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How To Organize And Stage Your Home With Kids

Hanna Kielar May 10, 2023

Most of us know the drill when we’re selling our house: Keep it organized and clean so that potential buyers can picture themselves living their best lives instead of dealing with the dirt and clutter that’s part of most of our lives. And often that’s easy enough to do, even when you’re selling your home for sale by owner (FSBO).

Organizing Living Room with Kids

You might not have elaborate staging, but you can always make sure that the pillows are fluffed and the dining room table is prepped with flowers and an attractive set of china. You can set it up and forget about it – that is, unless you have kids.

Anyone who has kids knows they’re magnets for creating the opposite of a tidy, staged home. They have lots (and lots!) of stuff, and they love that stuff dearly. And they want it out at all times.

Those factors combine to make it harder than ever to keep your house “show-ready.” The great news is that with some preparation, processes and maybe a little bribery, you can stage your home to appeal to the most discerning buyer even if you have kids.

Fundamentals Of Creating An Organized Home With Kids

The key to being ready for last-minute showings is to prep far in advance. Here are some tips to get your whole family on board.

Declutter, And Declutter Some More

The less stuff you have, the easier it is to keep it all put away. “Involve your kids as much as possible by giving them the power to make decisions about their stuff and their space whenever you can,” says Christine Hofler. Holfer, who has moved five times in the past 20 years with most of the moves involving kids, adds that this allows them to feel a measure of control and participation in the family move.

Remember that decluttering for a move is different than decluttering to “spark joy” as we say these days, points out Ali Wenzke, author of “The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness.” Wenzke has sold two homes FSBO with three kids in tow. She recommends starting with big heavy items that take up a lot of space, make your rooms look cramped and that you don’t want to move anyway.

Get A Storage Unit For Staging Purposes

Once you’ve donated, thrown out or sold all the items you won’t be taking with you, figure out what you can put in a storage unit that you won’t need between now and the move like out-of-season clothing, excess toys and holiday decorations. Beth Cubbage, who has sold two homes with kids, says that this is also a good time to have your kids part with the majority of their stuff, especially larger toys like plastic slides, big tents and dollhouses. (The good news is that they’ll have a sweet reunion when you finally unpack it, and everything will seem brand new to them!)

Wenzke acknowledges that storage units can be expensive, but it’s worth the cost to store as much as possible to sell your home quickly and at top dollar. You could also use a family or friend’s home, but the key thing to remember is that you want to get the boxes out of your home. “Your garage or basement are not storage units, they are square footage that will help sell your home,” she says.

Remember: “A Place For Everything And Everything In Its Place”

The easiest way to keep things tidy in the long run is to have designated spots for everything that remains after the big declutter – Your house doesn’t need to look like a toy store. Hofler recommends designating rooms, or even an entire floor of the house, as no-toy zones. If items are isolated, they’re easier to pick up when you have to clean for a showing.

And toys aren’t the only culprit of a messy house, of course. Have kids keep their homework areas tidy by making sure papers, pens and pencils are in a designed drawer or holder when they’re done with their work.

Remove The “Kid-Centric” Parts Of Your House

There’s no way to pretend you don’t have kids, but you don’t have to overwhelm visitors with your little angels. Remember, they might not have any children of their own, and you don’t want them to believe the house is only appropriate for families with kids. Staging 101 usually calls for “neutralizing” your home, as in putting away most personal objects. These include personal photos or fan memorabilia so a would-be buyer can picture their own decor in the home. A house with kids might have many more places that scream “kid” that you should clear off, such as fridge artwork or a bulletin board full of permission slips and school calendars.

Age-By-Age Staging Guide

While those tips work for staging and decluttering houses with any kids, here are some specific tips by age group.


Believe it or not, this might be the easiest stage at which to move, as immobile babies don’t make their own clutter yet. For your own sanity, you might need to keep the high chair, swing, crib, etc., but move out what you can so it doesn’t look like a baby store exploded when someone walks in.

Toddlers And Younger Kids

The key is to allow kids to make the decisions as much as possible about what to keep in their room and what toys and clothing to have available before the move. If they have multiples of similar items, Hofler recommends having them group items, pick one or two to keep out and then pack away any others.

While each item should have a home, you want to facilitate an easy clean-up. Use baskets or bins rather than shelves whenever possible. “Decorative storage bins with covers are a lifesaver,” says Cubbage.

Place baskets and tubs at a height your children can reach. Make labels (either words or pictures) to put on each bin or drawer to help them remember what goes where.

The living room can also become a clutter factory, especially if you’re playing with the kids there yourself or want them occupied while you make dinner. Consider swapping out a chair for an ottoman that has storage or use a coffee table with drawers so you can easily put everything away. And if you do have larger toys out, create one area as a “kid zone” rather than having a few things everywhere.

When it’s time to clean up either at the end of the day or before a showing,Holfer recommends making the tasks fun and trying to set the mood of a game or a challenge. “Saying ‘find all your shoes and put them in your closet’ sounds like a task, but yelling ‘Shoe patrol!’ makes it sound more like a game,” she says.

You can also have impromptu “viewing drills.” Set a timer and have the kids race to see how quickly they can tidy their play area. Have a reward system for beating their own records.

Tweens And Teens

For tweens and teens who can declutter on their own, Hofler recommends quickly explaining why they’re “depersonalizing” their space, as in, taking down posters and other mementos they might have around their rooms.

Set a time for everyone in the family to work in their room or space. Also provide each family member with bags for trash and donations as well as boxes, tape and markers so they can pack as they go. If you have time and they have the inclination, you can also put aside a separate box where they can stow stuff they’d like to list for sale – the cash can be theirs! And if you really want cooperation, let them choose what music to blast around the house as you’re packing.

This is also a good time to teach tweens and teens the “Don’t put it down, put it away” mantra. This will be useful throughout their lives, Hofler says.

Remind them to make sure their rooms (and their bathrooms) are clean when they leave every morning. A little bump in their allowance might buy some extra cooperation that’ll help save your sanity.

Surviving Home Showings With Kids

Once the pre-work is done, getting ready for each individual showing should be a bit easier. Here are a few more tips for surviving showings when you have kids.

Relax Your Eating Standards

This will make a lot of things easier, says Cubbage, since kids are messy when they eat. She recommends eating out frequently while your house is on the market. That said, it doesn’t always have to be at a restaurant – a picnic at a local park or a meal in your backyard will suffice. Go for easy foods that just need to be heated and served.

“It’s much easier to keep your kitchen clean when you’re not preparing and serving too many meals,” Cubbage adds.

Keep On Top Of Laundry And Dishes

No one wants to see your literal “dirty laundry.” Try to do a load every day so it doesn’t build up. Prior to a showing, put any remaining dirty laundry in the washing machine until you can deal with it and throw any unfolded clean laundry back in the dryer so it’s hidden. (Kids can help with this, too!)

Remember to run your dishwasher every night and unload it every morning so dirty dishes will always be out of sight.

Keep A Decorative Storage Container Handy

Wenzke says that last-minute showings can be crazy, but you can make them less stressful by keeping a few empty storage containers on hand. “When you only have 5 minutes to get the house ‘show ready,’ you can grab the toys from the floor and place them into a decorative storage container,” she adds. You can put it in the closet or even tuck it away on a high shelf. “Your buyer will never know what the floor looked like minutes before she walked through the door.”

Create A Family Tidying Habit

Since mornings get hectic, start a daily routine of cleaning up before bedtime. “Just 20 minutes of tidying can make a big difference in keeping your home organized,” Wenzke says.

Set a timer and get the kids involved in putting things away every night. Also have a shorter routine in the morning – make sure beds are made and laundry and toys are picked up before they head to school.

Know That It’s Always Hard To Get Out The Door Those Last 15 Minutes

Hofler recommends making a list of all the tasks it takes to get your home ready to show. Her list is long, but simple, with tasks such as:

  • Sweeping the floor
  • Putting all the bills in the desk drawer
  • Turning on the lights
  • Hanging up all the coats
  • Putting shoes in bedrooms or closet instead of in the entryway
  • Putting dishes in the dishwasher
  • Removing pet food dishes from the floor
  • Wiping the kitchen counter
  • Fluffing the pillows

Once your list is complete, assign tasks to each family member. “Even small children can help put shoes away or turn on lights in certain rooms,” Holfer says. You can make a checklist for each person, and everyone can check off items as they finish. For very young children, use pictures to illustrate what their tasks are.

“A list means you’re less likely to forget part of the preparation; having every family member help means it’s quicker and easier,” Holfer says.

Reward Them – And You

Reward everyone’s efforts with extra treats along the way, and then allow your kids to choose something special to do during showings. And when all that hard work pays off and an offer comes in, plan a family activity to celebrate your last showing. “After all, you all deserve it,” Hofler says.