Posts Tagged ‘moving’

A House That Costs Less

If you're like most people, your home is your major monthly expense. It's not unusual these days for rent and mortgage payments to eat up a third or more of your disposable income. Of course, when you've got empty rooms, there's a strong urge to fill them with “stuff” — and once you start shopping, it's often hard to stop! You may have even accumulated so much over the years that you're paying for a couple of off-site storage units, as well. Then when you add in utilities, property taxes, maintenance and repairs, homeowner or condo association fees, and all those “extra” services required to keep your home looking nice (lawn care, housekeeper, the pool guy, landscaping, decorators, etc.) — you might be spending half or even three-quarters of your paycheck on a place to live. A lot of folks are finding themselves “house poor,” with every penny they make going toward their living environment. That's just crazy! But the good news is that every single one of these expenses can be reduced — you just have to think a little differently about that roof over your head.

  • ask yourself how much home you really need (more is better in America, at least that's what the advertisements tell you! Wink — here are some interesting facts from the National Association Of Home Builders and the National Census — in 1950, the average American home in was 983 square feet and household size was 3.37 people, which translates into 292 square feet per person — by the mid-2000's, home size had risen to 2,349 square feet and household size had dropped to 2.61, leaving folks with 900 square feet per person — of course you want enough room to be comfortable, but there comes a point when a large home is simply too big for you to maintain on your own — chores like housecleaning, yard work, and repairs become unreasonably time-consuming, possibly even unmanageable without paying for outside help — wouldn't it be nice to devote less energy on the upkeep of your living environment, and more on actually living? — Thoreau was quite comfortable in 150 square feet on Walden Pond, intentionally simplifying his material world so he would have the freedom to contemplate and philosophize and suck the marrow from life — are you sucking the marrow from your life? — do you have enough time for all the projects and activities and people that you claim are a priority to you? — or are you always too busy with that “honey-do” list to get around to the really important stuff? — and don't forget that, with increased home sizes, prices have gone up, too — again according to the Census, that modern-day home costs about 3x what the 1950's house did, in inflation-adjusted dollars — if your casa feels like a burden, the way ours did, it might be time to ask yourself if you have more house than you really need)
  • reconsider your layout (what is it that makes houses so dadgummed big these days? — Matt and I are perfectly content to share less than 200 square feet — but then again, we haven't set aside entire rooms of our home just for games or watching television or entertaining — our spaces are multipurpose — for example, in an Airstream, the living room converts to an office during work hours, then to a dining room at meal times, then to our bedroom at night — this might seem like an extreme case of downsizing, but it's actually not that unreasonable, when you realize that most people spend the bulk of their time in one or two rooms of their home — I'm not suggesting that you need to move to an efficiency or an RV in order to simplify! — but think about how much of your home is unused on a daily basis, saved for special occasions or special activities — why? — where is it written that you must have both a breakfast nook and a “formal” dining room? — a den and a “formal” living room — who lives that formally these days?? — take a second to do a quick inventory — make a list of all the rooms in your house, and then estimate how much time you spend in each during an average month — you may discover that you've got a lot of wasted space, parts of your home that really do nothing except store furniture, need to be cleaned, and cost money — and in the course of simplifying, you may consider downsizing to eliminate those unnecessary rooms)
  • look at your location (have you become disenchanted with your neighborhood? — maybe you were willing to pay more for a good school district back in the day, but now your kids are grown and gone — perhaps the cost of living has slowly crept upward over the years to the point that you can barely afford the property taxes — you might have changed to a job on the other side of town, and your commute has grown to 3 hours round trip each day — or you think about how this used to be such a nice quiet place to live, but now it's noisy and overdeveloped and just not where you want to be — it's not at all unusual to find that your neighborhood just doesn't meet your needs anymore — places change, people change, priorities change, and it's amazing how much a simple geographic shift can positively impact both your quality of life and your wallet — if the country club and the homeowner's association are no longer worth the cost to you, ditch them — if you're being priced out of the market, go find a cheaper house in an up-and-coming transitional area — if the commute is driving you crazy and costing you a fortune in gas, move closer to your job — we did that in the 90's, going from a 2BR apartment in the burbs to a 1BR condo in-town, a block and a half from Matt's company — he got up about 5 minutes before he had to be at work, walked to the office, and was able to come home to exercise, eat lunch, and even take a nap — the convenience, reduced stress, and cost-savings more than balanced out the smaller living space, and our quality of life shot through the roof — if you could change just one thing about your location, what would it be?)
  • clear out the excess (it's a fact of life, clutter costs money — you pay when you bring something new into your life — you pay every time you have to clean or store or repair it — you pay when you insure it against loss or damage — and you're paying big time for the square footage in your home that is given over to things you never use and don't really need — let me emphasize again that living frugally is not about going without — if you love it, keep it! — I'm never going to suggest that you get rid of something that adds value to your life just for the sake of saving money, but why keep a bunch of stuff that serves no purpose? — the reason it's hard for people to clean out is because so much of our clutter comes out of good intentions and plans for the future — it's that “I'll use it someday” syndrome — but the goal here is to take a good hard look at how you actually live your life and only keep those items you truly need — are you honestly ever going to use that exercise equipment that's been gathering dust in the basement for the past 5 years, or are you more likely to work out if you go to the gym? — you thought it would be cool to own a pool table, but now it's just a another surface on which to pile papers and laundry and stuff to put away — and no matter how many cookbooks you buy, you still can't convince yourself that you enjoy spending hours in the kitchen preparing a gourmet meal — it's time to face facts! — besides, you might even find a new source of income in selling those things that you never use — most people have an absolute goldmine cluttering up their closets and attic and basement — how much could you get for those water skis you haven't touched in 20 years? — or that silver you got for your wedding, used once, then packed away? — or that bread machine that you haven't even taken out of the box? — what if cleaning out valuables that you never use could fund your enjoyment of life today? — would it be worth letting a few things go?)
  • be happy with what you have (of course, clearing out the clutter is just the first step — the harder part is keeping it from coming back! — many people have become caught up in a vicious cycle that I call “search and consume” — we're always looking for the most efficient time-saving gadget, the coolest toy, the sexiest technology, the latest fashion, or the newest trend to make our lives “complete” — last year's TV has an inch-smaller screen than the model they just released, so I need to buy a newer, bigger, shinier one — oh no, flowers are “out” and stripes are “in” this season, I'd better hurry up and redecorate! — and how will my family ever survive without a refrigerator that makes ice cubes?? — as a society, we're suckers for whatever the media tells us is hot and hip and happening, buying into this false sense of urgency and lack created by Madison Avenue — and in the process, we've managed to become perpetually discontented and broke, always thinking that the next purchase will make us “happy” — why can't we just be satisfied with what we already have? why do we always need more? — here's a challenge for you — Matt and I are currently trying to go a full year without making a single consumer purchase, aside from things like food and toilet paper and cleaning products — we decided that we've got everything we need for the coming 12 months, plenty to keep us busy and entertained, clothed and comfortable — we just want to see if we can stand strong in the face of constant consumer pressure to buy, buy, buy — want to join us, even just for a month or two?)
  • cut back on some services (these days, I don't know too many middle class people who attend entirely to their own household needs without hiring someone else to help out — in fact, some of my peeps literally have teams of “professionals” coming in every week to water the flowers, clean the bathrooms, pay their bills, make their meals, repaint the guest room, and look after their children — for many folks, the knee-jerk response when a chore pops up is “hire someone!” — I certainly understand consulting an expert if a task requires tools/skills you don't have, but so many of these little jobs are things we could do for ourselves but can't seem to find the time to tackle — we bring in plumbers to unclog our drains, auto mechanics to change a tire, and lawn care people to cut the grass, but it's a vicious cycle — we hire people because we don't have the time to do the job ourselves, because we're working so many hours to pay the bills for having people do these things for us — try tackling a few of these tasks yourself, enjoy the sense of accomplishment, then spend the time and money you've saved on your true priorities!)
  • get smart about energy usage (folks love to moan and groan about high utility costs, acting as though they are trapped by their power and gas bills — but it actually takes very little to keep these expenses under control, just a small bit of advance planning — for example, it costs almost nothing to install a programmable thermostat, then set the air for 78 degrees in the summer and the heat to come on at 60 degrees in the winter — changing your air filter regularly also keeps your unit from having to work as hard or use as much energy — and why waste money “climate controlling” areas of the house that you aren't using? — a small space heater or a ceiling fan is perfect for heating/cooling one room at a time — and if you're living in a canned environment 365 days a year, you'll save money and probably feel better if you open the windows and enjoy the fresh air Wink — washing your clothes in cold water and allowing them to air dry on a rack or clothes line will not only save on utilities, but your wardrobe will last longer — and if you're feeling really squirrelly, you can also clean your refrigerator coils to improve cooling efficiency, plug up air leaks around doors and windows, lower the temperature on your hot water heater, and wrap the entire unit in an insulating blanket — last but not least, did you know that any item plugged into a wall socket draws electricity even when it's turned off? — installing surge protectors on EVERY socket and turning off the main switch when those items aren't being used prevents them drawing “phantom electricity” — you just cut your power bills by 1/4 to 1/2 with barely any effort — see how easy that was?!)

Know Where You Want Everything To Go

One of the worst mistakes that people make during a move is waiting until they unpack to decide where  everything should go. Chances are, you will have some sense of the layout of your new home before you ever load the first piece of furniture on the truck. Ask for a scale model floor plan (on new construction) or walk around and take measurements of each room (if you're buying a pre-owned home). Then, decide what purpose each room will serve (master bedroom, kid's room, den, play area) and where each piece of furniture will fit best. Cut out paper rectangles, squares, and circles to represent each chair, sofa, and table — all you have to do is lay your cutouts on your floor plan to get some sense of how each room will work. This doesn't mean that you won't suddenly get a hankering to move that desk to the other side of the room when you reach your destination, it just gives you a place to start.

Once you have a basic plan in mind, assign each room a color — blue for the bedroom, green for the bath, red for the kitchen, purple for the living room, whatever. This color scheme will follow you throughout your move. As you fill a box with dishes, mark it with a red Sharpie (not a sticker that might fall off) that says “Kitchen — Dishes.” When you pack up your towels, use a green marker to label the box “Bathroom — Towels.” As you wrap up your sofa, place a purple piece of paper that says “Living Room — Sofa” under the clear plastic so you can see it. Then, draw out the floor plan for each room on a matching-colored piece of construction paper. Once you arrive at your new home, take a minute to tape the correct floor plan on the door of each room. And put a color-coded master floor plan of the entire house on the front door — showing which color you have assigned each room. Now all you have to do is instruct your movers (or friends or helpers) to match the color on the box or the piece of furniture to the floor plan. They will even know where to put each item once they get to the appropriate room. No more having to field the question, “Where does this go?”

Setting Up The Most Crucial Areas First

When you think about what you really need to start functioning properly in your new home, what comes to mind? For me, it's the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. I can deal with the fact that I haven't unpacked all my books or holiday decorations. But I need my bed set up, I want to be able to take a shower, and I absolutely HAVE to be able to make a meal. Keep the supplies for these rooms near the back of the truck, so you can unload your bed, linens, personal hygiene items, and cookware first. When you can sleep in your own bed and have a hot cup of coffee in the morning, you will be in a much better frame of mind for unpacking!

I know cleaning is about the last thing you feel like doing when you arrive at your new home — you just want to get the boxes unpacked, have a soda, and collapse on the couch! But you will save a lot of time and hassle if you take a few minutes to tidy up as you unload. Keep your cleaning supplies handy — don't pack them away where you can't find them. Then, give each room a quick once over before you start placing your furniture and other belongings. Scrub down the tub, sweep the floors, wipe out the refrigerator. Run your plates and glasses through the dishwasher as you unpack them, dust your nick-nacks as you sit them out, and run a couple of loads of laundry. You will feel better about your new home if you know that everything is clean and ready to be used by the time you settle in.

Settling In

If you are using a professional moving company, you need to take a few extra steps as you get unloaded. Be sure to pay attention as your belongings are taken off of the truck. Examine each piece of furniture for damage and open each box to make sure everything is in good order. Go over the bill of lading with the moving company very carefully before signing it — this is a binding contract once it is signed. Make a note of any missing or damaged items — don't be afraid to make the movers wait around a while until you are completely done (that's part of their job, and they won't leave until they get their tip!) And if you experienced any problems with the delivery, be sure to contact the moving company ASAP.

Once you have unpacked the essentials, take a break! Call your family and friends to let them know that you have arrived safely. Make sure that your utilities are working properly. You can even check in with your employer and real estate agent if you feel you need to. Then relax, order dinner out, and take a long hot bath — you deserve it!

Packing Basics

I once helped a friend pack, and was shocked to watch her put food and dishes and medicine and gardening supplies all in the same box. I asked why on earth she did this, and her response was, “That's just how I picked things up.” Sure, she packed quickly — but once she got to her new home, unpacking was a chaotic mess. My friend spent the next week hiking all over the house to put things where they belonged.

If you take the time to pack your treasures systematically by room — storing all of the bedroom items in one set of boxes, those that will go in the bathroom in another, stuff for the kitchen in a third — both packing and unpacking will go by twice as fast. Label each box with both the room it belongs to and its contents (“books,” “cookware,” “towels,” etc.) Then create a master inventory list of all your boxes and their contents, according to room — this will help you make sure nothing gets left behind in the move.

When packing your boxes, also think about how that container is going to function in transit. People often get in such a rush to move (or are so sick of packing) that they just throw things in boxes, without giving any thought to how that container will travel. Of course, the same people are the first to complain when they find their treasures broken and mutilated on the other end of the journey! Try not to exceed 50 pounds in each packed container — otherwise they will be impossible to carry, and your boxes may collapse or burst open from the weight. As you pack, place heavier items on the bottom and lighter items on top. Your containers will be more stable and less likely to tip over as the truck bounces and jiggles around. Pack your boxes tightly to avoid shifting, the number one cause of damage during moves. And be sure to use strong twine or threaded packing tape to thoroughly seal your containers — don't just fold the flaps in over themselves, unless you want everything spilling out as the truck is unloaded.

Packing Fragile Items

Many people are afraid to pack their own valuables, choosing instead the expense and risk of hiring a mover. But it's easy to keep breakables from being damaged in transit. If you still have the item's original packaging, use that during your move — especially electronic equipment and knicknacks that came with specially-molded styrofoam. Clean crumpled paper, bubble wrap, and peanuts are great for cushioning breakables — don't be afraid to use too much padding, especially for items that might get chipped or bent. Compartmentalized boxes (like those used for transporting stemware) will also keep fragile objects from bumping together. Try to sit items flat on one side or another — storing breakable items at strange angles is inviting damage.

Moving furniture can often pose a problem — more because of an item's size and bulkiness than its fragility. With many pieces, you must also take steps to protect finished surfaces from mars and scratches — which are easily avoided by covering each piece of furniture with a sheet, blanket, or paper. Be sure to pad corners with extra foam or blankets (these always seem attracted to door frames and sharp corners!) It's a tempting and efficient use of space to store clothing and linens inside of chests and dressers as you move them. Just make sure you aren't overloading the drawers, which can cause furniture joints to separate and collapse. To protect mirrors, pictures, and glass shelves, wrap each piece in a blanket, tape securely, and mark with a note not to sit anything on top of that package. And use only blank newsprint to avoid ink smudges on your belongings, especially lampshades and fabric-covered items.

Some items are difficult or dangerous to transport, unless you prepare them carefully ahead of time. Start by draining all fluids (oil, gas, etc.) from your power and yard tools so they won't leak, then dispose of corrosive and volatile chemicals such as oil, antifreeze, paint, and gasoline — these should not travel with you. You can do serious damage to your appliances if they aren't properly stabilized for travel — so block your washer agitator to keep it from shifting and secure all mechanical parts and power cords. Once you have cleaned out your refrigerator and freezer, leave the doors open to decrease the humidity. And before putting any “damp” appliances on the truck, place a piece of charcoal or layer of baking soda in the bottom to prevent mildew and musty smells. If you plan to transport a piano, have a trained piano mover prepare your instrument for travel. Talk to your local nursery about transporting any plants, and your vet about traveling with your pet.

Packing Doesn't Stop With The Boxes

So, you've successfully packed all of your stuff into containers — don't take a break yet! Whether you are hiring movers or getting a U-Haul, you still need to make sure that your belongings are put on the truck the right way. Many people load their furniture on first, but this is actually counter-intuitive. Think about it — when you are ready to unpack and get settled in, what should go into each room first? Boxes, or the furniture that will hold the contents of those boxes?

Start by packing items you won't need right away — holiday dishes, off-season clothes, memorabilia, boxes of books — on the front of the truck (nearest the cab). Make sure to leave room for those things you will want to set up immediately — the beds, the coffee pot, towels, sheets — near the back or on top of other items. Don't be afraid to load your truck to the ceiling or tie items down — a tightly-packed load is less likely to shift during transit, meaning less chance of damage.