How to Get Your House Ready

kitchen

There are two types of clean when it comes to your house—regular clean and home exchange clean. Regular clean is what you probably already know. It’s the tidying up you do before you have people over for dinner or before your parents come over for the weekend. There’s a short list of stuff they are going to see. Wipe the counters, hide the clutter, take out the trash, and light a couple of candles and you’re good to go.

When you exchange your home, you’re probably going to want to clean a little deeper. You’ll have a family living in your house for two or three weeks, possibly opening every drawer, cabinet, and closet. They’ll be storing food in your fridge and cooking in your oven. They’ll be sleeping in your beds.

Every year, I convince myself I’m going to have the house ready early. We usually plan our home exchanges in the winter, and I figure I can use the cold, dark days when I don’t want to leave the house to clear the clutter and straighten up the closets. And every year, I’m wiping something sticky out of the back of the fridge and clearing dozens of soy sauce packets out of the silverware drawer on a sunny Saturday in July.

How clean and clutter free you want your house to be is entirely up to you, of course. But we’ve always left our house pretty tidy, and found the houses we stayed in to be equally neat. (We’ve arrived and found the outdoor trash and recycling bins completely full, though, so I guess we’re not alone in the last-minute scramble to clear out the clutter.)

I rely on lists to make sure we know what we need to do, and when. I start with a general room-by-room home exchange to-do list and try to tackle say, one room a week. Mostly it’s about thoroughly cleaning and clearing clutter. In the bedrooms, and maybe the bathrooms, we also clear some shelf, drawer, and closet space so our exchange partners can unpack—when you’re staying someplace for two or three weeks it’s nice not to have to live out of a suitcase.

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Then there’s a list of one-off things we would like to get done before the home exchange. You know all those little problems that you mean to take care of but never get around to? You know, like the lightbulb that burned out in the hallway you got used to not using. Or that kitchen chair someone leaned back in and cracked. (Well, we never actually fixed that one. We just stuck a sign on it that said, “Chair is broken.”) But you get the idea. That’s what goes on this list. Here’s some of what we needed/wanted to get done before the exchange last summer:

  • Fix broken basement window
  • Install smoke detectors
  • Replace burned out light bulbs
  • Replace furnace filter
  • Put shoes away
  • Refill propane tank
  • Clean oven and toaster oven
  • Put air in bike tires
  • Let the neighbors know about the exchange
  • Pay landscaper
  • Make sure we have enough laundry detergent, dish detergent, cat food, and cat litter
  • Schedule pickup for old mattress
  • Mail car key
  • Replace old sheets and towels
  • Confirm kennel/double check dates
  • Sign up for USPS email and hold mail
  • Wipe down blinds
  • Get empty boxes out of garage
  • Get towel bars and toilet paper holder for master bath
  • Get car detailed

Then there’s the stuff that has to wait until the last minute. I try to keep this list as short as possible:

  • Change the sheets
  • Throw out leftover food
  • Take out the trash
  • Water the plants

We’ll leave clean dishes in the dishwasher, or sheets and towels in the dryer, if those appliances are running when we’re leaving for the airport.

It’s a lot of work, but there’s an upside—we always return after the exchange to find the house as clean as it was when we left, which is to say the cleanest it’s been in a year. And it gets a little bit easier every time.

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