For many empty nesters, downsizing means selling the family home where they have lived for decades.

Every nook and cranny of the home contains vivid reminders of their life, from pencil marks on a wall to record the heights of growing children, to cherished photos of family and friends.

The emotions that are triggered when selling a family home are caused by the memories it contains, says registered psychologist Patrick Keelan.

“Because the house is intricately linked to people and events, (it) evokes the memories of those times and those people,” he said.

Keelan says after his mother passed away, he went to visit the family home one last time and was moved to tears. “A house can do that because of its link to memories.”

“Because the house is intricately linked to people and events, (it) evokes the memories of those times and those people.” – Patrick Keelan, registered Psychologist

He says the emotional response of leaving a home can be analogous to the grieving process people go through when a relationship ends or a loved one passes away. He adds it’s completely normal, so people should not try to ignore these feelings.

“Give yourself some time, perhaps once a day, actively grieving … talking about positive memories of the house and the people in it,” he said.

Cheryl Bryk, a qualified Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) with CIR Realty, says while younger homeowners now tend to move about every seven years, “a lot of my senior clients have been in their homes for 30-plus years,” so emotions often come into play.

Bryk suggests people start working with a REALTOR® to plan their next stage of housing well in advance of when they plan to move – before a health issue or other factors necessitate a quick decision and sale.

“It’s helping them to do a lot of the planning and process the pieces (needed) to get them there,” she said.

Bryk says a Realtor can help set the right selling price and discuss renovations or modifications that might be necessary for an older home without these important decisions being clouded by the homeowner’s emotions.

“Our job is to manage their expectations moving forward,” said Bryk. “So in that situation, I often pull out my cellphone and say, ‘This is how the average person looks for a house now.’ They scroll down, and if they see a house with a purple wall they don’t like, they’re on to the next house.”