If you've ever tried to sell your house while there were little kids living in it, you've likely experienced the most incredible housekeeping challenge of your life! We recently put our home on the market and I thought I'd share some things I've done to help keep my sanity when required to get my home in showing condition at a moment's notice. I figure these tips could also come in handy if you have friends or in-laws who like to make surprise visits as well, or if you are simply looking for ways to make your home more clean and organized!
Controlling the Clutter
Piles of Mail: There's always at least a small pile of mail and/or papers in our kitchen. Of course, the best thing to do is toss out what you don't need and file away what you do, out of sight. But, sometimes you need a little catch-all just in case your scramble to leave the house isn't going so well.
I got some manilla folders and a little paper rack that I can have out when needed, then easily slide back into the corner out of sight for showings. (below) The bin you see on top of the toaster oven holds all of Sammy's snacks and essentials...goldfish crackers, raisins, hand wipes, and vitamins. I've since been able to clear a spot in a cabinet so you don't see this at all, but it makes it very easy for me to pull the bin out of the cabinet to access all of his snacks, then quickly tuck them all away.
Another idea that popped into my head while browsing the kitchen section at Target: Get a countertop breadbox and shove your mail pile in there! If either item gets too full, it's time to go through the mail and toss or file things. Be careful of having too many things on your countertop though...too many items makes them look small and cluttered.
The first thing I did when we started looking at homes was pack up some of our non-essentials, including some of the big toys and toys that have a lot of small parts/accessories that can easily end up dumped all over the floor. (While my kids were NOT looking!) There are still plenty of toys to play with, but now there are just enough that will fit into bins so I know that I can tuck them all away and won't be left with a pile of stuff to hide in the dryer or oven or whatever tiny bit of hidden, private space you may have left to cling to. Chances are your child won't even miss half of his or her toys, and then when they re-appear at the new house, it'll be like Christmas all over again!
I use bins all over the place. In addition to a toy box in my living room, I have several little bins for small toys, which makes it easy to shove stuff in and out of the way. This shelf (left) has a couple bins of toys, and the bottom one has a few diapers and wipes for baby's living room diaper changes. The key is to make sure you don't have more toys than bins to hide them in. I also have a toy box that is painted to blend in with the living room.
Here's one more bin example. We have a small play room area in the basement. This photo was taken before we went on the market so I've removed a lot of the clutter in this photo since. But, check out the bench on the right. We got this shelf at Ikea, put some legs on it, and I made a cushion, turning it into a nice storage bench. The baskets I found at Michael's fit perfectly and it stores all kinds of toys out of sight. This wasn't done with showing our house in mind, but it sure does come in handy now, having a place to tuck things away so it doesn't look like a daycare center.
I also now roll out my son's "road" rug on the livingroom floor. He drives his cars on it, and when it's showing time, I simply lift one end to roll all the cars into a pile, scoop them into the bins, roll up the rug and hide it under the couch. Underneath I have an untouched living room rug, with no need to vacuum!
My friend Cheri from Ohio shared a fantastic tip on the IDMommy Facebook page...she keeps a laundry basket in the living room. When it's time to go, she tosses the loose toys in there and shoves it in the car with the kids. She says, "Much easier than trying to hide all the toys somewhere in the house!"
Another friend, Brenda from Minnesota, got one of those dropped-off storage containers like PODS. She filled it with stuff to clear out the extra clutter and storage in her furnace room, then used that room to tuck away the kids' toys come showing time. When it came time to move into the new house, the storage unit was delivered to their new driveway for unloading! We did something similar, although it involved borrowing my dad's trailer and huge pole building where they live in the country. ;-)
The Scent of a Sale
First of all, you need to make sure you're keeping bad smells at bay. With little ones you always have the battle with diapers. If you have a lot of showings, just use a grocery bag and grab it on your way out and toss in the garbage can. If you use disposables, make sure you have a good smell-trapping disposal system like the Diaper Genie. If you use cloth, try to toss 'em in the wash every morning or evening. Yes, being a cloth diaper user I know that's easier said than done, which is why I use the word "try." ;-) I tend to toss 'em in the wash when I get a call that I have a showing coming up.
Febreeze, air fresheners, and candles are my weapons against smells, although if it's nice enough outside, opening the windows as often as possible works wonders. I have an extremely (sometimes annoyingly) good sense of smell, so this is always a big one for me. I hate bad smells, yet the smells of these products can be very overpowering in a bad way as well, so be careful not to overuse them.
I put a clean scented candle in each bathroom (like Glade's "clean linen" scent), and a yummy food scented one in the kitchen (currently cinna-vanilla). If you know you have a showing after dinner, try not to cook anything that will make the house smell too funky. If you do, and it's nice enough outside, open all the windows to air it out and light your candles an hour or so before the showing. If you're worried about leaving unattended candles, lighting them for an hour before and blowing them out when you leave will still leave a lingering scent in the house. And don't forget about the rinse cycle on your dishwasher. If it isn't full enough to wash or you don't have time, just run a rinse cycle to get out any lingering food smells.
Of course, they always tell you to bake some cookies, cinnamon rolls, or apple pie right before a showing, as the smell of baked good really says "home." If you are not Martha Steward and don't have time for this, try a candle scented like baked goods. (see chocolate chip cookies or cinnamon bun candle images/links above) Or, better yet, get a tube of pre-made cookie dough at the grocery store, and bake up a batch before heading out if you have the time. Just think about how excited the kids will be to help you clean up and get out of the house if it means they can enjoy fresh baked cookies once they get in the car!
The Necessary Evils
With toddlers around you probably use your sponge about every 10 seconds. I put my dirty kitchen sink essentials (sponge, scrubber, scraper) into a food storage container on the countertop. I can still easily toss 'em aside after I'm done, but when it comes time to leave the house for a showing, I just move ONE item into the cabinet below: the container. As for the ugly bottle drying rack, I've replaced it with this cool grass drying rack from Boon (recently reviewed here on ID Mommy). If I forget to tuck it away, at least it looks cool. But, it's also a shape that's easy to fit into a cabinet without requiring disassembly.
You have to have hand towels in the bathroom for obvious reasons. But if you don't want them to look dingy (which they tend to do when you have little boys who play in the dirt!), put a towel for family use right on the countertop. Don't even use the nice, clean one hanging on the towel bar. When it comes time to show, toss the used one in the cabinet and you'll never have to worry about washing, replacing or re-folding it for showings. I've found that kids and husbands go for the easiest route, which will naturally be the towel lying by the sink. I haven't even told them not to use the white one hanging nearby...yet it has been hanging there for three weeks untouched!
Cleaning Up the Inevitable Messes
disinfecting wipes in the cabinet of each bathroom and kitchen for quick countertop, tub & toilet clean-ups so I don't have to tote my cleaning products around the house or wonder where I left the roll of paper towels. I also found a can of stainless steel wipes which work great on our stainless kitchen appliances for removing fingerprints and cooking grease splatters. I found a can of glass cleaning wipes for $1 at the grocery store that I keep in our coat closet, and use to wipe fingerprints off of our glass top end tables in the living room on my way out the door.
My Swiffer comes in very handy for these quick floor clean-ups, as does my broom vac. I can do a quick floor sweep and then shove them into the closet on my way out! The broom vac is great for quick clean-up of crumbs and dog hair.
Minimize trash to remove. Try to choose just one garbage can to use, or at least one per floor of your home, so it's easier to quickly empty them on your way out the door. Better yet, use cans with lids, so you don't have to empty them at all, at least until they are full or have smelly stuff in them. Make sure you have enough garbage bags on hand because you'll likely be taking out the garbage more often than when the can is full.
Stop the mess-maker(s). There's no point in cleaning up the damage while a tornado is still swirling around your house. Do whatever it takes to confine your kids for the last few minutes of clean-up, whether it be turning on a favorite movie, baby-gate-ing them into the last room you plan to pick up, or buckling them into the car! I put my son in the car with a cartoon playing on my iPod while I do my last couple minutes of touches that I can't do with a kid in the house, like setting a glass flower vase on the ottoman, lighting candles, and switching from Nick Jr. to the classical music channel.
Try to spend 10 minutes picking up a little when the kids are in naps, and clean each night before bed. You'll rest easier knowing you don't have work waiting for you when you get up, and it'll help you keep up with the mess so there's less when showing time comes.
Getting Everyone Out
It can be hard to get everyone out of the house quickly for a showing, especially when your toddler may be deeply involved in a toy or worse yet, a nap. As many events and activities we do during the week, somehow our showings never fell during those times we were already gone. When sleeping, I do my best to quietly transfer the kiddo's to the car in hopes that they stay asleep, which rarely happens. If it does, you can get away with what many people do, and that is parking down the street within view of the house so you can see when the showing is done. I've also gone down to my parents house so the kids could nap there. If you have a friend or family close by, this is a great option to help keep naps on schedule.
Have a list of places to go in your head that are fun for the kids, such as the playground or a friend's house. I also try to save errands to do during showings to feel like I'm getting something accomplished at the same time. (you know we women love to multitask!) Keep a few essentials in the car for surprise outings, such as a blanket for picnic lunches, sand toys &/or swimwear for the park or beach, and any other outdoor essentials such as bug spray, sunscreen, or extra clothing. (unless you're selling your home in the winter, in which case you'll want warm stuff!) That way if you don't come up with an idea until you're on the road, you'll already be prepared for it, because you know you'll be in too big of a rush cleaning up the house to think of what to pack for an afternoon at the park. An umbrella stroller is great too for an indoor mall walk on a cold or rainy day, or a walk outside if it's nice.
If you know your neighbors well enough, it may be a good idea to give them a try and see if you can just hop the fence and play in their yard or house. That way you'll know as soon as the showing is over and can possibly go home earlier. I even know someone who would go to her neighbor's house and listen in on the showing through the baby monitors! Brilliant!
Don't forget the dogs. I have two large dogs. One of them will bark like a ferocious beast at the sound of the doorknob turning, but if let loose will at most lick you to death. Don't just put your pets in a kennel...the last thing you want during your showings is dog barking or cat hissing at potential buyers, especially if they happen to be afraid of these types of animals. Avoid losing a sale because of your pets by taking them with you. I got one of those gates to fit in the back of our Jeep, similar to the ones shown below, at a garage sale for $10. It allows me to load up the dogs and kids, keep them separate, and keep the dogs from jumping over the seats if we leave the car for a few minutes.
If you can't take your pets along, see if a neighbor would be willing to take them for an hour. And if all else fails and you have to kennel them, at least put them in the garage if it's not too cold or hot outside.
These are some of the things that I've been doing to help make that last minute hussle before a showing run a little more smoothly. However, I still find myself leaving in a sweat with a racing heartbeat! I do not claim to be an expert in this area, and my house is still up for sale, but thought I'd share what I've tried so far. If you have any more tips, do share! We can all use any little helps we can get!
Once you've mastered the basics of just cleaning up your house, you can take it to the next level: home staging. I'll try to post some more ideas on this soon as well, as this is one thing that can make a HUGE impact on the length of time it takes to sell your home, as evident by the fact that it is an entire profession in itself. Stay tuned!