The only thing more difficult than living in a home that's for sale is living in a home that's for sale when you have young children.

If that's your situation, I feel your pain.

I know how stressful it can be when you've just touched up your wall paint, and discover two days later small handprints all up and down the stairwell.

I know how stressful it can be when your Realtor wants to show your home on short notice, and the living room is draped in blanket forts that cover an intricate complex of Lego villages and train tracks.

With these things in mind, I've collected my favorite tips learned from PWHOM -- parents with a home on the market.

Set up systems

Have routines. Do the same procedures daily. For example, everyone makes his or her own bed as soon as he or she gets out of it, one child puts away dishes after every meal, and another sweeps the front steps each evening. Soon, you'll have these habits down pat. Life is simpler with simple rituals, and young ones learn new tasks faster when the tasks are repeated at short intervals, like daily, or even twice daily.

Simplify homelife

Put away the toys and games that are not essential. Most children will not miss the majority of their books, toys, games, dolls, and stuffed animals. If storing all but their favorites creates a problem, rotate toys in and out of storage, and explain that the situation is just temporary. It's important for your own sanity that children understand -- as best they can -- the importance of all you are doing to help sell your home.

Become squirrel-like

That's right, think like a squirrel, and hide things. People on a tour of your home don't need to see your basket of diaper-changing essentials, the science project your son is in the middle of, the pile of sports equipment near the back door, or your daughter's doll collection. Think accessible, but still out of sight and in a place where homebuyers don't look. Here are some hiding places I like for temporary stashing:
  • under the bed, in sliding boxes
  • an emptied, designated drawer in a dresser  
  • pretty shoeboxes, hatboxes, or fabric bins 
  • an ottoman or bench with a storage compartment built-in 
  • the washer or dryer  
  • the trunk of your car 
  • a vintage piece of luggage or wicker basket

Delegate tasks on your pre-showing checklist 
to everyone in the household.
This is my #3 grandson taking care of his daily chore.

Limit exposure 

Once infrequently used rooms are decluttered and clean, don't let them become catch-all areas for stuff that has no home. If you can close off rooms like the guest room or powder room, placing them off-limits to family members, that's another possibility. Remind them that it's just temporary.

Make a pre-showing list

Make a checklist of what touchups need to be done just prior to a short-notice showing. If you leave the house for work in the morning, never knowing if a Realtor will bring people through during the day, having a touchup checklist is even more important. I know it's asking a lot, but selling a home is like running a business. Children, even young ones, should have a designated role in touch-ups.

Fabric totes, plastic bins, and woven totes like these are perfect
containers for toys on shelves.Photo: annakadavidson

Find hiding places

Put away things like schedules and calendars that show when you won't be home or where your children will be, any paperwork and decorations that show your children's names, or photographs of your children. You do not know who is coming into your home or what they want to know about you. I don't think I have to go into the details. It's all about keeping kids safe.

A child's room can strike a happy medium
between serving the child while not being
a distraction to buyers. Photo: Susan Walsh

Coordinate showings with your agent

Work with your Realtor on timing so that showings are not a problem. Most parents prefer showings during school hours. Ideally, you should never have to refuse a showing. Some buyers breeze into town for the day and don't have much scheduling flexibility. It's more important to let your home be shown with some toys scattered about, and some wet towels on the rods, than to let a possible buyer escape. Many buyers interpret a demand for 24-hour notice as "not serious sellers." Be show-ready! I know it can be a hassle, but stay focused on the prize.

You'll drive yourself mad if you expect organized perfection. It's a balancing act. On one hand, buyers know you don't live in a model home, but on the other hand, buyers watch HGTV and they have high expectations. Whatever leverage you can gain by making your home the one that looks better than the rest, gives you a clear advantage.

I give other tips to help you navigate the waters toward the sale of your home in my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. You can learn the tricks of the homestaging trade without buying an expensive online course or paying a professional for a consultation, You can stage your own home with all the advice, schedules, and secrets I show in my eBook! Don't wait another day to start your staging.