Why we bought our childhood homes

When billionaire Kanye West bought his now-decrepit childhood home for $343,000 in April, it was proof that even the wealthiest of people feel nostalgic for their roots, however humble they are.

JK Rowling has also recently bought the small country house she grew up in, that has since been credited with inspiring many scenes in the Harry Potter books. Like Kanye, it seems the house she grew up in helped shape her life as an adult. 

It’s not uncommon for people to hold their childhood home close to their hearts, even if they don’t go on to become internationally successful stars. In fact, six out of 10 Brits consider where they lived as a child to be their ‘true home’ according to a UK poll.

“Many people have fond memories of their childhood home, but it’s important to remember nostalgia is not just about a physical space,” psychologist at The Bondi Psychologist, Rachael Walden, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“You need to separate the physical space from the values that were upheld – which is what really creates the memories.”

Emma Karagiannis, 41, bought her childhood home in Melbourne’s Wattle Glen in 2003, 15 years after her family moved out.

“When I saw it was on the market, I felt a sense of responsibility to the house – I wanted to bring it back to life,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Emma’s house when she lived in it as a child in the 1980s. Photo: Supplied

When she first saw it again, she was struck by how much she recalled from her childhood – but also how her adult view had changed things. “It was a bit smaller than I’d remembered,” she says. “But it was amazing to see things like the high cupboards I remember monkey climbing up to as a child – and then seeing my kids do the same when we moved in.”

Although she was keen to buy the house, she was also a bit nervous about doing so. “I wasn’t sure if it would mean I was going backwards,” she admits. “But I knew it was such a great house, and that we could really make it special.”

Understanding that your childhood home can work for you now, rather than simply buying it for nostalgia’s sake, is the key to making a purchase like this work, says Walden. “This shows you can see what works for you now, and that you’re not holding on to something because of what it might represent,” she says. “It means you have an ability to move on, and that you aren’t stuck in the past.”

Emma’s house today. Photo: Supplied

Emma bought the house for $272,000 – exactly $200,000 more than the $72,000 her parents had paid in 1989. “There was a nice synergy in that,” she says. Today, her children play by the same creek she did and walk up the same hill to school as she did as a child. “I’m very aware of the sentimentality of it all,” she says. “It’s a forever home. I hope to pass it on to my children. I think it’s helped them understand about the importance of security and how making decisions can really impact your life in the long-term.”

Prudence Oliveri bought her Jan Juc childhood home in 2016, more than 25 years after she lived in it as a child. “My parents actually built the home themselves in the 1980s,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“When my husband and I were looking to buy a house, the agent told us there was one we might like that nobody had seen yet. I said ‘I know that address!’ We went to view it the next day, and bought it the day after. I think it was meant to be.”

Prudence’s house and driveway when she lived in it as a child in the 1980s. Photo: Supplied
Prudence’s driveway taken from the same spot today. Photo: Supplied/Annette O'Brien

“It was very weird walking in to it again,” she says. “It hadn’t been touched in 30 years. I’d remembered writing in one of the cupboards as a child, and the writing was still there!”

Prudence and her husband have renovated and modernised the house but left the original structure, as well as some of the original features. “We moved some walls to make the space work better for us,” she says. “But my mum talked for years about how she limewashed all the ceilings herself – so it’s pretty special to look up at the those and see them still there.”

Nostalgia was certainly a part of their decision to buy the house. “I have very happy memories of being here as a child,” she says. “I used to like wearing my mum’s red high heels around the fireplace, and that’s still there.”

It’s important not get carried away by nostalgic feelings, says Walden. “You can’t recreate moments in time,” she says. “If you have wonderful memories of something, you need to understand the essence of why it was so good, but also understand the hindsight of your adult view can colour your emotions.”

The inside of Prudence’s house with the limewashed ceilings her mum painted originally. Photo: Supplied/Annette O'Brien

For Prudence, living in the house she grew up in is simply about appreciating the history behind the house, as well as enjoying it for the moment. “It’s amazing to see my daughter play in the same bedroom that I did,” she says. “When we moved in my son was three – the same age I was when my parents built it. There are a lot of lovely, special parallels.”

She isn’t sure whether her family will stay in the house forever, but feels pleased they have preserved it for the future. “I like to think it will be around for the next three decades at least,” she says. “I’d like other people to enjoy it just as I have.”

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