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:


  • 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.)


  • 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 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.

You don’t have to turn off your emotions when uncluttering

We sold our house yesterday. We signed a lot of papers, handed over the keys, and said an official farewell to a place we loved.

The rational part of me accepts that a house is just concrete, bricks, glass, steel beams, and wood. As George Carlin once pointed out, a house is simply a container for you and your stuff. The emotional part of me, however, has a difficult time separating all the wonderful memories created in the house from its drywall. The house we sold is where we brought my son when we brought him home. I wrote my book in that house. There are six and a half years of my family’s laughter and happiness within those walls.

As with almost all possessions, though, there comes a time when an object stops meeting your needs. Something that was perfect for you in the past, is no longer a perfect fit in the present. And, as difficult as it is to let go, it’s the right thing to do to be able to pursue the life of your dreams.

Even though I’ve been living as an unclutterer for close to a decade, I still haven’t come to the point where I can completely turn off my emotional attachments to sentimental things. I’m not an automaton. I still mourn a little when I say goodbye to objects that have passed through my life, but now I can at least bid them farewell when it’s appropriate.

There is nothing wrong with feeling a little sting when saying goodbye to objects you have loved. Just don’t let that sting keep you from parting with something that no longer fits with your life and the life you desire. When uncluttering, if you need to take a few minutes to mourn the end of ownership of an object, take a few minutes to mourn.

Staying organized during an office move

In some ways, moving offices is more stressful than moving a home. Personal appointments can be scheduled around a home move, but work demands continue regardless of an office move. Some things need to be unpacked right away during a home move (toilet paper, bed sheets), but for the most part you can take a few days, weeks, or months to put your belongings in their new locations. With an office move, it all needs to be put away instantly or you could suffer negative repercussions, like losing productivity, clients, income, or even your job.

I’ve learned a great deal during this recent move about what works — and, more importantly, what doesn’t work — when moving offices. If you’re gearing up for an office move, the following tips can help you to stay organized and avoid a good amount of chaos:

  1. Before unpacking a single box, make sure your office furniture is in its best place for your work. If you’re in a cubical, this decision has usually been made for you. If you’re lucky enough to have furniture you can move around the room, adjust it to accommodate your needs. You’ll want a location for your desk that will avoid glare on your computer screen, allow for a quick and unobstructed exit in case of emergency, will make it easy to plug in your computer and peripherals, and best suits your ergonomic needs.
  2. Once your horizontal surfaces are in place, grab your computer keyboard and a chair and establish the best location for these two objects. You want to be able to work so that typing at your keyboard every day won’t create any pains in your neck, arms, or back. Most people also need a good amount of empty work surface to spread out with projects during work hours. Make sure your keyboard will be in a location to work with these needs, too.
  3. Set up all of your technical equipment — computer, monitor, keyboard, printer, telephone, back-up drives, scanner, speaker system, headset, etc. Put the devices you access multiple times a day in the most convenient locations and those pieces of equipment you access the least often further out of your reach. Remember to leave yourself open work surfaces as necessary.
  4. Manage your cables. If you didn’t do so before your move, label the device plug with the device name (a silver permanent marker or label maker work great for this) so you’ll never wonder what cable belongs to what device when you’re crouched under your desk. Group and shorten cables with velcro cable ties or turtles or whatever works best for you. As best as you can, keep your cables from becoming a mess of a nest.
  5. At this point, locate any work associated with your current projects and set it in your open work surface area. You’ll want this at your fingertips if needed.
  6. Continue on to setting up your desk drawers. Again, put most accessed items in the most convenient locations.
  7. Set up the very few desk supplies that will take up space on your work surface. I only keep a pen cup and a pad of sticky notes next to my phone, and a well-labeled inbox on my desk so co-workers will know where to put items for me when they come into my office. You may also want a tickler file/to-do list, a reference book or two, and a to-be filed bin on your work surface if they fit your work needs.
  8. Books, binders, and archived files are usually the last items that can be put away in your new office. When you pack these items before the move, keep like objects together and label each box so you know exactly what items are included — labels like “Archived files A-N” or “Conference binders 2009-2011” will be more meaningful to you than “Files” or “Binders.”

Similar to a home move, unclutter as much as possible on both the packing and unpacking side of the move. You may also benefit from unpacking your office outside of regular business hours. You may not get paid for this time, but you will be rewarded for it in other ways during the work week — mostly with your sanity. Also, be prepared to be responsible for your most sensitive and current projects during the move. Many employers do not wish for these items to be moved by professional movers for security reasons.

What method do you use for unpacking your office during a move? Share your experiences in the comments.

Ask Unclutterer: Emptying a storage unit

Reader Allicia submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I recently moved to Minnesota from New Mexico. I didn’t have a job at first so I moved most (almost all) of my stuff into a storage unit. Now that I am settled, I have a plan to go to New Mexico to unload and organize my storage unit and get rid of stuff I no longer need, etc. I am sitting here in Minnesota and cannot fathom an idea of how to sort through the stuff packed away. I also wonder how to deal with family who will be helping me and may not want me to get rid of stuff. They have more attachment to things than I usually do. Can you help me devise a plan to attack my storage unit?

Storage units are great resources when you temporarily need a place to put your things for three to six months, like you needed to do with this move. Storage units, however, are not where things should go to live for years. When you abandon things in storage units you end up spending more money storing the items than you would selling everything and buying replacement items in the future. Additionally, the storage units are much more likely to be infested with bugs, rodents, mildew, mold and other possession-ruining things than they would be in your home.

It’s not exactly clear in your question if you plan to move your items to your new place in Minnesota or if you just want to organize the unit and leave your things in New Mexico. Whatever your current thoughts, I’m advocating that you completely get rid of the need for your storage unit. I think you’ll find that you don’t want or need the majority of the things you left in New Mexico when you headed to Minnesota.

Think of the first step of your storage unit clean out like a treasure hunt. Go through the unit on your own and find the irreplaceable things you truly value — photographs from your childhood, your favorite pieces of jewelry, and whatever else you would feel truly crushed about if they were destroyed by a fire. For most people, these items fit in one medium-size box.

Tape up the box and carry it with you on your flight or drive back to Minnesota.

For the next step of the process, have your family come in to help you sort through the remaining stuff. Before opening the storage unit door, let your family know that you plan to close the unit by the end of the day. This goal should be crystal clear in everyone’s mind, including yours.

Then, clearly mark four areas near the storage unit for your objects — trash/recycle (these are things everyone agrees are ready to be purged), sell (these are items you can post to Craigslist or take to a consignment shop), donate (these are things in good shape that a local charity could benefit from having), and family stash (these are items your family members will take with them at the end of the process).

The family stash pile is going to be the most controversial pile you create (or, rather, don’t create). What will likely happen is that someone in your family will say, “Oh, you can’t give that away!” about an object in your storage unit. In response to their declaration, you can respond, “I will gladly give it to you if you would like it.” If the person says she wants it, then it will go into the family stash pile for that person to take home. If the person says, “I don’t want it, but I think you should keep it,” the object will then go into the donate or sell pile. If someone doesn’t want an object enough to want to care for it themselves, they have no leverage to try to guilt you into keeping it.

Have a truck or trucks available at the end of your sorting process to immediately haul the four piles to their appropriate destinations. If you are selling objects on Craigslist, you will likely need to store these objects in someone’s garage for a few days so potential buyers can come by and view the items. Give yourself a strict deadline that any objects that haven’t sold by the day before you leave will be donated to charity.

With the money you get from selling items on Craigslist or through consignment, you can buy things (if you want) for your new place in Minnesota.

Finally, I strongly recommend thanking your helpers by providing them with drinks and snacks as they work and dinner when you are all finished. People tend to be more level-headed and easy going when they’re well fed and hydrated.

Thank you, Allicia, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was able to help you navigate this process, and congratulations on your move. Be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions and different perspectives 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.