6 Tips to Selling Your Home Without Evicting Your Kids

Everyone knows that moving is about the most stressful thing you can do (as someone who lived in four cities and 10 apartments in my 20s, I can certainly confirm it). But add little kids to the mix, and the whole scenario goes from tough to downright terrible. About four months ago, my husband and I decided our family was ready for a new house. We weren't looking to move far, just to the neighboring town a couple of miles away, where many of our friends live and where our daughter could start kindergarten in the Fall with her preschool pals. Even if we are so-so about our current location, we absolutely love our old house, and the search for new one that could beat it was rough. Seriously, why is it that house hunting always sounds fun in theory but totally sucks in reality? And why aren't Chip and Joanna Gaines available to help us all?

Eventually, after viewing dozens of duds and going under contract on our dream fixer-upper that we found out also came with 800 square feet of black mold (um, no thank you), we found one that checked off most of the must haves on our list and came with an huge, brand-new kitchen that had me at six burners and a hood. We were ready and excited to move on to the new house and say goodbye to our old one. Then we realized we had to sell our cherished first family home, and the panic set in. If anything is more stressful than finding a new house with two small children (ours are 2 and 5), it's got to be trying to sell the old one, which your kids, if they're anything like mine, seem to have been plotting to slowly destroy since birth.

Our house went on the market a few days ago and, fingers crossed, we're hoping it sells (very) soon. Seriously, feel free to make us an offer. I've learned a lot in the process, so here are some tips to survive the awful process of getting your house ready for market without making your kids sleep in a tent out back and bathe with a hose, two things I totally considered, by the way.

  1. Start decluttering early. The minute you decide you want to start looking for a new home should also be the minute you start getting your old one ready to sell. It took us three months to find a new house, so I had plenty of time to turn our pit of a basement into a cute playroom (which my kids refuse to use, of course), clean out every closet, and make about 17 trips to drop off carloads of stuff at Goodwill. Pick an area to declutter each week and make yourself do it.
  2. Keep the kids, lose (some of) their stuff. Buyers understand that a house with kids is going to include toys, but no one wants to see kid clutter all over. If you have a dedicated playroom or basement, stash the toys there, not in a main-level family or living room, both of which should be kept kid-clutter-free. If your kid stuff has grown past the point of containment, consider renting a storage unit and moving everything there. Buyers without kids will be more likely to picture themselves living in your home if they're not tripping over minitrampolines or giant dollhouses.
  3. Hire help. We usually clean our house and maintain our yard by ourselves, but we hired a maid service to come in to do a deep clean and a yard service to do a Spring cleanup outside, and I'm so glad we did. Starting with everything looking great will hopefully help our house sell quickly, and it gave us a good baseline we can maintain with just a little work each day.
  4. Close your kitchen as much as possible. Kitchens sell homes, so keeping yours looking spotless and clutter-free is super important. Unfortunately, your family will work against this by deciding they still need to eat. Selfish, sure, but you can counter their ever-present need for nourishment with one simple strategy: eat out as much as possible. This can be at a restaurant or, when weather permits, literally outside. Grill some hot dogs, have a picnic served on paper plates, and everyone's happy.
  5. Stay on top of cleanup. Last-minute showings can be a total pain, but you can make it easier on yourself by adding a few steps to your morning routine. Store leftover plastic bags upstairs to remove any trash every morning, line your main garbage cans with smaller plastic or paper bags to force yourself to take out the trash more often, and make sure to run your dishwasher every night.
  6. Vacate the premises. Keeping a house where small kids live clean can feel like swimming upstream, so if possible, hit the road, at least for the first couple of weekends your house is listed. If you can park yourselves at grandma's, leaving your clean and tidy house behind, everyone wins. If you have to stay home, tell yourself you have to be out of the house 15 minutes before any showing and that you can't return until 15 minutes after it's over. You want potential buyers to picture themselves living in your home and seeing you force a toddler into a car seat in the driveway or circle the block waiting to get back in for naptime doesn't paint the picture of "welcome home."