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Bella English takes the ‘tear test’ approach to decluttering

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. Rodrigo Cordeiro for The Boston Globe

Maybe — probably — I’m just a sentimental fool, but I am having a seriously hard time as we prepare to put our house on the market this spring. About 30 years ago, my husband and I moved into this house, bringing mismatched furniture, a toddler, and a couple of years later, a baby boy fresh from the hospital. We became a family here, and the house became a home.

Those babies grew into teenagers. We packed them off for college, and welcomed them home for holidays and summers. That toddler is now 32, living at home again while in graduate school. All of us love this house, and I feel like I’m putting a beloved family member up for sale.

But it’s time to downsize. Our realtor has given us loads of advice and packets of information. By the time the “For Sale’’ sign goes up, this house will be the cleanest it has been since we moved into it. But it takes a lot more than just cleaning to prepare a house for sale.

Help Desk: An expert guide to downsizing

According to Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, a list of things to do includes repainting, repairs, washing windows, trimming hedges and trees, and maintaining a decent lawn. That’s just for the outside.

Our realtor, Meredith Hall of Coldwell Banker, says to remember that “you have one chance to make your best first impression. A buying decision starts the moment the buyer steps inside your home.’’

It actually starts earlier. When my husband and I first pulled up to look at the house in 1988, my jaw dropped. I thought it was the most beautiful house I’d ever seen. It was a cheery yellow with a yard that would later welcome a swing set, a playhouse, and a trampoline, as well as kids and dogs.

Hall agrees that curb appeal is important, which is why people should put planters at the entrance. “Planters and a fresh new doormat make a strong statement,’’ she said. Which means my old “Got Dirt?’’ doormat will have to go.

According to Coldwell Banker, your front door may need a fresh coat of paint. The doorbell and outer lights must work. Make sure the house numbers are visible.

“And if it’s broken, fix it,’’ Hall said. That includes cracked windows, hardware, and appliances. “If you’ve got a stove and two of the burners don’t work, get that fixed,’’ she said. “Things that would be tested during a home inspection.’’

Hall and other realtors stress that “less is more.’’ In other words, clear out and depersonalize the space. Buyers want to imagine their own photos — not your Aunt Eve’s — on the mantel.

As someone who wouldn’t know Marie Kondo from Marie’s condo, I’ve got my work cut out for me. My husband and I have been taking boxes of books to our local library. And we’ve found a favorite thrift shop, which seems happy to have everything from clothes to electronics.

But I am spending way too many hours poring over old letters, pictures, and kiddo stuff. It’s like excavating a life. I now have what I call “the tear test.’’ If throwing it away doesn’t make me cry, it’s gone.

Then there’s this thing called “staging.’’ I scoffed at the notion, until friends said it helped sell their homes. A young friend recently sold his 450-square-foot studio in Manhattan for nearly $100,000 over what he paid for it, and it was staged.

“My broker from Compass told me the most successful sales have videos for prospective buyers,’’ said George Sholley, who grew up in Milton and is now an executive producer and vice president at a New York ad agency. “So he made a video.’’

The target buyer was a single guy, and Sholley’s realtor got an actor to play the 32-year-old Sholley in a “day in the life of’’ video. “The actor had a six-pack [of abs], which I do not,’’ Sholley said. The video showed the actor waking up in bed, washing up in an outdoor shower on the building’s rooftop, and using the apartment amenities. The agent even scattered Hermes boxes and “general wealth detritus’’ in the studio, Sholley said. “Which, by the way, is not my brand at all.’’

But it worked: “The proof is in the all-cash offer we got.’’

Jill Mead is a stager who lives in Wellesley. She describes her job as “a lifesaver, a therapist, a coach, a harasser — you name it.’’ She has worked with realtors to stage homes that range from $300,000 to $7.5 million. Some need work, others hardly.

“Minimal is pretty much changing the furniture around, working with what you have. Maximum, I have trash and recycle, painters, electricians, plumbers, antique dealers, and consigners,’’ Mead said. “I bring them all in and we re-do everything.’’

Staging is different from decorating a home, she insisted. “It’s about getting your house to appeal to the masses. It’s not that glamorous. It’s a lot of grubby, dirty, hard work.’’

Hall says that my husband and I will have to do only “editing’’ and “de-layering’’ in our house. We’ve already removed most of our family photos. But I’m stalling on the cross-stitched sampler on the kitchen wall that says: “There’s No Place Like Home.’’

Bella English can be reached at bella.english@globe.com. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @globehomes.