We're just visiting. Staying in a stranger's home is by turns convenient, titillating, creepy, funny, and surprising. I feel really naughty writing about it, but if I swear not to include any identifying details... is it too much like reading pages torn from someone's diary without knowing who it was? Ah, what the heck, I'm going in.
The first thing we noticed was that the owner mentioned the supposed property value in the Airbnb ad. Not just in the ad copy, but in the heading! Not sure how common this is, but it reminded me of the time I went on a blind date with a (short) guy who mentioned his height three separate times in his ad. I thought it was funny to care so much about how tall you are, since I'm not tall either, and it's even funnier to care about the street value of a house you aren't planning to sell. I thought it was so funny that I looked up the property tax records online and saw that they were overstating the case by about ten percent, just like the short guy.
While I was snooping around in the public records database, I looked at the square footage and the number of rooms. Well over three thousand square feet. Also FIVE TIMES LARGER than the apartment we're moving into! The number of bedrooms was a bit of a mystery. I was guessing six, but apparently it's four. That doesn't count the parlor with the curtain that has been converted into an extra bedroom.
Almost every square inch of this house is covered with decorations or objects of some kind. There were seven pillows on our bed. The dresser in our room has: a large picture in a frame; a large mirror; a fake plant in a pot with a ribbon on it; a coffee pot; a word sculpture. Every single piece of fabric in the house has a pattern on it, no two alike. The wastebasket in the bathroom still has a sticker on the front that says GENUINE MARBLE. On a trash can!
The kitchen is so full of high-end groceries, appliances, and decorations that it's almost unusable. There are at least three separate coffee contraptions. One of them has a sticky note saying not to use it because it's broken. ...? It's one of the biggest kitchens I've ever seen, with the most pantry cupboards, and yet the counters are covered with food, and there's more tucked into the bookshelves. One such item is a gallon can of tomatoes.
I can smell clutter. I mean that I can physically smell it. This home is magnificently abundant, although on the absolute opposite end of the style spectrum from my own minimalist tastes. It's rococo, it's baroque, it's shabby chic, it's Victorian, it's country cute, it somehow manages to be all of those things at once. Mirrors and marble and beads and velvet and gilt and plastic fruit and brass and tassels extraordinaire! It would be possible to separate out at least three distinct style statements and decorate at least three large homes with them, and in fact that would make a great show on HGTV. Much of a muchness of a multifarious many. Is it clutter, is it just bounteous overflow? That's a matter of purely personal taste. What I was seeing wasn't what I was smelling, though. Where was it?
As a side note, the clutter smell is to be distinguished from the wide variety of odors that come with squalor. I have worked in squalid homes that contained virtually no physical possessions. That's more common than one would guess. This house falls in a different sector of the Venn diagram, the house that is full of stuff but is physically clean. I bumped into the maid in the hallway. If there was a real hoard here, it wasn't visible from public areas.
My husband spotted it. He's almost a foot taller than me (sorry, Blind Date Guy) and we notice different things. The three-car garage has clear glass windows. He glanced that way as we were walking down the driveway, and he gasped. Later, he told me that it was completely hoarded. Well, it's a garage, what do you expect? Just because someone has a three-car garage does not mean that one or two garages' worth of space will be kept clear for cars. Why not keep your high-end luxury automobiles in the driveway and use the garage space to store heaps of stuff?
There is some sadness here. We've been around nearly a week, keeping to ourselves because we've been spending our days hauling heavy objects and resolving the myriad administrative details of moving house. All we want to do is sleep. What we've noticed is that there are, we think, eight people including us under the roof. All the doors are constantly closed. Nobody seems to be eating meals together; tonight we made dinner in the microwave and there was a lonely plate of food sitting out on the counter, waiting for someone. It's really hard to tell, but in addition to the two Airbnb rooms there seems to be at least one full-time extra tenant living here. Possibly there are adult siblings. For such a large house, a house with two living rooms, a formal dining room, and a seventy-inch TV, nobody is spending time with anyone else. It suggests the possibility that the rooms are being rented out like a boarding house, to help make ends meet.
The obvious question to me is: why not simply downsize to something affordable? Something happier? Something easier to maintain?
Granted, not everyone can bear to live in a small space. Our new apartment, the one whose keys we await in a few days, is almost exactly the same size as the three-car garage at this very maximalist house. It's funny to think that this house is still more than twice as big as the three bedroom, two bath house my husband and I lived in as newlyweds. We thought that place was cavernously large and that we had packed it full of as much stuff as possible! De gustibus non est disputandum.
We are very lucky to have the option to rent this room, the room in the very maximalist house. The linens smell fresh. Nobody interferes with us in any way. The neighborhood is so quiet at night that you can hear a leaf falling on the lawn. We've never been able to offer anything like this to our Couchsurfing guests; a foam pad crammed next to our desks and a bunch of racket from our pets is what you get at our house. Where there's plenty, there's always plenty more. While I won't be adopting these interior design strategies in our new place, we'll remember staying here with fondness and a certain amount of humor.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.