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June 14, 2021

Window on the World Column | Remodeling My Attitude

I work with houses all the time — empty and full. “It’s much easier to sell if the house is empty,” I hear myself say over and over to potential listing clients. No dealing with sellers and access; no having to climb over Aunt Agatha’s clutter or imagining how the property might show if it didn’t smell like cat pee. No, an empty house is every real estate professional’s dream sales base.

“Shouldn’t we stage it?” some respond. Not in this market, Sherlock. I had hoped to show a house 24 hours after it hit the market. Nope, it went sale pending already. And it was occupied.

We have lived in our house on the hill for nearly 20 years. That is two fun-filled decades of occupying the ranch and not doing a darn thing to it, pretty much. The first issue to hit us upside the head was our septic tank. It’s not really dinnertime conversation, is it; but if you live on a septic as opposed to city waste disposal, it’s pretty important that you pay attention to that particularly important system. We did not. I remember the seller pumped it for us when we bought the house, but then it brought us no trouble, so we just ignored it; sort of like a well-behaved teenager. And then it did.

The first clue was the eggy scent when you’d run water, or the backup flow that returned up the drain to visit one day and attacked my daughter in the shower. We were in trouble and we knew it. Long story short; do not ignore your septics or your teenagers — they will both come back to bite you if you’re not paying attention.

Our plumbing issues coincided with us deciding our beautiful home was a bit shabby and needed some love. Well, truthfully, some major love. My generous father had sold his old mansion in London and was kind enough to share some of the proceeds with us. It was time to give Solace, our home, a facelift. Let’s face it, we had been living on bare cement floors for the longest time. Two large and expensive moving “Pods” later, we were schlepping out boxes of stuff and more stuff from our house in order that the work crews could actually see what they were dealing with before they dealt with it, as it were.

Who needs all this stuff? Friends of mine had urged me, on past occasions, to clean out my kitchen cabinets of the million and one chipped cups that no one needs; or have a go at organizing my world-renowned linen closet that boasts a stuff-in-and-push-the-door-shut technique that is the envy of no one. I was going to try and turn over a new leaf. At well over half my natural life, it was time to amend my ways. If I didn’t absolutely love it or use it near daily, it needed to go away.

Trust me, there’s a lot of things to love, but over 20 years there is a lot that I can let go. If it is a size 8 or 10 and gathering dust in my closet, it needs to go to some one that is that size and can get some wear out of it. I shall likely not ever be bothered to try and get that small again. I am still the only person I know to go through chemotherapy and gain weight. Ditto the high-heeled shoes and boots. I am as likely to wear heels again as I am to drive an 18-wheeler, so love-love shoes that I do-do, it is past time to move them along.

Fortunately, Lucy’s Closet has a wonderful donation trailer on Arroyo Seco road that accepts gently used clothing and household goods that they then pass along to local people in need. We have made a couple of joyous visits to that place … (Not ever, I’ll have you know — my friends in Europe are likely querying — did I make a return trip to Lucy’s and retrieve anything, not even my very favorite dip-dyed black and green neck-breakers.) I hope some younger version of me will love the heck out of them like I did, until my feet became bricks, and I could sport only tennis shoes or wide cowboy boots. Or flip-flops or slippers; but you can’t wear those in the rain.

The septic issues took longer and were more expensive than anyone ever plans. Isn’t it always that way? The crews were not available to start on the house as quickly as we would like, and we were seemingly eternally camping out in half a ransacked abode. Home remodeling is not for the faint of heart, however you do it. Setting up the makeshift kitchen in the garage and not being able to find a cup for my coffee made me realize how we take our daily domestic lives for granted. We know where our hairbrush is and our corner for coffee. The cereal is always in the same place and garbage bags can come immediately to hand.

This crazy madhouse of building dust chaos was a new world for us. We kept telling ourselves it was going to be a beautiful new place; once it was done. “I just want my bed back,” our daughter moaned as she crawled into my temporary one to get herself a little rested for night shift ahead. (She had been sleeping on the sofa previously.) The dogs are unsure where they are sleeping tonight — their beds are all over the place — and the displaced smoke alarm is beeping out on the lawn in the middle of the night ensuring restless hours for us all, especially my border collie who gets super upset at high-pitched noises.

It’s quite the journey, this home improvement lark. My husband and I promised each other that we would take our time before any of our possessions came back into the house with her clean lines and vacuous empty spaces. We might just give away almost everything we have, unless we love-love it and that is an impressive criteria to work with. The old wooden desk is going to the dump, the bookshelves are being sanded and repurposed and pictures that have lost their luster are going away. If you feel like a little or large shake up in your world, do some home remodeling. It will teach you a lot about yourself — and your patience skills or lack thereof.

I’m excited about the new home I’ll be moving back into and the opportunity I get to start over. Though the doubters in my life will still expect to visit and find the linen closet exercising her stuff-in-and-push-the-door technique, I’m going to try to not go there again. It has been very liberating to clear out the stuff and I’d like to keep doing just that.

Lucy Jensen
Soledad Columnist

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