In Life and in Staging: It’s not what you get rid of but what you keep

In Life and in Staging: It’s not what you get rid of but what you keep

In Life

I have an embarrassing problem of having too many things. In world history, when else have people had things marketed and mass-produced for them from birth onward? I still remember needing to have a Strawberry Shortcake doll from Santa when I had just turned three, and last night I found my whole Strawberry Shortcake collection in a box my mom had saved. Clothes, shoes, toys, electronics, books–they’ve all been a part of my life and too many have stayed with me. The most embarrassing part for me is how much I’ve kept that I felt was a burden but didn’t know how to get rid of. Another embarrassment is the excess this illustrates. How much privilege have I grown up in and lived with relative to the rest of the people living in the world, now and before? That’s the most embarrassing part of the problem, although my solution doesn’t solve it.

The problem of too much stuff is one I decided to address in 2015. As part of my 2015 goals, I have been cleaning out closets, boxes, rooms, bins, filing cabinets, and so forth. I thought I would share some funny t-shirts my parents had saved, but then quite a few friends started commenting on what I should save and what I could do with it. Needless to say, the pictures drew quite a few responses. My mom joined in and offered to take back things she had brought to me in boxes when she moved. She thought she was passing them on to me for safekeeping and hadn’t thought I might let them go. (Stephanie rustles through my Goodwill bags after every round and “saves” things from banishment forever. But overall I’ve made quite a dent.) Over thirty bags have left the house since I embarked on my goal and I can now find the clothes I want to wear.

My whole life I’ve had trouble letting things go. I would eventually remember how much I enjoyed them, or feel the pressure of whoever gave them to me, be it as a gift or hand-me-down. Surely I should keep them on behalf of the giver. What opened this up for me was a book I read by Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her main point is that you keep whatever gives you joy and let go of the rest. Kondo says, “My criterion for deciding to keep an item is that we should feel a thrill of joy when we touch it.” Another one of her tips is to thank the things you let go of for what they gave you or taught you, but you let go of the pressure to keep things that are no longer important.

In previous ways to sort stuff it has been about what to get rid of. You’re following rules for what to throw out and the focus is on what you’re losing. An example is the billboards around Nashville saying if you haven’t used it in a year, give it to Goodwill. What Kondo did for me is guide my focus on keeping what I most want and then letting the rest disappear. Here is how she puts it:

When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end, all that will remain are the things you truly treasure.

As I sort, cull, and put away, I’m left with treasures. It doesn’t matter if I haven’t used it in ten years or used it yesterday; I only keep it if I feel joy when I hold it. “Life-changing magic” is an understatement. Even though it’s been thirty years since I played with them, I kept every single Strawberry Shortcake because I still feel joy when I see them.

In Staging

It’s springtime. Lately I’ve done quite a few walk-throughs with people to determine what should be done to their houses before they go on the market. Staging is a big part of that. Many people expect me to tell them what to take away. I don’t know because I’ve never signed up for cable, but someone on HGTV must tell everyone to hide all their photos and point at their things, telling them what to take out. Instead of what to remove I tell my clients what to keep. I love family photos and I say that it’s best to keep a few of those so people can see that a happy family/person lives there.

My rules are simple:

  • One function for every room
  • Three pieces of furniture or less in each room
  • Only two photos or other artwork/decorations per room
  • Clear every surface including countertops, dressers, and desks except for lamps and the artwork/decorative piece for the room
  • Only leave in your closets and cabinets what you need for the next two months.
  • Set your tables
  • Leave your lamps and turn them on
  • Exceptions are music studios and kids’ rooms, but for those the owners can focus on what they need to keep.
  • Once you have identified what you’re keeping, pack the rest. I call it pre-packing. Go get a storage unit for all your stuff. It will make moving that much easier.

I preface this with the following: This is not how you or I live, but we’re trying to create a space where people can imagine themselves. Pretend you’re creating a hotel suite. Hide your toothbrush and your phone charger, and everything that will remind someone that you live here. I want people to imagine walking in with all of their things and living here themselves.

The pictures here are a current example from my newest East Nashville listing. The owners did all of the staging themselves with a toddler at home, and they did a great job. Within the first three days they had multiple offers. Staging is just one variable but it has a huge impact on how buyers respond to a home.

With just a couch, coffee table, rug, and chair (not pictured) people notice the great fireplace, floors, sidelights, and doors.


This craftsman dining room has just enough furniture to let someone imagine eating here but not so much stuff that you don’t notice the custom trim.


Clear counters and surfaces make a big difference when staging kitchens and bathrooms. With minimal decorations and clear counters Buyers noticed the custom cabinets and granite countertops.


Often removing everything but the bed is the best way to stage a bedroom.





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