Category Archives: home staging

when a home stops being a home: letting go

The moment the decision is made to sell a home it stops being a home and becomes a house, a product, a commodity; a product for sell in a highly competitive market. It is problematic for many home owners who have difficulty detaching emotionally, who have trouble making the transition from home to product.

It’s hard to be objective about our homes, our taste, our furnishings, and our things. (I mean come on; we’re talking about our Stuff here.) Additionally, a home is often the repository of new dreams and old memories. Of course it’s hard for many people to detach and see the house and its furnishings objectively, to view their home as four walls, a floor, and a ceiling…a product.

 If it’s hard to let go, then consider these 5 thoughts:

 Look ahead:

1) Looking ahead is easier if you’ve already chosen the new space you’ll be living in. Visualize where the furniture will go, what colors you’ll use, where your treasures will live. Count up all the advantages of the new space: bigger yard, larger kitchen, more storage.

If you haven’t chosen a new space yet, imagine all the wonderful possibilities of what might be…the things you’ve always wanted that weren’t viable in your current home: walk-in closet in the master bedroom…no stairs… hot tub in the back yard…

 2) Count up the advantages of the impending move: closer to work, closer to Mom, farther away from Mom, more money on the new job, lower mortgage payments.

While honoring what’s being left behind:

3) Take photos: photograph what you love best about the house, and the areas that hold special memories: the view from the window, the flower garden, the children’s bedrooms and the growth chart penciled on the wall. Everything you want to remember about the house when you’re no longer living in it. Put the pictures into an album. No one else needs to see it, so be just as maudlin and sentimental as you chose. Consider including written memories. Add tangibles: a pressed flower from the garden or a leaf from the maple tree in the front yard.

4) Not everyone sees a house as an inanimate object. Some houses seem to have energy, a feel, an aura, an air that’s hard to explain in scientific terms. Ghost and horror stories thrive on the concept although that kind of energy is usually dark and malevolent. The other side of the coin is light and benevolent energy, perhaps the house is nurturing, or welcoming, or protective. Many folk will think that’s crazy. That’s okay; they can skip this part and move on. If you don’t find the concept crazy and if you feel that way about your house, it makes it even tougher to let go. So express it… think it, speak it, or write it. Explain, apologize, grieve, and above all give thanks for the sheltering, the memories, and the joys. Whatever your beliefs, giving thanks for the good things in our lives is nothing but positive. So express yourself, give thanks, and then move ahead. No matter who buys the house, what their style might be, or what changes they will make, your memories of the house will forever remain intact and unalterable. 


 5) And finally, realize that home is not defined by place. It is the people and relationships, the nurturing, trust, laughter, sharing, and joy that ultimately define a home. And that is something you can carry with you into the new house…to make a new home.

“Many a man who pays rent all his life owns his own home; and many a family has successfully saved for a home only to find itself at last with nothing but a house.”                                                                                                                    Bruce Barton                          


Defining “Clutter”

clutter 2

I have friends that have so much Stuff in their homes that when I visit, I feel like I can’t breathe. I need air, give me air. Walking into their house, I feel like I’ve just walked onto the pages of a Where’s Waldo book. I’m not normally claustrophobic…except in their houses…and it has nothing to do with room size. Stuff me in a tiny closet and shut the door…no problem…put me in an overly-furnished room and I start to tremble. There’s so much stuff I don’t actually see individual items; everything blurs into a massive kaleidoscope of indistinguishable Stuff!

By my definition, their homes are cluttered. By my definition, almost anything can become clutter if there’s too much of it: plants, books, art, or furniture. By my definition, stuffing a home is like wearing every necklace you own…at the same time. And yet my friends are not only comfortable but proud of their homes…and their Stuff.

De-cluttering….it’s a critical component of home staging and home design; we are constantly reading or hearing about the need to de-clutter our homes…but what does that really mean. What exactly is clutter? And how do we DE-clutter when we’re not even sure what clutter is?

It’s not exactly helpful when design sites or magazines feature articles on the need to de-clutter and the next article features a room crammed with furniture, accessories, and art. Huh?

And what about the debris that collects when we are relaxed, tired, sick, or busy? Newspapers, half-filled coffee cups, empty pop cans, stray papers, and stacks of mail…surely that can’t be the clutter designers, decorators, and stagers are talking about?

Stagers often define clutter as any item smaller than a basketball…beach ball…football. Easy, but most of us don’t live in staged homes so how does that translate into normal living?

Miriam-Webster gives a more formal definition:

Clutter (noun) a large amount of things that are not arranged in a neat or orderly way: a crowded or disordered collection of things

Clutter-(verb) to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness

Hmm! Does that mean that we can pack a warehouse worth of stuff into a 10 x 10 room, as long as everything is neat and orderly and we can move around? Does it count if the columns of stuff are eight feet high?

The word “clutter” also seems to imply something of little value and not much worth. Please! We’re talking about our Stuff here. And how do we define value…by price, size, or quantity? 

Perhaps clutter comes in layers; the first layer being the debris of daily living. Or perhaps it is measureable in units… degrees of clutter…mildly cluttered, moderately cluttered, or totally cluttered. Maybe we could devise a scale, kind of like the Richter scale, that defines the magnitude of clutter and has an attached alarm or siren: “Warning! Warning! You have reached maximum clutter. Please move to higher ground…”

Only this is not a science, this is perception.

What I have finally come to realize, is that there may not be a universal definition of “clutter”, a single meaning that we can all agree on. Just as we all have individual tastes and style preferences, our definition of “clutter” is highly personal, we each define it differently. What is one man’s “clutter” is another man’s treasure.

I’ve also come to realize that “de-cluttering” is a different process based on whether we are staging or creating home, because the goals are different. The goal of staging is visual clarity; the goal of creating home is self-expression.

When stagers recommend that a client “de-clutter” what they’re really saying is limit the number of accessories on the coffee table, minimize the number of prints on the wall, or downsize the amount of furniture in the living room. The terms, downsize, simplify, streamline, or minimize, are more effective, precise, and easier to understand than the ambiguous “de-clutter”. And there is no suggestion of lack of value or worth.

So, I vote we ban the over-used terms clutter and de-clutter and find more precise terminology with less ambiguous definitions and without negative connotations.  What about congestion and de-congestion…uh, no! Or Stuff and de-Stuff…hmm…maybe not.

The Clutter Quiz

26 indications that you might have

                   too much stuff 

You know you have too much stuff when:

1) you can’t see what kind of material the kitchen countertop is made of 

2) the top of your table (dresser, nightstand) never needs dusting

3) you can’t see the color of the walls because of the amount of art work hanging on  them

4) you have to climb over some…thing to get some…where

5) burglars have to come back for a second trip

6) your shins are chronically black and blue and you’ve broken your big toe twice

7) you lost the cat…for three days…and he’s a housecat

8) your 9-year old refuses to take off her bicycle helmet, your 14-year old wears his shin guards in the house, and your husband comes to the dinner table every night wearing a hard hat  

9) the amount of stuff you find under the couch cushions fills a five-gallon trash bag

10) you suffered a concussion after opening an upper cupboard door

11) the avalanche that occurs when you open a closet door, lasts longer than 30 seconds

12) the stack of newspapers or magazines in the corner is taller than you are

13) you have enough ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center

14) you have enough chains, necklaces, and bracelets, that if placed end to end, would circle the earth…3 times

15) you have enough craft supplies to open a Hobby Lobby, enough material to open a  fabric store, enough tools to open a hardware store

16) you have enough dishes to feed the army’s 3rd infantry division

17) you have enough bubble bath to float a battleship

18) you have enough books that the library calls you and wants to borrow a book

19) you have so many house plants that you thought you glimpsed Cheetah thru the foliage yesterday

20) an acquaintance walks into your living room, picks up a vase and turns it over looking for the price tag

21) you have enough nail polish to paint the Brooklyn Bridge

22) you have enough clothes to dress the populace of a third world country

23) your friends prefer to sit outside on the patio, porch, or deck despite the rain….sleet…snow

24) everyone walks like a Geisha when navigating to the living room couch

25) Aunt Ellen got lost on her way to the bathroom and wasn’t found for 12 hours 

26) the dog packed up his food dish and moved next door  

If you have experienced  even one of the indications you may want to consider downsizing and de-cluttering.

loving Daffy: neutralizing and depersonalizing

In your own home you don’t have to conform to anyone’s idea of what is stylish and tasteful. So, if you want an eight-foot image of Daffy Duck painted on your living room wall because you love Daffy Duck, you’re allowed.  But the moment you decide to sell your home it stops being a home and becomes a house, a product for sell in a highly competitive market. And the chance of finding a buyer who loves your eight-foot, hand-painted Daffy Duck is pretty slim.

No big deal, the new owner can paint over Daffy. The problem is that most buyers are looking for a house that is move-in ready. They don’t want to paint over Daffy. They would rather buy the house two blocks away that is similar to yours with a comparable price tag but doesn’t have an eight-foot Daffy Duck in the living room. Home nuetralizing daffystaging de-personalizes and neutralizes the house so it will appeal to a larger number of potential buyers than just the one-in-a-gazillion buyer who would embrace having an 8-foot Daffy in their living room.                                                                                   Using Daffy is a bit over the top but the principle is sound. Substitute Daffy for a purple accent wall in the living room, black walls in the kitchen, or vintage Victorian wallpaper throughout the house and you have the idea.

 90% of potential buyers have difficulty visualizing what their furnishings will look like in a new house. It becomes even harder when the seller’s personal style overwhelms the basic attributes of the house.  Sometimes by holding firm to their preferred style, sellers limit their chances of selling their house quickly or at its full value.

 For a general overview of home staging click here.