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Sunday, June 28, 2015

the spring of cleaning and the accidental summer

I have taken the term "spring cleaning" to a whole new level.

For the past 8 weeks I have been married to our house.  I have slept little, made the most pathetic meals so as to not lose time cooking, drank way too much coffee, squeaked my way through the end of the homeschool year and spent every ounce of energy I had cleaning out our house.

We decided in April that we were going to put our house on the market.  We have always been planning on this to some degree, always considering projects for their resale value for example, and this year we decided the timing was right.  But spring was coming fast and there is no better time than spring to have your house hit the real estate suddenly we were in full on house prep mode.

Think of an "everything must go" sale meets the show "Hoarders" and "Clean Sweep".  That is essentially what has happened in our house.  It is not an exaggeration to say that nearly every inch of the house has been attended to- either to be decluttered (every closet, every shelf, every pile), painted, repaired, scrubbed, power washed, weeded, mulched, or simply packed.

You may (or likely may not) remember that two years ago when Maya went to kindergarten I began the Great House Declutter.  I tried to think to myself pretend you are moving and only want to take what is most important.  That was the first time since having kids I had really gone through the house in attempt to thin the stuff.  I got ride of carloads of stuff, had 2 yard sales and threw a lot out.

And yet here I was, trying to view my house from a prospective buyer's eyes, and all I could think is: we have way too much stuff.

I began with the general clutter- the piles of things that couldn't simply be thrown away.  This pile of kid stuff I had been saving in various stacks on shelves and in closets since our girls were BORN.

There were cards from birth on up, the saved work from preschool and elementary school (yes, I had already chucked a bunch that I couldn't see wanting to look back on in 20 years but there was still a lot left).  There were sweet things the girls had made us, their growth charts and their first pictures of people, or of our family, or of themselves.  I had their first baby shoes, locks of hair from their first haircut and, naturally, a few incisors as well.  

I tried to be ruthless in what I discarded and then I organized them into years. 

I put the bundled years (plus a side box of keepsakes) inside a document box and labeled them.   It sets my mind and heart so at ease to have these!

This took about 4 hours one morning while Ella was occupied elsewhere.  Not too bad, but really tough when you have as much house to clean out as we did.  After all 4 hours on just one pile.... It was hard not to feel paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of it.  I couldn't sit in my living room without looking at the smudge marks on the paint, the scotch tape in 6 different spots on the floor, the little baskets full of trinkets and stacks of the girls' art projects and wondering how it would ever all get done.

I was in the process of psyching myself up for such a huge undertaking when a friend who is very experienced with selling houses said, "You know you have to stage your house right?"  I said, "You mean like make it really clean?"  She said, "No, like take all your personal stuff out of it, simply everything and make it look like a magazine."

No.  No I did not know that.

This is where my personality helps and hinders.  If that was what it was going to take, that was what I was going to do.   I would get an A in staging.

So we took all of our pictures off the walls and all of our mementos went into storage.  Sandi spent every spare minute patching the many holes and nicks in every wall of the house.  Kids are very hard on a house.  What began as touch up paint soon became nearly an entire repaint of the interior of our house.  I gutted the closets, drawers and bookshelves.  I painted our rather sizable second story deck with accompanying staircase as well as doorsteps, playset and the wood trim of the garage and shed.  I power washed the exterior siding and weeded and mulched every garden (5 total) and tree. We cleaned out the basement, the garage, the eaves.  We had a massive yard sale and have made countless trips to the dump.

I'm not bragging here.  I just thought I would explain in case you wonder where I've been.

We also decided we had to paint the kitchen.  It was long overdue and was looking pretty banged up.   I don't have any good before pictures but here is the after.

My truly amazing friend Megan has a nack for this decorating and offered to help me stage.  She came over a bunch of times and together we washed each of our 28 windows, scrubbed the light fixtures, floors, stove and microwave.  Megan even reorganized my pantry so it would look pretty.  She brought her super duper vacuum (which gave me total vacuum envy) and cleaned all our fabric shades.  She came with carloads of furniture, framed prints, bedding and such to help with the cause.

She looked in our (still slighty messy) office and said, "I think you should make this into a bedroom."

Oh dear god, I thought, wherever will we put everything?  But within a few days we had emptied the office, figured out how to stow the stuff we needed to get to and store and label the rest.  Before we knew it, we had bedroom number four staged.

(And when I say "before we knew it" what I mean is, countless hours later, 2 trips to the dump and not enough sleep later...)

Perhaps most importantly, Megan brought her sense of humor.  When you are entrenched in a project this big, most of which is done under pressure at odd hours of the day, either juggling children or attempting to teach 4th grade while sorting through a decade and half worth of stuff, it is so nice to have someone help lighten the mood.  Many times my belly hurt from laughing so much.

In the past two months I have:  found myself painting before 4 A.M.,  stayed up until midnight to paint a bathroom, held the biggest yard sale of my life, accepted the help of a friend cleaning my microwave vent with Qtips, become infatuated with the Magic Eraser, scrubbed grout with a toothbrush, either gotten rid of our stored half of our stuff.

Our house has an actual echo.

I sort of thrive and wither with this sort of undertaking.  It energizes me but it also consumes me.  Yet the payoff has been immense.  No, we haven't sold our house yet but it has only been 2 weeks.  It just feels so indescribable to be out from under the burden of so much stuff and disorganization.  While it is true that it can be hard to find things in our newly staged house with so much packed away or relocated, I love the bright, clear spaces.  I honestly don't ever wish to have so much stuff again.

I have been reading about decluttering and organizing through these last couple of months and it not surprising that living this way is all about your mindset.  I am working to shift my mindset about less being more, about having what I have and about taking great pleasure in having a full inventory of what I actually have.  I cannot even tell you all the stuff I found that I didn't know I had.  Such that if I had needed it I would have had to purchase it anyway.

I have gone through the stuff with a heavy hand and I truly have no regrets.  What is left is a sense of immense freedom.

The best recommendation I found about living clutter-free out is to follow this simple rule:  one in, one out.  Every time something comes in the house, you get rid of something.  I love this idea but it takes a lot of vigilance to maintain it.

Finally the house was ready for the realtor to come and photograph.  It was ready for its debut on the market.   I jest not when I say that our house has never been cleaner.  When I read the listing, our realtor had called our house an "immaculate cape" and I got my A.

So now onto the stress of keeping the house immaculate and trying to live it in.  The good news is the less stuff, the easier it is to keep the house clean.  But, as Megan said, "It is awfully hard to 'hide' in your own house."

I kept thinking how great it was to enjoy such a clean house but the logistics of having a pared down house and a busy family quickly became evident.  Where was I going to put all our day to day stuff for showings?  I found a tip online to just grab a tote or laundry basket and grab extraneous things right before a showing and put them in your car.  I could just picture my car loaded from top to bottom with random baskets of anything from flip-flops, dress-up clothes, half-colored pictures, dirty clothes, dirty dishes, bathing suits and library books.

This project (and my own self-imposed deadline for it) demanded all of my attention right through the push to the end of school.  Then came the much-deserved break of the Trek.  Coming back to life this week has been rather abrupt. I find myself fully in summer with my kids and totally disoriented about our schedule.

I am living an accidental summer, slightly behind and little bit lost.  Oh, I have work this week and don't have a sitter.  Oh, today is gymnastics.  What time is that again?  What?!  It is "bring-a-friend-week"?  Damn.  Oh my, today is the farm share pick up and I will be out of town until 8 pm.  What week did I sign Ella up for art camp?  When is our vacation again?

This is so unlike me but perhaps it is a gift.  Apparently the house, like a newborn, has sucked my brain cells, preventing my usual over planning.   Here's to hoping I can go with it and not forget anything too important.

Yesterday we had a showing and we were leaving to spend the day at my sister's.  I did all the essential cleaning, had a child walk across my newly cleaned floors in muddy flip flops and drove down the road with a basket full of clean, unfolded laundry in my car.  

This is what it is actually like to have your house on the market.  But, as my sister said, at least I came home to a clean house.

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