What could be sweeter than moving into your childhood home -- tucking your own kids into your old bedroom at night, or serving Thanksgiving dinner in the same dining room that was the backdrop for decades of your own holidays? And then there are the logistical benefits: The place may be cheap (or -- praise the Lord -- free!) and near extended family. And you won't have to adjust to an unfamiliar environment.
But take a reality check: A move like this has its pitfalls, too. So if you're contemplating a return to the home where you (or your spouse) grew up, consider these hard-won pearls of wisdom from those who have done it and survived to tell the tale(s).
You may experience an uncomfortable amount of dj vu
Childhood homes often feel "haunted" in the sense that you might see visions of your younger self everywhere -- tearing up the hallway in your roller skates as a kid, clambering down that tree outside your bedroom as a tween, or sneaking in the backdoor at 2 a.m. as a teenager. And all that nostalgia can be jarring to your present-day reality. Overwhelming, even.
"Your personality has most likely evolved, so how you interact with or experience the house won't likely be the same," says Jerry M. Burger, author of " Returning Home: Reconnecting With Our Childhoods."
Belle Kohen moved from Windsor, a Canadian city just across the border from Detroit, back to her hometown of West Bloomfield, MI. To cope with being back in her childhood home, Kohen gave her kids a fresh start wherever she could. For example, she enrolled them in a different school from the one she'd attended.
"We left the house as it was," she says. "But seeing all the same teachers at the school made my life feel really dated." Choosing a new school environment was one easy way to make things feel fresh.
Your old neighborhood may have changed
Leigh Spencer moved back into the Los Angeles house she lived in until she was 10 for the space, the architecture (some nice 1920s details), and the price -- her parents still owned it and the rent was below market rate. Until she moved back, though, Spencer didn't realize how much the neighborhood had changed. What used to be a street quiet enough to play on now connects to a dense strip of luxury high-rises and stores. Cars frequently speed through Spencer's street, seeking shortcuts to other major arteries. Playing in the street just isn't safe anymore.
"The area has much more of a big-city feel to it now than it did back then," Spencer laments. "Our house is an oasis, but all around us is now madness."
"Changes can be hard to accept at a place that's so important to you," says Burger. "But if you base your expectations on the understanding that things most likely will be different, it will be easier to start again while still respecting your memories."
Renovations may be taken as an insult
When Gina Hadley moved her family from Seattle back to the New York City apartment where she'd grown up, she thought her biggest concern would be getting her kids settled in their new school. Instead, she found her biggest challenge was something else entirely: managing her mother's reaction to her desire to renovate the kitchen.
"My mother keeps asking what's wrong with the 'new' kitchen and bathrooms she installed in the '80s," gripes Hadley, who has tried explaining that they're wildly outdated. "She just doesn't get that we want things to reflect our own taste and lifestyle. It hurts her feelings, which I hate, but we need things to be different."
Ultimately Hadley decided to go ahead with the changes, but it took a whole lot of explaining before her parents made peace with it. Patience went a long way toward mitigating hurt feelings.
Your spouse may not share your sentiments
For Susan Wuornos of Tuckahoe, NY, taking over her aunt's house -- which had also been her father's childhood home -- made clear that she and her husband had different priorities. His goal: Update and modernize the home for today's style of family living. She, on the other hand, wanted to preserve the house's charm and history. Having just given birth to their third child at the time of the renovation, Wuornos let her husband call the shots -- but she now regrets that she wasn't more involved.
"The original mahogany doors got painted, and the majestic archway that delineated the foyer is gone," she says. "What we have now is kind of generic."
The bottom line: "Childhood homes are integral parts of our identities," says Burger. And while it's unrealistic to expect that every brick and doorway should remain untouched until eternity, homeowners should tread carefully when it comes to change.
"The point is not to go back to a house and live in the past," Burger says, "but to incorporate its significance and the opportunities it offers into your new, current life."