We spent the last several days on a cruise – our one last fling before settling down to the business of moving. The experience was exhausting, for many reasons, not the least of which was that we didn’t have a real refuge to go to while aboard the ship. This brought up an interesting topic of conversation when we finally returned home:

What does “home” mean?

The question came up on one of our morning walks.

“It’s the place we live in, obviously,” my Darling replied. “It’s pretty simple.” His shoulders slumped a little as he added, “And pretty soon we’re not going to have a home… At least not for the next year or two. We’ll be moving around too much.” He sighed heavily. “It was nice being a homeowner, even for a short while.”

“Of course we will have a home,” I replied, recognizing the re-emergence of our old foe, Fear, coupled with Mark’s grief over letting the house go. “We’ll have a home in every place we live.”

“It won’t really be home…Just a play to stay.”

“So what makes a place home?” I pressed. “What turns a place from an empty house or apartment into a home?”

My Darling didn’t respond right away. I could almost see the wheels turning in his head as he walked next to me in silence. The question was rattling around in my head as well. Is it unpacking stuff? And if it is about stuff – those personal mementos that are as dear to us as old friends – are there certain things that are more precious to us than others? Certain items which define our personal space?

“For me it’s hanging pictures,” he admitted after several minutes. “That’s why one of the first things I do is unpack the family photos and hang the art on the wall.”

“So, it’s about claiming your space,” I suggested.

He stopped and thought about it. “Yeah, I guess it’s something like that.”

“Okay, so what I’m hearing is that wherever we go, making the place feel like yours is important for it to feel like home. That’s the way I feel as well – although for me it’s setting up my work space. So when we leave,  we’ll make sure we bring the super important things that help us claim our space.”

He brightened a little. While I could tell he was still saddened by the loss of his first real “owned” home (something which was part of his definition of achieving the American dream), this exercise would be helpful for him to feel centered during our travels. “We won’t have a lot of space in the Raza,” he reminded me.

“True, so we will have to go through our stuff and only take the absolutely most important things that define the space as ours.”

We agreed to do this room by room. It was a very interesting exercise and I learned a lot about my beloved as well as gaining a new insight into myself. For Mark, family pictures were the most important things to establishing his space – he chose the pictures of his mom, dad and grandparents that sat in frames on his dresser. But he set aside the larger framed photos that hung on the walls. “We probably won’t be able to hang any pictures,” he reasoned, “so these can be packed in storage for the time being.”

I looked around and chose a few items. I soon realized that in order for me to claim my space, I needed to bring a few small knit-knacks that had followed me from house to house my entire adult life – a tiny red glass bottle full of salt, a kooky stuffed doll wearing a button that said ‘don’t panic’ that I picked up in a thrift store when I was twelve, a brass Chinese lucky frog sitting on a silver dollar and a framed dollar bill (the first dollar earned through 4 Monkeys over 20 years ago).

Mark chuckled at my odd choices. “What are these, good luck charms?”

I thought about it for a moment and laughed. “Yeah, I suppose they are.”

We continued through the house. We agreed on the house crystal, a few figurines, my dream journal, and the Christmas stockings. After that, the exercise turned to more practical things. The cookware would go, as would the knives and my Darling’s pressure cooker.  I would bring the laptop, my drawing pencils and my Wacom tablet.

“If you could pick three essential cookbooks, what would they be?” I quizzed my chef husband as we reached the cookbook nook.

“Hmmmmmm…” He looked at the wall of books. After a minute, he pulled out“The Joy of Cooking”, a dog-eared and worn copy of “Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen”  and the Bobby Flay “Fit” cookbook I gave him for Christmas. “These…” he said, handing me the stack. “…Plus one cocktail book – your choice.” (We had three.)

I nodded. Those were the books I would have chosen myself. Once again we were on the same page.

Letting go is a process, and part of that is the journey of self-discovery that naturally happens when you start to determine what is really important in your life. It can be an agonizing process, as losing something or someone always is. Sometimes the conscious act of letting go is even harder than the unplanned loss. There’s sadness and even some grief when we say goodbye – whether it’s to a friend, a house or a piece of furniture we’ve grown accustomed to – as well as a lot of fear of the unknown.

While we had originally decided to wait to pack these special things until the end, something happened that night that made Mark change his mind: we signed the contract with our real estate agent to put the house on the market.

Mark decided to start packing those things that defined “home” for him immediately. At first I was a little confused – in my logical brain it didn’t make sense since we’d be living here for the next few months while we waited for the house to sell. But then I realized that putting away those things that defined home for him was the first step for Mark as he emotionally disengaged himself from the house he loved and prepared for a new life. As important it is to claim space as home, it’s equally important to know how to let it go.

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