How to Stage a House (On the Cheap) While You’re Still Living There

If you have been following our blog, you may have noticed that we literally dropped off the face of the planet for a while. We’ve been crazy busy with the end of school, planning a wedding, getting our two small houses ready to sell, and getting our big house ready for move-in. Now school is officially over for the Summer, we’ve finalized a few of the larger wedding details (phew!) and my little house is on the market (we’re still working on Michael’s).

The big house is not yet ready for us to move in though, which means that I had to stage my house while still living in it . . . not the easiest thing to do on the planet. I did learn some nifty tips for staging and decluttering that will make your house appealing even while you are still living there, and I thought you all might want to try some of these ideas since they worked so well for me.

Inexpensive and effective staging ideas to sell a house fast.

How to inexpensively stage a house.

Hide Your Clutter Well

The number one rule of staging is decluttering, but how do you declutter if you are still need your stuff? First off, take some time to get rid of the things that you really don’t need anymore. Go through your closets and bookshelves and load up boxes to donate. This can be difficult at first for folks who get emotionally attached to items (guilty as charged). If it helps, grab a friend who can rationalize why you don’t need five tea pots or your old prom dress anymore. And take heart, purging stuff can actually feel pretty darn liberating once you get into it. You won’t be able to donate everything you own though, so you need to think about how to organize and hide (yes hide) your leftover stuff.

If you have a basement or attic, you should purchase some large plastic storage bins with lids. Fill them, label them with tape, and put them out of site in a storage area of your house. Some people just don’t have this extra storage space or they need to store things that they use often, but there are some storage solutions for that as well.

How to stage a house to sell.

Hide any extra clutter away in inexpensive fabric bins. Photo by Medialuma


One of the least expensive ways I’ve found to hide stuff in plain view comes in the form of fabric bins. These little fabric cubes can be found at most dollar stores or big box stores and usually cost around $5-$10 each. Make sure to buy a neutral color, like grey or beige, and fill them with whatever you don’t want to buyer to see. Place them strategically on shelves (high up if you can) so that buyers won’t see the clutter inside. You can also purchase under-the-bed storage containers that will allow you to store items out of site (if you need extra space under the bed for storage units, put your bed on risers).

Also, don’t forget about decluttering closets. It will go a long way in making them seem larger. You can do this just by organizing the space and removing any excess hangers so that there appears to be more room for clothes.

Choose Your Decor Wisely

When staging, you want to neutralize the space as much as possible by removing any personal items and toning down the color and decor in every room. You don’t want the space to read as “busy”. You want calm, relaxing and welcoming. That can be hard to do though when you have a purple couch that can’t be hidden away.

One solution is to go for neutral textiles, specifically white. Buy a white slipcover for that purple couch and place some grey and white pillows on the ends. Replace busy decorative curtains with simple white ones. Buy a white quilt or bedspread for all of the beds and add some toned-down throw pillows.  And don’t forget the bathroom! Get some inexpensive white towels, washcloths and a shower curtain to make the space feel clean and spa-like. Instead of buying these things, you could also ask friends if they have any neutral textiles they could lend you until you sell the house. If you have to buy them, they don’ t have to be expensive. Try discount stores and be on the lookout for sales.

You can even use paint in unexpected ways to neutralize a space. I painted my almond refrigerator a bright white and it looked like new and fit in much better with my other appliances. Keeping all of the woodwork in the house white, or one unified color also helps to tie together rooms which have different colored paint on the walls.

Staging a house to appeal to buyers.

A crisp white bedspread and a grey quilt help to neutralize and create a calming bedroom space. Photo by Medialuma


Staging your kitchen.

Simple grey and white pillows add warmth without being overpowering. The pops of green from plants add a calming effect. Photo by Medialuma.

Inexpensive ways to stage a house.

Take any decorative items off of surfaces. If you have a table full of collectibles or tchotchkies, put them in a bin and hide them away. Do the same with any photos of you, friends, or family. Buyers need to imagine they are walking into their own home instead of feeling like a guest in someone else’s place. You can leave some art up, but make sure that it is not cluttered, it is well displayed, and it is not appealing to personal taste. For instance, I have a poster of the art from the children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are”. Now that is a lovely book that many people like, but it’s a pretty personal taste to put on the wall as art. If there’s any question, just take it down.

Organize anything remaining on shelves into small, tidy groupings. Try to leave some open space so that things feel clean and roomy. Make sure that any books showing aren’t potentially off-putting to people by being overly political or controversial (I love all books, but you have to think about this for staging).

Cheap ways to stage your house

A futon is transformed into a comfy bed with the addition of a simple white quilt and some throw pillows. Photo by Medialuma


Once you’ve cleared and organized your space, there is one item that you actually need to add. Put a small plant in a few of the rooms. I recommend a little lucky bamboo plant or some small succulents. A beautiful orchid can add some elegance to a bathroom or bedroom. My other go-to green item for my staging was Perrier. Okay, I know this sounds a bit silly and snobby but it just looks so nice on a kitchen counter and the pop of green is calming. I purchased one large bottle and a couple small ones and then placed them in a grouping on the counter.

Secure Your Personal Belongings

This is a tip that didn’t even cross my mind at first. My aunt and uncle work in real estate and they told me to make sure to secure any documents or personal information before showings to prevent identity theft. It’s a shame that we have to worry about this, but you will have many people walking through your home while you’re away. You have to protect your information.

Any bills, documents, checkbooks, etc that have personal information need to be locked away or hidden. If you have a desktop computer, it needs to be password protected to prevent anyone from accessing your online files. You also need to make sure you take any prescribed medications out of easily-accessible areas. And don’t forget to take mobile devices or laptops with you when you leave the house before a showing.

Clean Like Your Life Depends On It

To be honest, this is my least favorite part of staging. That being said, it might just be the most important part. No one wants to buy or live in a dirty house. Hopefully you already live in a clean house, but it’s probably not “real-estate” clean. Any little spots on the carpet, the dust in the window wells, that slightly furry spot on the couch where the dog sleeps, it all has to be gone before showing.

How to stage a bathroom to make it appeal to buyers.

Scour bathrooms so that they are clean and welcoming to buyers. Photo by Medialuma


Here is my room checklist for making sure you get everything spic and span:

  • All Rooms:
    • Start at the top. Dust light fixtures and clean the cobwebs from corners
    • Vacuum out window wells and then wipe them clean with a sanitizing cleanser.
    • Clean windows inside and out with a good glass cleanser.
    • Thoroughly clean baseboards and trim. Add a touch-up coat of paint if necessary.
    • Spot treat any problem carpet areas and then vacuum.
    • Sweep hardwood floors and then mop on a restoring and sealing floor treatment.
    • Thoroughly clean any pieces of furniture, including upholstered furniture.
    • Vacuum throughout.
  • Bedrooms:
    • Make sure beds are made with stark clean linens.
  • Office:
    • Organize office clutter into a desktop organizer
  • Bathroom:
    • Scour the tub with CLR to remove any rust or hard water stains
    • Thoroughly clean the toilet
    • Clean grout with lemon juice and baking soda applied with a toothbrush
    • Thoroughly clean sinks and countertops
    • Eliminate excess shower products.
    • Make sure all towels and shower curtain are clean with no stains.
    • Put out a neutral soap dispenser at the sink.
    • Mop the floor.
  • Kitchen:
    • Clean and declutter kitchen counters
    • Thoroughly scour kitchen sink.
    • Clean out the cabinet below the sink.
    • Thoroughly clean all appliances.
    • Clean out and organize food in cabinets / refrigerators.
    • Dust the tops of upper cabinets and the refrigerator top.
    • Mop the floor.
  • Outside Areas:
    • Sweep off patios and porches.
    • Clean any porch furniture.
    • Remove excess clutter from outdoor living areas.

Dress Up the Outside

The exterior of the house is the first thing that buyers will see. Don’t forget to declutter and dress up that area as well. There are some inexpensive ways you can overhaul your exterior and make your house more inviting.

How to stage the outside of your house.

Make sure to keep the yard manicured so that buyers will know the house is well cared for. Photo by Medialuma


Staging a patio area.

Don’t clutter a patio with a ton of furniture. One simple seating area works well and doesn’t crowd the space. Photo by Medialuma


First off, make sure your to mow your grass regularly so the yard doesn’t feel overgrown. Next, use any landscaping you currently have to your benefit. We split some of our hasta plants to add more landscaping to different areas of the yard. We weeded and mulched flower beds. We also edged all of the walkways by digging out a couple of inches from the concrete and back filling the area with small river rock. It doesn’t seem like much, but it makes a huge difference. Plus we did all of that with three bags of rock from Home Depot for only $2 each! That’s right, just six dollars total!

We also spiffied up the main entrance to the house with just a couple tweaks. We added a welcoming doormat and a simple decorative wreath next to the door. We planted some annuals in two large pots to place on the pillars of our porch. We also made an address plate with some sleek new numbers. We just purchased a piece of wood and the numbers from our local home store. We then painted the wood a neutral color, mounted the numbers on the wood, and hung the resulting address plate next to the door. For the furniture on the patio and porch, I just added some cushions and a table cloth to disguise the weather-worn table.

How to stage a front porch to attract buyers.

Make the outdoor spaces just as comfy as the rest of the house. Photo by Medialuma


Finally, Make Sure You’re Ready

If you do it right, you will have a lot of showings right after you list. We had six showings on the first day of our listing. If you are not ready for buyers to see everything in the house, you aren’t ready to list. Make sure that you go through every room and look for anything you might have missed.

You need to be ready to leave the house at a moment’s notice. That means that you have to make sure you can quickly put things away after you have used them. If you own pets, you also need to have a game plan for what to do with them during a showing. Cats might be able to stay if you know that they will hide themselves away. Dogs, usually will need to be removed. If you can’t do it yourself because you are at work, you may need to have a friend stop buy or pay a dog sitter.

Good Luck!

Selling a house can be stressful and exhausting, but hopefully these tips can make the sale go a little faster and more smoothly. With some extra work on the front end, it is possible to have a quick and successful sale. Good Luck!








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