Selling the Family Home


We’re in transition. We just listed our 23-year-old family home for sale. This is the house we brought our babies home to when they were born. This is the house where I picture Bootie Pepper standing in front of the fire when she was two years old, and later at age 16, posing for her first prom photo with her then-boyfriend, The Pitcher. I can still see our son, Teddy, running full speed from the dining room to the living room, turning his head to catch a glimpse of himself in the china cabinet mirror. This is the house where we hosted birthday parties and family holidays. This is the house where we experienced all the deepest joys and sorrows life has to offer. It is with bittersweet emotion that we’re moving out of this house, but Bill and I need to downsize.

For those of you in different climates, April, May and June are the prime months to sell houses in Wisconsin. The snow melts and we all venture outdoors to see and hear the birds return from the south, smell the green grass, and assess our neighbors’ bodies to see who gained or lost weight over the winter.

Our realtor sent a lady who stages houses to our home to get it ready. I was conveniently hiding at work, so Bootie Pepper met with her. (Isn’t it great to have adult children? They can do two important things that little kids can’t do: (1) buy wine for you; and (2) meet with people to conduct business that you would sooner avoid.)

After two hours of walking in and around our house, the stager told Bootie that all the treasures we’d saved over the years were just crap that cluttered her vision for what our house could be. (She may have said it with more diplomacy, but that was the gist.)

With a wave of her hand, she indicated that our treasures had to vamoose from the bookshelves and cupboards if we wanted to sell the family home. Valid. I watch HGTV. I get it.

Bootie Pepper took pages and pages of meticulous notes about what we had to remove from each room, the furniture we had to rearrange, and where to place a variety of fake plants I had yet to purchase. (Thank you, Amazon.)

(A few of our new, fake plants. They really Feng shui up the joint.)

I did, however, draw the line at repainting rooms the trendy grey that Joanna Gaines likes. The paint on the walls is fairly recent, and the color is still in vogue (as far as I’m concerned anyway). Moreover, a local artist–thank you, Stacy–painted murals in three rooms, so we’re leaving those. If the new owners want to paint over the murals, they can, but Stacy’s work is too sentimental for me to paint over. Again, the memories. In fact, I took pics of them for posterity sake.

While Bootie was touring the stager through our house, the stager asked, “Do you have Jesus in your heart, dear?” because we do have a cross above the mantle. It’s been there for over a decade. Granted, it’s a very large, rugged cross made from barn wood, so it’s quite obvious. Nonetheless, that isn’t a question you hear every day. Bootie Pepper replied as every 23-year-old Gustie should, “Of course.” We all do.


After that was settled, the stager decided the cross should stay. (Funny. I was betting the other direction on that one.) The jury is still out, however, since we haven’t sold the house. (It’s already been on the market for three days as I write this! What’s taking so long?!)

Immediately after Bootie downloaded the stager’s suggestions to us, we set off on a whirlwind of moving furniture, packing the china cabinet, buying plants and decorative pillows, and throwing a bunch of sh** away. And, moving pickup truck loads of our treasured, sacred sh** to our new, much smaller, house, which is one mile down the road. (Thank goodness I have a heating pad for my back. I’ve been using it religiously—sitting under the cross in my recliner—for the last several days.)

Just to make this mentally and physically-demanding process entertaining, I invented a new game: It’s called, “What will the garbageman take?” For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been setting all sorts of castoffs next to our bins at the curb.

Every Monday morning at 6:30 am, I sit at the kitchen table drinking my coffee and typing, waiting for the garbageman to arrive. The dogs bark when his truck squeaks to a stop, so I quickly look outside. Daisy and Zane want to know what’s going on, so I give them a running commentary of what the garbageman is doing.

“Yep, he took the pine bough and ribbon porch pots that Zane peed on all winter. Zane, can you believe that neighbor who was walking his dog yesterday, and let his dog pee on the porch pots that were sitting next to the garbage bins? How gauche!” Zane agrees with me by barking.

I sip some coffee and continue. “Good. The garbageman is taking the large, plastic kiddie pool. Oops. Wait a minute. He was just setting it aside to get the recycling. Maybe he’ll pick it up after he empties the recycling and garbage bins. Nope. Drat! Now we have to dispose of it some other way. There’s a crack in the bottom, so I can’t use it for you guys any longer. Getting rid of the blue plastic pool is now Bill’s problem.” Zane and Daisy nod their heads in agreement.

“Ha. the garbageman is emptying the extra bin that’s holding all the crap I emptied from the kids’ bathroom drawers.”

That was a project that didn’t require any analysis. One-by-one, I pulled out a drawer and turned it over, spilling the contents into a garbage bag. I’ve never seen so many expired, half-used, and dried out lotions, body scents, teeth whitening strips, makeup removal wipes, and makeup. There were hair scrunchies from junior high and at least one million bottles of fingernail polish. Amazing how clean and spacious the drawers look now!

And, with that, the garbageman is off. THANK YOU! There’s a special place in heaven for garbagemen.

As we prepare to show the house, Bill and I have been living like neurotic, obsessive, clean freaks. Once the house is “ready,” we dread messing up anything because it requires SO MUCH EFFORT to tidy everything back to perfection again. (And, more to the point, I’d rather be writing than arranging.) Since spotless is our goal, I literally don’t want to use the stove top for fear of splattering an egg or spaghetti sauce onto its immaculate surface.

I’ve polished and wiped the kitchen cupboards more in two weeks than I did in 23 years! I’d defy you to find any cake batter on a cupboard door, sticky finger prints on the fridge handle, or toothpaste stains in the bathroom sinks. Gone! All of them gone!

The countertops are so clean we could perform same-day surgical procedures on them. I’ve used so many Clorox wipes that my nostrils are fried. I couldn’t smell wood smoke if you held me over a campfire! (Or, vanilla for that matter, if you’re reading this, Carly.)

The problem with cleaning and polishing is that once something is super, duper sparkly, you notice another feature in the same room that now screams to be equally as shiny. Polishing the wood door inevitably leads to polishing the baseboard, and so on. It’s a never-ending game of clean obsession. (And,  I usually like only dirty obsessions.)

For introverts like me, another traumatic aspect of selling a home is dealing with people. You know, strangers. Strangers in our home.  Snoopy neighbors who want to know the scoop. Curious drivers who slow, roll down their windows, and want to engage me while I’m getting the mail. What?

True fact. A middle-aged woman driving by in her white car stopped and leaned out of her car window. It was too late for me to duck and run, so I plastered a smile on my expressionless face. Darn, I’m trying to sell something, so I have to be polite.

She began by apologizing that she had questions for me, but proceeded to quiz me—for quite some time—on the price, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, acreage, etc. I thought the realtor was supposed to handle all of these inquires, so I told her to fuck off and call the realtor. (No, I didn’t do that, but I wanted to.) This is how introverts’ minds process spontaneous interruptions by other humans, no matter how well-intended they might be. I sucked it up and told her all she wanted to know, gently encouraging her to call the realtor. As she drove away, I waved and yelled, “Bye, Felicia!” (Ha. Nope. Didn’t say that either.) I made haste back to my writing chair and learned an important lesson—never go to the mailbox when your house is for sale.

Speaking of mail, have you ever kept track of all the mail that piles up on your kitchen counter over the course of a week? It’s a paper blizzard!

In preparation for showing the house, I swept all those envelopes into a shallow rubber tote and slapped a lid on it. Hmm. Where to hide the tote? When relatives and friends visit, you can just cram stuff in cupboards and closets to tidy up. NOT THE CASE WHEN YOU’RE SELLING A HOUSE. People open cupboards and closet doors. As a result, my new “hiding place” is my car. There’s so much stuff in there that I look like I’m living out of it. (You know some bills are going to be misplaced as a result of this sweeping-them-off-the-counter-into-a-tote routine. I’m sure of it. It will all become clear when we suddenly lose power and the WIFI disappears. Katy, bar the door! No WIFI?!)

I’m pretty sure we won’t be getting any bills at our new house anyway. Why? Because we don’t have a mailbox yet. Problem solved! Did you hear that? No mailbox. If you received a “We Moved” postcard from us, ignore it for now.

Here’s what happened. Three weeks ago, Bill and Bootie Pepper got excited and sent out a mass mailing of “We Moved” postcards to family and friends. I told them they were jumping the gun because the new box wasn’t up yet. Bill poo-pooed me when I told him he was doing things backward. He insisted he was going to put up the box in the next few days. That was over three weeks ago. In his defense, he’s been busy getting stuff ready at the current house, and we did get nine inches of snow that took a few days to melt. But a person shouldn’t send out the “We Moved” cards until the new mailbox is up! Or, maybe even until we’ve moved in! Everybody knows this.

First, we have to sell the current house. Let’s hope that happens soon, huh? Please engage in whatever superstitious/religious behavior you normally do to wish for a quick and easy house sale. Thanks for your help!

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