All the World’s a Stage

Who lives like this?

Who lives like this?

As many of you know, we’re preparing to move a few weeks from now. We’re moving within the DC area, closer to my husband’s job. Then we have to sell our current house. Thankfully we’ve arranged things so we can move out before that happens—it needs some work to get it ready to go on the market.

We haven’t bought or sold a house since 2003. Sometime during those intervening twelve years, staging became a much bigger deal.

Back then, I remember our real estate agent giving us a few tips on making the house look good. Did you know there’s a proper ratio for how much dining room chairs should stick out from under the table? That sort of thing. I also remember walking into some homes that looked showroom quality, even though it was clear people were living there. I wondered what their secret was. I wondered where their clutter was. Now I know: staging.

These days, the real estate agent will hire a stager to take a close look at the home and put together a plan. The goal is to maximize bang for your buck, so the stager will rank and prioritize the tasks. Kitchens are important. So’s the placement of furniture. We’ll be leaving some pieces behind once we move, to help people visualize the space as well as possible.

Colors are also a big deal. Our stager gave us specific Pantone numbers to paint various rooms. Which suits us fine, frankly. Just tell us what to do and we’ll do it.

While we were going around looking at houses, my husband remarked how similar staging is to curating an online persona on social media. You can’t change the raw materials you have to work with. Your life is your life; your house is your house. But you go through a careful process of putting your best foot forward. We all do it to some extent, though some are more meticulous about it than others.

The problem comes when we compare our unstaged life to everyone else’s staged life and feel inadequate for falling short.

I was nervous about the staging thing at first. It’s hard not to feel judged for your design choices, and I pictured a snooty woman wrinkling her nose as she beheld our aging IKEA furniture. But our stager was great. And she won me over when she said, “You know… my house looks like a regular house—a house people actually live in. When I walk into a home that doesn’t need staging, I think ‘these people need therapy.'”

It’s a bit of a game. And naming that is important and healing.

I’m glad for the stager. We’ve made good memories in our home. That means displaying it in the best possible light so other people will see the potential for their own memories to be housed there.

This summer, like many of you I’m sure, I’ve seen friends post their vacation photos to Facebook. In the past, those pictures used to get me down sometimes. The beaches were so pristine, you see. The kids, so adorable, clutching their ice cream cones, barefoot in the perfect slanting light of dusk.

This summer I haven’t felt that way. This summer I have welcomed every photo, even living vicariously through them. A friend and I were laughing that I wasn’t bothered by the photos because I’m not working right now! That’s part of it, I’m sure (and I am working, though not full time and not in the church). But also, I recognize the rules of the game. Facebook is not reality. I sincerely hope my friends had great vacations this summer, but I also see the perfect photos for what they are—a representation of life that’s not entirely accurate.

Like my mama used to say, don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Studies have shown that people can be dragged down by other people’s perfectly curated online personas. But I wonder if that will change as we “grow up” with this technology. I wonder if we are becoming more savvy about social media and the rules of the game. What do you think?

7 thoughts on “All the World’s a Stage

  1. Sarah Erickson

    Good stuff, MA, good stuff. Staging is not reality for sure, but does engage the imagination and the potential for memory-making/keeping.

  2. Kris

    As M. L’Engle has famously said, “Comparisons are odious.”

    As for staging: on the one hand, I get it. On the other hand, whatever happened to seeing potential and making a place your own instead of expecting it to be perfect? I guess from a seller’s perspective one wants to get as much as possible, but painting etc. also costs money.

    Good luck– moving is surely the one of the circles of hell.

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      That’s certainly a tactic. We could sell the home as is, with the idea that someone will buy it and fix it up to be exactly what they want it to be. But if you want to maximize your return, a good stager helps you figure out where to invest to get the biggest bang for your buck. You do the things that will make money back for you.

      Painting is expensive but it’s easy, especially since we’ll have vacated the property. So… eh.

  3. Shay Carr

    This post certainly reminds me of my two favorite sayings: “Comparison is the end of contentment” (and) “Don’t compare your behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel”

    As for the staging…good for you! We’ve sold five houses in the past 15 years… First impressions mean everything to a buyer!

  4. annne

    since our house is on the market right now, i totally relate to this post. best wishes on your move.


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