Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Retirement Downsizing - Getting Down to Nothing

As most of you know, the last few weeks have been focused on getting rid of 18 years of clutter in the house. You’ve probably heard me mention that it’s like the loaves and the fishes. As of last weekend, I wouldn’t say I was feeling smug, but I was definitely feeling satisfied that I was making progress. Then came Sunday.

Sunday is the big day for open houses. I go to a few each week to get a sense of what the competition will be for my house when it’s finally listed. An open house can also provide some ideas for staging. The two things any good real estate agent will likely tell me are: focus on curb appeal and get rid of the clutter.

Those who are in my house on any regular basis will attest that over the past few weeks I’ve made significant progress decluttering. But I’ll bet that any realtor worth her commission would ask me when I plan to start clearing out stuff. This was driven home to me in spades after I went through the houses that were open last weekend.

I came home and sank into a deep funk. The two houses most comparable to mine had not one thing on their kitchen counters. Nothing. The only reason you can’t write messages in the dust on my counters is that they’re so covered with stuff you can’t get at them.

I set about packing my cookbooks, which were gobbling up much of the counter real estate. Many of you are shocked that I own any cookbooks, given that I never cook. There’s a reason I don’t. My husband is so attached to his store that we rarely have dinner together. There’s not a lot of Joy of Cooking for One, no matter what Irma Rombauer says. Since I expect more family dinners once we downsize to Vermont, I’m keeping most of the cookbooks.

After the books were packed and I’d cleaned the aforementioned dust, I surveyed the counter. On a relative basis, it looked great, but it was a far cry from being clear. This propelled me into one of my philosophical musings. (Well, to be accurate, this plus a glass of Chianti Classico.)

The point of those pristine counters is to present a metaphorical tabula rasa to a potential buyer. The message is that the house is a clean slate, awaiting the new beginnings of your family, dear buyer. Just imagine what you could imprint onto this space!

While I can appreciate this from a marketing perspective, I still have to live in the house while it’s on the market. I must admit that, as I sit in the rooms that have been thinned out considerably, I feel a certain calm that my previously-cluttered style did not offer. I’m sure there’s some feng shui operating here.

After awhile, I begin to feel like a stranger in my own home. There is a difference between calming and comforting. My home has always been my cocoon. Pictures of extended family used to crowd the horizontal spaces in most rooms. These are now all packed away. It occurs to me that I’ve lost my visual “comfort food.”

This is somewhat surprising, when you consider that I used to look at the group photo of my aunts and think: “Please, God, don’t let me grow up to look like Aunt Lucrezia.” Now that she’s in a box in the basement, with other beloved relatives who have long ago shed their mortal coil, I miss her. She is, after all, family. My family.

Realtors will pressure you into getting rid of all evidence that you have a family, with little regard to what this might do to your psyche. Fie on them! They have me torn between aggressively pursuing the perfectly staged house and preserving at least some token evidence that this is still my home.

I guess there’s really only one way to solve this dilemma, and that’s to open another bottle of Chianti. Alla famiglia! (Especially Aunt Lucrezia.)

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