apartment in the Ukraine is as meaningful as his art is evocative of the Russian and Ukranian architecture and landscape.
As I reflect on my resolve to nurture existing friendships, I am reminded that among my dearest friends are a group of people that I connected with over the past five years. This knowledge inspires my new chapter. A chapter where I will open myself to invite and cultivate new relationships and experiences into my life.
In the end, my losses were minor and my gains, though not yet fully realized, are potentially very substantial. I have learned and confirmed that making decisions from a place of love and values feels right spiritually and emotionally.
Though I am a world traveler and hiker, my complete lack of a sense of direction is legendary. Yet, through this experience, I learned that my heart’s navigation system, about what to keep and what to let go of, steered me true north. It always has.
A Call To Action
A Catalyst For Change
- Be still, turn in-ward, and listen; what is your heart calling you to do?
- As you think about your loved one(s), are there expressed or unexpressed needs that you can uniquely respond to?
Living your Values
- As you listen to your own heart and/or the needs of your loved one(s), what values come into play?
- How might you honor those values?
A Fork in the Road
- How might choosing a new fork in the road enrich your life?
- What are the costs of choosing this fork?
- If you choose to stay the course, how does that choice honor what is important to you?
- What are the costs of staying the course?
- What would it look like if you were to fully embrace a change you are considering?
- If you were living full out, how would this change play out?
- How would your attitude, behavior and emotions shift?
- What beliefs are inhibiting living your best life?
- What if the opposite of that belief were true, what would you do differently?
- What would it look like if you chose to stay the course in your life and more fully live that path?
- What attitudes, behavior and emotions need to shift?
Living Full Out
- What are you willing to let go of to realize your heart’s call (e.g. beliefs, possessions, values)?
- What people, possessions, beliefs and values are essential to your life and must be kept?
- Whether your heart’s call is to make a life change or stay the course with more intention, what are you willing to do differently to make it happen?