As Pat McDermott puts her fourth house on the market, fond memories of houses past come back, including a 40-year-old decluttering dilemma.
Every Thursday and Saturday for six weeks, the MOTH (the Man of the House) and I lived life with military precision. We leapt up at 7am, ripped the sheets from our bed and replaced them with stylish new ones. At precisely 7.17am, we added four plush cushions to complement the bedroom’s leadlight windows and gave the room a spray with air freshener called Eau de “This House
Is For Sale”. By 8am, we were down at the greengrocer buying fresh flowers. Between
8.30am and 10am, we dusted, “freshened” the bathrooms, wiped the grandchildren’s fingerprints off the fridge, mopped the kitchen floor and put out the garbage. At 10.30am, we put our elderly cat (Buddha – now sadly deceased) into his carry box and took one last look around.
Satisfied that no cushion remained un-plumped, no kitchen bench un-wiped and no leaf un-swept, we scurried away before the house “opened for inspection”. Our neighbour said we looked like cat burglars on the run. Then we spent an hour at a café contemplating the dark art of selling houses. The MOTH wondered if we should have put out a cheese platter and cold beer. “Why stop there?” I thought. “How about a jumping castle and lolly bags?”
When the “open” finally closed, we went home. The agent was kind, but frank. Everyone loved the house, but there are a few issues. 1. The house needs work. 2. The floorboards creak. 3. The stairs are steep. 4. The garden is too small for an Olympic pool. We had all the answers. 1. If you were 115 years old, you’d need work, too. 2. It’s the ghost of a former owner who didn’t get a fair price. Sometimes you can hear him talking to himself, but you don’t notice it over the traffic noise. 3. Yes, but we now have great calf muscles. 4. It’s also too small for the Taj Mahal or the Great Pyramid of Giza, but at this price, you can’t have everything.
I don’t understand the nit-picking of the modern house-hunter. I fell in love with each of our four houses on the spot. Our first house was a tiny terrace. The best thing about it was that it came with a free dog.
Our next house was a ramshackle California bungalow that had everything we needed, if you didn’t require light fittings, floors and a kitchen. Builders arrived at 6am with drills, saws, backhoes and lunch buckets. The MOTH left for work one minute later.
I stood on the footpath, with two preschoolers, one baby and Brutus the dog, throwing things at his car while he drove away.
House #3 was the big one. We needed room for five children, the dog, the cat and an everchanging assortment of goldfish. Twenty years went by in a flash.
Now we’ve sold house #4 and the new owner wants to move in. I’m decluttering, but what do I do with this orange vase of staggering ugliness? A wedding gift, it’s followed us from house to house for 40 years. Yet I’m the daughter of a mother who wanted “You Never Know When It Might Come in Handy” engraved on her tombstone. I am genetically programmed to hang on to things.
The MOTH was sipping a pleasant un-wooded chardonnay. “What do we do with the orange vase this time?” I sighed.
“St Vincent de Paul?”
“They said no and put up the ‘closed’ sign – it was 9am!”
“They don’t stop when I put it out.”
“Drop it out a window?”
“It’s made from the stuff NASA uses for nose cones.”
Then, in a flash, I knew just what to do. I wrapped the vase in bubble wrap, stuck it in a box and slapped fragile stickers all over it. No removalist worth his blue singlet will be
able to resist.
We looked like cat burglars on the run.