Lesson: Think twice before you wallpaper a baby girl’s room in pink chevron-patterns, or put chairs covered in fleur-de-lis fabric in a Japanese tea room.
In August, I came to terms with my attachment issues. While clearing out my elderly parents’ home, where they had lived for almost 50 nears, I let go of a lot of stuff. It felt like opening a vein. In the process, I came across an old brown crocodile purse my mother had kept tucked inside a red velvet drawstring bag, like a bottle of expensive liqueur. Inside, I found a brittle, folded-up menu from a big night mom had with my father, at a posh hotel in France decades earlier. It was a dinner she talked about for years. The butter came curled, she said. And they had escargot.
Though tempted to cling, I looked again at the purse, too passé to be fashionable, the handle cracked with age. I asked myself why she saved it, why I should. She saved it, I realized, to remind her of her dashing younger life, and to show me who she once was. The purse had done just that. I let it go.
Lesson: Whether you keep an object or let it go won’t change your connection to a loved one.
In September, I sent my youngest child off to college, and got predictably invested in her dorm décor. In a fit of mothering, I filled carts with bed-bug proof mattress protectors, x-long twin sheets, and accessories to coordinate with her comforter. Back home reality hit: While I had created her nest, mine was as empty as a discarded eggshell.
Grief expert Russell Friedman consoled me. “The definition of grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern or behavior,” said Friedman, co-author of Moving On. “An empty nest is that and more.” he said, then gave me this advice, and I am not making this up, I swear: “Remodel.”
I perked up. “I’m great at that,” I said.
“Only this time,” he said, “the remodeling is of your heart, your head, and, to a lesser degree, your home.”
Lesson: The job of the empty nester is to ask: Who am I now? Then think about how her home can reflect that. Maybe that playroom becomes an art studio?
In October, I spoke with someone who looks at real estate from the left, logical side of the brain, not the right, emotional one, which I use. Patrick Bet-David, a California-based financial adviser, is to the romantic notion of home ownership what sunshine is to fog.
“I was sold an American dream,” said Bet-David, 34, who immigrated from Iran 23 years ago. But the dream of owning a home was one he was willing to wait for. He rents.
“But being a tenant just isn’t the same,” I said. “You can’t paint or plant or plaster the way you want.”
“But you can be nimble,” he said.
There’s a lot to be said for that.
His advice: Don’t buy a house unless you have 12 months of house payments saved, and you plan to stay 10 years.
Lesson: “My message isn’t don’t buy a home,” said Bet-David, who’s buying his first home next month.
“My message is the American dream is not home ownership. The American dream is freedom.”
In November, I toured the home of the future, a home so smart it tells you when you’re being stupid. The smart home helps you eat right, exercise and take better care of yourself. “Health starts at home,” said Michael Voll, of Dais Technologies, the company behind many of the smart features of the Intelligent Home, in Lake Nona, Fla.