How Can I Stage My Home Without Spending A Fortune?

When my husband and I decided to sell our first house, I felt more overwhelmed by the prospect of staging the house than the actual transaction of selling it. I was a recent newlywed fresh out of college, and I had little experience with owning a house—much less selling one. Naturally, my mother-in-law, who had moved her family several times, offered her sage advice.

Some of her tips included:

  • Make clean lines when you vacuum the carpet. Not only will this show how clean the house is, but it will make it easy for you to see the buyers’ footprints. In this way, you can tell how long buys spend in each area, and which areas they avoid.
  • Align towels on towel rods so that they hang evenly.
  • Open blinds, shutters, and curtains to let in the natural light and to highlight the views.

After following my mother-in-law’s advice and applying a bit (okay, a LOT) of elbow grease, I staged the house and got it ready for sale. And while I’m definitely no interior designer, I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years that allowed me to effectively stage my own house and save on hiring a professional stager.

We all know that a properly staged house is more likely to catch buyers’ attention than a cluttered house. Here are a few ways to you can stage your house without breaking the bank.


  1. Nothing turns a buyer off more than a dirty house. Would you show up to a first date or job interview with filthy clothes and a bad case of bedhead? Probably not. While some people swear that the aroma of baking cookies sways buyers, I believe the light scent of a nontoxic cleanser is more effective. First impressions run strong, and having a clean house shows buyers that you have maintained the home during your ownership.


This is the perfect opportunity to get up-close and personal with all the nooks and crannies of your house—the baseboards, behind the refrigerator, inside and outside of cupboards, inside the oven. Break out your gloves and old toothbrush and go after that grout!


  1. Having a clean house is one thing; having an organized house is a whole other matter. I’ll admit it: horizontal surfaces are my kryptonite. I let mail, flyers, kids’ homework, and other detritus pile on my kitchen counter until the mess is too much to bear. But here’s the problem: if buyers can’t see your countertops (or shelves, or stairs, or windowsills), they can’t determine if they like the house. Buyers need to see the bare bones of a house before deciding if they can make it their home, and clutter only distracts and skews.


Grab a box (or laundry basket) and go through each room, collecting the clutter. Divide the items into piles: one to discard, one to donate, one to pack, and one to organize in your home. If it’s something you need to keep out until you move, keep it out of sight in a tidy drawer or closet. Remember that buyers are thorough and will look through closets and cupboards, so stashing the mess is out of the question. Instead, pack half of your items away, leaving neat stacks of clothes on shelves, with a smaller number of clothes hung. This will allow buyers to see how large your storage space is (without showing them your impressive collection of scarves).




In this picture, you’ll see that the countertops are cleared off, with a few items decorative items on the shelves along with functional pieces (like the fruit bowl and cooking oils).




In this picture, the floor is clear and open, allowing buyers to walk through the room easily. The kids’ toys are still accessible, but tucked away from view. The desktop is cleared from non-essential items.



  1. As much as we want to believe otherwise, selling a house is a very personal process. We put so much love and work into our homes, we want others to see the memories we’ve made. While we may want to highlight our history in the home, it’s more important to encourage buyers to picture their future in the home. That means it’s time to take down the family photos, or better yet, replace them with neutral photos that will still complement each room’s design.


For example, in this picture, the frames on the wall originally held photos of our family. In preparation to sell our house, we replaced the photos with prints of nature we’d taken on our travels.


Maybe you’re a dire sports fan, but do buyers need to see your memorabilia? Certainly not, especially if they’re rooting for your team’s rivals. I recently saw an article online about a house for sale that featured the owners’ extensive collection of clowns. Hey, that’s cool if clowns are your thing, but they may distract (or terrify) potential buyers. In addition to removing our family photos, we peeled off the huge spaceship decals on our kids’ bedroom walls. While our kids enjoyed the décor, we knew that not everyone would.


  1. Once you have cleaned, decluttered, and depersonalized your house, the next step is to define each room. In other words, stage each room to highlight its purpose. Some rooms (like the kitchen and bathrooms) will be obvious to buyers. Other spaces may multifunctional, and too much open space can confuse buyers and deter them from figuring out how to make the space work for their own family. While buyers may choose to ultimately use the room for a different purpose, showing them one definite option is better than leaving them clueless.



For example, when we purchased this home, the room above was originally staged as an office. While it would have made a great office, we were planning on having another child and purposed it as the perfect nursery. We left the nursery staged and we sold the house to a couple with a young daughter.


Our house had a great room, and we wanted to make sure to divide the space into definable areas: kitchen, dining room, and living room. We conveyed these distinctions with our furniture and accessories.





In the picture below, we defined the room as a bedroom that could be for an adult or child. Originally, it had a set of bunkbeds for our two children who shared the room. However, the bunkbed was a bit bulky and made the room feel smaller. We wanted buyers to see the room as more than a child’s room. We disassembled the bunkbeds and hid the top mattress beneath the single bed during the daytime hours. In doing so, we defined the room in a less confining way and opened the space.



  1. It may seem counterintuitive to clear all the clutter away and then add accessories, but the little touches are what makes a well-staged home even better. The items don’t have to be extravagant. They could be pieces of décor that you already own—vases, baskets, dishes, throw pillows and blankets, candles, etc. You could also look for inexpensive items at home good stores.


In the previous pictures, you’ll see items that I purchased with the distinct purpose of staging our home: the lamps in the living room, the table settings in the dining room, and the cozy throw in the family room. Another example is below.


We purchased these decorative towels to tie in the colors of the master bedroom and master bathroom. We put the towels out only when buyers were coming to see the house, folding the more functional, everyday towels, and putting them in the bathroom cabinet.


While we kept a few of these staging items, I returned most them, which saved us a lot of money.



By cleaning, clearing out clutter and personal items, and defining and accessorizing rooms, you can effectively stage your own house—without the cost and hassle of hiring a staging professional. In fact, after friends and potential buyers saw the photos above, they were convinced we hired someone to stage our house. They were shocked that I, someone so disorganized and uneducated on décor, could pull it off. The hard work paid off when the offers came rolling in. I’m happy to admit that my mother-in-law was right!

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