A funny thing happened when I found myself with two days of free time right before Halloween.
I found a house I liked in the burbs.
Old friends expressed shock—the pigs are flying and they're making snow in the fiery pits kind of shock—that I, avowed city slicker and nervous driver (but excellent parallel parker, if I may say so myself) would even contemplate such a measure.
Most of my friends with children had made The Big Move. But me? With pickets and wisteria?
Heck, yes. And a yard, and room for guests, and a great public school system. And (gasp) a playroom.
Buying a house would mean selling the condo, which would mean showing it to prospective buyers. Which would mean we'd need to purge.
R., thrilled at the prospect of an old house with endless projects, sprang into action and rented a storage unit, before I could wrap my head around the scope of the purge and change my mind.
I spent a week boxing books, photos, and large or babyish toys for storage and donation. The Grape protested as I banished items he hadn't looked at for over a year. We sent the bikes and skis away, cleared out the crib. We wondered briefly why we stilled owned a crib. Or three strollers.
I called the realtor. He came over. In the ten minutes it took him to walk from his place to ours, I realized my week-long purge wasn't going to cut it.
Did I mention I wanted to list the condo the following week? We had to, or we'd miss the fall market and vanish into the Holiday Vortex of Sales Doom.
I had a paper bag ready when the realtor rang the buzzer.
If you're going to make a person hyperventilate, I figure you might as well be gracious about it.
The condo was 1400 square feet, roughly 1375 of which were covered in toys, art projects, building blocks towering into cities with mass transit systems arrayed over days and weeks.
The other 25 square feet were reserved for snow gear. This is Boston, after all.
"You need to purge!" he decreed. "All the toys need to be out!"
I followed him around, made mental notes. "Everything off the counters, expect the Kitchen Aid mixer. That I will allow you to keep."
Apparently potential buyers like to picture themselves baking cakes.
"Move out the pets," he ordered. "Get rid of the nightstands. Rake the front garden. Touch up the paint. Edit the stuffed animals. Put something smart but noncontroversial on the coffee table: Georgetown magazine or National Geographic. Nothing political. Vacuum the common hallway. Wash the windows, inside and out. Remove the plants. It's like the little shop of horrors in here."
"I like the plants. Plants are good for your health."
"Get rid of them, and edit the books."
"I already did. I sent nineteen wine boxes of books to storage."
He rolled his eyes. "Send nineteen more."
He marched around and pointed at photos and dishtowels and extra chairs. "This offends me, that offends me. That," he said, pointing at a scratching post frequented by Lucy the Kitten, "THAT I can't even talk about."
R. rented a second storage unit. He moved the little shop of horrors to his office. I drove the fur kids to camp at my mother's. We washed windows. As the light streamed in, we wondered how we hadn't thought to wash the outside years before. What was wrong with us?
"Everything must go!" I realized I sounded like a street hawker advertising a liquidation sale, as I rendered our closets avalanche-free.
Prospective buyers apparently take a very dim view of suitcases falling on their heads when they open the alleged walk-in closet.
Not that such a thing happened to the realtor during his initial visit. And if it did, I had the sense to offer him an ice pack before the lump on his head swelled too much.
The Grape pouted about the temporary removal of his toys, but even he admitted in the end, "The apartment looks tremendous."
It did look a lot bigger, with the 1375 square feet previously dedicated to toys freed up for adults to walk through. The realtor was happy. "The place looks great," he said, unable to hide his shock.
Pleased with myself on the eve of the open house, I decided to tackle the last item on the realtor's list: touch up the trim.
I ran around with white trim paint and made the baseboards sparkle. I consulted the clock. One hour to school pick up. Perfect. I could touch up the bathroom vanity doors. They looked a bit tired.
I found the can in the laundry room that said "vanity." I dabbed a little on the largest scratch on the vanity doors. It looked kind of dark. Inexplicably, I kept dabbing. Maybe it would dry to match. I knew it wouldn't.
Maybe it was the paint fumes, but I kept dabbing at dings and scratches with the wrong color until the darn thing looked leopard spotted. I had to leave to get the Grape. I left a frantic message with the painter, "I did a bad thing."
I got lucky. He was in the neighborhood. After he was done laughing at me, he used his magic paint-color-matching computer gadget to determine the correct color. I spent the eve of the open house re-painting the vanity. Four coats. Okay, five.
I wish I'd taken a photo of those leopard spots, but that's my sole regret about the process.
The condo sold, to a lovely young couple with a dog. I hope they'll love the park across the street and the neighborhood and the restaurants as much as we did, but for us, it was time for a new chapter.