We spend a lot of time at Food52 offering up ways to improve your home life, with inspiration for cooking, handsome home goods, and tips to keep it a beautiful, organized, welcoming sanctuary. We don’t spend a lot of time on the realities of home ownership. Well, buckle up—that’s about to change. In Where the Wild Things Are, Amanda Hesser introduces us to some of the critters with whom her family has not-so-willfully cohabited over the years, hoping to inspire you to share your own stories. Bring on the funny disasters. The rants. And the helpful solutions, too!
(This is the fourth in Amanda’s six-part series—check out her prior story here.)
After we spent several years ridding our apartment of rats and squirrels, our peace of mind didn’t last very long. My mother came to visit later that spring.
My mother is the tidiest person who ever lived. My best friend from childhood likes to say, “At Judy’s house, you do cry over spilled milk.” Judy, or the Judester as we call her (@judester10 on Instagram), had us polishing our brass beds and doing dishes from age six—activities I was less fond of then, but am grateful for now.
The Judester liked to clean late at night. Once we were all asleep, she’d get a cake in the oven and then whip out the vacuum cleaner. Her love of vacuuming and order unfortunately coincided with a trend for plush wall-to-wall carpeting. Once, when we went away, she made us all get in the station wagon in the garage so she could vacuum herself out of the house. Only in this way could she make sure the vacuum marks on the carpet were in straight lines.
I've come to deeply admire my mom's all-in approach to the home, which is such a big part of her character and values. Having a well-appointed and organized house was something she and my dad worked hard for, and she wasn't going to let dust or disorder sully what she saw as a reward. Because of this, it's hard to compete in home care with Judy.
My mom has also had her share of battles with animal intruders—bats flying around the bedrooms, a snake in the basement, mice, pantry moths—but on this front, she had to concede to me. Judy was empathetic to a point. She just didn’t understand why we’d chosen to live in a “dirty” city like New York.
A few years earlier, when she was moving from Pennsylvania to Florida, she had lent me a short fur coat my father had given her in the early 1980s, when his car business was booming. It was one of her few luxury belongings, and it was a style that had stood the test of time. I’m not much of a fur coat person, but I liked this one and wore it a few times. Since we’d had kids, though, our life afforded us fewer and fewer opportunities to go to events that required anything nicer than jeans, and I was thinking of returning it to her because it was just hanging in our closet, out of commission.
As parents do, my mother has a habit of inspecting how we live when she visits. She did her usual snooping and eyebrow raising as she moved from room to room. Then she emerged from the closet with her coat. It had been mostly eaten by moths; fur was falling from it like the paper at a ticker tape parade. When the Judester gets upset, she goes silent. The rest of the visit was as quiet as a tomb.
We had noticed a few moths here and there but hadn’t realized that they were clothing moths. And we were completely clueless about how widespread the damage was.
The closet with the fur coat contained all of our winter coats and blankets, too. The moths had also nested in our new wool living room rug, the boiled wool armchair cushions, and the vintage Moroccan rug in Tad’s study—and in our bedroom closets, on the opposite end of our apartment. Once again, we were surrounded. Moths are more pleasant than rodents in that they’re tiny, but this is also what makes them more savage. You can’t see your enemy, and your enemy has Champagne taste—so while you’re busy donning loose linen in the summer heat, the moths are busy ravaging all the cashmere they can find.
We lost wool blankets, most of our good sweaters, and even Tad’s wedding suit.
When you have a clothing moth problem, you’re gold to an exterminator. The upfront costs of fixing the problem are high—easily $1,000—but exterminators know moths are almost impossible to get rid of completely, so you’ll be a regular customer for years to come. Four years later, we still have regular moth checkups.
But while your money goes to the exterminator, most of the work of getting rid of the moths and safeguarding your apartment against future invasions is on you.
The carpets required special care, which first meant finding a company that would take on a nasty moth problem, then rolling up the carpets and having them taken away for a couple of weeks to be steam cleaned. This was another $1,000.
Next we dry cleaned any clothing that required dry cleaning—ka-ching! $1,000!—to rid it of any nested moths and keep it out of the apartment until the extermination was complete. Any piece of fabric that didn’t require dry cleaning had to be dried for 30 minutes on high, then packed into plastic bags until our house was treated. This included throw pillows, stuffed animals, socks, blankets, dish towels, everything. We emptied our closets and drawers, said goodbye to anything that had been nibbled, and waited for the exterminator to do his magic.
Once the house was sprayed and moth traps set in every room, we reassembled our exploded home, and hoped it worked.
We still see the occasional moth, and when we do, we go rogue on it. Our exterminator promises us that a few moths are normal. But that’s what we thought the first time around.
I had my mother’s fur coat rehabilitated and cleaned and quietly returned it to her. We haven’t spoken about it since. That year for Christmas, she sent me a dozen lavender sachets—which are supposed to deter moths—to help.
Unfortunately, the smell of lavender still reminds me of dead rats.