BETSY HART: There's no place like a messy home
May 19, 2013 4:29 AM

My house has never looked better. In fact, I’ve never seen it like this. Every single room is perfectly tidy. There is no clutter anywhere. Every paint scratch has been touched up, every floor is clean. Every dish is put away, and each hairdryer and similar appliance (with three girls, I have a lot of them) has its cord carefully wound and is “just so” on the shelf.

My paperwork is neatly sorted and stacked. The computer area where the kids sit has the chairs properly tucked in under the table. All papers, candy wrappers and school-related stuff have disappeared. The built-in lockers — one for each of my four children — are perfectly arranged, as is the coatroom itself.

Pictures — but not too many — are displayed attractively. The furniture is perfectly situated on just-shampooed carpets, with some extraneous pieces having been removed. Beds are made; no towels are anywhere but where they should be. The laundry is all done and put away on shelves in the appropriate closets.

Oh, and the bathrooms are clean, shiny and organized.

This should all last until my kids get home from school today!

I am, of course, not hallucinating as I share this. I am showing my house to prospective renters. (At the end of the school year, my kids and I are joining my new husband at last, in his lovely home some 40 minutes away.)

In fact, by the time you read this it could be rented out. I hope so. I can’t live like this for long. It’s not natural. It can’t be healthy.

Right now it’s like some weird, neat-freak family lives here. Or doesn’t really “live” here, but just sort of hovers here. There’s no stuff. No mess. No chaos.

There’s no personality.

Over the years, I’ve never been accused of being a good housekeeper. I suppose I could blame it on being a single working mom to four young kids, but that’s not fair. It will deteriorate when they walk in the door today because I will let it. Plain and simple.

A dear friend tried to give me a pass a few years ago when she walked in one day and, as usual, my house looked like a tornado hit it. She said, “I think this is your way of saying, ‘Hey, I may look like I have it all together on the outside, people, but I really don’t!’ “

Gee, I thought it was just my way of saying I’d rather do anything but clean and organize. In other words, I’m the one to blame.

I have been accused of being a good decorator, and making sure each inch of space is tastefully finished. I was explaining this recently to a friend. I said, “It’s very hard for me to live in any space that is not finished to fairly exacting standards. I have to know that under the mess of the moment, the place secretly looks really great!”

Ah, the challenge is that in showing a house it needs to look really great. Period. And so a few months ago, the process began. The tossing, the packing up, the giving away. I wrote recently about how, as I began that process, it evoked memories. And that there are some things I probably should get rid of, but for sentimental reasons can’t.

Then there are the things that I want to get rid of, but in the interest of time just couldn’t. That’s when a trip to the hardware store, and the purchase of several opaque plastic bins hours before the first showing, came into play. And that’s precisely where a lot of the clutter is sitting. Stacked neatly along the wall. In the garage.

Like I said, I hope it rents soon and we and our stuff can go to our new home and start sharing the chaos there. Living like we are now for any length of time is unimaginable.

I briefly thought, after the first time my house was “perfect” for a showing, that I really liked it that way. But when real life and real mess begin to creep back in when the kids get home from school, I’ll have to admit: I like the place a lot better this way. Because that’s when it feels most like home.

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