How to Stage Your Home for Living


“All journeys eventually end in the same place, home.” —Chris Geiger

I am 38 years old. And I have lived in 16 different homes.

Now, most of these moves took place when I was young. But since getting married to my wife 15 years ago, we have lived in 5 different homes. Needless to say, moving is something I have become accustomed to. And as a result, I have become familiar with the process of buying and selling houses.

Each time we have sold a home, we have been advised by our realtor to “stage our home for selling.”

So then, in the weeks prior to our house hitting the market, we spent numerous hours “staging our home” for the sale. We did the research describing what makes a home attractive to a potential buyer and put most of their recommendations into place. By the end, our house looked better than it ever had since moving in—and then we sold it to some lucky family.

Each time, I can’t help but be struck by the irony of the situation. We spend countless hours getting our home into its best possible condition, only to leave it? Most of the time while staging our home for sale, I wondered why we had never put in the effort to stage our home for living. You know, so we could have actually enjoyed it more while we called it home.

To not make the same mistake we did, consider setting aside a weekend to stage your house for living. The process will take some time, energy, and money. It will take some intentional effort. But in the end, your home just may look better than the day you bought it. And maybe, just maybe, it could be a little bit of fun too.

A Step-by-Step Process to Stage Your Home for Living.

Remove 1/3 of your possessions. Those who stage a home for sale will tell you to remove roughly 33% of your personal possessions from the property. Less stuff means your rooms/closets have room to breathe and feel more spacious. A decluttered home is calm and inviting.

This may be easier if you were actually moving (natural purging almost always takes place during transition), but if you wouldn’t take it with you when you moved, why let it take up space in your life today?

Grab some cardboard boxes and walk through your home room-by-room, closet-by-closet, and drawer-by-drawer. Collect all the stuff you no longer need or love. Donate it, sell it, or give it away.

Find a home for everything. Walking again through your home, make note of the items that are stored in your field of vision (think countertops, toys, entertainment units). Why are those items stored out in the open? Are they in the wrong room? Are they too big to be stored out of sight? Is their proper home too crowded? Intentionally identify the visible clutter. Ask questions to identify the problem. And brainstorm a new solution.

Find new places to store these items out of sight. Visible clutter pulls at our attention and distracts us on an ongiong basis. On the other hand, clean, undistracted rooms promote relaxation and intentionality.

Declutter counter tops, cupboards, and drawers. Buyers always open cupboards, drawers, and closets. Unfortunately, storage spaces packed too tightly look small, unsightly, and counter-productive. Remove unneeded items from everyday storage spaces. This won’t be difficult. You have likely collected a number of items over the years that are no longer necessary. At this point, they are only taking up space in your storage areas. Discard them. As an added benefit, you just may realize you have had enough storage space all along.

Personalize your decorations. Realtors and professional home stagers will ask you to remove most of your personal decorations as it subtly communicates “I live here, not you,” to your potential buyer. And that is not a good aura to give the future residents of your home.

However, when staging your home for living, leave the personal decorations. Even better, capitalize on them! Rather than devaluing them, highlight them by removing some of the non-personal decorations in your home. As a result, the ones that make you unique will play a more pronounced role in your home.

Give your bathroom the attention it deserves. Put away personal hygiene products. Scrub bathtubs, toilets, and shower walls. Make clean and bright your goal. It’s not glamorous, but it sure makes getting ready every morning more enjoyable.

Consider curb appeal. Realtors will tell you that you can never spend too much attention on curb appeal. Your potential buyer will likely make their decision on your home within the first few minutes of entering. Therefore, first impressions are the most important. And the very first impression they receive is when they pull into your driveway.

If you have children, clean up their toys. If you have shrubs, prune them. Lay fresh mulch. Put some grass seed on the bare spots in your yard. Paint your foundation. Plant some flowers. After all, you pull into your driveway almost everyday of your life. Don’t you want to pull into something you’d like to purchase all over again?

Clean thoroughly. Clean the surface. Then, clean deeper. Give extra attention to corners and windows and hard-to-reach areas. Just like in the bathroom, make clean and bright your goal. If you’ve successfully removed a good portion of personal possessions, you’ll find this task far easier to complete.

Complete minor repairs. Take a notepad and create a to-do list of minor home repairs such as wall nicks, paint touch-ups, squeaky doors, running toilets, loose pieces, and burnt out light bulbs. Most of the minor repairs can be handled in less than 20 minutes for less than $15 and can be found with a simple Google search.

Eventually, the repairs need to happen. And if they have to be taken care of before you sell your house anyway, why not repair them when you can actually enjoy them too? The investment sure beats walking back into your bathroom to wiggle the handle on a running toilet 3 times a day.

Tackle a major repair. Roof about to go? Replace it. Leaky basement? Research your solutions. Kitchen appliances barely working? Go for it. These major repairs can be costly. And I’d never advise you to go into debt to stage your home for living. But if the time ever comes when your house does indeed need to be sold, an inspector/realtor will ask you to solve the problems. And if it gets to that, you’ll be paying for someone else to enjoy them rather than yourself.

Likely the hardest part of staging your home for living is finding the motivation to get started. I get it. Life gets busy. And without the potential for a future sale on the horizon, it can be difficult to get started. So you just may need to artificially create the momentum to get started in the process. That is, unless the simple fact that you live everyday in this home is motivation enough.

Image: 55Laney69

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    I like this post!

    Like you, I’ve moved a lot in the past 17 years and whenever we staged our house, I loved how it felt. After this past move, I vowed to keep my house staged as much as possible on a regular basis. Granted, with homeschooling and just general living, it doesn’t always look staged, but it’s a whole lot better than it used to be!

  2. says

    This is all great advice. I staged a home for sale back in April and it sold in one day. The day before we moved out, the movers came and took everything out of the house. We cleaned every nook and cranny, slept on the floor and left the next morning. I never realized how huge my house was until it was totally empty. I had this crazy notion that if people could rent a storage pod, put it in their driveway, move everything out of their house, re-evaluate their possessions and move back in like it was a new home, they’d probably realize that they wouldn’t want to clutter it up with unnecessary stuff again. It was definitely an eye opening experience.

  3. Caelidh says

    Currently in the process (LONG PROCESS) of getting my home ready for market.. I moved a lot of stuff a year ago to my other house (which is now clutter city because I moved in with my boyfriend.

    I planned on culling the rest, but got behind due to Illness… so I am scrambling to make up for lost time.

    I still feel so overwhelmed..

    All my realtors still want me to get everything out of the house.. I don’t have that much left in the house, really.

    It didn’t help that my mother died 3 years ago and left me with a bunch of stuff I don’t know what to do with…..

    I am an only child as well.

    • says

      Whatever part of the country you live in, a Professional Organizer could help you – look on the NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) website, there’s a FIND AN ORGANIZER feature.
      All the emotional connection is hard to let go of without help – but well worth it to be starting a new life with your boy friend so keep your eyes on the goal.
      Best of luck to you.

      • says

        I might add, that you can love and remember your mother without keeping all of the possessions. Find something very special to keep, and consider whether you should let the rest go. We used to feel obligated to keep all of mother-in-law’s wardrobe, jewelry, bath gels (!), etc. But we didn’t need those to remember her. Now, I just have her charm bracelet (because the charms all represent things that were important to her, and my daughter can inherit it) and her iPod (no better way to capture someone’s personality than through their playlist!).

        Take your time, but don’t feel obligated to keep it all.

    • Fiona Cee says

      if you don’t know what to do with it, or want to keep any of it [the stuff from your mother's house] donate it. it’s as simple as that. and if there’s no one else, it’s up to you.

  4. laura m. says

    I try to de clutter and clean out the house at least twice a year. I purge stuff as needed when items aren’t used in a long time. Many strip their houses out/move everything out before listing with an agent if they’re moving out of the area. This is a good idea for some, even on a local move as it’s easier to clean an empty house.

  5. says

    Hi Joshua….we must have been on similar wave-lengths because I recently wrote a post on my blog explaining how important location can be to a minimal lifestyle….That and staging are both important steps that are often overlooked when either thinking of moving, buying or even just trying to be happier right where you are. And it is so, so true that “a decluttered home is calm and inviting.” ~Kathy

  6. Cathy says

    Love this post … we had a similar experience. About 18 months ago my husband and I decided we would have to sell our 2 bed apartment as it was far too small for us and 2 young kids and we were drowning in our stuff. We busily set to work over about 1 month decluttering, cleaning and storing excess belongings with a kind neighbour. After we had almost finished we saw how lovely our home was and given that we loved living in the area decided to stay … and we have no plans to move anytime soon. Oh and I donated and tossed most of what we stored with our neighbour.

  7. Kathy says

    We move a lot, thanks to my husband’s business. My greatest dream is to one of those times be able to sell most everything, only move our most prized possessions, and then start over at our new place. Unfortunately, that will never happen but it’s a great dream. Every time we move, I declutter SO much and we’ve gotten to the point we don’t buy much to replace things, but it always seems like there’s still so much, and we have less than a lot of families of five. We are preparing for yet another possible move & the areas I want most to tackle are excess kitchen stuff, my youngest daughter’s toys, & excess furniture, although that will be the toughest battle because my husband is absolutely against getting rid of any furniture unless it’s completely worn out. We have some large pieces we don’t need or use & it would be so nice to have the space & money they take up!

  8. Tara says

    My partner is a packrat and won’t let me get rid of household stuff – he complains that «we paid good money for that» and «we might need that some day»… I have to wait for him to go out of town to try and sneak stuff out of the house. But I can definitely get rid of my personal things (clothes, shoes, purses) and plan to do that over the next year.

  9. says

    We had exactly the same feeling when we prepared our house for sale! We’ve done our best to simplify when we moved into our new, smaller place. But we’re not finished, and I now see that “staging” one’s house for living needs to be a periodic affair. This is a great resource guide for that purpose.

  10. says

    I really appreciate this perspective on living and all the suggestions. Clutter and dysfunctional placement are often reasons why were are discontented with our abode and have develop and urge to move. There’s a good chance you will enjoy where you are currently living MORE after having put this advice into practice :)

  11. Randall says

    Cool post! I always thought the same thing about staging when watching “Get It Sold” on HGTV. These are some great tips.

  12. says

    “If you wouldn’t take it with you when you moved, why let it take up space in your life today?”

    This is the exact reason why I started getting into minimalism in the first place. It just appealed through solid logic… especially considering I don’t even own my own place yet. Why should I amass mountains of possessions only to be forced to bring it with me every time I move/sell for less than I bought for?

  13. says

    This is a great post! I have been in the process of owning less over the past 2 years. It takes time but the time is well spent. I have reduced my bedroom furniture down to just my bed, 2 nightstands and 3 neatly stacked old suitcases I use instead of a dresser. The rest of my clothes and shes are uncluttered in the closet.

    It has created a peaceful sleep environment without the clutter distractions.

    I am still working through the rest of the house by not putting away my boxes of decorations after moving but rather sorting them into donation, trash and sell piles unless I really cherish the item..

  14. says

    Most definitely! Thanks for the reminders. I am constantly striving to get rid of things that I don’t need or love to make room for what matters. Being the home body that I am, I really want my house to feel like home. And I surely do not want to spend all of my time cleaning up the clutter!

  15. says

    Great post. I felt the same way when I was shopping for my first house. I vowed to make all repairs necessary and keep my house in tip-top condition while I lived in it. It seemed crazy to do otherwise. Then I became a home owner and realized that due to lack of time, funds, energy or all of the above its easy to let things slide, especially in an older home. I shudder to think of all the things that would need to be done around here before this home could go on the market. It seems that by the time I check one thing off my mental to-do list, two more new ones are added. I now have major DIY fatigue to boot.

    So yes, I think this is a wonderful thing to strive for, but I understand why few people accomplish it.

  16. says

    I’m not sure what I’ve done to my kids (4 of them) and most people think I am mad, but I love moving. I love the opportunity to sort through and remember things. I have a system which means my home can be packed up in a day and we will be left with the basics to function with. We have a purge about every 2 months, which makes sure items get returned to people and we make room for new things in our lives. My teenage daughter must be destined to be an interior decorator as she moves furniture around all the time and gives the house a fresh feeling. Having to share the house with 4 kids and a hubby who arrives spontaneously (he works away from home) we end up with chaos in some areas of the house. Lego creations half made, homework projects in the making etc. So I have places my eyes land on that I love and ignore the rest. A bookcase with flowers and nothing else on top (I ignore the books not put away properly until I have time to do it) etc. Little nooks and crannies, or even just a favourite picture in a place I pass frequently lets me indulge in a fantasy that I live in a Home Beautiful photo shoot ;)

  17. says

    Moving certainly does help one to declutter, more than anything else!

    I remember the last days in our house, how nice it looked. And we thought, why didn’t it ever look this nice while we lived here? Definitely a bittersweet affair. We don’t plan on owning a home again (or even living in a house) anytime in the near (or far) future, but we are definitely taking the time to periodically declutter our living space and keep it looking nice while we’re living here!

  18. Steph says

    I can’t believe what you wrote about buyers always looking in cupboards and drawers – does that really happen in America? I’m English and have moved a fair amount of times, including one house sale that took five years for the right buyers to come along (that’s the credit crunch and rural areas for you) – and through all that experience selling and looking round new places myself, I can safely say that nobody EVER does that in the UK! It would be considered very bad form – really very rude. After all, you might open a cupboard and find somebody’s personal hygiene stuff or medicines – or all manner of private things. Call it our national straight-laced attitude but I just can’t imagine barging through someone’s house rifling in their personal things.

    • says

      I open drawers and cupboard doors to see how the cabinetry is made, to make sure the drawers open smoothly, to see if it’s sturdy, not to be nosy or look at other people’s private things. If I’m going to pay thousands of dollars for a house I’m for sure checking out the cabinets. I have moved 21 times in my 46 years, when I declutter and put away personal items, I put them in the storage furniture I own, Americans usually don’t ‘snoop’ through anything not fixed with the house. I guess we don’t think it’s snooping if you are buying it. That would be like buying a car and not opening the trunk.

  19. Andrea says

    Steph – i am in Canada and while i would *never* look in someone’s dresser, etc, we are in the process of house-hunting, and i do open closet doors, and kitchen drawers, etc, if we are actually seriously considering a house (i have done it, literally, once.) If i am buying a house, i need to know how big that closet is, and whether the drawers are in good condition, etc. Side note – the one time we were serious about a house, and we decided to check closet sizes etc, I am glad we did. One ‘closet’ actually had a giant pipe running floor to ceiling in it and was pretty much unusable! :)

  20. Adrienne says

    Thank you for a fantastic article! I’ve done a couple rounds of decluttering but it’s so easy to get overwhelmed when things get messy. Having read this, I’m excited to go home and make our house look like a place we really want to live in – the decluttering will happen along the way, but the focus is enjoying the house.

    Just this week I decided to set a timer when I get home and spend five minutes each on our bedroom, kitchen, and living room… just making sure things are in their homes, tossing piles of recycling, putting away clean laundry… and I have to say that I’m surprised how much of a difference just five minutes can make. I might decide to spend the total 15 minutes on one room and rotate rooms each evening – but even so, 15 minutes isn’t that long. It’s doable and – fortunately – it really does seem like that’s all the time it takes per day to keep things comfortable and staged for living. It’s way better than going crazy trying to pick up and clean a week’s worth (or more…) of mess on Saturday!

    I would combine this with the idea of an Outbox for “stuff” to get rid of (—day-2-181661) and occasionally use some of my freed-up weekend time to empty the Outbox via donations, posting to Craigslist, etc.

  21. Hope Stern says

    I too am staging my house for sale for the fourth time. YES, we make it so livable that my kids say, isnt is so nice now, let’s stay.

    Great post, awesome way to think about being a minimalist in life…

    I agree heartily!


  22. kathy says

    This is an excellent article! I sometimes watch those ridiculous shows about selling the house and staging it, and I think it’s a shame that people only see the true beauty of their homes when they’re ready to sell them to someone else. I always think, if only they had gotten rid of the clutter and taken care of the house, they probably wouldn’t even need to sell in the first place. And you know that their next house will end up exactly the same way the first one did, and they won’t be any happier. So yes, make your home a place that you love and is clean and clutter free, and you just may find that you don’t want to move after all!

  23. Andrea says

    At 57, I have lived all over. The proverbial itinerent preacher who had to keep the “parsonage which you live in is not yours” stage worthy, ’cause you never knew just who had keys and when they’ “drop by”.

    As for staging houses in hopes of selling them, I’m against it BIG TIME. What happened to imagining your stuff in empty rooms? Have we become that jaded that we can’t walk through a house unless it looks akin to a showhouse?

    I do have to admit I had to sell 2 houses when my parents died, and they didn’t sell easy at the end of the 70s. Not because they weren’t staged ( no one had heard that term in New England in 1979), but because we had to vacate to sell per orders of the trustees.

    And I will never iwn a house again because if it

    • Isabel Archer says

      Unduly harsh I think Andrea. If a lack of clutter bothers you by all means clutter away. I personally will not view a home that’s stuffed with clutter as soon as I walk in. My thought is if its this much unkempt when ‘company’ comes imagine all the undone maintainance I will have to spend money fixing. Also some of us do not have your spacial gifts and it’s very hard to imagine how a room can be arranged while it is totally empty. Perhaps you are mirroring your own anger at never having a safe and private space to live in. I can totally understand that.

  24. says

    We recently staged our house to sell and will be moving soon (it worked!). I definitely intend to live this way going forward. It was beautiful and so much easier to maintain.

  25. says

    I believe in home ownership. But I hate putting money into a house because you have to make it attractive for the buyer. I have been retired since 2002, but I’m now working on organizing my (last) home. Sure, I wish I had started sooner. But now, I am taking a good, long look at my possessions. For the sake of my sanity, I’m “editing” everything about my lifestyle. The unwanted stuff is being donated on a regular basis.

  26. says

    You read my mind! I did all the steps exactly as outlined. I am working on curb appeal and then we will move on, at last, to bigger projects. It’s made a huge difference in my family.

  27. says

    I love this post! Am currently working on the decluttering and I know that when it’s done the things I love will be there to enjoy, featured, rather than drowning in clutter. We are not planning to sell at all, but this is a good focus for me and also works with my goal of offering hospitality more. Thanks.

  28. says

    I can so relate to this post. We’ve renovated twice – and each time we did most of the finishing touches in the few months before we moved out. And each time we said ‘why didn’t we do this years ago’. We’ll be building a tiny home in the comping year or so – and this time we know that at-least we’ll have the time and money to finish everything sooner rather than later, because the task will be much smaller and far more realistic – hopefully ;-)

  29. Sassafras says

    Years ago we called this being ‘house-proud’. The German housewife was known to be ‘house-proud’, meaning that she took good care of her home, AND enjoyed doing it. It’s a GOOD thing. Not being proud necessarily because you live in a McMansion, but whether large or small, expensive or frugally bought and paid for you take care of your home, your possessions, yourself. The Scriptures refer to this principal as stewardship.

  30. Queen Mary says

    I think this is very important. My grandmother used to say, if my family isn’t good enough for my silver, why would I share it with people who aren’t family? Why wait to fix things until you are leaving?

  31. Jenifer says

    So true!

    I’ve been living in ‘staged’ homes for the last 4 years. It only goes nuts when I’m overworking and I don’t put my basic things away and/or make my bed. Making my bed sets everything else in motion in my house. :D

  32. says

    My wife and I have recently gone through this as we sold our house and bought a new one. We had started the process of whittling down our possessions, but were probably a solid year from our end goal when I got a new job and a move was forced on us. Then it was really thrust upon us just how much extra stuff we had. And to top it off we are moving into a house with more living space, but virtually no storage space, so now we will be in the position of really deciding what we want to keep, since it will be on display all the time.

    It has been stressful but it’s been a great opportunity to pare down. I also found one of the best things you can do to have your house sale ready is to live in it like you might have to sell it next week. Fix little things as they come up, tackle one improvement project a year, and constantly remove extra items.

    Thank you for the constant dose of motivation your blog gives out.

  33. says

    This post really resonates with me. We rent out our home over the Christmas period while we are away, and every time it looks wonderful … for other people. I really want to work on having it look great for us, too. Thanks for these practical tips

  34. Jay Hall says

    We live out of state and own a house that has renters in it. When they move out soon we plan to sell. Do we leave it clean and in order as is or should we hire a staging company to come in? If so, for how long and how much should we budget for staging?

  35. says

    Thank you for your insight! I’ve lived at my place since 1990, and thru the years, I’ve fixed this and that! I would like the idea of preparing to sell my place long before I do! The idea of preparing to live in it. I’m already doing that. I fix plumbing, and remodel rooms. However, I need to prepare to clean the corners and clear out the garage in 2014.

  36. says

    Excellent post. I used to be checking constantly
    this blog and I am impressed! Very useful info specially the final section :
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    particular information for a very lengthy time. Thank
    you and good luck.

  37. Flor says

    My husband and i was left a houseful full of stuff, took 3 years and 3 big dump trucks to get rid of the stuff, there was no word for it, clutter does not even come close. Now I swear I would not do the same to my two kids. To burden my children of stuff I collected is just not right. I started my journey of- “you came into this world with nothing, and you will leave with nothing “.

    I came into this country (US) with one suitcase and a quarter in my pocket to call if I get lost at the airport in the early 90’s. Now I have so much stuff, I can’t even think straight when i look at them. I vowed to get rid of 1/2 of these stuff. The goal is- can I go back to that one suitcase lifestyle?

  38. says

    This is so great. We offer a service called, “Fall In Love With Your Home” for this exact reason. When we staged homes the homeowners would tell us they couldn’t believe what a difference it made. Out of that service grew our ‘Fall In Love With Your Home’ service. This is for anyone wishing to stage their home who is NOT moving. It has been one of our top selling services. I think individuals and families get in their daily ‘ruts’ and have a hard time seeing things differently.

    I love all of your tips and will definitely be sharing this on our Facebook page! Great article!

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