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Tiffany Gee Lewis: A house fit for other people

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In preparation to rent our house out on Airbnb for the summer, we did all the usual spring-cleaning things: decluttered the drawers, cleaned out the closets and hired landscapers to cut back all the foliage.

We power-washed the walkways and outdoor furniture, stained the deck, wiped out the window wells and erased the fingerprints off the walls. We finally put lights over the naked bulbs in the kitchen and sealed a leaky window.

We hired three handymen, put in a new oven, and donated about 40 bags of clothing and household items to Goodwill. My mom flew in to sew eight pairs of curtains and stock us with brand-new pillows and sheets.

For three weeks, our house fairly hummed with activity, all the typical things we do every year as summer arrives.

Ha, just kidding. These are not the usual things. If we weren’t putting our home into the hands of other people, we wouldn’t be nearly this obsessive.

In fact, we wouldn’t have done any of this. I would have continued to cram seven more pencils into the junk drawer. I would have let the grass go to seed. I would have examined the deck, complained about it, and let it rot underneath my feet.

Those naked bulbs in the kitchen? When we first moved in, I looked at them and said, “Oh, for sure we’ll get fixtures for those next week.”

That was two years ago. Now, I don’t even notice them. It took me nine months to strip and sand the floor of the downstairs bathroom. In the end, we hired a professional to finish the job.

I applaud those who meticulously maintain and update their homes. I have friends who do this and I stand in awe. No faucets get clogged on their watch.

But I’ve found through observance that most people are like me. We spit-polish and shine only for guests, or when a home will no longer be ours.

Back in college, I dated a guy. He was really nice, and things were progressing in our relationship. One day, I was in his apartment and had to get something from his bedroom. As I entered the room, I took in the scene with interest. His side of the bedroom was meticulous. We’re talking immaculate, cleaner than a hotel. The bed was made. The walls were bare, as was the floor. The only thing on his desk was a perfectly sharpened #2 pencil.

My mind flashed to my own apartment bedroom. I had a dizzying array of ocean pictures splashed all over the walls. Half of my unmade bed was covered with books and papers for class. My roommates always teased me for sleeping on the narrowest sliver of bed to accommodate this arrangement. The desk was in similar chaos.

Best of all, my roommate and I were in the middle of an experiment. We wanted to see if we could make the trash in the trash can climb to the level of our platform beds without it toppling over. So far, we were having enormous success.

I looked again at my boyfriend’s bedroom with the single pencil on the desk and had a flash of insight. Our relationship would never work. We lived at opposite ends of the cleaning spectrum, and the chasm between us was simply too wide.

Very soon after we broke up, I met my future husband. Fast forward 20 years. My side of the bed has six books, my scriptures, two magazines and a random black folder. This is after I cleaned it out for guests. I glance at my husband’s side of the bed: 12 books, dirty exercise clothes, some stray cables, and I know under the bed is a six-month backlog of unread newspaper and journal articles. We are happily married in our shared slovenliness.

To be fair, we’re not that bad. I keep the house at a healthy level of disarray. But it makes me laugh that we’ll pull out our best for complete strangers. Whenever I clean my house to an extreme level, I think, “I love this. I love this so much. I will keep it like this always.”

But I never do. No matter the size of our house or how much I pare down, I am content knowing our family lives a little rough around the edges.

Which may be why my 15-year-old remarked the other day, “I’ve got a great idea. We should just pretend to move every five years, and then our house will look this good all the time.”

To which, I sent him outside to wash some more windows. For other people to enjoy.