Home Staging Tips + Free Printable Cheat Sheet

Detailed DIY Home Staging Tips with Printable Cheat Sheet | ZenShmen.com

These tips are the actual tricks we used to stage our home for a recent sale.

A sale which, to our happy surprise, earned us more than asking price and 6 offers (4 written and 2 more in the pipeline) by the end of 4 official days on the market.  Here’s how we did it.

These tips may not all apply to your situation, and not all of them will be your cup of tea!  Just use the parts you like, and look for ideas & inspiration to stage your own home.

When staging for a sale, we’ve found that it helps to break things down into 3 phases:

Phase 1:  The Lead-Up
Phase 2:  Picture Day
Phase 3:  Home Showings & Open Houses

Phase 1: The Lead-Up

The main theme here is decluttering and paring down.  People will want to see the floors, windows, architectural features and get a sense of the space…  After all, that’s what they’re buying, not your stuff. Here’s how to do it:

1.  Lists.

Walk through your home, room by room, and make a list of everything you need/want to get done. Write down every detail (replace 3 lightbulbs!), silly as it may seem, because you can easily (and will) get overwhelmed with things to do and remember while you’re preparing to sell your home, and things can easily (and will) fall between the cracks.  Lists are your friend.

Lists also make it easier to delegate tasks.

Here are our walk-through lists:

In each area of the house, we marked items like so:

Sell | Move To | Get Rid Of | Unsure | Include in Sale
In the end, we opted not to rent any outside Storage (which is why it’s crossed off)

2.  Declutter.

In each room, figure out what you can remove to make it more spacious, less cluttered. “Removing” can mean a number of things: boxing it up ahead of time for the new place, moving it elsewhere in the house, donating it, selling it or recycling/throwing it away.

On our lists, above, we noted which items fell under each category.  This made it easier for us to make a bunch of Craigslist listings at once, for example.  Or, when we had some burly friends come over to help us, we knew exactly which large pieces had to be moved — and where.  This made our tasks move along much faster, which is encouraging when you’ve just got so much on your plate.

Then comes the doing.  No way around this one, you’ve just got to methodically work your way through it, room by room, until all your tasks are complete.  (Hallelujah for helpers, especially when you’re doing all this at 7 months pregnant!  So when they show up and say, ‘what do you need me to do?’  Ya best have some answers 😉 )

3.  Projects.

Ah, projects.  Renovations, updates, etc.  As avid DIYers, our home was a hotbed of ongoing projects.  Selling basically meant, time’s up.  You’ve got to finish everything you started and let go of all the other plans you had.

Remember, kitchens and bathrooms sell homes.  We had to focus.  You can read all about which projects we completed, which we had to begin, and which we had to abandon in an upcoming post.

4.  Storage.

We all only have a limited amount of time and space.  We wanted the house to look its absolute best, but needed to be realistic.  We weren’t ready to spend money for an off-site rental space to store the boxed-up stuff we wouldn’t be needing for the next few months.  So we resigned ourselves to the fact that the basement and garage wouldn’t be pretty.

That’s not to say they things were thrown in there willy-nilly, only that they were being used as functional storage spaces, not as showpieces.  We had to focus our attention on our home’s best features and let’s face it, those were not the unfinished basement or the completely ordinary garage.  Luckily, nobody seemed to care when we finally got to the home showings.

A Note on De-Personalizing Your Home

I’m not of the school of thought that you must completely de-personalize your home in order to make a sale.  (And luckily, our agent agrees!)  Yes, it’s true that people need to be able to picture themselves living in there, and you don’t want to overwhelm them with your photos and stuff.  But there’s a happy medium…  It doesn’t need to feel like a lifeless, generic hotel room.

I personally like seeing a few family pictures and personal touches like travel mementos, because it tells us a bit about what kind of people we’re going to be dealing with should the home visit turn into something more.

Incidentally, my parents’ home was sold (before it ever went on the market, officially) when the buyer saw my mom’s collection of annual portraits of my sister and I lining the dining room walls.

Granted, other contributing factors must have been the right neighbourhood, the right size and the right price for that family’s needs.  But, the buyer insisted it was the portraits, because of what they meant: a good feeling of a happy family living there for 20+ years, and she felt the house would do the same for her family.  It’s often the intangible stuff that we truly fall for, the stuff we can’t quite put a finger on…

I’ve heard of people falling for a house because the kids’ drawings tacked on the fridge made them feel like it was a good place to raise children.  We’ve all heard stories like this.  It’s because we’re human, and when we’re looking for a place to nest we are often greatly influenced by how others nested there before us.

So with that, we did clear a lot of superfluous magnets and boring papers off the fridge, and cleared off our horizontal spaces.  But we did not remove all our family photos and signs of a toddler in our midst.


Some people say you need to repaint your home in bland colors so you don’t offend anyone with your color choices.  And in some extreme cases (fluorescents and very aggressive hues come to mind), that may be wise.

However, I know we will most likely repaint each room in a house at some point to suit our tastes, so I couldn’t care less what color a room is when I visit it…  I barely even notice the color.

I do concede that this point is case-by-case, as some people prefer to move in and leave everything as is.  It really depends.  My vote will always be — if your colors aren’t too out there — to save yourself the hassle + cost and don’t repaint.  If you’re in doubt, paint everything in Benjamin Moore Cloud White.

Phase 2: Prepping for Photo Day

Photo Day is like your house at its absolute cleanest, on crack.  It’s an exaggeratedly pristine version of your house – barest of bare – and ’tis a rare minimalist who can pull off living like that permanently. But it works.

Your house will look amazing if you really dive in and properly prep for picture day.

Most people are visual by nature, and once we get past the price range and neighbourhood, all anyone cares about before wanting to more stats is what the place looks like. When you’ve got a photographer coming in with a high-definition camera to take wide-angle shots, every belonging and pet hair and button on the ground will show. And you can be sure those photos will be scrutinized in your online listing.

But here’s a sneaky secret: you can get away with a few details that the camera won’t pick up.  If you’re short on time and have to set priorities, choose your battles go for high impact:

  • Bare counter tops (but inside those cupboards? Not important).
  • Make the beds (but the sheets underneath don’t matter).
  • Sparkling bathroom (but don’t sweat the dust in the unseen corners).
  • Inside the clothes closet? Close the door, not important.
  • Clean your windows as much as you can, but don’t worry about the dust on the windowsill until people are coming to see the house.

Along with our awesome agent, Steven Barrett, here are the guidelines we set for Picture Day:

These scribbles are typed out below 😉

Here’s what Photo Prep was at our house:

– Beds made, pillows and couch straightened up, everything put away where it belongs…nothing out of place.
– Clean bathrooms; remove/conceal personal care products.
– Bare kitchen countertops (all small appliances put away, though we did leave our knife blocks and stove-side oil & seasoning station), bare fridge door.  No dish-soap out and no tea towel hanging on the oven door.
– Blinds up, curtains open.
– Lights on.
– No mat in the front entry way (to show flooring/enhance size), and roll up/take away the rugs on the floors (while a nice part of your decor, most people would prefer to see condition of the actual flooring.)
– Clear the coat hooks and boots piled near the front door.
– Replace toilet paper rolls, if empty.
– Replace all burnt lightbulbs.
– Clear bedside tables of stuff and books.
– Sweep cobwebs in the ceiling corners.
– Remove changing mattress on baby’s dresser.
– Hang artwork or photos in the master bathroom, adding some visual interest.
– Finish painting the crown mouldings and unfinished threshold.
– Tidy the office, put all papers away.
– Tidy the toys, box some up and put away the rest.
– Put clean laundry away (though if you run out of time, you can always just move the laundry baskets to another room while the photographer does his thing).
– Remove all the green painter’s tape leftover from our painting projects.
– Empty recycling bins, garbages.

Here’s what our bathroom looked like once it was staged:

Home Staging Tips + Free Printable Cheat Sheet - zenshmen.com | vintage bathroom before and after staging

You can read all about the challenges we faced + tips we used staging older, vintage bathrooms here.

Phase 3: Prepping for Actual Home Showings

We are currently living in our 4th home as homeowners.  In the last decade, we’ve visited more homes than we can remember, and have virtually toured hundreds more on MLS.

Block your ears and cover your eyes…  The things we’ve seen would give you nightmares!

Let’s not spend too much time on moldy basements, vile bathrooms, crusty kitchens, filthy carpeting, or the time we visited a house completely lined with plywood…  Walls, floors, ceilings, even the shower stall.

Let’s not discuss the time I went visiting condos before my first purchase at the ripe old age of 23, walked through the front door of a place immediately knew — beyond a shadow of a doubt — ‘someone’s been murdered here.’

If you’re reading this post, something tells me your home’s key features are already a notch above these things, and you want to make it even better.

Personally, I find the opposite can sometimes be worse…  Trying too hard. And even though I know most people mean well, certain things have actually made me cringe and want to end a home visit as quickly as possible.

You’re Not Fooling Anybody! (aka Old Staging Tricks)

On Cookies…

Baking Pillsbury instant cookies to mask the smell of cigarettes or musty dampness?  While I appreciate your culinary prowess, this can come across more desperate than Susie Homemaker.  It feels forced, not as if a stranger is genuinely baking me my personal favorite cookies in anticipation of my very special arrival. Plus I don’t even get to eat them!!  They’re just on display!!

Jokes aside, I will know as soon as I walk in the front door if a place can and will be my home (Exhibit A: condo anecdote above).  When I know it’s a no-go and there are cookies baking, I just feel really bad for the wasted effort and want to run for the hills.  And most importantly, who’s gonna eat all these cookies they bake fresh for every visitor?  #fortheloveofcookies

On Candles…

Yikes.  Lighting dozens of highly perfumed candles… in mixed scents… Oh boy. As a person who is highly sensitive to smell (I was once told I have an overactive olfactory sense!), this one drives me bananas.  Hands down, I will walk out of that house with a pounding headache.  Look, we all know our homes don’t smell like the inside of Bath & Body Works. Who are we trying to kid? Moreover, what stink are you trying to hide?

Also, I just feel sad for the twenty minutes it took the homeowners to go through the house lighting all those darn candles…  And now they have to retrace their steps and go blow them all out.

There.  I’ve vented.  I said it!

Our Final Prep Checklist

After making a list of things I wanted to remember to do before potential buyers came for a visit, I decided to make the list in a way that I could just use it again and again, like a checklist.

(Below you’ll find a printable version of the final prep checklist, modified to be as general as possible.)

Here’s what was on ours.  At this phase, the bulk of the work is done and these are all relatively small tasks, more like maintaining what you’ve already done or simply double-checking that these tasks are complete.

I needed a list because even if the hubs and I were on our *least messy behaviour possible*, children and pets can and will unwittingly UNDO a good chunk of the work that’s done.

*** A few comments: our home was being sold in the wintertime, which raises its own considerations. You’ll need a place for coats and drippy boots, shovel a clear path up the front steps, arrange for snow removal in the driveway, salt the ice, that sort of thing.

Also, it’s important to show some nice summertime features like gardens, a deck or a pool, because they cannot be seen well in winter.  We provided our agent with summertime pictures which he then enlarged and printed in full color.  These were displayed in plastic sleeves on the dining room table.

Pets (in our case, 2 big dogs) bring on their own set of concerns too; cleanliness, fur, noise, jumping on people, running out the door, arranging babysitting, etc. Again, just use whatever applies to your situation.

I personally don’t tend to look inside people’s closets and kitchen cupboards when I’m visiting a home, but I know it’s pretty common. How much time you want to spend organizing out-of-view spaces is entirely up to you.  Ours were orderly-ish, but we didn’t spend crazy time on that.

Final Prep:

  • Clean kitchen
  • Minimize countertop stuff
  • Clean master bathroom
  • Clean additional bathroom(s)
  • Clean fingerprints on glass doors
  • Empty all garbage bins
  • Empty all recycling bins
  • Vacuum/Sweep
  • Steam or mop
  • Shake out floor mats
  • Put papers away
  • Couch & throw pillows
  • Tidy coffee table
  • Beds made
  • Put laundry away


Day of visit:

  • Boot tray ready
  • Fireplace on (it was electric)
  • Radio on (local classical music station lends an air of sophistication – and is free)
  • Something baking (if you are baking muffins, bread, etc as part of your baking you’d actually be doing (not as a prop), then go for it!
  • All lights turned on
  • Walkway clear of snow
  • Cars moved out of the driveway (it’s a nice gesture to offer parking, not to mention offer an unobstructed view of your home)
  • Blinds all the way up
  • Dogs kept in the yard/garage/at neighbour’s
  • Pick up any dog poops outside
  • Outdoor garbage bins next to the house, or concealed in garage
  • Summer pictures on the table

Here is a free printable version of our Home Staging Checklist.  Just save it to your desktop and print!

Smile and be polite.  Aaaaand done.

Truth be told, although prepping and living so minimally was a ton of work, I’ve never felt more relaxed in our home or been as happy with the look of it.  It was the fully-grown-up, pretty-older-sister version of our home I’d always imagined.

Living with only the absolute essentials needed for our everyday life, we wondered why we don’t live this way all the time.  This was something we addressed in our new home, and continue to address every day.

Parting Thoughts & Things That Have Worked Really Well On Our House-Hunting Adventures


  • Seeing a home in the daytime is the best.  I love to see how much natural light it gets, and this is hard to imagine at night.  If you can swing it, always visit homes during the daytime.


  • Homeowners who are welcoming and available for questions, but don’t follow you around. Bonus points if they don’t make you feel like visiting their home is a giant inconvenience.


  • Homes that are genuinely well kept and tidy indicate to me that these are people who have taken care of their home.  Sloppy with possessions can often mean sloppy with the home upkeep, so I keep my eyes peeled.
  • Not too much furniture crowding a room.


  • Bare floors, so we can see what condition they’re in.


  • Bowls of fresh fruit. (Though that look of 55 lemons in a giant vase is just too much for me 😉


  • Fresh flowers.  (Stumped?  Simple white flowers with greenery are always elegant)


  • People who actually took the time to clean (for photos as well as showings).  Thanks man!!  Thank you.  Just…  thank you.


  • Soft inoffensive music, like a classical radio station.

In staging mode?  You might enjoy reading these posts:

Staging a guest room/office… at no cost

How to Stage an Old Vintage Bathroom

May luck be on your side during your home selling and house hunting.  And may you never have to visit homes like these, seen at Terrible Real Estate Agent Photos (quite possibly the funniest website I’ve seen in a long time — thanks Linds xo).

If you know anyone who’s moving soon, please share this post with them!

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Val Lonergan is the founder of ZenShmen.com, where she shares happiness hacks for purposeful people. To get the ZenShmen cheatsheet to jumpstart your joy - 10 easy things you can do right this minute to hack your way to increased happiness - join the free newsletter.
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  • Reply

    Awesome tips! I love your perspective on whether to depersonalize too!
    Kelly @ View Along the Way

  • Reply

    Kelly thanks so much! Really great to have you stop by. I see so much out there about the "make your house look like a hotel" thing… While it's true that if a home was made to look like a high-end luxury hotel suite, people could be impressed and want to check in right away… It's just not very realistic for 98% of people out there to do themselves, on a tight budget like we were. My goal was to let readers know the kind of stuff they can do themselves, and I hope it was helpful! P.S. so impressed you guys paid off your house. Congratulations!

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