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COLUMN: Baring it all on the house scene

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Never had I felt so exposed before.

Well, OK, when I bought a new swimsuit and went on a cruise to the Bahamas, but that is a different story.

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We are selling our house - the one all six of us are still living in - and people are coming over to look over every nook and cranny.

Makes me wish someone would buy it sight unseen.

Not that we have anything to hide, but trying to keep a house "market-ready" with four kids is pretty tough. Especially when I used to require visitors to submit two weeks' notice.

This is our first time selling a house so we knew we were going to have to de-clutter. I've spent the last few months going through boxes in the basement and garage that were unopened since our last move (three years ago) and some that were unopened since the move before that (seven years ago). The up side was that I found several things that I've been missing over the years: tax records, earrings, home movies, Walkman case, etc.

During the de-cluttering process, I amassed several bags of trash and several boxes of donations. I even had separate piles for paper: to file and to shred. When our personal shredder conked out, I thought about giving my kindergartener the pile and a pair of scissors, but that would be more mess to clean up.

I didn't realize what an organized person I once was. I found a tote full of paperwork from the late 1990s, all sorted, stapled and labeled by year. That was when I just had babies and still had some brain cells and energy to spare.

Now I'm lucky if I can keep the pile of papers on the counter from spilling onto the floor.

What it all boils down to is this: I couldn't resort to just cleaning the main floor - I had to have the entire house clean. The entire house. Clean. Always.

Trying to convince my kids to pitch in and help get the place clean was, well, IS an ongoing process. I helped them de-clutter their rooms over several weekends. I found even more things I had been missing in the course of cleaning bedrooms: scissors, permanent markers, pieces of my wedding silverware, containers of discarded "science experiments," some of my makeup, some of my earrings, some of my necklaces, etc.

I did compromise with them and let them keep a tote-load of stuff each. They crammed more stuff into those totes then I thought possible.

The result was worth it though: clean rooms where you could actually see the floor. Being able to vacuum in there gave me a feeling of elation.

I've also gotten the living room, dining room and kitchen de-cluttered, though a few small boxes remain. All the photos are packed away, along with our books, summer clothes, cookbooks (really, am I going to want to mess up my kitchen??). We can live on sandwiches and bowls of cereal, as long as the bowls are washed right away.

The other half of this process was finishing all the house projects that we'd started. We got the bathroom finished, walls painted, cobwebs gone, lights replaced, doors fixed, yard raked, etc. It was amazing how good you can make the house look when you are getting ready to leave it.

House showings aren't that bad because I'm not there to see how the people are reacting to the house. Though I have to admit I've been tempted to write little notes like "Please excuse this stain on the carpet - it was here when we moved in," or "We are going to slipcover the living room couches when we move - we promise!" or "This bedspread was a present from a relative - it isn't our taste but we felt we had to keep it."

No, at least I'm not there to make excuses for house showings, but I did have to be there when we were getting quotes from moving companies.

For them to give you an accurate quote, they send a representative out to your house to see what contents you have. I felt really weird when they asked to look in a freestanding cabinet, like I had to explain why I had shoved stacks of paper in there before a house showing.

"Because people look in the closets."

I'll be so glad when we finally do move; all this stress to keep the house neat is taking a toll on me. I grab dishes from under my kids' noses when they take the last bite so I can put them in the dishwasher. I harp at them if they leave a trace of themselves in the living room. I practically snatch the clothes off them when they change at night so I can put a load in the washer.

I've even crawled on my hands and knees through the family room to pick up lint when our vacuum conked out on me 15 minutes before a house showing.

I told my husband that when we get into our next house, I'm not going to clean for a while. I think I may have to revise my visitor requirement to four week's notice.

That or I may just hang up a sign that says, "Excuse the mess, but we live here."

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