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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Revisiting Your Childhood Home, "Remembrance of Things Past"

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 20th 2011

Revisiting Your Childhood Home, Did you ever have the experience of returning to the house you grew up in? If so, did you have the experience that the house and its rooms were much smaller than they seemed when you were a child? Did you remember the backyard as very large only to discover, as an adult, how small it really was?

This is a case study of a man who, when he reached the age of sixty, decided he wanted to visit the old neighborhood. He had several reasons for wanting to do this. When he and his friends got together, there was a tendency to reminisce about the past and life back then. Generally, the theme was about the "good old days," and how those were the best of times compared to the world now. He hoped to recapture memories of his parents and extended family. Maybe just turning sixty was reason enough for wanting to go back. For one, he had nostalgic feelings about the old place.

However, the outcome of his visit was not good. The man came away feeling depressed and empty. He vowed never to do that again. He discovered that the old neighborhood was narrow, stifling and gloomy. He remembered that this was the reason for moving away and onward with his life.

He realized that those were not the "good" old days, but that the "good" days are right now. Maybe, for some people, memories are better than reality. Indeed, the saying that, "You can't go home" is true, at least for himself. In case there is any concern about violating confidentiality, that man is me.

According to Psychology Professor, Jerry Burger, PhD, Santa Clara University, millions of people aged thirty and over, visit the home they lived in approximately from 5 to 12 years of age. For the sake of clarification, they don't visit people from their past. Their interest is in visiting the home and neighborhood. What are their motivations?

According to Professor Burger, there are three reasons why people visit their childhood homes:

1. They have a wish to reconnect with their childhood. Because many things from the past are forgotten there is a hope that, by going back, they will be able to recapture memories that are important to them.

2. For some individuals who are going through a crisis or problem, there is a need to reflect on their past. They want to reevaluate how they developed their values and what led them to make the decisions they made.

3. As a result of having lived through abuse and trauma or having suffered from some kind of abuse or trauma, there is a hope that by returning to the site where these things happened, they can both find closure and leave with a sense that they have healed.

Dr. Burger reports that, while most people were happy they made the visit, there were three reasons why others weren't. Much like my case above, these people did not get the hoped for results. For example, they discovered that unlike the romanticized memories, in reality, there was nothing romantic about the place. If they were happy there, they could not recapture that happiness and, for those who experienced abuse and trauma, the visit brought back pain rather than closure.

Returning to the concept of mindful living, too much time is spent living in the past or worrying about the future. A consequence is that we fail to appreciate now. As Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Buddhist teacher of meditation and mindful living, points out, we will never have this moment again, so, live it, experience it, be in the moment.

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD





Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Back home - Matt - Jul 13th 2014

Tom, I know and I'm not planning to just pick up and move, and if I do ever move, it would only be with the blessings of my family. I too moved many times and attended multiple schools. It was difficult, but I'm glad I experienced it. My visit "back home" was by myself which is what I wanted, but next time, I will take the family.

Going Back - tom hartman - Jul 5th 2014 careful about just up and leaving...that's not very fair to your kids or loved ones. That's stuff you do when you're single. I know that moving around, constantly changing schools, etc....was hard on me growing up. 

But regarding "going back".....I find it fascinating to go back to key houses I lived in as a kid. It's sad, but satisfying as well. It's especially fun when I am with my kids, and I show them where I went to school, or whatever. There is just something comforting about seeing that in many cases places are almost exactly as I remember them...though as some have pointed out....they often look smaller. But it's nice to know they are still there. In fact if I ever won a big lottery I would try to buy the house I grew up until age 7 in....I think it would be amazing to have it in the family!


Back home - Matt Swearengin - Jun 30th 2014

I returned from my first visit "back home" to Laramie, Wyoming, in 30 years, a town I lived in for seven years. I visited all of the schools, parks and places I lived during that time, and also went to my late parents' favorite nearby vacation places in Fort Collins and Poudre Canyon, Colorado. The trip was wonderful and I felt the most peaceful and relaxed I have been in years, yet since returning home two weeks ago, I have been on an emotional roller coaster that won't stop. My thoughts have mostly been positive, yet they have triggered sadness and depression, and also are making me rethink my current situation and wonder if I should consider moving away from the town I have lived in the last 23 years and try something new, yet doing that does not seem practical or feasible, considering I would have to sell many things I own to avoid the hassle of moving them, plus my wife's family still lives here, and I'm sure moving would be difficult on my family, especially my daughter. That never deterred my father though, because I was nine and my brother was 15 when we left Oklahoma for Wyoming.

Revisiting can be important. - The Vale - Jul 19th 2012

I made the decision to revist my former home after many years.

I was moved away from this place when I had been about 11 years old and had always been left with a feeling of having been torn away from someone where I had been happy.

For years this festered away and this itself caused me to not live "in the moment"; I undervalued my new friends in relation to ghosts I had left behind; I never felt like I truly belonged; and worst of all I drank etc to compensate.

So after finally sobering up (at age 35) I went back to visit this place. I reconnected with a lot of memories; it helped me remember who I was, who I am and where I came from. It also allowed me to remember a negative memory which had caused me much paranoia over the years (having been stolen from which had made me paranoid of others taking my stuff).

All in all it took a while to digest, but it has helped me a great deal. I'm not the helpless kid who cant return to that place. It's there and I have a car, but my current home is also here, and that's where I live with my supportive partner, current colleagues and decent job.

If you are thinking about visiting, go, but go as a visitor and just enjoy the moment. If you are like me you will be lucky and go on a perfect day to frame your memories and be able to share it with your partner to help them understand you.

Geography, Memory & Depression - Jason Ward - Apr 25th 2011

An interesting article thanks you.......I have not visited my childhood home but I do travel through the area on a fairly regular basis and what I do notic is a sense of depression and sadness that seems to take over me for the duration of my transit through the area....once I feel I am outsdide of the area I grew up in I start to feel better...I imagine this justt goes to show how these powerful experiences in child hood are and how enduring their effects are.

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