Upstaged at our Own House

We have been staged.

First, our stager strolled around the house, taking notes about everything that was wrong with it.  Which was a lot, it seemed.  The stager muttered something about our decor being “eccentric,” and I was pretty sure that wasn’t a compliment.

Later, she sent a long, detailed list of suggestions, room by room.

First, my husband’s treasured beer can collection had to go.

Oh, sure, maybe it looks to you like this is just a ratty conglomeration of used alcohol receptacles, but to us, it was more.  We collected dozens of six-packs of beer during one of our legendary road trips in 1974, when we toured the Midwest in our ancient Volkswagen bug.  We bought every kind of beer we’d never heard of, from Grain Belt to Leinenkugler to Buddy.  Then we returned to Austin, loaded down with a carload of six–packs and hosted a beer-tasting party.  Everybody got quite drunk and sloppy, as I recall, which was our definition of a good party in the 1970s.  Since then, the collection has followed us from Austin to Charlottesville, Virginia, to Dallas and now back to Austin.

“You’re getting rid of the beer can collection?” our daughter asked, appalled.  She sounded like we were giving away family heirlooms.  Given our shabby ideas of family heirlooms, she had a point.

“Just storing it,” I said quickly.  “We’ll bring it back out when we move.  The swankier the condo, the more intent we’ll be on the beer can collection.”  We are still our old, bohemian selves, I wanted to say.  It’s just that we need to go into hiding for the duration.  Whatever the duration turned out to be.  In other words, we were selling out to sell.  That sounded about right.  The sixties were over a long time ago.

But it wasn’t only the beer collection.  It was also the weird little Mexican statue that was the first present my husband ever gave me, back when he was my boyfriend.  Over the years, we’d festooned him with Hawaiian leis, Mardi Gras beads and, most recently, a paper cap from the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory.  His name was Montezuma and he had his marching orders.

Equally alarming, the best present I ever gave my husband — the utterly tasteless sarcophagus wine holder, with the face that drops open into a tray — was deemed a little too attention-seizing.  Oh, my God, the history there!  When I’d glimpsed it in a store of crazy, over-the-top objets de craft, it had just screamed my husband’s name.  I’d been so proud, for once, to buy him the perfect present.  Now, it was going to be banished.

Also, the old clarinet my husband had painted in neon colors, the family photos, the bottles of volcanic ash from Mount St. Helen’s, the plaster of Paris armadillo, the refrigerator magnets in questionable taste, including the frazzled-looking woman who announces “This is now officially the worst fucking day of my life” and the more soignee woman who exhales a cloud of cigarette smoke and announces, “Maybe I want to look cheap.”  (No place says self-expression like the outside of a refrigerator.)

We got staged.  We made the changes.  Our house looked fresh and streamlined, I had to admit.  More generic, but that’s what seems to sell.

I wandered around it one day, watching how the early fall light streamed through the windows — a sight I’d always loved.  This is my favorite of all the houses we’ve lived in.  I loved it and wondered how I could leave it.  But maybe that’s the beauty of staging.  Already, it wasn’t really our house any longer.  It was waiting for someone else.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about visiting your grown son’s apartment: prepare yourself

22 comments… add one
  • I remember having the same feeling at our last house. It seemed like we had to pack away every last thing that meaning to us. It was a very disconcerting feeling. I look around me here, at this house, and I can’t imagine how on earth we will every do that here should we need to leave because I’ve really gone to town here!

    I seem to have a knack for seeing past the decor in houses though. Both houses that we bought were not staged and both had some trouble selling. When we saw this house, they had a HUGE birdcage (which was like a small room) in the living room. There was an incredibly ugly brass tea cart in the family room. The dining room had so much furniture you could almost not get through it.  The house before this one had indoor/outdoor carpeting in the hallway. Yet I immediately knew that I had to have each house. I could see what it could be.

  • Ruth, this post made me almost burst into tears when you got to the sunshine streaming in the windows.  You really succeeded here, because I have never left a “house” per se.  I left my home, the USA, and moved to France when I was 21.  So, giving up a place one feels comfortable strikes a special chord in me.

  • YIKES. I shudder to think what a house stager would say about our similarly “eccentric” decor style. Thank god we’re not leaving our home anytime soon – I’d have to banish the ceramic T.Rex who’s dressed to look like Mister Rogers! (It’s a Pittsburgh thing.)

  • I love your King Tut. Totally over the top!

  • The house already feels like it’s not yours anymore… This post is funny but I’m feeling sad about how you culled 1500 books (from a previous post) and now everything else is going too. Will you let us know when it sells?! I can’t wait to read the follow-up post!

  • I do hope that all your treasures find a place in your new home. But I can’t help but feel a bit of sadness and sympathy at what you have to do to part with a house you love so much. That’s why I haven’t been able to let go of this house for 14 years. It holds such good memories and it’s my favorite out of all the places we’ve owned.

  • Cindy A Link

    I’m afraid my daughter’s giant dollhouse in the living room (it would accomodate a small homeless person and currently serves as upscale lodging for the cat) would have to go.

  • See now all of those items would have endeared the house to me and made me more likely to buy.

  • The King Tut is definitely cool. I hope you plan to tote this piece along with you to the next location.

  • So sad Montezuma had to be locked away. It is a strange moment when you strip your house of everything that gave it your touch so that it will be easier to sell. But you’re right in some ways it makes it a bit easier because then it doesn’t look like “your” house anymore.

  • Cindy A Link

    You know, that “ecclectic” stuff sells.  Ask Andy Warhol.

  • Ellen Link

    No future place you inhabit can be genuinely yours without all the items mentioned.  Unimaginable.  And what about the Virgin Mary in the sombrero?  Did that one pass inspection?

  • After watching a long stint of real estate shows on HGTV recently my grown daughter and I wandered around our house pointing out everything that would have to be hidden/stored away to sell our current place (read:nearly everything I treasure).  Now the phrase “this reads as a bit too personal” has entered the family lexicon for anything that potentially ought not be exposed to daylight/public attention.

  • The beer cans reminded me of where I wrote my dissertation.  It was in my German boyfriend’s apartment where there was nothing to distract me from the horrible task before me.  There was a desk, two chairs and a wall of beer cans, his only decor.  This was his temporary dwelling in the US where he was doing a post-doc.  He saved all his beer cans and there were about 1000 of them, neatly stacked.
    I wish I had a sarcophagus wine rack.

  • I got rid of my Lady Di and Prince Charles Royal Wedding wastepaper baskets and the bloody house still didn’t sell.

  • Like Deb, I’m a huge fan of HGTV so, when it came time to put our condo on the market, I was ready, no house stager required. Unfortunately, our condo is still sitting on the market, and I’m frustrated as well. I hate feeling so helpless. Meanwhile, we’ll already found our dream home, and are scared that it will be sold before we can sell our [expletive expletive] condo.
    What I miss most are our books, and the shelves they sat on. Other than that, though, I must admit that our condo looks better this uncluttered.

  • Like Steph and Deb, I’m a huge HGTV fan! My parents hired a stager when they downsized from a house to a condo and I happened to be staying with them when the transformation happened. Wow – I thought it looked incredible, but it wasn’t until they moved out that it finally sold. 🙁

  • “Eclectic decor” means, to some people, your belongings are a pile of camel dung that would curse a three-family yard sale in a trailer park.  However, to me, the phrase means the unholy flotsam and jetsam of living life that nevertheless imparts an enchanting aura to one’s soul.
    Sarcophagus wine holder– I love it, want it!  The only thing that could top that would be a sarcophagus TP dispenser.
    Having never sold a home, I had no idea of all the behind-the-scenes chicanery that must be endured to insure a realtor  his/her commission.  By the way, I hold no love of realty agents as I feel one of “those people” hastened my mother’s death.  Grim details of which are best retold one snowy evening while curled by the fire.

  • Ahh, the old staging phenom prevalent in today’s crazy housing market. Always thought this modern concept would make a good story — and you’ve got the chops & (house) props to do it well, Ruth.

  • Frankly, having been a real estate agent, I understand the need for this service, as some folks really stuff their houses with, well, stuff. But I always thought they go overboard. Remove family photos? Tell me, what is the harm in that. Doesn’t is speak of family, love, warmth. I painted my walls lovely shades of leafy green, burnished gold, and even a hint of tangerine. I was advised to put them all back to white to sell the house. I refused – my house sold to people who loved the colors. That’s a huge part of the problem with our country today -everyone needs to be the same, look the same, act the same, decorate their houses the same…but don’t get me started.

  • Cindy A Link

    I’m with you, Barbara.  We bought our house 20 years ago.  It was empty, but the walls were painted a faint eggshell blue, which I thought to be beautiful.  While we were negotiating the price, the owners went in and painted all the walls white, which was terribly disappointing.

  • Staged indeed! I remember when the owners of out condo were trying to sell it. What a nightmare, and doubly so because we certainly didn’t want to move. Grr.

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