Staging a home to sell while living in it can be exhausting; you want it to look nice for buyers who might pop by at any time, but you also don't want to feel like you live in a museum. There are a few things you can do to keep your home ready to show so it will sell fast while ensuring it's still livable. Think of home staging as an opportunity to declutter and get a head start on packing. Be aware that prospective buyers will look everywhere, including in any built-in cupboards and shelves, pantries and other areas you might think are off-limits.
Declutter. When you know you're getting ready to move, start with a merciless winnowing of your possessions. Get rid of outdated, ugly furniture, clothes you're not wearing, knickknacks you don't really want to take with you, and other clutter. Don't store everything you plan to get rid of in the garage or a spare room: GET RID OF IT! Take it to a thrift store, the dump or other appropriate new home.
Aim for light and bright. With more space cleared in your home, you can start thinking about how to stage it. Potential buyers want to imagine themselves in your home, so you want to keep the decor neutral, without a lot of personal touches. At the same time, you don't want it so sterile that that they have trouble imagining anything at all in the space. The first step is to make sure your home feels light and open, because buyers put a premium on natural light.
Paint. If you haven't already painted, do so, and choose light, neutral colors that will be easy to paint over if necessary. To choose the right color, you could consult with an interior designer or talk to your painting contractor. Many professional painters offer color consultations. Remove blinds and heavy curtains and consider investing in sheers and other lightweight window treatments, or leave windows uncovered if doing so won't compromise privacy.
Vet the furnishings. Make sure you have a few neutral items of furniture in your home; this is a good time to put dramatic statement pieces away unless they make fantastic accents in a room. Float furniture away from the walls to create more space and dynamism.
Eyeball your accents. Consider using interesting art papers to line open bookshelves and cupboards. They add a quiet note of flavor to a room. Choose a few neutral but interesting pieces of art to hang, and offset them at different heights to draw attention to all the display possibilities. Also add mirrors; they add light, make rooms feel larger, and keep the space more interesting.
If you want to display some sculptures, keepsakes and other objects, be aware that odd numbers on display tend to look best, and they shouldn't be rigidly grouped.
Create sweet spots. Many homes have underused areas like stair nooks and junk rooms. Consider staging these to add value; since you're not using them anyway, it won't be inconvenient to keep them looking dressed up, and by occupying them, you'll reduce the chance that they attract clutter. Add an armchair, a table and a soft lamp to make a reading corner, or a yoga mat and some pillows to create an instant yoga studio. These little spots in your home can become hidden gems to buyers rather than awkward spaces.
Clean high-traffic areas. The kitchen, bathroom and bedroom tend to be most prone to clutter and messy surfaces, and those are the spots where buyers most want to see clean spaces. Start by storing items that you're using; closed storage in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom is important. Keep the counters clean with the exception of some accent pieces like vases filled with flowers or a bowl of fruit, and if you make a meal that smells strong, neutralize the odor when you're done.
Freshen up. Open the windows at least 10 minutes a day for ventilation to keep the house smelling fresh, and make sure to keep vases of fresh flowers around along with living plants, because they can make your house much more inviting. If you have animals, clean up after them regularly.
Open your ears to candor. When you feel like your home is close to ready, a real estate agent can walk through with you to provide suggestions, but you also might consider asking friends to walk through and tell you what catches their eye, good or bad. They may spot issues like peeling paint that you don't notice anymore or could have suggestions for repositioning items to make rooms feel more open and friendly. Once you have your home where you want it, stay vigilant about keeping it that way so it's always ready for a showing.