When I was 11 years old, my parents put our New Jersey house up for sale. The agent hammered a sign into the ground and the rounds of showings began. My mother, always a meticulous housekeeper, set even higher standards for our home.
One Sunday afternoon, my parents left me in the care of my teenaged sister and took off for the day. When the real estate agent called to show the house, we knew the drill. No dishes on the counter, floors swept and vacuumed, all toys put away. When Mom and Dad came home, we told them someone had looked at the house, and that we’d made it look really nice.
Standing in the living room, Mom’s eagle eye fell on the one thing we missed: A pair of dirty socks. She read us the riot act! But when that very couple bought the house, I secretly thought of the socks as a sort of magic talisman.
When Barry and I put our house on the market, we staged it, so the standards were even higher. We wanted to eradicate all evidence that we were living in the house, yet be able to show the house on five minutes notice.
We had a drill, and before advertising the house, we executed the drill and timed ourselves. We had to take the trash out, turn on every light, put away the laptop, and fluff the pillows. The recycling container needed to be closed, dishes put in the dishwasher, and the quiet piano CD started on the stereo. Finally, all remaining laundry, bills, library books, and junk had to be pushed under the bed.
Buyers would open every cupboard and peek in every closet, but under the bed was sacred. That was where the evidence of our daily lives went. When we were alone in the house, I lifted the bedspread and rummaged through the piles dozens of times a day.
I went on a rampage against odors, decreeing that no onions or garlic would be allowed until the house was sold. When we came back from a bar with jackets smelling of cigarette smoke, I despaired. Maybe the jackets should be banished to the van? I ended up airing them in the furnace room and running the exhaust fan for hours.
In addition to my defensive war on odors, I went on the offensive. Trying not to be too offensive, I put vanilla on my stove burners, but it smelled “burnt” instead of “baked.” I saved orange peels to run through the disposer, but we forgot about them, and the used orange peels in the sink were an embarrassment. Finally, I settled for tea. Drinking a cup of spice tea while people were looking at the house smelled nice and gave me something to do with my hands.
A week after the house went on the market, we thought we had the drill perfected. A woman came to look at the house in the morning, and she was smitten. She made an appointment to come back later with her agent, then another appointment for her husband. By the third appointment, I was wondering if I should put a pair of dirty socks in the living room, just to make sure.
There was no need. A few days later, we signed the papers accepting their offer on the house. But in my haste to turn on all the lights for the showing, I had overlooked something. I went downstairs afterwards and was mortified to find a dirty bra, dangling from a hook in plain sight. More embarrassing than socks, but just as magical.