Alice doesn’t live here anymore


‘I’m a stranger in a strange staged land.’

My Favorite Only Sister, who is a real estate agent as well as an all-around swell person, once told me that when you put your house on the market it isn’t your home anymore.

I’m pretty sure she meant that you had to stop thinking of your place as home—not that it literally would stop being home. But that’s what happened to our apartment—it got transformed into a completely alien place.

The Dude and The Child chez nous in happier days. Just a couple of years ago, in fact

I was reminded of this just yesterday when I made what was my second visit back to the City since the Pandemic hit. (I’m lucky to have been able to “self-isolate” out in the Family Place in Amagansett for the duration.) I walked into “our” apartment and was hit anew by how foreign and alien it felt—how decidedly “unhomelike” my old home feels to me now.

This didn’t happen the last time we put it on the market. (This was about ten years ago. The Child had gone off to college and we thought downsizing would save us some $$$; once we crunched the numbers we realized this wasn’t going to happen, not on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Besides, where would The Dude put his filing cabinet, not to mention his Steinway?) But back then, when the real estate agent scheduled an appointment, she just had us put the cat toys away.

Oh, we’d stow the cat-towel-on-the-couch too. The cat stowed herself — inside the wardrobe

But no. Not this time. Things have changed, real-estate-wise, at least in this part of the world. Nowadays, when you put your place on the market, you hire a “Stager” to come in, edit your stuff and “style” your place. I was assured that doing this would “more than pay for itself” and help the apartment “sell in no time.”

This happened on my way to meet the Stager. Omen?

We figured the Stager would prune some stuff. You know, have us take down the framed finger-painted masterpieces in the kitchen and pack away the multitudes of family photos studding every available flat surface.

One of the now-packed-away framed family photos crowding literally every available surface

For this kind of thing we were prepared. What we weren’t expecting was for virtually everything we owned to be banished from the premises. True, our couches were slipcovered garage-sale finds. But the bench that I sat on to sip coffee and read the Times? The leather wing chair that I loved? (In fact, I so love chairs I wrote a story about my addiction. It’s called “Sitting Pretty”)

Our living room in happier times, with its couches, coffee table and carpets. The leather chair is hidden by our youthful selves

Yup. It all had to go. Some to the Amagansett house, some to charity, some to friends. But, alas, most to the (gasp) dump. Things got tagged; movers came; it all went away.

Formerly much-used and well-loved bits and pieces rounded up and ready for the movers—and for fates unknown

After the movers left. The cat bed is where Wombat sat on the now-disappeared couch. Oh, the carpet ended up having to go, too. And most of that artwork

If you check out the photo at the top of this post, you’ll see what the living room looks like now. I must admit it looks nice. Anonymous, but nice. Kind of like a hotel room. A hotel room with no curtains. (Curtains are bad; they block the light. New Yorkers love light more than life itself, hence no “window treatments.”)

But worse than the living room was what we had to do to the dining room. See, for years the dining room also served as a library. The whole room was lined with shelves. There was a comfy leather reading chair and also a breakfront that did double-duty as my desk.

Dining room scene from a long-ago Christmas celebration. Some bookshelves visible behind my Hostess Self

Library being dismantled

But no. The library/dining room had to be “turned back into a Dining Room.” Big fat *sigh* goes here.

The Dining Room now. I had to fight to keep that lamp in the corner. Said I “needed light to work at my desk.” Stager gave in. Reluctantly

Oh well. I am realizing that this whole post has a decidedly 1% flavor, for which I apologize. But I just had to get this out, and what better audience than my Blog Fans? If I could I would have invited all you faithful readers to The Last Dinner Party I gave there last fall. It was after the place was staged. Everything went pretty well, despite the fact there was no where to put drinks (no more end tables), the couches kept scooting when someone sat down (no carpets) and the place was very very noisy (no carpets and no curtains). Needless to say, this event was not repeated.

The good news about all of this is that I doubt very much that I will feel all weepy and sad when we (finally! please! someone!) sell the apartment. Perhaps, when we hand over the keys, I’ll present the new owners with one of our little banished treasures.

Nah. I think I’ll hang on to this

Amagansett, New York. July 2020




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21 thoughts on “Alice doesn’t live here anymore

  1. Elizabeth K

    We bought a place at the beach a few years ago – furnished. It recently occurred to me that we spent one weekend getting rid of all the extras (How many Easter plates does one family need?!) and two years filling it with all our “essentials”. Home is where the familiar and comforting is proudly displayed. When we go to sell it – hopefully many years from now, I can hear the new owners now, “How many pillows and baskets does one family need?!” That is because I will have already schlepped out all the books. xxoo

  2. Twenty years ago when we bought our house it was fashionable to stage it and clear out stuff. But last year when we got a valuation the agent advised not to stage, said that it was a large family home and should look like one. This is a world away in England.

  3. peterhochstein

    When my significant other died in 2010, her kids justifiably wanted to sell her eight room duplex. I was still shopping (for a considerably more affordable) apartment and hadn’t moved out yet. The philistine who was staging the apartment first removed not only the bedroom drapes, but also the shutters below them. That meant a) that I woke up at six a.m. whether I wanted to or not every morning with the sun glaring in my eyes and b) that I had to do the low crawl out of bed to the bathroom to get dressed unseen by the people in apartments across the way.

    I was also forced to hide my son’s wedding photograph (“We don’t want people to have any clueswho lives here.” Whatever that meant.) Meanwhile, my significant other’s lovingly acquired antiques, custom-made furniture, and works of art were vanished from downstairs and replaced with Crate & Barrel Standard Issue. (Literally, Crate & Barrel.) This prompted my late S.O.’s son to mutter, “This is the cheesiest looking stuff I’ve ever seen.”

    Oh, and her gorgeously decorated office (she was a psychiatrist whose office could be entered via the apartment or via a separate door off the elevator) was turned into a tacky-looking “den.”

    Sure, the apartment apartment sold. Would it have sold as quickly, or more slowly, or more quickly if it hadn’t been staged? Who knows. Would it have sold for more or for less? Again, who knows? So far as I’m concerned, staging is a racket to keep otherwise unemployable third-rate interior decorators from going on welfare.

    Comes the revolution, the first thing we do is decapitate all the stagers.

    • Oh, Peter! I feel your pain. Quite literally! I love the part about staging being “a racket to keep otherwise unemployable third-rate interior decorators from going on welfare.” So sorry you had to go through this — even sorrier that I have to (!) Kidding. Sort of! Let me know when you’re ready to start the revolution xoxo p.s. So so sorry about the loss of your significant other, dear Peter

  4. Anne Smith

    It’s the real estate agent again.I tell people to do as I say and not as I do. We’ve been in the same house for 45 years. And in no way is our style “spare” Our children grew up here and our daughter moved back to our town. We make a lot of noise about doing what you so sensibly are doing, but most likely, we’ll leave feet first. I hope you find the perfect buyer soon!

    • Ha!!! Thanks, Annie. I often quote my Favorite Only Sister: “I’m leaving this place tits up!” So I know what you mean. We’ve “only” been in this home for 27 years, so it’s a little easier to leave (hah). I hear you about style not being “spare”. Gotta say that I prefer “cozy” in these uncertain times. It may not be fashionable, but it sure is comforting!

  5. I do hope the staging works–and you recoup the $. (I think you should also get extra for the emotional toll.) It might be stuff, but it’s your stuff, and stuff accrued over a long time means it’s stuff you’ve lived with, that’s lived with you. Not easy. Hugs!

  6. Barbara Worton

    Hi, Alice: Geoff and I went through this a few years ago. Selling your long-time home is one of the toughest things to do in life. We had a stager come in and remove a stone vase that cost lots of money with a plastic chicken joke gift we had left on the kitchen cabinet and forgotten to put in a drawer. I almost had a breakdown. We got rid of that stager and our house sold.

    • Oh Barbara! How awful! I was actually in the room when the stager made her judgment calls, so I was able to head off the kind of horribleness you mention. I was heartbroken, tho, when some of the things destined for donation were snubbed and sent on to the dump. Since when did the Salvation Army get so high and mighty?

  7. Nancy Vines

    I totally understand how you feel. It’s like giving up a part of you. Luckily it’s only “stuff”. But, it’s your “stuff”. Love to you and the Dude. And to your awesome Sis. I’m so glad you “introduced” us. xoxo
    p.s. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is one of my fav movies of all time.

    • Hey Nancy! Thank you for saying this. I knew you’d understand! Oddly, the whole staging thing did pre-empt many sad feelings. I hardly recognize the place now, which will make it so much easier to leave. And yes, “Alice/Anymore” is one of my faves too. I think I’ll watch it tonight!

  8. Anne Smith

    I fell your pain! I’ve been a real estate agent for 30 years and you are spot on about what we used to ask sellers and what we ask now. I hate stripping personality but the Blank Slate sells. It just means a lot more boring Everything Looks The Same houses to look at. It’s a lovely unit, though far more fun with your stuff in it, and I hope it sells quickly. The market is as inexplicable as everything else this year.

    • Hey Anne! Thank you for your professional insight. It helps hearing about this process from the Other Side, as it were. Actually, your comment reminded me of another very smart thing our agent said: “You want the person looking at your apartment to picture themselves living there — not to spend time wondering about who lives there now.” Too many personal details makes them think about who lives there — not how fun it would be if THEY lived there.

  9. Roy Edroso

    Your socio-economic bracket doesn’t matter; it hurts to lose your home and you made me feel it. I got a whiff of Chekhov from this.

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