One of our members has mentioned pillows, which brought it all back to me. With me it was our mattress. Yes, the springs were fine but not only had it seen three children grow up, it had also withstood four dogs, a rabbit, not to mention cups of tea, coffee, cornflakes, chicken soup and the (very occasional) glass of champagne. The poor thing was looking and feeling its age. Its replacement arrived the next morning.
Next I started on drawers that hadn’t been opened for decades and discovered bedraggled garments belonging to another era, including an ancient maternity bra that was close to hammock proportions. “My God,” I imagined our exchangers exclaiming to each other, “what does she do with this? Carry her groceries?”
Still lurking in the wings were the cupboard-under-the-stairs, a British stalwart, traditionally used for storing all kinds of stuff you can’t think what to do with, and THE LOFT. I had to simply shudder at the loft and hope my exchangers would do the same.
But where do you stop? The kind people at HomeExchange.com were reassuring.
“You don’t have to clear away everything,” they said. “No-one wants a house that looks like a hotel room.
Pictures, personal things, are all fine. Just make sure your guests have plenty of wardrobe space and drawers. If you want, take one room as a dumping ground and just put everything in it, from family heirlooms to clothes you don’t want to take with you.”
This worked splendidly. My chosen dumping ground was, and still is, the smallest bedroom in the house, only used when friends of grandchildren come to stay. I then bought clothes rails from one of those wholesale places specializing in storage paraphernalia, covered all our clothes in plastic bags from the drycleaners (50 for 25p), closed the door and felt wonderfully organized. I then plonked a nice bottle of wine on the table, put fresh flowers in a vase and hoped for the best.
All this has worked, pretty well perfectly, ever since. With some small additions. Jan and Peter, who have become good friends since our first exchange a couple of years ago always leave a curry in the freezer for us and we leave a casserole for them. It’s such a nice, cosy touch and has become one of the treats we look forward to.
Another exchanger, Fay, who has also become a friend, baked a cake for us when we first arrived at their elegant beach house in Eagle Bay, Western Australia. We could smell it when we walked into the house and instantly and completely felt at home. It’s the sort of warm homecoming that hotel consultants spend entire conferences on trying to emulate. It’s not possible. You can’t fake genuine hospitality. Nor friendship.
And I suppose that is the answer to the ‘how to I present my home?’ question that bugs us all before we get the message. Doing a home exchange is like inviting friends to stay. We want them to be comfortable, to know where things are, to feel relaxed and at ease in our home and to enjoy our hospitality. And we shall do the same in their home. As I have said before, it is all based on trust. You trust me. I trust you. That’s how it works and that’s what makes it unique.
Still need rules? Of course we do, which is why I want your input in my ’10 Tips for the Happy Home Exchanging’.
Till next week, Sandra.
Sandra has been a freelance broadcaster, journalist and writer all her working life. She has reported on TV for Thames Television, London, presented on radio for the British Broadcasting Corporation and has written for The Sunday Times, You Magazine, Punch, Times 2, She Magazine and High Life where she became commissioning editor. Later she became editor of Business Life and created the highly successful sister magazine to High Life for British Airways Club World and Frequent Flyers. She became an enthusiastic home exchanger after writing an article about it for the British national daily newspaper, The Guardian when she interviewed Ed Kushins, the founder of Homeexchange.com. Since then she has traveled to Rome, Sicily, California, Melbourne, Perth, Morocco and Venice, writing about her adventures not only for various glossy magazines, but for HomeExchange.com. Sandra has been married to Jafar Ramini for 40 years and has three adult children and four grandchildren.