You can pretty much walk through someone’s home and get to know them. As I help people who are planning to move, what we keep is a big topic of discussion. So is the stuff we say we don’t want to keep, but somehow, we hold onto those things.

I bet you have visited someone’s home and secretly wondered: Where is all of their stuff? Why don’t they have any overflowing bookcases, or a den filled with interesting things?

Sometimes, I laugh to myself and think that there is a new kind of hunter/gatherer. This new version of humanity hunts for finds and items to gather and add to various collections — or simply to keep in case they need this or that particular item.

I like to think that I am refining my choices about what to keep and what to discard, but I am still attached to many things and having lived in my house for 20 years, I sometimes realize that we tend to keep the evidence of lives lived — and I am not yet the kind of person who can take a photograph of items and then let them go. If I give something away, it is because I have decided I do not need it and do not need to look at it and think about it ever again.

I got on this tangent this morning as I walked past a cedar chest, which has its special spot in my upstairs hallway. The chest is full. It contains the Halloween costumes I made for my daughter (she is 32 now), the cutest of dresses that I sewed myself for her, small sweaters I knitted for her, and family photos. Every once in a while, I take those things out and look at them. I hold those small dresses in my hands and remember the day spent sewing and the triumphant moment of having my daughter try on the garment for the first time. Yes, I cannot let go of those memories and somehow, they are attached to the flower dresses and little patterned sweaters. Perhaps they represent the time in my life that I dedicated to motherhood–and this tangible evidence of those days is still important to me.

I have kept one box of her elementary school notebooks and artwork, the daily diary she wrote in French –also evidence of her progress in French school as an anglophone.

This morning, I realized for the first time that almost all of the artwork hanging on the walls of my home has houses in it and local ones, at that. I was speaking with another realtor yesterday and we compared notes about our obsession with houses, architectural styles, and the general setting of homes — which dates back to our teen years. I love historic homes, imagining the day that someone purchased a vacant lot or farm, and drove there, perhaps with their family, to decide where their new home would be built. How about on the top of that hill over there? Why don’t we build in the middle of our acreage so we can look out over the fields every day? Let’s build close to the creek. Let’s build beside that little grove of trees.

Sometimes, I have to step back a bit when I am helping clients look for a house. I search their faces to see how they are feeling as we tour a property. I ask questions about their hobbies and even–like to know how much time they spend at home.

Our homes are where we gather with our families, bringing what matters with us: our favourite furniture, books, our kitchen tools, pictures and collections. We all know that we could live perfect well without the truckload of stuff that we have amassed so far, but somehow, that day when everything is moved into our new home is always a good one. Okay, we think: let’s get started and make this place really feel like home.

A home — even vacant or with someone else’s stuff in it — will speak to you somehow. I can help — perhaps with an objective voice, to point some things out to you. I might point out a view, the way the house faces east, the generous living space and the lovely perennial garden. But I try to weave my way around my clients, listening to what is important to them.

Lumber, gyproc, floors, windows, doors. A roof, yard and inside: a kitchen, a few bathrooms and the way the light from the outside world filters in — every house has these, but they are all different. As are we. We are all the same, but different.

And so: I let go a little, to let clients feel their way through a home and see what emotions come up–or not. In the end, we are all the experts when it comes to knowing ourselves.