I was living like a monk. My condo was going on the market, and it had to look like no one lived there.
Two days prior to the first showing, I puffed all pillows and made sure there wasn’t a speck of dust on the hardwood floors. No dirty dishes in the sink or dishwasher. I removed all landline phones, wastebaskets, shampoo and conditioner in the shower, extra rolls of toilet paper in the bathrooms, my electric toothbrush, hid all medications, tax records, jewelry, folders and papers and pared down to one computer on my desk. I put these items in drawers, cabinets, closets and even the trunk of my car. I felt exhilarated—and exhausted.
Getting my condo ready to sell has been a four-month process in downsizing and clearing out stuff, much of which I placed in a public storage unit. Then I called in the professionals to check systems, HVAC company, electrician to fix lighting and electricity issues—no burned-out light bulbs allowed--and a plumber to test all those systems.
I noted that my personality was changing. I had become obsessive, afraid to use anything for fear it might leak, break, not start or stop working altogether. I was loath to sit on a pillow, unpuff it and leave an indentation, crinkle the sheets and bedspread, even take a shower and splash water on the floor and walls. In decluttering my closets, I barely left enough clothes to wear at a time when everyone was asking me to do lunch or dinner with them before I left town.
Cooking was out of the question as it would leave grease spots and unpleasant cooking odors. I couldn’t sit at my kitchen table to eat because it was in storage. It made the kitchen look larger to remove it. So, I stood at the counter to eat meals or went out. At one point I thought: maybe I should move to a cheap motel. This was no way to live.
The day of the opening, getting my condo ready was like staging a play. I was told to put out the props before prospective buyers arrived: fancy soaps, the right book titles, all first editions; fluffy new white towels, placemats and dishes on the screened porch table, fresh flowers, and scratchy but decorative sheets to match the bedspread. At this point, the condo looked to me like an image in a fun house mirror--familiar but exaggerated and unreal.
Here is a play by play of the night before and day of the sale.
7 p.m. I am hungry but afraid to cook. I make sure I wear socks so as not to scratch the wood floors. I forage in my pantry for something, anything to eat. Nothing good. I open the fridge and find a jar of peanut butter but no bread. I could put it on crackers but, I reason, that will leave crumbs. I open the jar and take a finger full. Yum. I then rush to the sink to wash my hands. I can’t find the paper towels because I hid them somewhere, I can’t remember where, so I drip dry. I should have taken photos with my phone of everything I hid so I could find my things again. I’ve started doing this in parking lots because I have trouble often remembering where I parked my car.
11 a.m. I am unable to sleep. It's difficult when I'm attempting to sleep sitting up afraid that I will flatten the perfectly puffed pillows lining my enormous large four-poster. I feel like a queen on her throne. A hot shower might help. Forget it. It will make a mess in the bathroom, and I’ve already scrubbed the shower with Mr. Clean and Windexed the glass shower walls.
The day of…
6 a.m. My eyes pop open. I fly out of bed and start cleaning. I’m picking up bits of fluff off the rugs. I have been doing this so much that I think I may have a second career as a fluff picker-uper. I see dirt in corners. I am scooting around on my hands and knees using a toothbrush and rag to clean grime out of corners and wipe down the baseboards. The first potential buyer is due at 9 am.
6:30 a.m. I am sweeping up leaves and dead flowers on the terra cotta floor of my screened porch. I am bleary eyed and need coffee. I’m afraid to make it. Some people might not like the aroma and heaven forbid I drop coffee grinds on the counter or floor.
7 a.m. I am sweeping once again the floor of the screened porch. Every time there’s a breeze, leaves and dirt fly around and land on the brick. This is so labor intensive.
7:15 a.m. I am washing the floor of the screened porch with Spic and Span.
7:30 a.m. I am now washing the hardwood kitchen floor –again. I bought floor wax recommended at Home Depot. When I applied the low-sheen wax, it left more streaks than a woman's dye job. I went online and saw the best thing to use to wash away the wax is vinegar and water. I scrub. Now the kitchen smells like an Italian salad.
8 a.m. I rush to get dressed. My hair needs to be washed, but it will mess up the bathroom and make everything damp. I find some dry shampoo and shake. It makes my hair feel like cotton. I should do this over a wastebasket, I think, except I have hidden all the wastebaskets in the trunk of my car.
8:15 a.m. I am busy puffing pillows and turning on the right lights, removing cheap throw pillows as ordered and locking valuables in a hidden closet. I put on my glasses and notice a row of dust along the baseboards near the utility room. Like a ghostbuster, I zoom in with the vacuum. I got it.
8:30 a.m. I am dressed but can’t find my other shoe. I close my eyes and envision my route from the bedroom to my front door. Did it blow away to the woods along with the brown pants and a navy blazer I can’t find? I limp around wearing one shoe putting out fresh hydrangeas in the vase on the dining room table, white daises in a kitchen vase, change the brown towels to the unused and new fluffy white ones, remake my bed with the scratchy sheets. It’s all about appearances--speaking of which, I look in the mirror and shriek. I put on some blush and lipstick and wait for the Westminster chime doorbell to ring. Maybe the prospective buyer will think he’s in London.
8:45 a.m. It looks like rain. Should I put the napkins out on the table on the screened porch? Everything might get wet. The weather here is not cooperating at all. Where is the sun?
8:50 a.m. My real estate salesperson takes over and bluntly tells me to leave. It’s all part of the allusion that Margaret doesn’t live here anymore.
9:05 a.m. I am in my car clinging to one of my two laptops. Where to go to do work and read? I head to the library.
11:30: I have read half a novel, started a blog, looked at some old magazines in the stacks, walked in the stacks because I am antsy and need to move around, and played with the library’s computer system looking for books on moving to NYC. My stomach growls. I hope no one hears. I leave and meet a friend for lunch and a manicure.
1:30 p.m. I’m back in my same chair at the library. It’s like having my own pew in church. I take out my iPad and look up ideas of what to do if you’re a wreck and can’t go home.
Suggestions: practice breathing. This helps you to calm yourself down during times of stress. I try it and start to hyperventilate.
Listen to music. I brought earbuds and plug into Bernstein’s Candide. I close my eyes and feel the music. The music is supposed to clear my mind and thoughts after a stressful day. I inadvertently start to hum with the music and get nasty looks from a group at a table to my left.
Read a book. I’ve already read almost an entire book.
Go for a walk. A walk is supposed to give me an opportunity to show gratitude to my legs and body and help clear my mind. All it will do is make me sweaty.
Clean out the car. Good idea. I am going to sell the car, and I can use this time to get it ready. There’s a trash can nearby. I go to the parking lot and proceed to organize what’s in the trunk forgetting that it’s housing my wastebaskets, extra toilet paper and paper towels and paper shredder.
People watch. I go back inside the library and start observing the people around me. They think I’m staring. Well, I am. It’s supposed to offer an eye-opening experience, but it turns out to be annoying to others
Help someone. This will get me outside myself. I can hang out at a friend’s house to pass the time and offer to do chores. May I take out your trash? They’ll think I’m nuts.
Meditate. Breathe. Breathe. People are starting to stare at me again.
Write notes or journal. This is a good idea and doable. I start jotting down my thoughts taking them out of my head and transferring them to a file on my computer. I sound like a nut case.
3 p.m. As I’m typing my thoughts, I get a text telling me I can come back home. I drive into the garage and ping. Another potential buyer has arrived. I do a U and head to the nearest Starbucks.
4 p.m. I get a text telling me I can come back home. The lookers are gone. I am finally home and disassemble the additions to the screened porch. Bad storms are predicted, and I don’t want the rain to ruin the placemats, napkins and other paraphernalia on the table.
5 p.m. I kick off my shoes (finally found the other shoe) and hit the shower to wash my hair. I am going out to dinner at 6:30.
6:30 p.m. I’m standing out front of my building waiting to be picked up.
7p.m. My phone pings. We have our first contract but there are more to come.
10 a.m. I am home. I slip out of my clothes and get into bed. I’m still afraid to unpuff pillows or wrinkle the sheets in case another person wants to see the apartment the next day. I flip on an old movie and pretend I’m in a movie theater where I’m munching a big tub of buttered popcorn and not caring if the kernels fall on the floor.