House Hunting Trip, part 2

In House hunting trip, part 1, we discussed how to prepare before you leave your current home. Here are a few more tips.

Before you leave home

Take measurements of furniture that will be moving with you. Ensure you know how big your credenza, chesterfield, and large screen TV are. If you’re moving appliances, measure those as well. Keep this information on a spreadsheet either on paper or on your laptop. You don’t want to buy a house that your furniture won’t fit into.

Pack a tape measure in your suitcase. You’ll want to be able to measure room sizes and spaces to fit appliances. Most real estate websites only list approximate sizes for rooms. For example, they will state that a room is 10ft by 12ft when really it is 9ft 10 inches by 11ft 11 inches. Those few inches might make a big difference when trying to fit a large piece of furniture. You may also need to measure the width of doors and windows.

You might also want to take a laser measure for determining the size of large spaces like open basements, garages, and even fenced in back yards. They are also handy for measuring smaller rooms because sometimes people’s furniture is placed so you cannot accurately use a tape measure.

Note taking equipment (pen, paper, clipboard, etc.) is essential on a house hunting trip. You will likely look at so many homes you won’t remember which house has which features. It is helpful to print out the real estate listing with the address and a photo of the house and write details about the house on the reverse side.

A camera is also an essential tool but be organized in taking photos and videos. Think of how they make a movie. At the start of filming, they use a clapperboard to show the name of the upcoming scene. When you are house hunting, take a photo of a piece of paper with the address of the house. Then, take photos of outside, and inside the house. At the end of the showing, take a photo of something completely different (yourself, your car or even just blank paper) to indicate the end of that set of photos/videos. It will be much easier to separate one set of house photos from another — especially if many of the houses are similar in colour and design.

On arrival

On the first few days of your trip, visit as many houses as time allows. Don’t hesitate to cancel a showing if you know right away a house will not meet your requirements. (One time, we arrived at a showing and realized the house was directly below the flight path to an international airport. After we heard the noise of the airplane overhead, we didn’t even bother going inside the house.)

Here are a few things that you might want to think about to narrow down your choices before you call in a home inspector who can inform you of structural issues with your potential new home.

Location

What is the noise level like? Are you close to train tracks? Are you underneath a flight path? Is there a busy thoroughfare for emergency vehicles (loud sirens) nearby? If you’re moving into a multi-unit building, what is the soundproofing like?

What smells? Are you downwind from a farm or a local dump? Are there any factories nearby that might create smells from time to time? If you are looking at a multi-unit building, can you smell your neighbours cooking dinner?

What can you see when you look out windows? Are you looking at factories, rail yards, or derelict empty lots? Who could look back and see in your windows? Remember to think about what you will see when the trees lose their leaves or if they have to be cut down for any reason.

Traffic

Are you near a bar, restaurant, or event centre (theatre, concert hall) that becomes boisterous in the evening? If your house is on a route between a bar/restaurant and major public transit stop there may be people walking past or heavy traffic making lots of noise after the venue closes.

Will a nearby school create traffic problems that make it impossible to get out of your driveway at school start and finish times? If your house is on a route from a school to other community services (recreation centre, shopping area, playgrounds) it might mean kids marching past your house all afternoon.

House orientation

An east facing master bedroom window will let in a lot of light first thing in the morning — not ideal if you like to sleep late. Avid gardeners will want to ensure that the yard gets sunlight during peak growing season. Those in snowy climates will want to check wind direction to ensure that they won’t have to shovel deep snow drifts right in front of the garage door. Don’t hesitate to use the compass app on your smartphone to help you figure things out. Try to visit the house on a sunny day and a cloudy day to check light levels inside and outside the house.

Household chores

If you are going to be living in this new home, you are going to have to clean it. You might not like that gorgeous chandelier over the large, open stairwell if you have to rent a scaffold to clean it every few months. A yard with lots of shade trees is nice until you spend every autumn weekend raking leaves. Likewise, that sloping driveway might add a touch of class and elegance until the first ice storm turns it into an Olympic-like bobsled track.

Watch for home staging tricks

Staged homes may be so uncluttered that they seem incredibly open and spacious but remind yourself that real life never looks like this. Think about how small the living room would look with your large sectional and several toy boxes.

Pedestal sinks make bathrooms look larger but then storage and usability are a challenge. How easy would it be to shave, do your hair, and put on make-up in the morning with no counter space?

Other tricks for giving the illusion of space include strategically placing mirrors, using smaller sized furniture, arranging furniture diagonally in a room, and removing closet doors and doors between rooms. Always measure, measure, measure so you ensure that your belongings will fit comfortably in your new home.

Some dubious tricks have been used by home stagers as well. These include strategically placing rugs and carpeting to hide damaged flooring, hanging unique art pieces to divert your attention from leaks or cracks in walls or ceilings, or hanging curtains to hide old or rotting window sills. Take a moment to look a little deeper and if you see any of these issues, bring them to the attention of your home inspector.

How it flows

Imagine your typical day living in the home. If you and your partner are using the walk-in closet at the same time, is there enough room? Do you need to assist children with their brushing hair and teeth? If so, can two or three people fit in the bathroom at the same time?

Do you and your family members cook meals together? Make sure you can all work comfortably in the kitchen. Ask your real estate agent to pretend to load the dishwasher while you pretend to get a roast out of the oven. Then see if there is still room to have someone chop vegetables at the counter at the same time.

Is there enough space in the entryway? It might be summer when you visit a home but think about winter coats, snowsuits, and muddy boots. Will there be enough room to store everyone’s things? Consider the design of the home. Will you have to track through a snowy, muddy entryway to go from one area of the home to another?

Is the laundry area convenient? If hidden away in a dark, dank corner of the basement, it might be difficult to motivate yourself to get the job done especially if you have to carry heavy laundry baskets up and down two flights of stairs.

If you have children or pets, take into consideration their safety requirements such as doors at the tops of stairways (or the ability to easily install safety gates), spacing between banister rails in older homes, secure fencing in the yard, etc.

Outlets and vents

Take a moment to note the locations of power outlets and heating/air conditioning vents. Are there enough power outlets and are they at the right locations? You might want to ensure you can plug in both your coffee maker and toaster in an accessible area in the kitchen. Likewise, you may wish to ensure there are power outlets in locations where you normally charge your electronic devices. Note locations for phone, cable, and internet connections as well.

If there is only one living room wall long enough to put your wall unit, make sure there isn’t a heating vent there. It is expensive to relocate ventilation ducts. Likewise, make sure you check the bed placement in relation to vents so that you won’t blocked a vent with a bed or end up with air from a vent blowing on you all night.

Rank your choices

Now that you’ve accumulated all of this information, you’ll be able to rank your home choices. Return to your top three or four choices for a closer look. Re-rank your choices if required and provide this information to your realtor and home inspector and proceed with the next steps in home buying (or renting if that’s what you’ve chosen).

Finding the home of your dreams in a short period of time doesn’t have to be stressful if you’re prepared and organized.

Readers are more than welcome to chime in with other tips and tricks they have for finding a home.

House Hunting Trip, part 1

Being a military family, we have been through several relocations (12 so far) in our 27 years. Prior to each move, we are allotted between 5 and 7 days to find a new home — our “house hunting trip”. If you’re moving soon, here are a few tips that can help make your house hunting trip a little less stressful.

Define your needs and wants

We always make two lists when we are searching for a home — one list with the absolute minimum we will accept and another one with some features that we would really appreciate. For example, our bicycles are an essential mode of transportation for us so we need secure outdoor storage. We need at least a large garden shed or a one-car garage. We would really appreciate a two-car garage.

Other questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do you want an older home with character and potentially higher maintenance costs or a newer home with modern design and lower maintenance costs?
  • Do you need to be close to a specific school for your children?
  • Do you need to be on a direct public transit route to work/school?
  • Do you want to be close to fitness centres, cycling/hiking trails, dog parks, grocery stores?

Remember to speak to your financial advisor to determine what kind of mortgage payment you can manage and factor that in to your needs and wants list.

Research homes and neighbourhoods

Real estate websites have detailed listings of homes that are available but check Google Maps and Street View to get an idea of what the neighbourhoods are like.

Contact a real estate agent as soon as you know you’ll be moving into the area. They know the area very well and they know the market. Provide your list of needs and wants as well as your budget and a timeline of when you plan on moving into the new home. Your agent can put together a list of potential properties based on the requirements you provide.

Research other information such as tax rates, schools, and crime statistics. You might also want to verify costs for services such as electricity, water, heating fuel, internet accessibility and other municipal services such as public transit and garbage/recycling collection.

Following the Twitter accounts for public transit, city services, local traffic, and local police will also give you some good information about the city as will listening to live-streaming of local news radio stations.

If you’re lucky enough to know people who live in your new city, reach out to them for advice. They might be able to connect you to Facebook or LinkedIn pages and groups that can provide information about your new area.

Consider renting

Your house-hunting trip may only be a week long and you may have a limited selection of homes to choose from. Rather than invest money in a house you may not be happy with, consider renting. While you are residing in a rental property, you will have the opportunity to get to know your new city, its neighbourhoods, traffic patterns, and amenities. You’ll have to move again (out of your rental and into your own home) but that hassle might be worth it if you can take the time to find your dream home in your preferred neighbourhood.

Indicate to your real estate agent that you are open to renting if you don’t see what you want to buy. Do a bit of research into the landlord-tenant regulations and standard leases in your new area to ensure you are comfortable with the terms of a rent or lease agreement (for example, how much notice must you give before you move out, are there penalties for moving out early, etc.).

Prepare before you go

Most realtors will be able to send you a list of potential homes before you arrive. Go through the list and eliminate any homes that do not meet your minimum requirements. Have your realtor make viewing appointments for any homes you do want to visit.

Ask if your realtor will be chauffeuring you around or whether you will be driving the realtor around. If it is the latter, take a few moments to enter the addresses of the homes you’ll be visiting into your car’s navigation system — if you’ll be using your own car. If you’ll be using a rental car you can use your own GPS or app on your phone.

Check your cell phone plan to ensure you will have phone/text/data coverage in your new area. Your phone company might offer a data roaming add-on for a discounted rate. This is especially important if you are using your phone as a navigation system.

Purchase a paper map of your new city. They have the advantage of allow you to view a much larger area and it is easy to see in one glance the location of all important landmarks and features (e.g., shopping centres, parks, etc.) near each home.

Book a hotel nearest to the neighbourhood where you’re looking for homes. There’s nothing worse to waste your time than being stuck in downtown traffic when you’re trying to get out to the suburbs on the far side of town. It’s also nice to be able to return to your hotel for a bit of a break and to freshen up between showings.

Finding a new home and moving can be stress inducing but when you are prepared ahead of time, you will find it much easier to make a home-buying decision.

Reader question: Should I sell my stuff in storage?

Reader Tonie wrote in with this question:

I’m living overseas and I have items in storage such as china plates, crystal glasses, and Charles Babb paintings (about 12 of them). Everything else I sold — all my furniture, my car — but I’m having a hard time getting rid of these items. It has been a year and a half and I’ll be here another year and a half. Should I just sell everything?

This is a great question Tonie. Our family had to make similar decisions when we moved from Canada to England for three years. It’s not always easy to decide what to keep and what to let go. Here are some things that helped us make our decisions.

The first step is to determine what is not worth keeping. (You obviously did that and decided to sell your furniture and car.) In our situation, our appliances were about six years old. After three years of storage, that meant nine-year-old appliances — almost at the age we would want to replace them anyway. At six years old, they could still fetch a pretty good price in the used appliance market so we let them go.

We decided to part with many children’s items as well. After three years abroad, we knew our children would be too old for many of their toys and games and definitely too big for their heavy winter clothes (essential for Canadian winters but not at all needed in England). Many items went to charity, others were sold.

Once you have eliminated the non-essentials, take a look at the items you’ve decided to keep and determine their value. Check auction website such as eBay to determine how much the item is worth used, — how much you could sell your items for right now. For antiques or artwork, you may wish to contact a dealer and get a quote. You should also determine replacement value — the amount it would cost to buy the item (or one very similar to it) brand-new if you needed it.

Next, calculate the cost of storage for the period of time you’re abroad. Remember to include insurance costs and any other incidental fees relating to storage.

If the cost of storage is more than the replacement value of your items, you may decide it is a better option to sell all of the goods. This means it would be less expensive to sell your goods now and buy new later, than to put them into storage.

It is very difficult to put a dollar amount on the sentimental value of an item but that too must be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, we at Unclutterer cannot do that for you. You’ll have to make that determination yourself.

So, back to your issue Tonie — you have about 18 months left before you return to your items in storage. Here are my suggestions:

  • If you honestly do not want the items, and you are coming back to visit family and friends anyway, then go ahead and sell the items during your visit home.
  • If you do not want the items and have not planned on coming back, but a trip back will cost less than the storage fees, then consider returning to sell the items.
  • If you are unsure but can afford the storage fees until your return, wait until you get back to liquidate the items you do not want.
  • If you are not coming back for a visit and cannot afford the storage fees, find a reputable liquidator, or friend/family member you can trust, to sell the items on your behalf.

The above suggestions are based on a financial perspective. Please take a few moments to listen to your heart and take the sentimental value into consideration when you are making your final decision.

Thanks for your great question Tonie. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

 

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Apps to easily organize storage bins

Three years ago, I mentioned a fun trick in a post about digitizing user manuals. Basically, it works like this:

  1. Save the manual in an Evernote note.
  2. Use that note’s unique URL to create a QR Code.
  3. Print that code on adhesive-backed printer paper.
  4. Affix the code sticker to the washer, drill, etc., for instant access to its manual.

Bella Storage does a similar thing for storage totes but it reduces the number of steps and apps, and greatly enhances the result. The app, available for iPhones and Android, is the heart of the solution. When you’re putting items into a Bella storage bin, use it to note the contents, give the bin a name (“Halloween decorations,” “Summer clothes”, etc.) and give it a category, like “holiday” or “sports.” Lastly, add a location.

Later, when you’re looking for that one swimsuit, the jack-o-lantern carving tools, or the bike helmets, Bella tells you what bin it’s in and where it is located. It works in the other direction, too. Simply walk up to a bin, scan the code on the side and “see” exactly what’s inside. You don’t need to pull it down and lift the lid.

Of course, there are other solutions that offer something similar. Box Me Up works much the same, and has both a mobile-friendly, browser-based interface as well as an Android app. Another option is I.M Organized, which lets you inventory all of your stuff by simply scanning a bar code, and also generates QR Codes for you to affix to boxes or bins.

Finally, there’s the DIY method I mentioned earlier.

Good luck! Try out any of these apps for quick retrieval of your stuff. Happy storing!

A straightforward seven-step process to achieve your goals

This coming weekend will mark a first for me: I’m competing in a sprint triathlon. As with any activity requiring preparation (moving, changing jobs, going away to school), there has been a great deal of planning and organizing involved to get ready for the race. When I made the decision to work toward this goal back in January, I felt like a project manager as I tried to figure out how to get to where I am today. Ultimately, I decided to use a basic, seven-step process to reach my goal.

To give you an idea of where I was before I decided to take on this project, I didn’t know how to swim. I could float around and not drown, but I didn’t know how to swim laps or do any proper strokes. I’d also never been on a racing bike, and the only bike in my garage was my two-year-old daughter’s, complete with training wheels. I couldn’t run a mile continuously and the idea of swimming, biking, and running back-to-back-to-back genuinely terrified me. I needed skills, gear, training, and confidence.

The first step in the planning process for this triathlon was the same as it is for any project: research and gather information. I read The Triathlete’s Training Bible, Triathlon Anatomy, and a couple more books. I jumped on YouTube and watched videos from races. I learned about all the equipment I’d need (swim goggles, a racing bike, fast-drying triathlon clothing, gym membership, running shoes …) and put together a rough estimate of how much it would cost and how much race expenses would be (hotel, travel, race registration). I extensively studied dietary needs for athletes. This is also the point where I saw my doctor for a physical and underwent other forms of athletic testing (anaerobic threshold, body fat and lean mass analysis, etc.) with a triathlon coach to learn as much as I could about my body.

The second step in the planning process was to evaluate the gathered information and decide if I wanted to proceed toward the goal as anticipated. In a typical project, this step might include changing the goal or moving the completion date or deciding if you need to bring in additional resources before continuing. You look at the information gathered and analyze it to see if you can achieve your goal. For me, the decision was much more personal in nature. I have a genetic disorder that makes competing in triathlons not the best idea I’ve ever had. My disability doesn’t prohibit me from doing a triathlon, but it certainly makes things more complicated. So, I had to decide if I wanted to continue knowing the risks and my limitations. I decided to continue, but I also had to agree to do everything I possibly could to reduce my risk of injury and complications.

The third step is mostly complete after the research stage, but it’s important to create an official budget for the project. No matter the project, be sure to build in a line item for unexpected expenses. Then, maybe, triple that line item. (I forgot I’d have to pay for childcare, for example.)

The fourth step is a lot of people’s favorite step: create timelines and to-do lists. This is the point where you identify what needs to get done, by whom, and when. As I previously mentioned, I needed to take lessons on how to swim and how to ride a racing bike. I had to weight train and build endurance. I also needed to overhaul my diet so I wouldn’t do damage to my body, which meant months of meal planning. I created milestones and points where I would check-in with my coach (for a work project, this would be where you check in with your client) and points to evaluate how my training was going so I could make changes, if necessary, as I progressed. Be specific during this step — swim 30 laps, pack two boxes, sort through one dresser drawer, write 1,500 words — so that it is clear to you each day when you look at your calendar exactly what you need to do.

The fifth step is the hardest and (typically) the longest: do the work every day. Once everything is in place, it’s time to get your hands dirty. This is when you crank the widgets. I joined a gym with a pool. I bought a racing bike. Some days I was up at 5:00 a.m. for swim classes. Other days it was raining or freezing or extremely hot and training was the last thing I wanted to do, but if I wanted to reach my goal I had to do it. You write the code or build the house or pack all your belongings into boxes.

The sixth step I have yet to complete on this project, but it’s my favorite step in the process: complete your goal. For me, this will be Saturday when I (hopefully) cross the finish line.

The seventh step is the final one and often the most overlooked: evaluate your performance. Once a project is finished, it is tempting to move on to the next project without taking the time to identify what went right, what didn’t, and your final expenses and time sheets. But doing so will help you in the future — the next time you move or build a website for a client or compete in a triathlon. This information will be a valuable resource to you in the future, so take the time to complete this step and help your future self. You won’t regret it.

All of these steps are intuitive, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to rush ahead to start with step four before doing steps one through three. Or be so happy to be finished with step six that you skip step seven. Do all of these steps and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals. Taking on a large project also can create anxiety, but breaking it down and going through this process will help you to see that your goal can be reached.

What to do with an unused piano

An Unclutterer reader wrote to us asking a surprisingly common question:

I’m currently getting ready to move out of state. I’m retired, and am downsizing everything in my life. I have a piano that my father gave me when I was in high school. He passed away over 20 years ago. I’m moving to a small beach cottage on the Oregon coast. I am struggling with the decision of not taking the piano. I don’t really play it anymore, and feel that it isn’t going to fit in our small home. Somehow, I’m not sure if this is the right decision. What are your thoughts?

This is a question I can relate to, as I’ve been on both the giving and the receiving end of a piano. In addition to being a large instrument, pianos can also hold great sentimental value for their owners. Therefore, what to do with a piano can be a difficult decision.

The piano

First and foremost, pianos are big. Even a small upright piano can be as large as a couch. Inviting one into your home is a commitment, as they’re big, heavy, and difficult to move. Typically, once a piano has been placed in its spot, that’s where it’s going to stay until you move.

Don’t get me wrong, a piano is not a burden. It’s a lovely instrument. And, like many other objects, a piano can harbor tremendous sentimental value. When I was in high school and a dedicated music student, my parents acquired a piano from family friends who wanted to offload it. For the price of moving it across town, the piano was ours. I adored it and spent countless hours on the bench, playing away.

When I moved out to attend college, my parents were left with a massive piece of unused furniture. I was the only one in the family who played, and while I studied far away in Boston, the old piano back in Pennsylvania was being used to display family photos. After much deliberation, they decided the piano had to go.

The sentiment

The weight of emotion can be even stronger than trying to budge a piano that exceeds 400 pounds. In 2010, the BBC published an article, “What is nostalgia good for?”, which acknowledged the appeal of keeping sentimental items:

Nostalgia is a way for us to tap into the past experiences that we have that are quite meaningful — to remind us that our lives are worthwhile, that we are people of value, that we have good relationships, that we are happy and that life has some sense of purpose or meaning.

The article also noted the potential risks of keeping everything from the past:

While highlighting the benefits of nostalgia, a 2006 report in Psychology Today magazine has warned that ‘overdoing reminiscence’ risks an absence of joy derived from the present, and a reliance on past memories to provide happiness.

If you have no need for the piano, but it holds a great deal of sentimental value for you, perhaps there’s a book of sheet music in the piano’s bench you can display in a quality frame. Maybe the rack that holds up the music can be removed and repurposed elsewhere in the house. For your specific situation, I’d suggest finding a way to display some part of that experience in a meaningful way that will let you say goodbye to the piano itself.

As far as getting rid of the actual piano, start by asking friends if they might be interested in having it. Talk with music teachers — at schools, music stores, and those who give private lessons — to see if there might be students who are looking to acquire an instrument. List it on Craigslist or your local Freecycle if you can’t find the piano’s next owner in one of the previously mentioned ways. And, finally, see if the next resident of your home might be interested in having it. It’s very difficult to sell pianos, so prepare to think of it as a donation instead of something with monetary value.

Good luck and congratulations on your new home.

Tips for move preparation

Moving is stressful. Being organized and planning in advance can help relive that stress. If you’re moving in the near future, the following are some tips that you can do right now that will reduce the stress during the move.

Buy smaller. Many of us buy the larger “club pack” or “family-size” packages in order to save a few dollars. However when it comes time to move, we may end up with only half finished bottle of ketchup or half finished bottle of bleach. If you’re moving a short distance, you may be able to transport these items yourself. If you’re moving a longer distance, keep in mind that most moving companies won’t transport perishable foods or cleaning products. Whatever items you have left may end up getting thrown out or given away to neighbours and friends. About three to six months before moving, think about buying smaller size packages to ensure that you’ll have used up the products by moving day.

Watch your mail. Make a list of all the mail you receive. Unsubscribe from magazines and catalogues you no longer wish to receive. Record subscription numbers of magazines you want to receive in a designated paper file or on a computer spreadsheet. If you donate to charities, make sure they have your new address so that you will receive your income tax receipts for next year.

Pitch the paper. The heaviest thing to move in your house might not be your piano or your fitness equipment — it might be your paper. From stuffed filing cabinets to shelves full of books, there is a lot of paper in your home. Shred documents you are no longer required to keep. Donate gently used books.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Although it is fine to borrow items and loan them out, now is the time to return anything you’ve borrowed and reclaim the things you’ve loaned. It may take some time to track down everyone and everything, so start as soon as you can. Ensure your children have returned items to their friends and have collected items they’ve loaned out, too.

Collect contact information. Ensure you have the contact information (address, phone numbers) of medical, dental, and health service centres (physiotherapist, etc.) you’ve visited. You’ll need this information to have your records transferred to your new health service centres. Take a business card from the clinic and write down their hours on the back of the card. When you go to the new medical clinic you can take the business card from your previous clinic, so it will be easier to have the records transferred. Avery business card pages help keep the business cards organized.

Start your home sale preparations. If you’re selling your home, consider having your home inspected. An inspector will tell you all of the things you need to get repaired or updated prior to putting your home on the market. You may want also want to consult a home stager. Home stagers will give you advice on choosing paint colours and accessorizing your home to make it more attractive to buyers. By booking in advance, you’ll give yourself time to re-paint and do all the little necessary touch ups. It will give you the chance to spread the cost over several months, too.

The ins-and-outs of using a self-storage unit

Using a storage unit to house clutter is not recommended because it is a waste of money and is only a way to delay making a decision about what to do with the stuff you no longer need. However, storage units can be a useful temporary storage solution when staging your house to sell it or moving for a few years overseas — especially when those units are well organized and you know exactly when you will cease using the unit.

If you fall into the category of someone who temporarily needs a storage unit, the following tips for choosing a storage facility and preparing your goods for storage may be helpful to you.

Create a complete inventory of everything you wish to place into storage. You should also take photographs and/or videos of the items. List the approximate current value of all items and you may also want to list the approximate replacement value (i.e. the cost of buying the item brand new).

Using your inventory as a guide, decide how much storage space you need. Many self-storage companies will provide a guideline of how much “stuff” fits into their storage units. If you are storing items such as wine, wood or leather furniture, artwork, musical instruments, paperwork or photographs you should choose climate-controlled storage.

Obtain insurance quotes. Some self-storage companies will provide insurance with the cost of rental but it may be expensive and not adequate for your needs. Your homeowners’ insurance policy may provide coverage at a better rate. Some insurance policies have specific minimum requirements for the storage facility security system. Some policies require that the owner or owner’s representative verify the contents on a regular basis. It is important to read the fine print of your insurance policy.

Examine the cost of storage and insurance. Decide if there are items that are not worth storing for the intended period of time. For example, when we moved to Britain we had the option of leaving items in storage in Canada for the three years that we are in England. Since our appliances were over 7 years old before our move, we opted to sell them rather than return to Canada and have 10-year-old appliances that may or may not work after being in storage. You should only store items that you will use in the future, and only if it’s less expensive to store them than to replace them.

You should visit two or three different facilities in order to find out which is the best for you. Look for customer reviews of each facility on various websites such as Yelp and the Better Business Bureau.

Additional points to take into consideration:

Price

  • Is the price reasonable after any “move-in promotional discounts” have expired?
  • Are there any hidden add-on fees such as accessing the unit outside normal business hours, multiple daily visits, or move in/out charges?
  • What happens if you miss a payment?
  • What happens if you cause damage to your unit? (E.g. furniture scraping walls.)

Communications

  • How and when does the facility contact you if there is a problem with your storage unit?
  • How do they proceed if you are not available?
  • How and when can you contact the facility?
  • Is there communication to the site manager directly or are calls routed through a call centre?

Site visit

  • Is the unit clean and dry?
  • Are there water or mildew stains on the walls or floor?
  • Are there any “off” odours? Strong smells of bleach or vanilla may indicate the facility is trying to cover the odour of something else.
  • If you’re looking at climate-controlled storage, does each unit have its own climate monitor? Will the company allow you to view the data to see the fluctuations?
  • Is there any overhead ductwork or piping in the unit? Broken pipes could cause damage to your items. Ductwork allows pests (insects and rodents) to travel between units.
  • Is there a pest control system in place? Have there been any pest problems in the past? If so, what measures were taken?
  • Are there any items that are not permitted in storage? Most self-storage units have restrictions on tires, small engines (lawn mowers, motorcycles), firewood, propane tanks, medical or pharmaceutical supplies, perishable products (food, pet food), construction equipment, firearms, ammunition, hazardous household products (cleaners) and explosives.
  • Does the door to the unit close securely? Have someone (partner/ friend) shut you inside the unit. You should not see any light around the door or through the walls or ceiling.
  • Do customers supply their own locks? What type of locks are permitted/recommended?
  • Are there plenty of security cameras surveying the area? Are they live-monitored? Is the feed recorded?
  • Are there alarms on individual units to know the date/time a unit is accessed?
  • What type of background checks/training do the employees receive?
  • Have there been any burglaries at this facility? (You may wish to ask the local police for any incident reports regarding this facility.)
  • Are there hallway intercoms? Could you easily contact security personnel if you were in distress?
  • Is the lighting adequate (indoors and outdoors)? Are there any dark corners or hallways? If you might access your items at night, consider visiting the unit late in the evening (Don’t go alone!) to ensure you are comfortable with the level of security.

Preparing your stuff for storage

It’s a good idea to thoroughly clean your items before they go into storage. After cleaning, appliances should be rinsed with bleach to prevent mould and mildew growth. Drain and flush washing machines and dishwashers. Antifreeze may be required if they are in climate-controlled storage. Prop open appliance doors so air can circulate. A small container of baking soda or DampRid will help keep odours at a minimum.

Ideally, upholstered furniture and mattresses should be wrapped in plastic to keep them clean and pest-free during storage. If you’re moving items from a cold, damp environment to a warm environment, condensation may form. If possible, allow them to become acclimatized to the new environment before wrapping with plastic to avoid mould and mildew build-up.

Storing items on pallets is preferable. It allows for air circulation. Also, if there is ever a spill or minor flooding, your items will be protected.

So that you can easily find your items in storage, but potential thieves cannot, label the boxes with numbers instead of words. You can have a list of all the items in each box or using the inventory list of your items, write down in which box each item is stored. Keep your list in a safe place and leave a copy with a friend or family member, just in case. You can also keep an electronic version in Dropbox or iCloud.

Remember to pack heavy items, such as books, in smaller boxes so they are easy to carry. Lighter, bulky items such as pillows can be packed in smaller boxes. When stacking boxes, put the heavier ones on the bottom, lighter on the top. You may wish to label the boxes with words such as “HEAVY” and “FRAGILE”.

Consider wrapping pallets or individual boxes with stretch film. This will help keep things clean, dry and pest free, and it will let you know if anyone has disturbed the contents of your storage unit.

When filling your storage unit, think about how often you will access certain items. Arrange frequently accessed items near the front. Keep valuable items such as televisions, and other electronics towards the back. You never know who will be looking over your shoulder when you access your goods.

Ensure there is space to move around inside the unit. Consider creating an aisle down middle or a path around the outside. If you plan to stack boxes to the ceiling, ensure the aisle/path is wide enough to fit a ladder.

By keeping in mind these tips, you should have a successful self-storage experience.

Do you have any self-storage tips or tricks? Please share them with our readers in the comments.

Moving: Working with a professional moving company, part two

This is part two of a two-part series on this topic.

It’s exciting to move into a new home and have a crew unload and unpack your household goods. As far as employment perks go, it’s a very nice perk. If you want to make settling into your home even easier, keep some of these tips in mind.

As with any move, plan to arrive a day or two before your household goods. Complete the deal with the real estate agents and lawyers, and clean the house if required. It is much easier to clean an empty house.

Designate a special spot for incoming paperwork and mail so that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of boxes and wrappings. Ideally, you should have a small portable filing box to keep the papers organized. You could store the box in your car during the move-in or designate a special spot in your new home. Make everyone aware of the location of the box and encourage everyone to put important papers in that box.

Set up disposal systems. Place a garbage bin in every room in a spot as close as possible to where the garbage bin will permanently live in that room. If garbage bins are not available, use Painter’s Tape to attach a garbage bag to the wall.

Decide where you would like to place the big pieces of furniture such as beds and sofas. You only want to move the heavy items once. There are some online tools you can use to easily plan and design your space: Icovia Room Planner and Roomsketcher.

When the unloading crew arrives, show them around the house and let them know where the furniture should be placed. Placing signs on the doors of the room with a sketch of the furniture layout will help the crew know where to put the furniture. (Again, Painter’s Tape is good for this task.)

Watch as the crew opens truck doors and examine the load to see if it shifted in transit. If so, take photos so you can include them if you decide to make a claim for damages.

The unloading crew will provide a list of tag numbers as all of the items were tagged prior to loading onto the truck. As each item, box or piece of furniture leaves the truck, cross off the tag number. Note beside the tag number if a box is damaged (scuffed, dented, torn or crushed). Sometimes tags fall off the item or get stuck to the wrappings so an item may be missing its tag. On a separate sheet of paper or the back of the list, write down the piece of furniture or the size of the box. At the end of the unloading session, crosscheck the “no tag” items with your tag list. You should find that all the tag numbers are crossed off. Note in detail any items that are missing.

Unpacking generally takes place the following day. However if you do not have much stuff, it may take place the same day. Most unpacking services are “flat surface” unpacks. This means the unpacking crew will unpack the boxes and place the contents on any flat surfaces (including the floor). Normally the crew will not place items on shelving units or in cupboards in case the shelving unit tips over or the shelves break. If that happens, your items may not be covered by insurance.

It is helpful if you can work side-by side with the unpacking crew and place items in their “homes” after the crew member places them on the flat surfaces. This is important in the kitchen where there are usually more dishes than counter space.

As the crew is unpacking, note any broken or damaged items. Take pictures.

One other tip: Unfold and lay flat all of the packing paper prior to it being removed from your property to ensure that all small items are taken out, such as the lid from the sugar bowl or the remote control for the TV.

Once the crew has departed with the boxes and packing material, you’ll be able to enjoy setting up and organising your new home.

Moving: Working with a professional moving company

This is part one of a two-part series on this topic.

Like many people, I had moved houses several times with the help of family, friends, pizza and beer. I prepared, planned, organised and the move went smoothly. After I married my husband and he was transferred for his job, we were entitled to full-service moves (pack, load, ship, unload, unpack) by professional moving companies. In our 22 years of marriage, we have moved 8 times with professional moving companies. On our very first move, I learned hard and fast that there are different things to take into consideration when working with a professional moving company than when doing it on your own.

First of all, declutter and organise as much as you can prior to the moving date. The moving company will base the estimated cost of the move on the weight and volume of your goods and effects. The less you have, the less the move will cost. The cost of moving household goods is approximately $6-$12 per kilogram ($3-$5 per pound) for a full-service move. The less you have, the less it will cost not only in shipping fees but in the time it takes to pack and unpack these items.

Prepare a home inventory. This is essential for your insurance purposes as well as any loss or damage claims you may wish to file with the moving company after your move. Although a list of goods is sufficient, having pictures of all your items is beneficial in case you need to prove that an item was in good condition prior to the move.

Ensure you understand the moving company’s policies regarding claims. Prior to the move, mark the claim deadline in your agenda at least one week before the claim needs to be submitted. This will allow you to gather your documentation for the claim and submit it on time.

Decide what to do with items that the moving company will not ship. Because of transportation safety regulations, flammables (matches, solvents), explosives (fertilizer, aerosol cans), corrosives, (bleach, drain cleaner), cannot be shipped. If the move takes place in the winter, the moving company may refuse to take any liquids (including canned food) because these items can freeze and burst. You may wish to transport these items in your own vehicle or leave them with friends and family. If you throw away any hazardous material prior to moving, please respect the environment and use a designated municipal disposal facility.

NOTE: Transporting alcohol, tobacco and firearms across state, provincial or international borders may require special documentation. Contact the appropriate government departments prior to moving these items.

If your household goods are clean, dry and in their proper place in your home prior to packing, they will be very close to their proper place in the unpacking phase. A little extra cleaning and organising in advance will save time and energy in your new home.

Although most moving companies are very good, occasionally something gets packed that should NOT be packed so empty all of the garbage pails before the packing crew arrives. Wash and sanitize your garbage cans so they arrive fresh and clean in your new home.

Keep your wallet, purse, valuables, and important paperwork locked in your car during the packing process, but, if you need to, designate a bathroom as a “Do Not Pack” area. This will make sure that essential extra roll of toilet paper won’t be packed.

When the packing crew arrives, introduce yourself and give them a tour of the house. Point out any fragile or oddly shaped items that require special care. Let the crew know that you are available to answer any questions.

Before your goods are loaded onto the moving van, politely ask if you can look inside the cargo area. You may not be able to enter the cargo area because of liability reasons but look inside if possible. If you notice any stains, greasy spots or holes in the walls or roof of the cargo area, politely point them out to the driver. Contact the moving company if you are concerned about possible damage to your household goods.

ANOTHER NOTE: During the loading day, never leave an open moving van or house unattended. A member of the loading crew or one of your friends/family members should be in the house and truck at all times. Passers-by can easily walk away with a box or two!

Before the truck rolls away, do a final walk through of your home. Verify that all the closets and cupboards are empty, especially on the highest and lowest shelves. Check behind doors too! Exchange contact information with the driver. Ask when he/she expects to be arriving at the destination and what route he/she expects to be travelling.

Say your final good-byes to your home and as you drive away you can look forward to your next adventure in a new and organised home.

Building a custom home: Four steps to help you stay organized

There’s a wonderful discussion happening on the Unclutterer Forums. The topic: Building a new house. Quite honestly, it has me feeling a little envious. Building a custom home has got to be an exciting experience. At the same time, I suspect that it also can be a little overwhelming because there are so many things to consider and decisions to be made.

The process can go smoothly and with fewer hiccups if you do a bit of planning ahead of time. A key step would be to get everything out of your head and to organize all the necessary information in an easy to use system.

Think about changes you’d like to make

Start thinking about the home you presently live in. What seems to be working well? You’ll want to make sure those elements are present in your new home. What are some things that need to be improved upon? Do you have particular solutions in mind? Walk through each room in your current home and record the things that you would like to change.

Keep a list of “must-haves”

Once you’ve walked through each area in your home, you’ll have a better idea of the features that are most important to you. Create a list or chart of each room with the specific features you would like to have (hidden storage areas, extra outlets). Be specific about the things that you think would make each room function better based on your current lifestyle, and include any elements that you would find it difficult to live without. Your list will likely start out as a wish list and then get refined once you begin working with your contractor.

Collect important information in one central location

Speaking of contractors, consider using a binder (with tabbed pages) or a digital notebook (like Evernote or Springpad) to keep track of builders and other professionals (architects, designers) that you want to contact or who have given you proposals. Your binder, digital notebook, or a website like Houzz.com is also a great place to keep track of your ideas. Be sure to also include a copy of your budget in your notebook. That way, you’ll be able to find it easily and see the budgeted dollar amounts as you think about features you want to include in your new home.

Plan your next move

It’s never too early to start preparing you current home for your departure. You will get a timeline for completion from the builders, so you can schedule time to unclutter your current space. Then, when it’s time to pack, you’ll only be handling the things that you will be taking with you. To help you stay on track, consider using a moving checklist.

Building a custom home can be fun and managed without feelings of stress. With a solid plan and understanding of the process, you can successfully see your plans come to life. Keep in mind that you can always get more information before you make any final decisions. There are lots of articles (like 10 Things to Consider when Building a Home) and books (check out Building Your Own Home For Dummies) on building your home from scratch — as well as the mistakes to avoid — that can be great resources for you.

If you were to build your dream home, what uncluttered features would you include in the space?

Ask Unclutterer: Helping parents downsize

Reader Amanda submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

After over 40 years in their home, [my 73 year old parents] … have decided to sell and build a house in a nearby community where HOA fees will pay for things like taking care of the yards. I am delighted for them.

… my mother has already expressed:

A) Anxiety about having to clean out their house to get it ready to sell. This also includes having small repairs made and staging the home.

B) Excitement about this being a chance to go through the things that they’ve collected over 40 years and toss/donate/sell the things they no longer want. She sees this as a chance to dump the unwanted and move forward only with what they want, need, and enjoy.

Do you have advice and resources I could pass on to my mother? … Any help you can offer would be welcome! Thanks.

Question A is easy to answer because good real estate agents have contractors and stagers on their staffs who do exactly these types of projects or they have a short list of trusted professionals they recommend using. When we sold our house last year, our agent’s team patched small nail holes, replaced a broken latch on a window, brought in a professional cleaning crew, mulched our flower beds, and staged the whole house. If the agent your parents are considering working with doesn’t have quick access to these services, they may want to interview some more agents to find one who really knows what he/she is doing. Since your parents are planning to move in just six months, now is a great time to start working with an agent.

Question B is terrific news because it means your parents are already thinking about the uncluttering and moving process in a positive way, too. You can help your parents by researching names of local charities and what types of donations the charities accept and how to make donations (drop off times, days of weeks, locations) to those charities. You can research what types of trash your parents’ waste management service collects for those things that really do need to be purged, as well as the area’s hazardous waste policies for any chemicals you parents won’t want to move into their new space. You can set up a Craig’s List account for your folks, if they’re interested in selling items. You can also find out names of local professional organizers who are specifically trained to help move people over age 65 through the National Association of Senior Move Managers.

If your parents are interested, you can also help them to unclutter, drop off items at charities, and pack. Work out a schedule with them so each day a little work can be done, and so you’ll know when you’re welcome to lend a hand and when they would rather privately work. Most of all, be prepared to listen. Downsizing from a family home can be emotionally difficult — even if it is a welcome move — and the difficulty is often alleviated through the sharing of stories about the memories that were made in the home.

Thank you, Amanda, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck to your family over the next six months. Also, be sure to check the comments for even more advice from our readers.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.