Renters have memories too

I was recently told that I couldn’t understand the sadness that comes when one has to sell a family home after a loved one has died. Not for having lost the family member, but for losing the house. I just wouldn’t understand.

I have, save for one year during a previous marriage, been a lifelong renter. My parents never owned property, my single adult years were spent as a renter, and my husband and I are renters now. In total, I count 18 different addresses in my 41 years.

Yet, it would seem (to some) that in all that moving around, without a permanent anchor, I haven’t ever had a home. It would seem that without a physical vessel to contain them, a lifetime of memories couldn’t accumulate, my family connections, tenuous at best.

I have no intention of disproving that the loss of a family home is tragic, or that accumulated objects have metaphysical value, or that the very act of sifting through years of those objects has a visceral effect on a person. I may not have experienced that, but I believe that it is real.

So why isn’t my accumulation of temporary experiences, of multiple addresses tantamount to multiple losses, multiple tragedies? Why don’t the sum of my parts equal the pain of your whole?

I’ve been at my current job for almost 10 years. In that time, I’ve had 6 addresses. Yet, I feel no less rooted in the community of experience I have built. I do not feel un-grounded. In fact, I am more sure of my self, my sense of community, and my place in the world than many who have “built roots” in the name of real estate.

Renter-hood is not always a choice – poverty, employment, access, culture, and a host of other circumstances may have a hand in who owns property. But for some, like myself, renting is a choice. And you know what? It’s not necessarily symbolic of anything.

But please. Please do not underestimate our capacity to build a home for ourselves. We have homes. We have roots. And we have memories.

Art is by Jerry Uelsmann Untitled (House with Roots), 1982  (photo available at

Art is by Jerry Uelsmann
Untitled (House with Roots), 1982
(photo available at