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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: August 2023 | Where to Live

Bienvenue Chez Nous!

Christine Dauchez


  • As you move throughout life, you accumulate lots of things.
  • It's up to you to decide what's important.
  • What makes a house a home?
Bienvenue Chez Nous!
gorodenkoff via Getty Images

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My husband and I are preparing to close on our first apartment, sifting through 15 years of stuff we’ve somehow managed to pack into 1,000 square feet. I’ve put off calling movers until the closing date is set, not yet ready to face the looming mountain of cardboard boxes.

Before settling down in NYC to raise our family, I spent countless hours transporting my belongings in cardboard boxes from coast to coast and across the Atlantic. I was born in Evanston, Illinois, while my dad was studying for his PhD at Northwestern. We moved to Norman, Oklahoma, so he could continue his studies with his thesis advisor, and eventually moved to California, where my dad took his first of several jobs. I lived in seven different houses in the first 10 years of my life. A peripatetic soul!

I headed to the East Coast for the quintessential college experience, went back to California for law school, then moved to New York to start my career as a corporate attorney. In between, I spent a year abroad studying in London and Oxford in college and a semester abroad in law school studying in Paris, where I met my husband. We settled in NYC with a brief two-year interlude in Paris. As we went through the pain-staking exercise of itemizing our belongings for the insurance inventory, I secretly hoped our shipping container would be lost at sea. Then we could start fresh without the burden of unpacking our accumulated junk. Alas, our container and cartons arrived fully intact, although we did manage to lighten our load on the return trip.

After nearly 30 years as a transactional lawyer, I transitioned last year to a new role as a Knowledge & Innovation Attorney. At our first team retreat, we were asked to share information about ourselves, including our Hometown. This innocent prompt unleashed nothing short of an existential crisis as I searched the heap of empty cardboard boxes for a semblance of a home.

Through all my moves, the one thing I carted back and forth was my collection of books, my constant companions and confidantes. We’re now downsizing as empty nesters and have donated clothes and furniture to local charities, as well as hundreds of books to our kids’ school and our local library. Yet we’re still holding onto cartons of books we’ve stuffed into our closets over the years. What drew us to our new apartment was the open island kitchen and high ceilings, a space to bring together our friends and family, and to house our memories, dreams, and reflections.

The Chinese character jiā means at once family, home, and house, and consists of a pictograph of a pig under a roof. In English, we have separate words for the physical structure (house), the place of residence (home) and the people living together as a unit (family). In French, we have the versatile preposition chez, which means at the home of but has multiple uses. As we embark on what might be our final move, I’m dreading the cardboard boxes but looking forward to having a place of our own, a space to call home.