Decluttering Tips to Sell Your Home: How to Conquer the Mess While Quarantined

Editor’s note: All of HomeLight’s coronavirus information for buyers, sellers, and agents is available on our COVID-19 hub.

In the coming months (and maybe even into next year), many people will be staying home more than usual and are looking for ways to keep busy. While large scale remodels that require outside help aren’t ideal for social distancing, one productive, safe, and highly rewarding use of time is to declutter your surroundings.

“I’m going room by room in my house, and I’m shocked at how much stuff I have that I really don’t need,” says Jeremy Kahler, a top real estate agent serving Rapid City, South Dakota.

Decluttering will also pay dividends when you sell your home, a task that some people are putting off for a stint until the pandemic eases up. According to HomeLight’s research, reducing clutter can add over $2,500 to your home’s value at resale. Let’s sort through a few ways to declutter your home in quarantine — a process that doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as you think — so the moment you want to sell, you’re ready.

A kitchen that was decluttered in quarantine.
Source: (Ceci Freeman / Unsplash)

Get motivated: See your house as a buyer would

“Buying a home is psychological,” says Trisha Roe of Designing Impressions, a licensed professional stager for 16 years in Sturgis, South Dakota, whose business also has a branch serving South Carolina and its neighboring states. “Buyers only know what they see, and if they only see your stuff, they’re not seeing the house.”

We live “conveniently,” keeping favorite items handy, she says. That’s why we set out lotion on the nightstand, or a toaster, a mixer, and a knife block on the kitchen counter (not to mention our favorite knickknacks, photos, and mementos).

But when buyers see all these items, they think your home must have no storage. Storage is a top concern, says Kahler, noting that buyers always want to look inside closets and cabinets when they’re serious. So he recommends those places ultimately be neat. “It just makes the home look like it has more storage,” he says.

Choose a sorting method

Organizing and decluttering doesn’t have to be a chore, especially while people already are at home (and perhaps on each other’s nerves) more than usual.

If you live with other people, don’t point fingers over whose mess is whose, Nancy Meck, owner of Meck Organizing, which serves Los Angeles and Atlanta, Georgia, wrote on the blog of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Rather, map out a joint “mission” or focus for your first project, turn on some music, set out some snacks, and take “before” and “after” photos of each space to celebrate your progress.

If using the Marie Kondo method of organizing your belongings — holding each to gauge which “sparks joy” — doesn’t appeal to you, here are a few other methods to try before going room by room:

Use the day-to-day test

Stand in each doorway and think, “What can I do without on a day-to-day basis?” Pack up what you don’t need just now, and store it until you’re able to donate it or move it to your new home. Buyers are understanding about storage in a garage, a shed, or part of the basement, as long as it’s neat. “Keep everything high and tight, like a military haircut,” Roe says.

Get an objective opinion

Take smartphone pictures of each room and note where your eye goes. If you need help looking beyond your belongings, forward the photos to a trusted relative, friend, or neighbor who can be kind but honest about that basket of magazines next to the sofa or that bike helmet on your desk.

Think 12-12-12

Each day, locate 12 items to throw away, 12 to donate, and 12 to be returned to their proper places, advises Joshua Becker, author of The More of Less and The Minimalist Home. (He also recommends setting out four boxes — Trash, Donate, Keep, and Relocate — for each room or space you declutter.)

Pare down by category

Pick 10 categories from this decluttering home checklist of items you can easily reduce. This includes kitchen glassware and coffee mugs, toiletries, books, over-the-counter medications, and craft supplies. Even that amount will lift your mood and boost your momentum to tackle something a little more unwieldy.

Books decluttered in quarantine during coronavirus.
Source: (Fallon Michael / Unsplash)

Room by room tips for decluttering

A survey of HomeLight’s top agents ranked the living room (84%), the master bedroom (75%), and the kitchen (66%) as the rooms that are most important for a seller to stage, although our experts also say that bathrooms tend to be clutter spots. “Kitchens and bathrooms are typically the worst for sellers to prepare,” Roe says.

That said, buyers will expect to see some items in a home, or else it looks too sterile. Roe says she never asks sellers to put away a TV, a coffee maker, or a fan. “I’m not living without them, and I don’t expect anyone else to.”

Decluttering and staging is a matter of keeping your eye moving to the right places and highlighting the amount of space that you have.

Living room

  • You really need only one sofa and an accent table to indicate how to use the space. “A lot of times, we see that people just have too much furniture in the room for the size that it is,” Kahler says. “Emptying that out helps it feel like a bigger area.”
  • Store any DVDs, books, and toys that aren’t in regular use, as well as all those throw pillows and blankets.
  • If your entryway leads into the living room, don’t leave coats hanging within view or shoes on the floor.

Kitchen

  • Go through the cabinets and drawers, and pack away dishes, utensils, and glasses you’re not using daily, as well as seasonal items like the turkey roasting pan. Set the toaster and any daily appliances or utensils inside the cabinets. Buyers will think you have lots of cabinet space because you can fit a toaster and a mixer in there, Roe says.
  • Remember that coffee maker? Set it in the corner or at one end of your empty counter, so that a buyer sees all the space available for cooking and entertaining, she adds.

Bedrooms

  • Just as with the kitchen, sort through the closets and drawers of the nightstand and dressers, clearing space for items you use but that don’t need to be in view. Think of having just a lamp on the nightstand, not a diffuser, a stack of books, or a humidifier.
  • Store anything that distracts from the size of the room, including too much furniture. You want them to think, “Wow, they have a king-size bed in here and two nightstands, and there’s still room,” Roe says.

Bathrooms

  • Buyers already feel a bit uncomfortable in your bathroom because it’s such a personal space. So make it look like a hotel bathroom. Weed through the cabinets (another spot we store a lot of things we forget about), and stow the toothbrushes and everyday toiletries.
  • Before any real estate photos, virtual tours, or showings, pick up the throw rugs, which will make the bathroom floor look larger.

In every room, you’ll want to remove the mementos, collectibles, and family photos before real estate photos, virtual tours, and showings. Neutralizing your space is important because buyers need to picture themselves and their family in the home, Kahler says.

Removing personal items also keeps buyers focused on the house. “Buyers are looking for your story: Who lives here? Why are they moving?” Roe says, adding that if they’re admiring your sports memorabilia, they’re likely to remember that instead of the house’s features and functions.

Source: (Clay Banks / Unsplash)

Where can I donate right now?

You might wonder what to do with items you don’t want to discard, considering you can’t hold a yard sale during a pandemic. We found a few options:

Check donation sites

Local charities, as well as branches of Goodwill and the Salvation Army, may be closed at the moment, but their donation sites may be open. (Goodwill of South Florida, for instance, accepted dropoff donations at several locations from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in April.) Search by your ZIP code online or call The Salvation Army Family Stores (800-728-7825) or Goodwill Industries (800-GOODWILL) to learn what’s available near you.

Look into dropbox locations

Better World Books has dropbox locations that accept used books in good condition. The charity also accepts shipments to its headquarters in Mishawaka, Indiana. Click here for details.

Sell items online

Online upcycled clothing marketplaces such as Poshmark, ThreadUp, and Depop have seen a surge in listings thanks to people decluttering at home and are offering sellers guidelines and resources. For instance, ThreadUp will donate $15 to the hunger relief organization Feeding America for each Donation Kit ordered through May 31; you can leave the kit for your mail carrier to pick up.

Poshmark has extended its shipping windows for sellers with free home pickup through the US Postal Service. For other items, sites such as eBay and Facebook Marketplace have pandemic-related guidelines about cleaning and disinfecting items, misusing keywords such as “coronavirus,” inflated pricing, and shipping and delivery options.

Even without a quarantine, decluttering and organizing your home can feel like quite a hurdle. But a potential sale offers good motivation and a deadline.

“It’s for a short period of time,” Kahler says. “If you get the house ready and do it well, it’ll sell in a shorter amount of time so that you can basically make the move and get back to living and decorating it the way you want.”

Header Image Source: (Retha Ferguson / Pexels)

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