Fundamentals of Staging, Part 1

How to Declutter

I don’t know about you, but when I’m decluttering my house as part of my general housecleaning, this is usually how it goes:
  • Sort the stacks of papers that seem to accumulate everywhere and put them in a “to file” pile or recycling
  • Put things on desks and countertops away, assuming they have a spot to be
  • View the remaining stuff and decide whether to keep it or toss it
  • With the stuff I’m keeping, pile it neatly in a “figure out where this goes” pile, or stick it in a box/closet/otherwise out-of-sight-out-of-mind sort of place
  • Call it good enough until it’s time to do it again

(I do actually have a better process that I engage in periodically for deeper decluttering. If you’re looking for decluttering ideas but not staging your house, check out Spring and the Urge to Declutter.)

This, unfortunately, is not an adequate method for decluttering for sale. Putting things away in cupboards and closets—not to mention sorting things into “neat piles” of stuff that has no place—is not good for staging. Why? Because cupboards and closets are important features of your home. Potential buyers will inspect them with two questions in mind:
  1. Are these in good repair?
  2. Are they big enough to meet my needs?
Full closets and cupboards make the answer to the first question hard to determine, and suggest that the answer to the second question is a resounding “no.” Full, messy closets and cupboards tell the story that life is hard to live here and you are moving because you can’t fit your life into this space.
The kitchen pictured above was a little cluttered when I arrived, but if the owners were preparing for guests rather than sale, all they would have needed to do would be clear away some of the vases and everyday items on their kitchen island. To see the difference between normal and staging decluttering, consider the differences from this before picture on the countertops, fridge, and cupboard tops:
A comfortable, clean, but cluttered kitchen.

A comfortable, clean, but cluttered kitchen.

So, unlike the decluttering you do to prepare for house guests, or just to keep up with life, the decluttering of staging must go deep, deep into your home’s dark corners. Every pile must be expunged, and every corner must cry out “there is space here, it is comfortable, it is clean, it is perfect!”

Here is the nitty gritty of decluttering for market presentation:

Counters and horizontal surfaces

  • These must be completely clean and dry at all times.
  •  Kitchen counters can have one or two decorative containers, a bowl of fruit or a kettle, and fresh flowers during an open house.
  • In your bathrooms completely clear all horizontal surfaces.

Closets and storage spaces

  • Closets should be 60-75% full.
  • Closet floors should be clear.
  • Closet shelves should be very neat, with items preferably stored in boxes or baskets.
  • To reduce the stuff in your closets, remove off-season clothing and linens, as well as anything you can live without for the time your home is on the market.
  • If you are having trouble paring down, select two weeks of must-have items, then pack up the remainder.

Bookshelves and display shelving

  • All items should fit comfortably on shelves.
  • Remove personal items and photos.
  • Remove any items that seem out of place with the main purpose of your shelving (a sewing kit on a book shelf)

Cupboards and personal storage

  • Kitchen and bathroom cabinets should be 60-75% filled. Items should be easy to remove from cupboards. For example, there should be spaces visible between pots and glasses should be lined in rows of like sizes. Do not stack mugs.
  • Under sink cabinets should be very sparse, and all plumbing should be fully visible.
  • Surfaces should be clean, free of all smudges, dust, and crumbs.

What to do with the overflow

  • Do not overcrowd your storage space with the items you have removed from other areas of your house.
  • Rent a storage locker, or borrow garage/basement space from a friend if your boxes are crowding your storage space.
  • If you keep any packed items at home, use new, moving-company boxes, and stack them neatly away from the walls.

Learn more in our Fundamentals of Staging series:

What is staging?

Fundamentals of Staging part 1: Decluttering (you are here)

Fundamentals of Staging part 2: Deep Cleaning

Fundamentals of Staging part 3: Depersonalizing

Have you read all of the Fundamentals of Staging and still want more? You can check out our staging tag, or Contact Lenore for a personalized staging plan that makes sure you spend your time and effort on the most effective ways to create a story for your target market, and sell your home.

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