When getting ready to list your home for sell, there is a lot to do!  You need to get the yard looking tip top, you need to clean , perhaps repair some items and you need to stage it for best results.  As you begin to ready your house for sale, you will hear a lot about “depersonalizing” your home.  What exactly does that mean?

There are basically 4 different categories of depersonalizing that need to happen:

  1. Remove any personal Items
  2. Remove any décor that is too “taste specific”
  3. Neutralize the rooms
  4. Remove your “footprint” on the house – evidence of daily living

Remove Personal Items

Let’s start with acknowledging that making a move is an emotional experience.  Whether the move is positive….a new job or newer house, or whether the move is somewhat negative…a death or divorce.  Any move is emotional.  An important part of mentally getting ready for the move is the Disengaging Process.  This process allows you to prepare for the move in a healthy way.  The first step is to start packing away all of your personal items.  I like to call this the “pre-packing”.  You should start this part first and plug along at it from room to room before the house is listed.  By packing away your family photos, collectibles, trophies and certificates, it will begin to make your home feel less your own personal space.  While this can be disconcerting, it is an important step because it will allow you to start seeing the home as a house, and be better emotionally equipped to deal with many strangers coming through and even with negotiating the sale later on.  You need to start to see your home as a house, a product that needs to be marketed in order to get the highest value. 


Let’s Get Personal

So, exactly what kinds of things are we talking about to remove?  Won’t it make my home look empty?  While it may be hard to get used to seeing empty walls in the hallway, empty spaces in the bookshelf or even empty rooms (depending on the size of the collection), our goal here is to have buyers be able to see themselves living in this house.  If they see you still living here, through your personal items, it feels more like snooping around some else’s home versus looking at a potential new home.  In addition to that, there are also some safety issues to consider when packing things up.  For Example, when you remove family photos, you won’t have people taking photos of your kids as they snap a photo of the living room or master bedroom.  They won’t know who lives there, which is good for both negotiations, and for your children’s safety. 

 Here is a thorough list of items that you will want to start packing up:

  • Family photos and portraits – yes, all of them. *see my article on family photos here
  • Collectables – whether it is your grandmothers tea cups & dolls or your husbands sport memorabilia, it needs to be packed up now.
  • Prizes, trophies, awards & framed certificates
  • Toys, sporting equipment and exercise equipment
  • Artwork and/or Signs – that may be inappropriate for all audiences, or controversial or political

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Decor that is “Taste  Specific”

You need to take a look at your house through the buyers eyes.  Remember, buyers want to see the possibility of themselves living in this house.  As you look around, are you distracted from noticing the features and highlights of the house itself, because of the décor?  This may be difficult to see yourself, so you may want to ask a neighbor or friend to help you here.  (Contact a professional here)

For example, is your kitchen full of chickens and roosters?  Are they above the cupboards and atop your countertops in the form of canisters and paper towel holders?  Is the theme completed by farmhouse wallpaper?  Seat cushions and light fixtures?  This would be an area to start packing up.  Dream of where your favorite Italian rooster will go in your new kitchen but take him out of this one.  Kitchen’s need to highlight the roomy cupboard space, the plentiful countertops and the newer cabinets and appliances.  Also consider removing the wallpaper now and re-painting.  Buyers see that as an added expense and will try to use it to come in at lower price.  Sadly, the chances that the new buyer will also love the farmhouse look is very, very unlikely. 

Neutralize the Rooms

Think vanilla ice cream.  It tastes great, most everyone likes it and most importantly, everyone can jazz it up according to their own taste.  That is what you want to do to every room in your house – make it vanilla.  Now, don’t fall into the trap of many others and take this step a little too far.  Do NOT remove everything.  Vanilla is not nothing.  It has a taste, and a pleasant one at that.  Keep some neutral accessories like lamps and plants and accessories.  Hardback books come in handy too. 

This is where you use some of your existing décor to decorate as if it where for a model home.  Vases and boxes on the coffee table.  Books and simple knickknacks on the shelves where the frames used to be.  Wrought iron wall hangings may be a good choice for where the family portrait used to hang. 

This is a good place to bring in professional help if you don’t really know how to “decorate”.  A good stager will fill the spaces with great accessories, they understand the rule of thirds and understand how a buyer sees the room.  (see my favorite 5 things to stage with bog)

Paint choices come into play here as well.  If the kids were able to choose their own colors, this is a good time to get back to basics.  If you come from the era of “accent walls” and yours is a very specific shade of tangerine, then I would consider matching it up to the rest of the room.  Buyers see painting as a large expense, if you take that off their list of objections, your selling price will be much higher.  (see my article on best staging colors here )

Daily Living

Lastly, let’s address the daily living “footprint” you leave on your house.  This is the part that rivals step 1 in difficulty, but is also essential for optimal showings.  You have done all of the hard work, now you need to do a few more quick things to make the showing  be the best it can be.

When preparing for initial photographs, and then showings, you need to remove all of the small, personal items from countertops, nightstands and bathrooms.  I suggest getting several small baskets / containers from the dollar store that you can put all of the things you use daily in.  Now, since you have cleaned and packed away all of the extra items that were filling your cupboards, you just quickly sweep the items off of the counter and place in the cabinets.  For example, a shower caddy will hold all of the items from your shower,  a small basket can keep your make up, brushes and toiletries for the bathroom.  I always suggest one “catch all” basket for the kitchen counter, and clean out a drawer that you can sweep it all into. 

For those of you with children, I know this can be a confusing time for them and you would like to keep things simple for them.  I suggest getting a big tub and some stickers.  Let them decorate their tub as they want and give them the opportunity to put all of their favorite toys and books in it.  Use this to quickly put all of their toys in for easy showings.  You can take it with you to the park or wherever you go during the showings and even better, that first night in the new place after you have sold the house – they will have all of their favorite items right with them. 

Demystify the Depersonalize

My hope is that by breaking down the different categories of depersonalizing your home, it will make things easier to tackle.  Consequently, when you get ready for photography and showings, you will be ahead of the game.  Most important to recognize is that you are creating a space that is welcoming for potential buyers to come into.  Buying and selling homes is emotional for both sides.  If buyers feel comfortable, they stay longer, and the longer they stay, the more they can visualize themselves in this house. 

One of my recent clients said that at first it was difficult when we staged her home.  It was beautifully decorated and didn’t really need much.  But we did need to remove some of her more personal decor and collectables they had picked up over the years on their travels.  After a day or two though, she said it was actually a good thing, because she was able to detach from the house and found it easier when showings started.  She was not as sensitive and didn’t worry if things would be damaged or broken. 

So, rather than lament on what to pack away and not to, go by this list and you will be in great shape.  If you find the house is too empty at the end of it, I always recommend hiring a staging company to help put the final touches on.  It is an investment well worth it.