How to Give Away a House

On remembering the people you loved while letting go of what they left behind

FFirst, begin by remembering the house in its heyday. Skip-Bo games prompting shouts of victory or loss, the front door clapping with entries and exits, onions and green peppers sizzling in cast-iron frying pans, and the comforting smells of buttermilk pie drifting from the still-warm oven.

Remember the tiered garden replete with small explosions of marigolds. It might’ve been a fountain, at one time. There was a patio, cleared of the vines and stray saplings covering it today, and a deep koi pond filled with cold water. The fish may or may not have been there. You can’t remember. The grass of the wide lawn was cut short, except where there were bluebonnets blooming.

Remember a long day when you were younger, shoveling dirt and stacking blocks, working hard to get everything in order for Grandma. The apparition of your cousins flashes briefly across the stone patio: skinny arms lifting blocks and putting them to one side, sunburned limbs draped across lounge chairs, blue eyes and straw hair reflecting the sun.

In your memories, the walls of the garage are still standing; inside the garage, the tools and boxes neatly labeled and put away, the floor swept clean. The backdoor steps had a railing you could hang on to, and the clothesline hung securely between two trees. Next to the cat food in the back of the house, the washing machine would whir, tumbling the day from your clothes.

Once you are done with your memories, and only once you’re done, put them behind you. There is much more to do if you want to be rid of this house.

Next, create a quick mental inventory of all the rooms, a list of everything you’re giving away. The linoleum-faced kitchen. The living room with the piano at one end. The hallway lined with photos and a built-in cupboard where Grandma kept the sheets. Two bathrooms. One bath. Two bedrooms — one filled with darkness and the other with light — and three closets.

Almost forget about the front porch because no one ever used it, but then remember the night Dad stood on the slab beneath the inky sky, pointing out the North Star, the Little Dipper and Orion’s Belt, Cassiopeia, and Scorpio, for which you held your breath staring into the cosmos, becoming a speck of dust among them — until a spider unfolded itself at eye level and sent you reeling back into the house.

Take the things you want to keep out of the house: The mortar and pestle Dad used to crush Mexican spices. The miniature cast-iron hot plates in intricate, native patterns. The brass plate Grandma bought in Albuquerque with a sun made of colorful enamel shapes. Take the photos and archive them in digital formats, then throw away the pleather albums and bent metal frames. (They won’t fit in your suitcase.)

Forget the file folders of letters, drawings, and envelopes with your childhood handwriting scrawled across them in marker. They are tucked away in the closet underneath all his clothes. Don’t touch his sweatpants and gray Fruit of the Loom T-shirt, the one he always wore with a rip down the left shoulder blade. Don’t smell the chewing tobacco and Old Spice deodorant.

Next, contact the lawyer and make sure the house is actually yours to give away. Tell him you want to give it to a woman you barely know, the one who was living in the house with Dad when he died. It’s important to note that you don’t know her well, this person to whom you are giving the house.

Ask the lawyer how much it will cost. Look up how much the surrounding properties are worth, then subtract $10,000. Feel indignant that giving away an asset costs money. Remember how few rooms there are and how weak the water pressure is. Think about how this woman’s son punched a hole in the wall in the living room. Email her and ask if she will pay the lawyer’s fees.

Find the official property description online and mail it to the lawyer. Return the lawyer’s paperwork, signed and notarized.

Let a few months go by. Think about the house. Forget about the house for a few more weeks. Let Christmas happen. Then remember the house again.

Call the lawyer to see if the woman paid the fees. Act surprised when the lawyer says no.

Remind the woman what she promised. Threaten to give the house to someone else. Feel relieved a few days later when the lawyer emails you a copy of the money order.

Wonder if this is it. Know that this is it.

The last thing you do is exit the house. Of course you are already far removed, physically. Now it is time to let go emotionally. Let it go. Don’t be mad when the woman unfriends you on Facebook. Don’t think about the drawings and letters and envelopes left in the closet. Don’t try to dig up photos of your cousins on the patio — they don’t exist. Your cousins, your grandma, your dad, and the house — they all are shadows of lives that used to be.

Think clearly, now: Your grandmother isn’t there. Your father isn’t there. This is never a house that they’ll come back to. In fact, they’re never coming back. The things in the house are not reminders of them, but of their long-ago lives. Remember the people you loved, don’t remember their things. Don’t remember their house.

Leave the framed photos of vegetables in the kitchen, knowing they were cutouts from a calendar. Leave the carpet coming up at the seams of each room.

Don’t worry about painting over the spots where pictures hung and the sun bleached the paint.

Don’t worry about leaving your key on the counter.

There never was a key.

Words, design, community. Leading w/ kindness. Product Design manager @ Webflow. Prev. Glitch, Mozilla, Adobe, Women&&Tech, Jane & Jury.

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