This Old House

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

This winter, my parents sold our childhood home. It was a creaky old house (like, 19th century old), the kind that spooked peers in grammar school and fascinated friends in high school. I knew all of its quirks by heart: how to jiggle the handle of the bathroom door just so to avoid getting stuck inside; how to gently, quietly place my feet on each step to avoid waking my parents up after a late night out. I knew not to bother trying the hot water in the bathroom upstairs (which didn’t run until I was in college), and how to keep the shower curtain tucked in just right to avoid flooding. Many of these were little adjustments I’d learned over time and hardly thought noteworthy, until a friend or classmate would visit and inevitably get stuck in the bathroom, flood a room, or inadvertently stomp their way upstairs and awaken my parents.

It is not an exaggeration to say that over the course of 40+ years, my parents poured their lives into this old house. The renovations were endless, and frequently incremental. They stripped the dull, brown paint from the floors to reveal a warm wood underneath. They restored moldings and painted the windows and front door in era-relevant colors. (Eventually, the block would become a designated historic district, and this kind of care would become a requirement.) They opened fireplaces that had been closed for ages. They made painstaking changes — some visible, some not — so that we could live comfortably there. Over time, they transformed what had once been an apartment style house to a home for their four girls. I can still remember the apartment numbers painted on each door and the peepholes beneath them, a subject of minor fascination, until one day they were unceremoniously painted over. All this before the boom of home renovation shows, and the proliferation of restoration porn on popular Instagram accounts.

Loved as it was, the house had become too much. Things were always breaking, as an old house is wont to do. It was filled with relics of the past that had begun to be a burden. When I went home to help my parents pack, I found myself surrounded by an embarrassing amount of stuff I’d saved over the years, including (get this) a cast from when I broke my wrist in grade school. That summer, I’d fallen off my bunk bed in the deepest slumber, only to awaken with a broken wrist and cut open chin that would require 13 stitches. The cast had been signed by friends (and also, embarrassingly, by my dad, who was first to sign and left a giant “KEEP ON TRUCKIN!” message up front). I am sure I thought it was an important marker of the experience: I was the sentimental type early on, and would have enjoyed looking at all the names of friends and family who signed it, a small token of their care for me. It was also a symbol of strength and perseverance for twelve-year-old me. After a summer of “swimming” with my arm held high above my head, my cast wrapped in a plastic bag, my wrist had recovered. As a child, I thought I needed to hold onto the cast, but the memory (and now chronic wrist pain) is etched forever. Decades later, I toss it into the giant trash bag at my feet. The cast is no more than an object.

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In many ways, now that the house has sold, my parents are free. They will take what they need and leave the rest behind. They will start over somewhere else. They are free to begin again. Endings and beginnings come in pairs.

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You don’t have to make a cross-country move to get a fresh start. The New Year is ostensibly the cheapest fresh start there is — all you have to do is wait a year to get it.

Personally, I’ve been so focused on getting through 2021, I barely noticed 2022’s arrival. Now a few weeks in, I find myself taking a beat to notice. I’m trying to find an ounce of satisfaction in making it through. I’m trying to sort through all this stuff — objects, memories, emotions — before starting anew.

2022 may not be the beginning we want (who among us thought we’d still be masking up, social distancing, and waiting for a vaccine for the under fives at this stage?), but perhaps it is the beginning we need. (With any luck, some day down the line we’ll begin to understand why.) For now, here’s to keeping what worked and getting rid of everything that didn’t serve us. Here’s to setting aside all that we’ve outgrown, and making space for whatever comes next.

  • On the cyclical nature of things and all of life’s ups and downs, I love Adam J. Kurtz’s little gift of a book, You Are Here For Now. It’s honest and raw and heartfelt and filled with all the feelings that are hard to articulate, but deeply felt.
  • 🕵🏻‍♀️ The Rest Trials behind the scenes: Regular readers of this newsletter know that I’ve begun to experiment with rest trials, personal experiments for getting well-rested, based on research for my forthcoming book. Once a month, I share these experiments with a small group of folks who have opted in to test them out with me. If you’d like to give these rest experiments a try, sign up here.

💌 As always, the best thing you can do for me is share this edition of the newsletter, or others you enjoy, with your friends and coworkers. Thanks for being here and for sharing the love. May your New Year come with joy, love, and hope — and a heaping dose of patience for good measure. 💌

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Author, Listen Like You Mean It. UX researcher, TWTR, PINS, etc. I write about the intersection of technology + society + personal growth. ximenavengoechea.com

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Ximena Vengoechea

Ximena Vengoechea

Author, Listen Like You Mean It. UX researcher, TWTR, PINS, etc. I write about the intersection of technology + society + personal growth. ximenavengoechea.com

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