I am a big proponent of the house-renting website HomeAway. HomeAway places tend to be cheaper than hotels and more likely to actually exist than joints you find on Craigslist. You don’t get the reassuring predictability that you would at a hotel or resort, but hotels don’t give you the chance to parse a bookcase and marvel that someone bought Dan Quayle’s autobiography.
Thus far, my HomeAway experiences have always been from the renter side of the equation, thus sidestepping the possibility that I’d ever return home to find a guy hosting the Fattie Fiesta Spring Orgy ’14 in my living room. But a month or two ago it occurred to me that if we listed our own house, we could then take a vacation ourselves and have it underwritten by the renter. I’ll admit that I didn’t relish the possibility of a weird dude drooling on my pillow, but Yankee frugality trumped latent germophobia and we decided to give it a try.
The work starts with the listing itself. Photographing a house is harder than you think. I have to scrap one shot of the kitchen when I belatedly noticed that you can see my reflection on the microwave door. I figure potential renters prefer to get a house that doesn’t include a scary ghost man peering out of the microwave.
Somewhat to my surprise, within a week or so we have our first booking: a British family, set to arrive in a month’s time. My jubilation at getting the “Payment Received” email is tempered by the realization that we now have a whole lot more work to do—because the reality of a booking causes you to contemplate the utter weirdness of your house.
I think most houses on HomeAway are vacation places, which makes sense. If you’re the owner, you keep a few clothes locked in a closet but otherwise set the place up with minimal personal effects. But we don’t have a vacation house. We just have the one house, which, like all primary domiciles, is a walled litany of quirks, neuroses and personal psychological defects.
The daunting size of my task becomes evident when I ponder the bedroom above our garage. I should probably remove every item on the walls or shelves. I definitely have to hide the small ceramic statue of an Asian man who’s bending over with his pants down, grinning back at you from between his legs. He’s a handsome paperweight and a wonderful reminder that a friend of mine visited Thailand, but he’s not HomeAway material.
Into the closet he goes, along with all the framed items that qualify as overly self-referential or vainglorious, which is most of them. I don’t need anyone yukking it up because my grownup house features awards from high school on the wall. OK, an award. Which is even sadder.
The kitchen presents the most problems. Why do we have a kitchen drawer devoted to old checkbooks, sunblock and baby pacifiers? A dispassionate review shows that our plates are chipped and our water glasses are a mismatched hodgepodge of calcification—I guess it’s been a while since our wedding registry. And we’ll have to tell the guests how lighting the oven trips the GFI outlet behind the coffeemaker. Or not. I mean, who bakes on vacation?
The fridge is a special sort of nightmare. I don’t know how often you remove and scrub all the shelves in your fridge, but if it’s less than once a year it may as well be never. I think our fridge looks superficially clean, but when I pull out the drawers I discover the bottom is coated by a slick of what appears to be fossilized barbecue sauce, which I chisel off with a sturdy metal spatula. The icemaker bucket contains, as usual, one giant glacier that’s jamming up the dispenser. Hey, the listing didn’t say nothin’ about convenient ice cubes.
Going room to room, I find a growing list of tasks awaiting my attention. I tighten the bolts on one of the toilets. I reverse the doorknob to the garage so we can lock it from the inside. I scrub the mildew off the grill and get an extra propane tank on hand. I’m probably taking this way more seriously than most people who rent houses. Certainly more than that guy up at Winnipesaukee a couple years ago who neglected to mention that one of his house’s “bedrooms” was actually a porch that leaked so badly there was moss growing on the floor. Ah, Craigslist.
Eventually the house is as spotless and depersonalized as we can reasonably make it. “Do you think I can stop by that week and water the plants?” Heather asks. No, nosy innkeeper, you can’t. It’s called HomeAway, not HomeDroppingByToSpy OnYou. We’ll get new plants.
And who knows—maybe new pillowcases.