How to Declutter a House to Sell: 10 Key Rooms and Spaces

After years of living in the same house, things might have become a bit…cluttered. The baby swing your eight-year-old won’t use again, the broken table you meant to fix, or closets overstuffed with clothes you haven’t worn in years. All of that is perfectly fine — why have a home if not to live in it? — until it comes time to sell. Now you may be asking, do I need to declutter to sell my house?

Decluttering your house can pay off — in both a higher sales price and fewer days on the market. Top real estate agent Michael Russo, who sells homes 57% faster than the average agent in Warwick, Rhode Island, says a home “will definitely sell quicker and for a higher price if the house is decluttered and looking good.”

But where to start? We’ll guide you through how to declutter a house to sell.

Connect with a Top Agent

If you’re starting to prepare your home for sale, hiring a great real estate agent is an important step to take. HomeLight data shows that top-performing agents sell homes faster and for more money than average agents.

Why declutter a house to sell?

Does decluttering and cleaning a house before selling really make a difference? Warwick says yes!

“When potential buyers are touring the house, they can better envision themselves and their possessions living there — their furniture, their belongings — which will enhance their interest and their offer amount,” he says.

One survey by Consumer Reports suggests that, as a home seller, you could see 3%-5% higher proceeds simply by decluttering and depersonalizing the space inside your home.

Here’s a list of decluttering benefits for home sellers:

  • You’ll receive higher offers
  • Your house feels larger and more open
  • Helps buyers imagine it’s their home
  • Your move will be easier
  • It highlights your home’s best features
  • Helps you emotionally separate from the house
  • You can redirect buyers’ eyes away from flaws
  • Helps with marketing and photography
  • Makes the home easier to stage

Room-by-room decluttering checklist to sell a house

If you’re overwhelmed and unsure where to start, take it room by room and try the “timer trick.” This method, favored by productivity and organization bloggers, gives you a structured chunk of time to focus solely on cleaning. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and devote the time to one step of the cleaning process. After all, anyone can do anything for 15 minutes, right? Repeat until your house is clutter-free.

Follow this 10-space checklist, and your home will be ready to sell in no time.

1. Entryway: Remove coats, shoes, hats, pet items

First impressions matter, so start at the front door. Remove and pack away out-of-season coats still hanging on the coat rack, multiple pairs of shoes, hats and gloves, and your dog’s leash. Get rid of the pile of mail and old cards sitting by the front door.

Professional organizer Andrew Mellen says that “Greeting cards with nothing more than a scribble in them have done their job — someone was thinking of you at a particular time and let you know it,” he says. “If they haven’t written anything significant, the moment has passed, and you can let go.” Sorting through some messes can take a considerable amount of time, and you might still need the dog’s leash within easy reach, so if you’re stuck here, place items in attractive storage boxes or baskets and hide them away.

2. Kitchen: Clear surfaces, drawers, cupboards, magnets

If you’re pressed for time, Russo picked the kitchen and bath as the two most important rooms to declutter. “Remove all items from countertops, from on top of fridges, magnets on the front — make it look like nobody lives there,” he advises.

Toss out old, expired food, starting with the fridge and freezer and moving onto the cabinets and pantry. Throw away anything gross or mysterious. Budget 15 minutes per shelf, including time wiping down cabinet fronts and cleaning old spills.

While you’re throwing out expired foodstuffs, take a hard look at your pots and pans collection. Consider tossing any infrequently-used cooking tool, pot, pan, dish, or glass into a donation box. Tuck appliances into newly freed-up space in your cabinets, and consider bringing the toaster out for the five minutes a day that you use it.

3. Living room: Take away excess furniture, family photos

Old magazines in the rack beside the couch, books you haven’t read in years piled haphazardly on shelves, and that old armchair with the stuffing bursting from the arms — take a hard look at your living room when it’s time to get a house ready to sell. All of these will distract from the room’s appeal.

How important is the living room? The National Association of Realtors 2023 Profile of Home Staging found that staging the living room was most important for buyers.

Start by clearing out everything that belongs in the trash or recycling bin — including old magazines or a broken lamp. If items from around the house have landed in the living room, sort them into bins color-coded by family members. Then, move them to their respective rooms.

And pack away personal photos and mementos — buyers have a hard time envisioning themselves living in a home if it’s your kid’s pictures hanging on the walls. 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,” Jeremy Kahler, a top real estate agent serving Rapid City, South Dakota, says. “Emptying that out helps it feel like a bigger area.”

4. Bedrooms: Open space in closets, drawers, under beds

In your bedroom, you want buyers to see that their bed, nightstands, and dressers will fit in the space. Making your own furniture visible can help. Clear off the bed so you’ll have somewhere to set laundry baskets, etc., while you clean. Tidy up books, tissues, and old glasses from the nightstand. Move under-bed storage out to the garage.

Sort through your clothes and donate items you haven’t worn in years. Create space in your closet, and make sure closet doors can open and shut easily. Buyers will be poking their noses behind closed doors!

Be picky about sentimental items — like your prom dress or a concert t-shirt. Mellen recommends paying close attention to these moments — namely, “the story you tell yourself” when you’re assessing whether or not to keep an item. “The story you may be telling yourself about how exciting the hunt to find it was, or how much fun you had when you were drinking cocktails with your friends are all good stories,” he says. “They just might not need to be stories you’re still telling yourself.”

In other words, if you’re holding onto an item for fear of losing a memory, let it go and trust yourself to remember the good.

5. Bathrooms: Organize towels, storage, bath and sink areas

According to Russo, “kitchens and baths sell houses.”

If you’re short on time, prioritize these rooms. In the bathroom, “remove all personal effects from showers, bathtubs, and vanity tops,” he says. Throw out half-empty bottles of shampoo and fold and hang up towels.

6. Home office: Remove paperwork, open up work surfaces

Russo says that before the pandemic, home offices weren’t as popular and could be smaller. But post-pandemic, people are still working remotely and prioritize them higher on their list. Clear away scraps of paper and books, but don’t think you have to get rid of everything.

“When it comes to decluttering, it’s okay to have your computer, your bookshelf, that shows that it’s functional and usable,” Russo says. “But you really want to keep it minimal, organized, and looking good.”

7. Child or playrooms: Thin down toys, furniture, kid’s art

It can be hard for kids to let go of beloved toys, but now is the time to weed out broken cars and playsets, stuffed animals that are less “stuffed” than split open, and toys they’ve outgrown. Take kids’ art down from the walls and consider repainting the dark black walls your teenager begged for. Homelight’s Top Agent Insights for Fall 2022 surveyed over 1,000 top agents nationwide, and 78% of them recommended that sellers paint tired rooms.

8. Hallways and windows: Clear sills, open walkways, add light

It’s easy for the windowsills to become a catch-all storage place for keys, paperwork, discarded gloves, and more. But cleaning them off allows your windows to shine (particularly if you’ve got a great view), lets in more light, and opens up the space. If shoes are piled in the hallways or on the stairs, clear them off. It should be easy for buyers to walk through your home.

9. Garage: Open up and organize space, throw out junk

If you’ve got the time, expand your decluttering beyond the house itself. Don’t worry if you’ve been using your garage as a place to store decluttered items. “You can put items in the garage if necessary, but organize them in a way where buyers can still see that, yes, you can actually put a car in here,” Russo says. The key is to organize tools, boxes, and the lawn mower so that buyers can see that the garage is usable.

10. Yard and garden: Mow, trim, plant, hide and toss

Adding a firepit, lighting, or seating can spruce up a starter home — 14% of agents in the Homelight survey recommended it. And these fixes are often cheap and add a lot to curb appeal. A new layer of mulch, some fresh flowers, and buyers may overlook some of the yard’s flaws.

While you’re at it, put in some sweat equity. Trim dead branches off trees and bushes, plant new bushes to hide unsightly fixtures like an air conditioning unit, and rake up any dead leaves.

Other benefits of decluttering

In a seller’s market, it’s easier to sell a house full of stuff. But, as many markets across the country have shifted, it’s more important to give your home every advantage. Removing clutter helps other professionals — all of whom are helping sell your house — do their job.

It’s easier for a photographer to navigate around the house and take the best pictures to highlight its features if they’re not tripping over or moving boxes of stuff. Stagers can come in and use an empty space.

And, as Kahler reminds us, “Neutralizing your space is important because buyers need to picture themselves and their family in the home.”

Conclusion: Declutter to sell — it’s only temporary

Maximalists may struggle to live in a minimal home, and it can be tough to stay on top of kids who want to haul all toys to play. So remember, “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.”

Still not sure where to start decluttering? A top agent can walk through your home and give you a fresh perspective. They’ll point out where small tweaks can yield big rewards, and they’ll know what buyers in your market value. HomeLight can connect you with a top-performing, trusted agent in your market who can help you declutter and sell fast. We analyze over 27 million transactions and thousands of reviews to determine which agent is best for you based on your needs.

Header Image Source: (Y-Boychenko / Depositphotos)

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