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Selling Out

Planning for and surviving a house sale



With an uncanny sense of timing, my wife and I put our house on the market at the precise moment home sales began plummeting to a 30-year low. Not to worry, our realtor assured us, our home was eminently saleable. All we had to do was spiff it up a bit. That meant doing something called staging. 
 
I discovered I was the last person in America not familiar with this term. Basically, I learned, you redecorate your house to look the way you would like it to look if you didn’t actually have to live there. You erase all traces of yourself, not unlike having your house join the Witness Protection Program. A well-staged home is an anonymous home; it should not be marred with family photos, memorabilia, or quirky personal items. 
 
So all the souvenir magnets came off the refrigerator. The kitchen counters were cleared of anything useful, and replaced with an espresso pot, hand-painted demitasse cups, a cookbook casually opened to a recipe for a dish I could not pronounce, and a basket of fresh fruit I could not touch. In the living room, we fanned tasteful picture books out across the coffee table, and angled chairs and the couch just so. 
 
We painted over everything, including the pencil lines on the doorframe of our daughter’s room marking her growth spurts. Toiletries and shabby, but comfy, bathrobes disappeared from our bathroom, replaced by show towels and baskets filled with those cutesy guest soaps shaped like acorns. 
 
With all trace of us erased, I felt like I had moved into the house of a stranger. It was a little disorienting at first, but after a few days I was enjoying the pleasant befuddlement of stepping into one neat, unfamiliar room after another. It was like going off to a B&B without having to get in the car. 
 
The experience didn’t last long. To our astonishment, our house sold quickly. That’s when I discovered that just as there are five stages of grief, there are five emotional states of moving. And they are not dissimilar. 
 
First, the paralyzing denial that we’d have to reduce 27 years of stuff to a pile small enough to be crammed into a storage cube (the plan being we would travel delightfully carefree for a year). Second, anger at myself for having accumulated so much crap. Third, the bipolar swing to the unreasonable fantasy that maybe we could fit everything into storage. Fourth, the inevitable swing back to the depressing realization that it would be like trying to fit an elephant into a Volkswagen. Finally, brutal acceptance: It was time to winnow the wheat from the chaff. 
 
And there was a lot of chaff. My wife and I sold, gave away, or threw out marginal items—goodbye, weight bench that did more time as a towel rack than as exercise equipment. Sayonara, plaster replica of a Notre Dame gargoyle purchased on a slightly intoxicated whim. 
 
The toughest items to toss were those with no value except the memories they held. My army uniform, which I wore just once, the day I came home from Vietnam. And boxes of snapshots from vacations we could barely remember. Gradually we reduced the mountain of belongings to, if not a molehill, at least a more manageable mountain. We were ready to vacate for the buyers. 
 
Speaking of whom, I should mention this: all the staging and moving like ghosts through the showplace our home had become so as not to disturb the fantasy tableau, was, in the end, irrelevant. The buyers never noticed the fancy soaps, or anything else we had done. They wanted the house for one reason—location. It was down the street from the grandkids. 

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January 2019

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