Sounds like a tall order, huh.
In fact, it seems impossible, and if you start to hyperventilate at the very thought of it, I don’t blame you. I’ve been there too, homeschooling five children (including two highschoolers) and nursing a baby. Rosie is getting ready to sell her house now*, and while she is super organized, her texts have reminded me that I have meant to give you my five secrets for getting this job done with some semblance of peace.
I mean, it’s not going to be peaceful.
The reason that people grow old and die in their inadequate and cluttered homes is that they can’t face the disruption of moving! But sometimes, face it you must. So here’s how.
We will take it as read that you have already googled the heck out of this topic.
You know that you have to declutter, and my Reasonably Clean House series is going to help you do that. Yes, you can KonMari everything. But chances are, if you are homeschooling and have lots of kids, that you need more stuff than the average millennial only now getting started on her family. You certainly have more books than Marie Kondo does, and that’s fine, as long as they are dusted and look pretty. Besides following all my thoughts on how to get a clean (reasonably so) house, there’s the issue of these strangers walking in. You can’t satisfy their standards, because you don’t know them, so the main thing to keep in mind is that whatever you have in your home should be clean and pretty. Make it pretty, especially the front door (“curb appeal”).
You already know that it has to all smell good. Now is the time to light that big scented candle you got for Christmas. Put it on your stove, where it won’t burn the house down.
You already know that your house has to be warm (if it’s cool out) or cool (if otherwise).
Now I am going to tell you how to achieve this when your house is not utterly fabulous and high end, your children are numerous, and your school must keep going regardless.
First secret: Start at the top and learn to blitz. (If you only have one level, start at the furthest point from the door you will ultimately exit.)
Selling your house is the fire under your behind to deep clean every zone in your house. But don’t do this the way you’d do it to please yourself… you must be able to declare an area “closed” in the sense of having been deep cleaned, and then later in the sense of “no one go in there.” (It’s not a bad idea to have no-go zones for the duration of the selling period if you can swing it.)
Once you have done that, you need to incentivize your children to perfect the blitz. Maybe show them The Hunt for Red October (if they are older) or take a field trip to the fire station and observe the drill. Once they see that their job needs military precision and a sense of urgency as for putting out a blaze, they will enter the spirit of the thing and execute.
In the blitz, just as with normal living, the goal isn’t to deep clean or even do the moderate clean. It’s just to make things tidy as quickly as possible so you can get out of the house and have it ready for showing. (You need the moderate clean for other days, though, so read up on it.)
The kids need to think this is a fun and exciting process that they do on the run. Besides some sort of model, they probably also need a bribe/reward waiting for them when they are done. You will end up in the car, so maybe stash some treats there or head for ice cream.
Second secret: Appearance of clean!
Unlike normal cleaning, you are not — repeat, NOT — going to clean in your normal fashion according to the areas that need it most or are most used. And you are not going to prioritize actual cleanliness (after you have done that necessary deep cleaning), but instead, the appearance of cleanliness.
Thus, pay more attention to wiping surfaces and vacuuming than to getting under the sofa cushions crumb free. Windows need to be sparkling more than sheets need to be laundered. (You can do the latter on a non-showing day.) It’s more important to get the toys off the lawn than to put your clutter away!
Third secret: Laundry baskets!
You are not going to put your necessary clutter (as opposed to the unnecessary clutter that you got rid of before this whole process began) away!
You would go crazy!
You can’t do it!
When you get the call to show the house, your drill will be that you initiate the blitz, throwing any “necessary” clutter that can’t immediately be put away in its proper place into laundry baskets as you exit the area.
You start to see the importance of starting at the top (or furthest portion) of your home and working your way down and out.
You must clean yourself out of your house.
The children need to go ahead of you, blitzing.
One child (or team) can be in charge of blitzing bathrooms (after you have carefully trained them in the art of making it look clean). One team can be in charge of making sure that beds are not only made but that any stray stuffed animals are propped up in front of pillows (which instantly makes the bed look charming rather than slovenly). One team wipes down stairs and removes any clutter from them.
Put any actual laundry in hampers or in the dryer. (Identify hiding places for things: Bins under beds, the space inside the dryer and inside the washer — but, don’t put things in the oven or stuffed in closets, because people look in there. They won’t open the fridge or deep freezer, though… )
If you are going to stay sane, you can’t have everyone running to and fro. No criss-crossing! No entering areas declared stranger-ready!
I developed this method when I realized that it was making me have a panic attack to have everyone running around randomly. My house had three floors and we started at the top (and in the bathrooms, because only so many people fit in one place) and backed our way out.
You are the last to leave a room while they are tackling the next part — and no one re-enters after you have left, just like in a fire drill! You are the last to leave a floor.
You give the floor (or zone) you are leaving the critical eye, snatching up personal things as you go, and then attend to the next one.
What do I mean by “necessary clutter”? What you can’t face putting away because you know that… you just can’t. So, everyone works their way out of the house, collecting toys, books, bath towels (and other bathroom detritus), sweaters, shoes, blankets, and other objects like random “personal knickknacks” as they go, in the laundry baskets (laundry bags and large trash bags are helpful too). Don’t waste time on putting every last thing away. Just toss it all in the basket.
Those get put in the back of the undoubtedly large vehicle you use to transport your brood (of course, when you first listed your home, you cleaned out the van too!).
Fourth secret: Homeschooling with backpacks.
Our high school kids kept the materials they were actually using in a backpack. They could just grab that. The younger ones can get their math books or whatever they are working on at the moment — they can use totes if that works better. And you can head for the library for the hour or two that it takes to show the house.**
Keep in mind two things:
One. If your children were at school, undoubtedly they would have days that schooling didn’t go as planned. At school there are drills and disruptions. It’s not as if every day every nose is on the grindstone — far from it. So if you use the showing time to run errands or visit a friend, that’s fine.
Two. Your house has certain basic qualities (or lack thereof) that make it marketable if the price is right. The biggest factor, actually, is what other houses recently sold for in your neighborhood. Realtors like to get you whipped up about how important your staging is, but the fact is that most people have decided when they pull up to the door whether or not they are interested. That your bathrooms and kitchen are functional is more important than whether you have teddy bears on the beds. That said, if it looks welcoming and tidy, it will appeal to them! So just work on that and don’t stress out!
Fifth secret, and the key to keeping the system running: Immediate homing of clutter upon return.
When you get home, take everything out of the car and put it, baskets and all, in the middle of the floor in a central place. Spend whatever time it takes to put each and every single item back in its place. Make your children your runners. What you will note immediately is that there are things that you resent having to cart in and out this way, and lo! these things can now easily be donated or discarded!
Thus, the clutter you are dealing with at any point is stuff you actually need right now — not accumulated flotsam and jetsam. You start to realize that you can function with much less than you thought. You also notice that this mode is effectively the “post-office system” — collecting things in a central location and then distributing (or discarding) them. It’s a good system even for the times you are not trying to sell your house.
Your children will develop a good eye for how things looked when you returned. If you play this period of your life well, you may just end up with higher standards all around!
*If you or anyone you know is moving to southwest Oklahoma and wants an adorable house, ping us!
**Your homeschool should be simple and streamlined anyway, but that’s a topic for another day.