Growing up, my height was faithfully tracked from infancy to my late teens on the door frame of my mom’s office—the only place in my family’s home in Toronto where writing on the walls was encouraged.
It was just one of those homey details that you don’t think twice about. And yet when I got a call from my parents earlier this year telling me that they’ve decided to sell the house after a long period of debate, that door frame was the only thing I could see: a whitewashed plank of wood thoughtfully defiled by smudgy names and dates and ages jotted down by either me, or my mom, or my sister.
The reality that our house—a vault of mem-ories far preceding me—will soon be someone else’s has yet to settle. But then again, I’ve always had difficulty letting go of things. (Just see all the useless junk stuffed into drawers around my apartment.)
And then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have a man such as Pierre Bergé. The long-
time lover and business partner of the late Yves Saint Laurent; a guy who, after Yves’s death in 2008, decided to sell all of the belongings the two had collected together over the years. The ensuing sale—which included everything from priceless works of art to ancient Chinese relics—netted $474 million.
I recently re-watched L’Amour Fou, the fascinating documentary centred around this auction, and I was enthralled by Bergé’s perspective on why he decided to let go of it all. When asked about whether he’ll miss his belongings, he replied, “I don’t believe in any thing…I don’t believe in the soul, neither in my own, nor in that of these objects.”
And while I disagree, I found something very freeing about his words. They’ve helped me rationalize my own impending loss: that objects are just objects until you give them meaning. Their “soul” is only relevant within the context from which they are cherished. And with that realization, I understood why someone would want to part with their things after the person they shared them with was gone.
I returned home to Toronto last month as the house was buzzing with painters and carpenters all working hard readying it for potential buyers. Most of the furniture had been cleared out, pictures had been taken down, clothes removed from the drawers. It felt different. Not a bad different, like I had expected, but different. Empty.
I wandered into my mom’s office as the door frame was being painted over: One broad stroke covered up years of our hard work. And yet, in my head I could still see them clearly: the lines, the dates, the ages. As I looked closer, along the corner where the frame met the wall, I noticed a few pencil scratches peaking out from under the fresh coat of paint, markings that came up to my shoulder. Judging from the height, I must have been around 10 when we made them. And instead of feeling downhearted, I was surprisingly calm.
We’re about to celebrate one last Christmas in that house. But instead of dreading what I’ll soon be letting go of, as I’ve been known to do, I hope to instead celebrate what I’ll be taking with me—its soul, its life, or its memories for those who don’t believe. It’s what made this house my home and not just a pile of bricks.