A place for everything and everything in its place -- that's what prospective buyers want to see in your house. Here's how to lose (or disguise) the clutter.
Having a few magazines around can make a home look inviting and lived in. Having a few years' worth makes you look like an eccentric pack rat! People will wonder what else you've been hoarding! Have a few inoffensive magazines (home and garden publications are good; they make you look like you care) on your coffee table or in a nice magazine rack, and box or recycle the rest of them.
As lovely as bookcases are -- especially if they're architecturally attractive and built in -- they're a turnoff if they're too stuffed with books or a catch-all for clutter. Edit your bookshelves so that they feel just a little bit empty. Stack books in interesting patterns and accessorize lightly.
The humble basket is a space-saving miracle worker when you're trying to hide clutter. Everything from your multiple remote controls to out-of-season table linens can be stored in one kind of basket or another. For sneaky storage that's also attractive, stack baskets or vintage suitcases under a coffee table or in an unused fireplace. Put a covered basket or decorative box on the foyer table to hold incoming and outgoing mail, or in the bathroom to hide extra toiletries.
Don't know what to do with newspapers, office files, out of season clothes? Slide some slim boxes under your bed for your sweaters so your closet feels more airy. File tax records and other personal files into decorative cardboard boxes on the shelves in your office. Store bathroom towels in an over-the-commode shelving unit. Put newspapers in a recycling bin in the garage (prospective buyers will like that you're "green").
All that stuff that you usually find plopped down right inside your back door -- everything from shopping bags to hockey sticks to shoes to umbrellas to gardening gloves to backpacks? It all has to be corralled and stored so potential buyers don't get frightened. And if you see a trouble spot, fix it with a built-in storage bench with a cushion, or a row of pegs. In fact, if you deal with all that stuff the right way, buyers will go away thinking your house has built-in clutter control. Have just enough of your day-to-day stuff organized on mudroom pegs and shelves to show that real people live there -- and hide the rest away.
Your 10,000 earrings, Janie's stuffed animal menagerie, that wine cork collection? Best to put them safely out of sight. It's OK to display a small selection of fine china or figurines in a glass cupboard or on a bookshelf, but you don't want the buyer to not be able to see the fine bones of the house or imagine her collections there because of the overwhelming presence of all your stuff.
If you haven't put in closet organizers, now is the time! You can purchase or build your own system that will use your space more efficiently and make even the smallest closet look larger. There is nothing like opening a closet door and seeing shoes stacked in plastic boxes or on a shoe rack, belts hung together, and clothes all lined up neatly. To make the closet look even bigger, store half of what you own and hang the rest on new matching hangers.
This is one of the few times in your life when strangers will think it's OK to look in your medicine cabinet! Clean it out, and paint the interior with a fresh coat of white paint (there's nothing worse than a rusty old medicine cabinet; replace it if it can't be brought up to snuff). Keep only benign objects in the cabinet (perhaps first aid or tooth-cleaning items) and put all of the embarrassing stuff -- prescriptions, birth control pills, ointments -- away in a safe, private spot.