So the tables have turned and you’re the one who’s hopped on a plane to travel far from home. As I write this, you’re on your way to Sweden to enjoy those long, long days and a little bit of business. (Do you think if I ever got a real job, they’d send me to Sweden? No one told me that was a possibility!)
You’re a much cooler cucumber than I am when it comes to air travel. But of course getting there isn’t the whole story. For me, taking a trip, especially one where I’ll be gone a week or more, starts before I walk out the door. It’s not just the planning and the packing (and the prolonged worry about getting my suitcase into an overhead bin); it’s also preparing for my homecoming.
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone–at least among the women I know–in doing some serious housecleaning before I leave on vacation. The fact is, my house is never cleaner than when I’m about to leave it for an extended period of time. This is true whether I’m taking a family trip or traveling solo (though if it’s a family trip, the house is much more likely to stay clean while I’m gone).
I prioritize my cleaning according to my path back into the house. We always enter the side door, which has a storm door, so all the smudges must be windexed away. The first room I’ll see upon re-entry is the mud room, an area that might get very little attention during the normal course of housecleaning, but is made to shine like a star if I’m going out of town. Next up is the living room, which gets the usual treatment plus an extra fluffing of pillows and refolding of quilts. The kitchen is next. Fridge and dishwashers are emptied, dishes washed, and all the shiny surfaces are made extra shiny with a dab of lemon oil.
It’s a bit ironic that my house is never cleaner than when I leave it for a long stretch. It never smells better or shines brighter. All that beauty and order, and no one is there to enjoy it!
Oh, but it’s so wonderful to walk into a clean house, everything just so, after a week spent at the beach or up in the mountains. In part, it’s because when I’m away, the house I imagine I’ll be returning to is my everyday house with its clutter and crumbs and unruly messes. By the time we’re on the road back home, I’m not convinced that the house was all that tidy when I left it the week before.
And then I open the door and am greeted by the scent of lemon oil and the sight of an orderly coat rack. The kitchen floor gleams, the bathroom fixtures sparkle. I am agog with the wonder of it all. It’s almost a second vacation to come back to a clean house–like life has given me a few more days of reprieve from the daily grind.
Back in the day, the pristine beauty of my post-vacay home didn’t last long (especially if we’d been at the beach, since we always managed to bring a beach’s worth of sand back with us). But now that we’re empty nesters? Why, it might take days for everyday entropy to set in.
What did you do to smooth your re-entry from the Land of the Svea? And how is your trip going so far? I can’t wait to hear all about it!
Greetings from Copenhagen, Denmark! I’m starting this post from the airport while I wait for my flight to Stockholm. For one reason or another, I’ve done a lot of traveling in the last couple of years. Lots of work trips, atrip to take care of my dad when he had Covid, and of course, our bucket list trip to Italy last year. I can’t help but reflect on how much easier travel is in these empty next years.
Like you, I like to leave a clean house. Part of that is that I like to come home to a clean house, but for the last ten years or so, we usually have a housesitter to come and stay with the pets, so fear of being judged on my housekeeping skills motivates me more. This means the area under the kitchen sink and the kitchen cabinets get a thorough cleaning. I’m on the lookout for cobwebs and finally get around to washing windows and baseboards. Our housesitters leave our house in good order, and then when I get back, I get the benefit of my judgement-induced deep cleaning.
For me, the pre-trip stress is mostly about packing for the life I imagine while I’m there.
Somehow, in the same way that even though I cook every day, nothing I make seems worthy of serving guests–even though I get dressed every day, none of my clothes seem worthy of taking on a trip. All of the gaps in my wardrobe (and there are many), seem gaping once I start packing. For example, I invested in some nice blouses for work, but my dressier pants are questionable and I have absolutely no lightweight jacket or blazer to wear if we go out to eat in the evening. One of the evenings this week, dinner will be on a boat, cruising around the archipelago of Stockholm and I didn’t have an appropriate jacket! So, the afternoon before I left, I was making desperate, last-minute shopping trips to try to find a blazer to fit the bill. How do I not have this wardrobe staple at my age?
(Update: I made it to Sweden!) Now that I’ve been in Stockholm for a few days I can tell you that the blazer I bought worked great on the boat–but I was overdressed. Half the people were wearing jeans, hoodies, and sneakers. Sigh. I realize now that I could use a few more casual, but polished outfits. Right now I’m stressing about the awards dinner tonight. I packed the dress I wore for Ben’s graduation, but I don’t really have an appropriate coat (I brought a wrap, but I think that will be too dressy) and I brought my only remaining pair of heels. But now that I’m here, I don’t want to wear heels (really, ever again!) and I don’t have the right flats for the outfit. (Edited to add I went with the heels and wrap and it was fine!)
It’s not just clothes. I also got strangely fixated on getting a new phone case and replacing my chipped screen protector right before I left. Heaven forbid the Swedes see my less than perfect phone case! Before my trip to Massachusetts last month, I was fixated on finding a dressier, metal band for my Apple watch. I don’t even want to tell you how many I bought and returned!
What is this about? I think it has something to do with how I imagine my life to be. I want to be a polished, sophisticated traveler with a capsule wardrobe that will take me anywhere with ease. Instead, I overpack out of the anxiety that I won’t like how I look in what I’ve packed, so I keep piling in more options and end up with a bulging suitcase. I don’t buy investment pieces for my wardrobe, because I’m always hoping that I’ll lose weight and that will be money down the drain.
I think that travel brings out different stressors in different people. Now that we’ve talked about this, I’m realizing that this is very fixable and an area that I need to apply a little effort. I want to travel more in these empty nest years, and I’d like to be a better traveler! Or at least, a better, more confident packer.