As I write this blog post, I’m sitting on a bench in the shaded garden called El Jardin in the centre of picturesque San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. After all that moving, I really need a holiday. This is the perfect place to recover from months and months of selling a house, decluttering, downsizing, buying a smaller house and then – moving for a final time to my own apartment.
What follows describes making our house irresistible to prospective buyers. There’s some good advice to be found as I struggle to make our home look even bigger, more spacious and light-filled.
Here’s a piece of advice. If you should find yourself involved in downsizing and moving, be sure to plan a nice vacation at the end of this period of inevitable chaos, turmoil and darned hard work.
Here, from my new memoir is a taste of what happens when you put your house on the market:
Today’s the day we started preparing to sell the house. First thing in the morning, Ann turns up. Ann is a large-boned, sensible, blonde. She has her own company dedicated to de-cluttering and downsizing. Since we’ve never felt the urge to clear away the clutter in our ample closets and large cupboards, Ann’s help is vital to the sale of the house.
I give Ann the tour. She follows, wordless, keeping her shock to herself as we open cupboard after cupboard stuffed full with balls of bedding and towels. We move to the bathroom. It’s worse.
Ann turns to face me. ‘Everything falls into one of three categories.’ She raises three fingers. ‘Things we’ll keep for showing the house,’ (she lowers one finger) ‘things you want to keep but will store during the showing,’ (another finger goes down) ‘and things you wish to donate.’ (third finger goes down).
I’m pondering the meaning of ‘donating’ when I hear the sound of sails whipping in the wind. I turn to find Ann magically reducing a fitted sheet to a small, neat pile. That’s my signal we’ve started organizing the linen closet. Ann pulls out all my rolled-up balls of bedding, drops them to the floor and replaces them with neatly folded sheets.
‘I’ve never known what to do with a fitted sheet,’ I say.
‘My mother taught me long ago,’ says Ann.
‘My mother taught me to send my sheets out to the laundry,’ I look to see if she’s amused. She isn’t. I feel the need to add, ‘I came of age before the advent of fitted sheets. Our sheets needed ironing.
She and I look over piles of bedding. ‘Which of these do you want to keep?’ she asks. I’m looking at sheets I didn’t know I owned. They’ve been at the back of the closet, probably for decades. We end up with neat shelves of folded sheets, duvet covers and pillowslips. And sure enough, there’s space between them. The closet looks huge.
By now Ann, still smiling, has moved on to towels. She pulls them off their messy shelves. ‘We’ll have to decide which set we keep out for staging,’ she says. Suddenly my towels look decidedly shabby. She manages to find two presentable sets of hand towels and four bath towels. By the time she finishes this cupboard, too, looks twice its natural size.
‘We never fill shelves,’ Ann explains. ‘We want it to look as if there’s plenty of space. Anything that makes the cupboards and closets look full goes into storage. Mike the Mover will be here tomorrow. He’ll take away everything we don’t want when we show the house. The idea is to create a look of space. Space filled with light. We’ll be moving out quite a lot of furniture.’ Ann pats the folded linens for a final time.
‘Let’s do the kitchen now,’ she says. Together we enter my kitchen with its white countertops and sunflower yellow trim. ‘Oh, oh, we have a lot of de-cluttering to do here.’
‘Pretty messy, eh?’
‘It’s the same principle. We need to create space. There can be nothing on the counter tops. We need to get rid of the dish rack and drainer. The mixer has to go.’ She begins hiding all the machines: the can opener, the coffee grinder, the toaster and the blender: all go underneath and out of sight. ‘It’s the same with kitchen cupboards. They must not look filled to capacity.’
This is the fourth installment of “Aging and Staying in Control of Your Life.” I hope you’ll return next Friday to catch the next step of selling, buying and moving to another city.