Before you begin the process of renting your house to another family, shifting your whole life into the loft so that you can live out your latest dream and travel the world for a year with your family, you will wrongly assume that you are living a sort of normal, clean, unattached life.
You will have this illusion that possessions mean nothing to you, that you’re a hippy chic that could wipe around her relatively clean and tidy house with a bleachy cloth and be out of the door and on the next plane to Florida before the sun sets.
And oddly enough, other people will have this misconception of you too.
They will come round to your house for dinner, see a clean on the surface house but will never be allowed to venture into the bedrooms. They may see a dog that has just been walked and so doesn’t sit there with her teeth chattering when someone picks up her ball.
Or they might see kids that have just been rollicked and warned that if they get the phone out at dinner, there will be hell to pay. And finally, they will see a husband and wife that always seem so relaxed and chilled but who actually downed half a bottle of rum before you arrived.
You and I have a lot in common. Let’s be friends.
The Reality of Renting Your House Furnished While You Travel the world For a Year.
When I initially approached Brian with the idea that we could leave everything behind for a year and take the kids around the world, I remember him asking me what we would do with the house?
“Rent it of course!” I had ever so smugly replied.
I recall him commenting that the cost of storage for all our furniture would be astronomical and again I retorted with my already thought of answer;
“No, we will just rent it fully furnished”.
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I honestly believed that we would just pack a few bits and pieces into a wine box- is there any other sort of box?- and pop it into the loft.
What could we possibly have that we wanted to keep or that we even cared about?
At the most, that old pair of maternity pyjamas that I couldn’t bear to part with ’cause they’re comfy (and still fit me actually) and the one royal Doulton teacup that your Aunty bought you for the Queens Jubilee.
I pictured us four, handing over the keys to our furnished house, our passports in hand, smiling and relaxed. Excited at the thought of our year of freedom. No more work, no more homeschooling. Just us four, smelling of coconut oil. And roses.
Three weeks it took us. Three bloody weeks. That’s a long time to put a pair of pyjamas and a teacup into the loft.
Luckily, Brian spent a weekend boarding out the roof space. Putting boards across the beams so that we wouldn’t fall through the itchy fibreglass and into the bathroom.
It was a good job he did.
The space that used to house three boxes of Christmas decorations, a rocking horse and my old nip and fluff books from the 1970s is now bulging at the seams. There’s a whole housing estate up there. A Chinese supermarket, and a charity shop.
Eighteen banana boxes.
The image of the hippy chic and the coconut oil was fading fast.
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Renting Your House. The Cleaning. The Packing. The Cleaning.
And yes we had help. My mum was an absolute star. Mums are always the best at cleaning, aren’t they? Sadly, I don’t think I’ll ever hear Tessa say those words about me.
I didn’t realise what a sh*t tip my spare room wardrobe was before my mum attacked it with her bottle of bleach. She brought her own bleach with her from her own house. It was actually a bottle of glass cleaner, but she’d got an indelible pen and scrubbed over the original label, written BLEACH on it instead. In big fat letters. Get out weakling glass cleaner, in you get bleach. We need the big boys for this job. And so it came over to my house. To spray those filthy skirting boards in the spare room.
I would have done it sooner, the cleaning I mean, but what’s the point in cleaning the house when you’re all still living in it? I would recommend that you don’t.
I tried it and it was a nightmare. One weekend I had a funny turn and I cleaned the pantry from top to bottom. Only to watch in horror when five minutes later my teenager lazily reached for a tin of beans -while at the same time texting on the phone – and proceeded to knock all the zillions of poppy seeds out of the container, filling the little cracks down the side of the pantry door. I spent the next 40 minutes wiping them up, so it didn’t look as though we have an ant infestation. After that, I gave up and waited for the bleach police to arrive with her extra strong supplies.
How It Affected The Family.
Brian turned into a raving lunatic. We all did in fairness, but Brian. Well, let’s just say I’m surprised he didn’t make the kids go and wipe down the bark of the trees in the driveway with a bleachy cloth. Bloody filthy those trees. Filthy. Rotton. Dirty.
And me. The woman who ever so gaily announced that she would be leaving all of her ornaments for the new family to enjoy suddenly turned into a compulsive hoarder.
“Shall we throw away this piece of driftwood with a pebble as an eye or shall we leave it on the fireplace covered in cobwebs?”
“Oh no no no, that’s special. That has to go in the loft. And don’t leave the metal robin bird with the broken leg that I bought from the National Trust 10 years ago. He reminds me of my brother. Get that packed.
Another banana box, please.
“What shall we do with these old knickers that look like something Rose West would wear? Bin?”
“No, no, no. Pack them away, please. They’re the only ones I can wear in the middle of the month when I get my bloated beach whale stomach”.
The kids were no different. In fact, now at least I know where they get it from. Ramming broken bits of Thomas the Tank engine track into the box behind the Rose West knickers and then trying to camouflage it by putting their onesie that they got for Christmas on top of everything. It doesn’t fit now, so God alone knows what it’ll look like in 12 months time. Tessa will look like that giant kid out of the Ready-Brek advert.
The pantry was a nightmare. It’s not until you pull out the marshmallows that you’ve been saving for bonfire night for three years that you find the hidden gremlins. The Stowaways. The bits and pieces that were hoping to make it through another year without being booted out.
I tell you, for a woman who cooks spaghetti bolognaise and chicken in the pan twenty times a week, I certainly have a lot of dried shiitake mushrooms and orange blossom water. The newly discovered hoarder in me found it torturous to throw them into the open mouth of the bin. I’ll admit. I kept lots of things. Just in case. The Sichuan peppercorns, for example, lived to see another year. I searched all over Wellington to find those, and they cost me a small fortune. They went in with the Rose West knicks, the broken Thomas train and the fleecy pink rabbit onesie.
One word of advice. If you do ever rent your house furnished, get someone else – preferably your mum who likes to throw out all your stuff ’cause it’s filthy – to go through your photographs. Or even better just get a big black bag and tip them into it. Don’t do what I did. Don’t sit there crossed legged in the middle of the banana boxes blubbing over the photo of Sonny when he had his first burp.
Pity I didn’t remember back to when the actual photo was taken, Ironically I was also blubbing. Through sleep deprivation and the fact that I wasn’t able to cough without wetting my knickers.
I left the sofas, just. I mean, it did say furnished I suppose. But not before I had cleaned them with the leather wipes that I’d been stupid enough to buy the day before. Leather Wipes. In reality, just baby’s bum wipes with a picture of a posh couch on the front and six dollars for the pleasure. All they did was made the leather wet and then when it dried it looked exactly the same.
Once all the zillion of banana boxes were in the loft – I swear, I thought I could see one peeping out of the chimney – we started to tackle the garden.
“If it’s immaculate when they move in it will have to be the same when they move out.”
Brian in his slightly manic Jack Nicholson voice.
I must have heard that about twenty times a day in those three weeks. Immaculate? It was like a bloody palace. Even the basket that sits at the side of the toilet, the one that holds the toilet rolls, the ‘Which” magazine and my nose spray, was cleaned of all its worldly belongings. I’m telling you. It. Was. Gleaming.
Even The Garden Didn’t Escape.
Luckily the garden maintenance involved a chainsaw and some hedge trimmers. For some reason, under sergeant majors’ orders, the hedges had to have a nice tight haircut before the day of the big move. I’m surprised we didn’t have to polish the leaves. I convinced Brian to entrust Sonny with this job but Brian, who was far too busy building a safety rail along the deck to stop the little kids falling into the sheep field and polishing the wood basket, probably didn’t hear me.
He couldn’t possibly have heard me say:
“Shall we let Sonny cut the hedges with the hedge trimmers? Oh, and by the way, he’s got his earphones in and is listening to his Ricky Gervais podcast”.
Whatever. He didn’t answer. He just stood there – glaring at the sheep to see if they needed a good drenching of bleach – so I rammed the hedge trimmers into Sonny’s joyous arms and went back to my business.
There are only a few things that will keep a teenage boy quiet. One is Snap-chat with unlimited data, two is his Grandma’s fridge, and three is having free reign of the hedge trimmers with miles of hedge just sitting there quivering, waiting for the testosterone monster and his machine to attack.
Yes, Brian had a point. Yes, the hedge did look a bit bald in some places, and yes, we know its taken you seven years to fill in all those wobbly bits – but – it saved us a ton of time, and I for one was proud of my boy. Of course, I was. He’s my boy. The lad can do no wrong. Unless it involves poppy seeds. Anyway. It will always grow back.
It felt as though it would never end.
So much for just renting the house furnished and swanning over to my mums with our rucksacks – smelling of coconut oil.
Instead, we looked like the Hillbillies as we drove away from our bulging house. We stunk of bleach, chainsaw oil and banana boxes. Us four. A Man with a twitchy eye, a wife with a bulging belly and no knickers to soothe it, a teenage boy with ringing ears and quivering biceps, a teenage girl with an attitude, a confused dog with chattery teeth and three feral cats.
Hello mum. We are here to stay for a couple of weeks. The adventure begins.