Staging Your Home While You Live There

You can keep your style while eliminating clutter. (Photo: a home to sell while living in it can feel exhausting; you want it to look nice for buyers who might pop by any time, but you also don’t want to feel like you live in a museum where you can’t touch anything! There are a few things you can do to keep your home ready to show so it will sell fast, while ensuring it’s still livable. Think of home staging as an opportunity to declutter, get rid of old and unwanted belongings, and get a head start on packing. Be aware that prospective buyers will look everywhere, including in any built-in custom carpentry cupboards and shelves, pantries, and other areas you might think are off-limits.

Get rid of stuff

When you know you’re getting ready to move, start with a merciless winnowing of your possessions. Get rid of outdated, ugly furniture, garments you’re not wearing, knickknacks you don’t really want to take with you, and other clutter. If you’re afraid to take the plunge, have some friends come over and help. Don’t store everything you plan to get rid of in the garage or a spare room: GET RID OF IT! Take it to a thrift store, dump, or other appropriate new home.

Decide how to stage your home

With more space cleared in your home, you can start thinking about how to stage it. Potential buyers want to imagine themselves in your home, so you want to keep the décor neutral, without a lot of personal touches. At the same time, you don’t want it so sterile that you feel uncomfortable, or that they have trouble imagining anything at all in the space. The first step is to make sure your home feels light and open, because buyers put a premium on natural light.


If you haven’t already painted in preparation, do so, and choose light, neutral colors that will be easy to paint over if necessary. To choose the right color, discuss it with your painting contractor. Many professional painters offer color consultation services. Bring in as much light as possible by removing blinds and heavy curtains; consider investing in sheers and other lightweight window treatments, or leave windows uncovered if doing so won’t compromise privacy.

Arrange furniture

Make sure you have a few neutral items of furniture in your home; this is a good time to put dramatic statement pieces away unless they make fantastic accents in a room. Float furnishings away from the wall to create more space and dynamism, rather than shoving them against the walls, which can actually make rooms feel more crowded.

Accent decor

When it comes to accent decor, consider using interesting art papers to line open bookshelves and cupboards. They add a quiet note of flavor to a room without being overwhelming. Choose a few neutral, but interesting, pieces of art to hang, and offset them at different heights to draw attention to all the display possibilities. Also use mirrors; they add light, make rooms feel larger, and keep the space more interesting.

If you want to display some sculptures, keepsakes, and other objects, be aware that odd numbers on display tend to look best, and they shouldn’t be rigidly grouped. Rather than a row of uniformly sized candles, for example, consider a cluster of five pillars of different heights. Pull accent items together with a common thread: a green vase could go with an enameled brass egg that has green accents along with a green leather-bound book, for example.

Stage underutilized areas, too

Many homes have underutilized areas like stair nooks, junk rooms, and basements. Consider staging these to add value; since you’re not using them anyway, it won’t be an inconvenience to keep them looking dressed up, and by occupying them, you’ll reduce the chance that they attract clutter. Add an armchair, a table, and a soft lamp to make a reading corner, or a yoga mat and some pillows to create an instant yoga studio. These little spots in your home can become hidden gems to entrance buyers, rather than awkward spaces.

Declutter kitchen, bath and bedrooms

The kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom tend to be most prone to clutter and messy surfaces, and those are the spots where buyers most want to see clean spaces. Start by storing items that you’re using; closed storage in the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom is important. Use totes in the bathroom for personal items, and make sure everyone in the house knows to clean up after meals. Keep the counters clear with the exception of some accent pieces like vases filled with flowers or a bowl of fruit, and if you make a meal that smells strong, neutralize the odor when you’re done.

Keep the house smelling fresh

Open the windows at least ten minutes a day for ventilation to keep the house smelling fresh, and make sure to keep fresh vases of flowers around along with living plants, because they can make your house much more inviting. If you have animals, clean up after them regularly.

Get suggestions

When you feel like your home is close to ready, a real estate agent can walk through with you to provide suggestions, but you also might want to consider asking critical friends. Have them walk through and tell you what catches their eye, good or bad; they may spot issues like peeling paint that you don’t notice anymore, for example, or could have suggestions for repositioning items to make rooms feel more open and friendly. Once you have your home where you want it, stay vigilant about keeping it that way so it’s always ready for a showing.

s.e. smith writes for

Updated May 2, 2018.

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