Welcome to Life, Inspired — The Weekend Review. This is the weekly column where I take a step back from the recipes so you can have a wider look at what’s been inspiring me, moving me, or just catching my fancy out there in the life beyond my kitchen.
The Return of Walking Season
The weather is at that late winter/early spring teasing stage. One day it’s sunny and a temperature of, say, 7 ℃ feels heavenly. The next day it might be just as warm, but overcast skies and a sharp breeze make it feel raw and damp. And of course, some days are cold again. Even so, the pleasure of being able to walk outside on a path clear of snow is priceless. And wearing actual shoes! Oh, happy feet.
On last Friday’s walk (yes, a Friday the 13th, one of my favourite dates), I stopped to photograph one of the landmarks seen from Springbank Park.
There, across the river and through the trees, an abandoned house stands waiting. Will happy laughter echo in its halls again?
When Mother Nature Flirts
Writing about the teasing weather we’re having right now reminded me of a post I wrote three years ago, called When Mother Nature Flirts: Wintry Comfort Food. It includes a hearty potato and tomato dish perfect for when an early spring day turns cold. And it’s easy. Easy!
Thoughts on Moving
I’ve mentioned here and there that I’m going to be moving. Soon. Lots of work to do, and that’s been playing a bit of havoc with my blog schedule. Yes, I really do have a publishing schedule, but the reality is that it’s just going to have to be as flexible as everything else in my life while I 1) prepare to move, 2) move, and 3) recover from moving. You may have noticed this “weekend review” is happening on a Tuesday. It was in my head on the weekend, but just didn’t make the transition to the screen. Small potatoes in the great scheme of life.
Living in A Staged Home
Over the years I’ve moved a lot — my next home will be my 15th since leaving the parental nest — and it’s interesting to see how the process of selling a house has evolved. Thirty years ago, as a seller you wanted to ensure the place was reasonably clean and there was no underwear scattered about. These days, preparing a home for sale is a whole different ballgame. We don’t just clean now; we stage.
The essential idea of staging is to make your home not only look good, but also like you don’t live there. So yes, there’s the top to bottom cleaning and decluttering, but there’s also the depersonalization of the premises. Some people even take it to the next level by removing any non-magazine-shoot-worthy furnishings and replacing them with rental pieces. I absolutely refuse to do that. Anyway, the idea is to make the home a neutral canvas where prospective buyers can imagine themselves living.
The last home I lived in needed extensive redecoration before going on the market, as the previous owners had been wallpaper happy. I was redoing a room a year, and still had a lot of work to go. With the help of my real estate agent’s interior designer, we transformed the place into a shrine to beige. Ugh. I hated it, but it sold before it was even open for showings. My biggest learning from that experience? Listen to my agent! (I wrote about that move here and here, if you’re interested.)
I got off lucky this time. My current home was beautifully decorated by the previous owners, in a colour scheme that suits my tastes. In fact, in three years of living here, the only change I made was to paint my office/studio white. So, all I needed to do was declutter and depersonalize, and believe me, that was more than enough work. Here’s some of what I was instructed to do to stage the house.
- No family/personal photos on display (people can’t imagine themselves living in the house if your family members are smiling away on the walls).
- No certificates, diplomas, or anything with names on it, so people couldn’t make inferences based on perceptions about education, occupation, income, etc. (I suppose they make enough of those based on the cost of the house, neighbourhood and furnishings).
- In the office, no paper left out. Okay, that was a challenge. Because we chose to have an open house, as a security measure I hid my desktop computer in the back of a closet (good thing I also have a laptop, which I took with me during the open house and subsequent showings).
- Another security measure for the open house was to remove any valuable items that would be easy for someone to pocket.
- Throughout the house, on any table or bureau there could only be one or two decor pieces. While I cut back on that years ago, I still needed to do some editing.
- I was told I could only have one small appliance on display in the kitchen. Woah! I confess: I rebelled and left two pieces out: my KitchenAid stand mixer which is too special (not to mention big and heavy) to put away, and the Vitamix blender, which I use almost every day. Besides, it’s new and I’m still infatuated with it. Buyers didn’t run screaming from the property at the sight of two appliances, so I got away with it. I also had to reduce the number of utensil holders to only one. Essentially, the counters had to be bare, save for the allowable appliances and a basket of fruit.
- You know how fridges tend to attract all kinds of clutter? I had to edit my collection of magnetic spice holders down to nine from much more than nine. Everything else on the fridge had to be put away: magnets, my grandchildren’s art, take-out menus and the like.
- No alcohol could be visible, so as not to offend anyone with negative sensibilities about it. So, I emptied the wine rack, returned the beer empties and put the full bottles in a cupboard.
- Throughout the house I cleaned and organized closets and drawers, at least the ones that are part of the house and buyers could legitimately be opening. I had to make sure closets weren’t crowded, so they looked spacious. With the help of a label maker I transformed my kitchen cupboards into ultra-organized places of storage beauty. Who wouldn’t want to buy a house with cupboards like that?
- Excess furnishings like extra dining table chairs, tray tables and the like were tucked away in the basement utility room.
- Here’s another good one: no garbage pails could be out anywhere. Every single one, including the big metal canister in the kitchen, had to be put away. While the house was for sale I just used a single plastic grocery bag, and put it out in the trash any time there was a showing. In fact, I’ve gotten in the habit of doing that and still am (probably because I have to go looking for those garbage pails).
- In the bathrooms, no reading material (haha, busted!) or even extra rolls of toilet paper could be kept out.
- White hotel quality towels were to be on display in the bathrooms. I kept my regular towels to a bare minimum and hid them away before showings.
- There were no toiletries on display in the bathrooms. I would get out my body wash and shampoo when needed and put them away when I was done.
- Laundry hampers had to be empty. Even in the laundry room I made the dirty clothes seem as unobtrusive as possible.
- The electric heater and blankets in the basement family room had to be put away, so people wouldn’t think the house was cold. (Never mind the record-breaking cold temperatures at the time.) Also, I turned the furnace up before showings to make sure it was nice and cosy in here.
- And finally, the mermaid wall art from Florida and my ‘women of the world’ print had to be taken down because they included bare breasts. I guess we didn’t want to offend anyone opposed to partial nudity or, on the other hand, distract buyers who favour partial nudity from the charms of the house itself.
So, what was it like living in the house after doing all this? On the one hand, it felt like there’d been an invasion of alien neat-freak zombies. On the other hand, it felt freeing having no clutter about and knowing that I had divested myself of so many things I no longer needed. (The kind people at the Canadian Diabetes Association Clothesline program actually came to the house and picked up all of my donation items.) I think the biggest challenge had to do with always needing to be ready for last-minute showings. I did little cooking or any projects that might mess things up during this period, and spent a lot of time in coffee shops.
Luckily, the house sold quickly (in under two weeks) and now I can enjoy its still-neat state. Until the packing starts, that is.
Last week there was a touch of the Middle East around here, with this parsley and kale salad with pomegranate, and these pomegranate-molasses glazed chicken thighs. Just writing that makes me want to make them again.