First, Clear Out the Clutter

Making a house shine for the holidays is more about clearing and cleaning than buying.
Making a house shine for the holidays is more about clearing and cleaning than buying. (Istockphoto)
By Annie Groer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holiday entertaining season is upon us, and in some households it will run clear through to Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 3.

But what to do now if you cringe each time you look at the stained carpet, fret that the draperies look so last-century or that the living room could use a little something, though you're not quite sure what?

We asked five experts -- a real estate agent, a model home stager, an interior designer, a professional organizer and a cleaning service owner -- what three or four things they'd recommend to spiff up the homestead, even if time and money are tight.

Decluttering was at the top of several lists, way ahead of shopping for throw pillows and scented candles.

"For most people, it's a question of taking things out, not adding them. And it's free," says Donna Evers, president of Evers & Co. Real Estate in the District.

"Tackle paper clutter first," urges Susan Hayes, an organizer in Bethesda. "If you can't get rid of it or clean it up, put it all in a plastic bin and hide it somewhere in the closet. You don't want that to be the first thing people see when they walk in." Clear off kitchen countertops as well, she says.

Once the extraneous stuff is out of sight, basic cleaning sets the stage, says Rita Leigh, founder of East Coast Maid Service in Hyattsville. "The main thing are the floors; they are a big part of the house. If they are worn and stained, get it done," says Leigh, who uses a residential steamer to clean her own carpet.

Other general housekeeping chores are important -- dusting, sweeping, mopping and vacuuming -- especially if there are pets, she says. Window-washing can make a house sparkle. If you can't do it yourself, you can call in the pros, but with commercial firms charging $5 to $8 a window, the cost can quickly add up. "If you're on a budget," says Leigh, "have only the downstairs windows washed."

With cleaning out of the way, what next?

Evers recommends buying a few throw pillows for chairs and sofas to brighten a room; she's a particular fan of holiday red. For those more ambitious, consider painting the dining room, which can probably be done over a single weekend. "It's the cheapest thing you can do to a house," Evers says, and changing this prime party space "can warm it up, make it dramatic."

Realtors know the value of curb appeal, so Evers also suggests giving the house a once-over from the outdoors: "Go stand in the street and look at the house as if you've never seen it before. Shrubs that are too tall? Cut them way back or get rid of them." And add a few hardy plants at the entrance.

Organizer Hayes has another exterior suggestion: Spiff up the oft-overlooked back yard, because it is visible through doors and windows. "Decorate with small white lights and ribbons on trees, which makes a beautiful backdrop," she says.

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