Friday, June 28, 2013

How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take to Change Your Life?

When I walked into my house for the first time as its new co-owner, I was so relieved that it had been cleaned I gave a little yip. I’ve moved into houses that looked like the sellers were one step ahead of the law, threw their things in a U-Haul and skipped town in the middle of the night. I’ve moved into houses that looked like the After pictures of Hoarders. (Which, while better than the Before pictures, are still pretty skeevy.) I’ve moved into houses that looked like the inside of an empty dumpster. This house had been cleaned, possibly by professionals. Whoop-dee-freakin-doo!

And at first glance, it appeared that they hadn’t abandoned any old dishes or unwanted empty toothpaste tubes or cats. I was hopeful.

Then I saw some boxes in the basement, next to a freezer. I was OK with the freezer, but those boxes frightened me. What was in them?

Lightbulbs. Bunches of ‘em. Big spotlights, miniature candelabra bulbs, and everything in between, including the primary-color bulbs for the retro ceiling light in the exercise room. Some of the bulbs looked like they might be European with fittings that I’d never seen before.

Later I found:

  • A case of 60 watt clear vanity bulbs
  • An assortment of lightbulbs in an upstairs cabinet
  • An even motlier crew of lightbulbs in the guest room

There were lightbulbs all over the house. At first I thought they might be a couple of conspiracy theorists who think that Americans are being forced to buy energy-efficient lightbulbs by Obama and Home Depot. (I once overheard someone in Home Depot say into her phone, “I’m at Home Depot. They’re ready to stop making real lightbulbs, so I’m here to stock up for Dad.” She had one of the big rolling flat carts. Made my potting soil purchase seem so naive and apolitical.) But my home’s previous occupants didn’t seem the type, based on my reliable source – their mail.

I devote a whole chapter in Home Sweet Homes about the things we leave behind in a move. Condoms tucked behind a board in a clothes chute, empty liquor bottles stashed in the basement, cigarettes hidden behind two different toilets, just to name a few things we’ve found, to our delight disgust. In our house in Sparta, New Jersey, this guy had just retired from a newspaper career and he left behind a huge framed shirt that had been signed by his coworkers. (Remember that the next time you are are racking your brain to come up with a nice sentiment to write on a memento for that cube-mate that you’re so sad to see leave.) His wife left behind a couple of Valentine mugs and a stuffed monkey holding a heart saying I Wuv U. Those two would have left behind their wedding pictures if time had allowed.

I know I’m not alone in this experience. When I posted on Facebook about the lightbulbs, the response was hilarious. Besides stacks of wood trim, old paneling, and surprise appliances, which you could argue go with the house, people have moved into houses where the previous owners left:

  • A table saw
  • Two kids’ bikes in the convenient location of the attic
  • Cans of paint that don’t match anything in the house
  • Two mannequins in the crawl space under the house {{shudder}}
  • Clothes in the dryer
  • A shoebox half full of marijuana

I should consider myself lucky that all I got were lightbulbs. I put two and two together: They also had left some very nice ceiling light fixtures in the house, lights that had been taken down and replaced by (dare I bring up this retail store again) Home Depot cheap lights for market showings. So when we took ownership of the house, we got some fabulous lights thrown in, along with a lifetime supply of bulbs.

I think this couple was making a complete break from their lights. A lighting rebirth. A total born-again conversion from their old lighting ways. A light renaissance. I picture their new place with custom light fixtures with bulbs made just for them in some futuristic, environmentally correct government utopia.

“Oh honey,” he says, taking her hand, “I’m so glad we moved away from those old lights and have started a new life here, with these new lights. I feel like a newborn babe.”

“Yes,” she says. “And I think we did the right thing by leaving the old bulbs for those new people. We are so generous. Now where did we put our condoms and weed?

If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.