Cleaning is easier without excess ‘stuff’

There were two times in my life when I had a truly clean house, and I loved it. By ‘clean’ I mean that floors and surfaces were uncluttered as well as windows and floors being regularly washed and everything had a storage place. I was ready and pleased to have company come over at any time.

Both those times were when we were selling our first two houses, and we had to make some serious changes in order to do that more efficiently. And clearing out our excess belongings turned out to be a necessary step in that process, but it wasn’t an easy step for either of us. Both my husband and I are packrats, saving many items ‘because we might need them later’ or because they are important mementos.

As a result, we had accumulated waaay too much furniture, clothes, books, old computer equipment, papers, compact disks, movies, cookware…just STUFF. Much of it we weren’t USING, not even on an occasional basis, but we couldn’t picture getting rid of it all. So we ended up storing it, stacking boxes and tables and chairs in the most out-of-the-way places and just sidling past the piles to do our daily living. It wasn’t an optimal, enjoyable use of our living space, but we thought we were coping just fine.

The problem here is the word “coping.” We shouldn’t have BEEN coping, we should have been living comfortably but we didn’t know that until later on.

When we initially put our first home on the market, we bridled against having to deny most of our ‘stuff’, arguing that people wouldn’t be buying our ‘stuff’, they were only buying the house, and if they were so lacking in imagination that they couldn’t see past my kitchen tool crock and breadmaker and coffeemaker and toaster on the counter, then screw them. We were comfortable living in the crowded swapmeet that was our house, and didn’t see any reason to change just because we were selling it.

I should mention here that although I fiercely defended our right to live in a crowded pseudowarehouse that I was also very uncomfortable at the thought of having impromptu company. Whenever the doorbell rang, I would glance around the house and panic. I’d notice the piles of homeless cookware and books stacked on the countertops, and see that the pile of throw pillows and lap rugs on the livingroom furniture prevented guests from having a comfortable seat.

And while we were cool with perching on top of the stacks of throw pillows to get comfortable, I didn’t like asking guests to adapt to our clutter, so we just didn’t have company very often; and when we did I felt compelled to embark on a huge marathon of preparation, which really dampened the joy of having visitors. So I knew we had problems, but didn’t know how to deal with them.

Then we showed the house a few times but none of the people were really interested. As shallow as it seemed, they were more concerned with the colour of the accent paint we’d chosen for trim and the size of the rooms, which looked smaller due to the excess furniture. So we accepted that although some people may have enough imagination to look past everything, it was EASIER for them to imagine their own stuff there if they didn’t have to see ours first. And if it we made it easier for potential buyers to imagine it as their own, we could sell it faster. We acknowledged the wisdom of ‘staging’ our house to sell it more quickly, and packed away everything extra.

It was great. I was amazed at how much easier it was to do housekeeping and just LIVE without having to maneuver around all the crap.  Both times we sold houses, we rented storage facilities to hide our excess furniture, cookware and just plain ol’ STUFF (out of sight, out of mind, eh?) and it was astonishing how much more enjoyable this made many daily tasks. Tidying up was easier because there was always a place available to put ‘stuff’ away. We kept on top of junk mail and magazines/catalogs because we couldn’t have any of them lying about while we were showing the house, so we either read it right away or tossed it out.

We put back just the furniture and cookware that fit, only what we could picture ourselves actually using during this period of ‘roughing it,’ and it was a revelation. Suddenly, our finished basement in the first house because a potential oasis of fun and relaxation. It was designed for living, after all, not for storage, which is how we had been using it. I regretted not having cleared everything out sooner, because we could have been having all kinds of parties, card games, movie screenings, etc. in this wonderful space that we’d just ‘discovered.’

Even emptying the dishwasher and doing laundry was easier, because I could put everything AWAY. I didn’t have to find an alternate storage place for clean towels and end up letting them sit on top of our dresser because the linen closet was too full to put them away. I had actually made room inside the cabinet for all my teapots, and they didn’t need to sit out on the countertop on display.

And when we did have a showing, it was a breeze–all I had to do was to make sure the bed was made and run the vacuum through to “pick up the big chunks,” in the words of my darling mother. On the days we had showings scheduled, I didn’t have to worry about shoving piles of dirty clothes under the bed, and then not having room under there because that was where the Rubbermaid bins of off-season clothes were already stored…didn’t have to haul piles of newspapers out to the garage in a sweat because they were already there in the recycling bins, didn’t have to cram all my pots and pans into the oven to get them out of sight.

With the help of a spotlessly clean house and freshly-baked banana bread, we sold our first two houses and bought a third. But even though we’d already purged a truckload of STUFF during the last two moves, we still have way too much junk in our new house. We have to get rid of just a little bit more in order to be truly comfortable here, and I’m afraid that this last little bit is what’s going to be difficult. It was so much easier just to be able to rent a storage space and pack all these boxes off to exile, but that wasn’t really solving the problem–it just gave us a teasing glimpse of what life in an orderly house COULD be like. And let’s face it–paying to rent storage space for things that we’ll never use again is foolish. We need to face it and get rid of the last of the junk, and be comfortable.

I’ll get started on that tomorrow.

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