One of the perks and oddities of living in a university town is that we rent our house during several weekends each year. Most often we rent to alumni who return for football games, but we also rent for other special events like this past weekend's graduation.
Despite the fact that we had been handed a sizable check, I questioned our judgment the first time we handed over the house keys to people who had been strangers a mere five minutes ago. Will they trash the house? Throw a keg party? Rummage through our personal stuff? Steal my kids' toys?
When we returned home at the end of the weekend and discovered that the house was no worse for the wear -- and that the guests even had piled the used sheets and towels in the laundry room -- we were pleased.
So, we've kept renting.
Prepping is the most difficult task. The goal is to have the house appear as if you don't live in it, which is no small feat when you do.
We clear off all dressers, stow away toys, remove personal effects like the pictures and calendar on our refrigerator, and rid all clutter from counters. Every surface is dusted, scrubbed, and tidied. I take the food out of the refrigerator, wipe down the refrigerator shelves, and then restock.
Knowing that our renters would arrive at 3 on Friday, Joel and I raced the clock to dust, vacuum, and prepare every bed with fresh sheets. Working against us were Brooke and Kerrington, two powerful mess-making entities who could undo in seconds what we had labored over for minutes.
Sliding glass door sprayed with window clearer and wiped? Check. Then Kerrington licked the door and rubbed her face back and forth along the glass, creating arcs of smeared saliva.
Kitchen table scrubbed? Check. That is, until Brooke pulled a Tupperware of noodles from the refrigerator and ate them at the kitchen table without the use of a plate, a fork, or a napkin.
Cleaning a house when you have kids present is like brushing your teeth while eating an Oreo.
Yet, it gets done. Roughly three minutes before the doorbell rang, everything came together. I visited each room one final time to admire its pristine state, thinking, I wish that I could live in a house that looks like this.
When the guests arrived we showed them around, handed over the keys, piled our kids into our crammed minivan, and drove to our destination.
Originally, we had planned to stay at my brother and his wife's house, but this option fell through earlier this week due to extenuating circumstances. Joel scrambled to find a back-up plan. As a campus minister he works with dozens of students, and three of them were willing to let our family stay at their apartment for the weekend. They just had left town at the end of finals week.
We've known these three students for several years. They regularly visit our house for dinner. They play with our daughters. They've helped move heavy furniture. I love these guys.
It's a bit of a mess, one of them texted Joel on Friday.
A truer text never has been sent.
We arrived at the apartment and assessed the situation. It was bleak. Joel contacted one of the roommates to ask where their vacuum was. The response: "If we have a vacuum, it's probably in the basement."
Let's dissect that statement for a moment.
If we have a vacuum... As in, "Considering that I don't know whether we own a vacuum, you can safely assume that the floors haven't been vacuumed since we moved in last August."
Brooke was afraid to use the downstairs bathroom. And the upstairs bathroom.
There seemed to be an infestation of ants.
A gallon of milk that had expired in March was still in the refrigerator.
Our survey didn't take long. We packed up the kids once again, opted to eat dinner out, played outside at a park until bedtime, and then headed back to the apartment, set up air mattresses, and tucked the girls in for the night.
At which point Joel and I sat down for a minute, looked the place over, and figured the best course of action.
We started cleaning.
I tossed expired items from the fridge. Joel bought and set up ant traps. I emptied the trash and recyclable containers. We scrubbed toilets, cleaned mirrors, wiped down sinks, gathered trash, tossed bath mats and kitchen towels in the washing machine, and scrubbed the kitchen floor. Joel found the vacuum in the basement. I cleaned the microwave and the laundry room.
That apartment has never looked so good.
Now that it's the end of the weekend, we're back in our own house. I just finished wiping down our kitchen and bathrooms to clean up after our own renters, and as I type I hear the rhythmic sound of the washer and dryer upstairs. Just four more loads of laundry, and it'll be like the rental never happened.
After this weekend, I must say that our house never has looked so good.