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Dan Conradt: It's not quite like home when you clean up for guests

It was a frenzy fueled by adrenalin and pride, in roughly equal proportions.

T-minus three hours.

I made a family announcement: "All right, guys, we need to give the house a good cleaning. They'll be here pretty soon."

The house wasn't really dirty -- it was lived in. "Lived in" is fine if you live in it, but company deserves something better.

We went our separate ways with our "to do" lists: I removed four jackets, six pairs of shoes and a Twins cap from the hall tree just inside the front door and stuffed them into the coat closet, then I vacuumed the basement -- not so much because it needed vacuuming, but because carpeting always looks better when it's covered with vacuum cleaner tracks.


I stood on a chair and wiped down a spider web from a corner in the living room. I couldn't remember a time when there WASN'T a spider web in that corner; I think it came with the house.

I used my finger to write "Kilroy was here" in a coating of dust on a coffee table, then gave it a spritz of something that smelled like lemon and wiped it clean.

I washed a sink full of dirty dishes, and removed the magnets that covered most of the front of the refrigerator and hid them in a kitchen drawer.

I straightened family photos that were already perfectly straight.

I patrolled the house and collected an armful of books, newspapers, homework assignments and gift catalogs and a pair of bedroom slippers and hid them in a closet. I removed three boxes of cereal, a package of oatmeal cookies and a bag of potato chips from the kitchen counter and slid them into the oven.

A bottle of dishwashing detergent and a sour sponge were relocated from the countertop to the cabinet under the sink. I plucked brown leaves from the house plants and swept the garage floor.

I brushed the cats, even though no proper guest would ever say something as gauche as "Your house is very clean, but your cats are messy."

T-minus two minutes


I took a final look around: the house was as clean as it's ever been, and the clutter of our day-to-day lives was … gone.

I didn't like it.

It looked too much like a place you might visit on a Tour Of Homes or during a real estate open house: clean and fresh, but absent the detritus of everyday life.

Absent the things that make a house a home.

Our company arrived right on time. We had an enjoyable visit, and spent the entire time in the living room.

I fought the urge to take them on a tour to show off the vacuum cleaner tracks in the basement, a garage floor you could eat off and two well-combed cats.

Two hours later

Our guests were standing at the front door with their coats on.


"This has been fun," we all agreed. "Let's do it again soon." The headlights of their car bobbed as they backed down the driveway.

I returned the coats to the hall tree and scattered half a dozen pairs of shoes around. I brought my wallet, keys and spare change out of their hiding place in the closet and put them back on the kitchen counter, where they normally spend their non-pocket time.

I put the magnets back on the front of the refrigerator and made sure they weren't too straight, because real life is rarely symmetrical.

I set a box of Count Chocula on the kitchen counter, dropped a two-day old newspaper on the couch, tilted a family photo so it was just slightly off-balance, then had a drink of water and put the glass in the sink, just because it seems unnatural to not have at least one dish that needs to be washed.

I took another look around the house.

Much better.

It was good to be home.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.

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