Moving Home

Rewind the clock to August 2019, the starting point of a journey that altered the course of my life. The loss of my husband, Mark, marked the beginning of a profound transformation. It wasn’t just a matter of misplacing him in a shopping centre; it was the irrevocable loss of a life partner, and I found myself thrust into the realm of widowhood.

From August 2019 to January 2020, in the aftermath, my days were divided between my parent’s home and our shared residence, as I navigated the emotionally charged task of clearing out the remnants of our life together. January 2020 ushered in a new chapter as I shifted my focus to caring for my mother during the last 14 months of her life. In February 2021, she departed, leaving behind memories and an empty space in our home and heart.

Facing the reality of an empty nest, a decision emerged – to remain in my parents’ home alongside my father. The impracticality of two individuals occupying separate four-bedroom houses became apparent, prompting a pragmatic choice. Not everyone can seamlessly coexist with their parent, but in my case, it felt like a natural continuation of the support system that had sustained me through grief. Now we were sustaining each other.

Its four years later, I find myself still residing in the familiar rooms that witnessed the ebb and flow of life, love, and loss. Time to share some advice, should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Ensure that a move back to a parent is what you want.

Think long and hard about whether this is what you want. Look at the rationale and needs on both sides and write out a pros and cons list. Which side of that list is larger? Put the list away and come back a few days later. Redo the list and see if any priorities have shifted.

Look at the space you will have.

From my perspective, I went from a four bed, two-bathroom house to a bedroom with shared rest of the house. There is a pool so big tick there! Pretty quickly into the move, it was evident that one room was a not going to cut it, so change was made, and an old office of my parents was changed to a lounge room for me, giving me my own space. Ironically dad and I found that we spent all our time together. I can count on one hand the number of times that the lounge has been used.

Be realistic about the space.

This goes hand in hand with above. I thought very carefully about what came back to my parent’s house. We had a slimline hall table in my old house that was perfect for my bedroom. Books, photos, jewellery box all now had a home. Kitchen items have come back if they were newer than my parents’ ones. A nice dinner service, cutlery and crystal glassware all took their place in my parents’ kitchen.

Be ruthless when clearing out.

Clearing out especially after a death in the family is a tough one. You have to be realistic and, in a way, lose some of your sentimentality otherwise you would never throw anything out. I kept several items of my husbands’ clothes. Favourite shirts and t shirts of his. Some of his clothes went to my dad. Lots of kitchen items I had to be ruthless with and practical. I had to ask the question. Is it cheaper to store or replace?

Be ruthless about storage.

For a few years, a lot went into storage enabling me to bring home one box at a time and not rush with clearing out. The last thing I wanted to do was rush through the grief of clearing up after Mark. I had photos in storage, ones I’d had on the wall. A few have followed me to my new room including a beautiful canvas from Robert Irwin (son of Steve Irwin) and my NRL Legends signed jerseys. Lots of ornaments followed me to my parent’s house and they have been placed carefully.

How much independence will you have?

While you will be an older person moving back home, it is sensible to realise that you are still your parents’ child. I’m a fifty-two-year-old widow that moved back after thirty years but I am also still my dad’s little girl and his first born. How much independence you have is a discussion between you. It’s about setting some ground rules between you and your parents. All of my appointments/time out with friends go on my dad’s calendar so he knows when I’m in or out. It’s a show of respect from me so that I know he will not be worried.

Show respect and courtesy.

When you move back home, showing respect and courtesy is top of the list. You’re not staying in a hotel!! During my mums end of life, someone always had to be home, so Dad and I synced diaries to make sure we didn’t double book for anything.  He could go out for coffee with a friend knowing that I was here and capable in caring for mum or I could go to the shops knowing he was here. 

Set up agreements for household expenses.

This is a crucial one for me. You should never expect to live somewhere for free. If your parent(s) decide that they only want a minimal contribution to expenses, that is something for you to negotiate with them. Maybe find another way to give back. My dad accepts no money for bills so how do I give back? I pay for shopping at times. I’ll buy lunch/dinner/beers sometimes. I buy cinema tickets when we go out.

Help out with household chores.

Hand in hand with the one above…don’t expect to live somewhere and have it all done for you. Using our house as an example, while I was doing the caring for mum, dad would cook. Now our life is different, and he has no objections to me cooking. (My late husband would be rolling in his grave at the amount of cooking I do!!). Our other chores are negotiated. He does outside and I do inside. I tend to do the washing and change the beds. It’s about helping each other and doing what’s right. It’s about remembering you’re not on a free ride.

Have an exit strategy.

You know what? Despite everything we have talked about here, there is a chance it may not work out. Then what? How do you broach that subject without offending the other party? How can the other party tell you that it is not working without upsetting you? Do you have a get together over a glass of wine every so often so you can freely chat about how things are going?

Moving back home can have pluses and minuses whichever way you look at it. The trick to making it work is communication. If you communicate, you’re home and dry!