This book is now going on my list of top three book recommendations of all time. It can change your life. Stuart Diamond is going to teach you all about Getting More, only not quite in the way that you might think. While the title may have been designed to attract readers for somewhat selfish reasons, the hidden secret is that using negotiation techniques allows everyone involved to get more.
Getting More is full of hundreds of stories from Diamond's students who had varying rates of success in negotiating anything from kids' bedtimes to apartment repair to discounts on high-end jewelry. It is eye-popping. Reading through all of these anecdotes from other people's daily lives is like discovering an entire new universe. It explains so much about why some people are "lucky" or get everything, while "this always happens" to others.
Most people who have worked in customer service or retail for even a single day will have vivid recollections of how pointlessly nasty and unreasonable customers can be. This will either make us unusually patient and cheerful in business transactions, or more critical. I would present the position that being friendly and kind to people gets more. In fact, it wasn't really until I read Getting More that I started to understand why I get freebies so often.
I have had planes held for me. I have gotten free drinks and appetizers. I have had double room upgrades. I have had charges waived. I have gotten free merchandise. I have gotten major discounts. None of this stuff did I ever think to ask for! As I read this book, I started to see that I had done the right thing over and over again, just by being easy to please and complimenting people on their work. There really is something to be said for possibly being the only pleasant customer interaction of someone's hour, day, week, or career.
If only everyone would read Getting More. Then more people would begin interactions from a place of mutual regard, rather than defensiveness, hostility, belligerence, or rudeness. Negotiating from a place of respect and trust will get better results from everyone, for everyone.
If you were twice as big as me, you would:
Live in a 1360 square foot house
Have two cars
Have two bathrooms
Have two televisions
Have twelve dinner plates, ten cereal bowls, and twelve coffee mugs
Have eight bath towels and eight hand towels
Weigh 240 pounds (or be ten feet and eight inches tall)
Have four laundry baskets
Have 28 pairs of shoes
Have 56 hangers in your closet
Have ten skirts
Have 26 pairs of pants and jeans
Have twenty dresses
Have 54 shirts
Have 14 sweaters
Have four pairs of shorts and two swimsuits
Have 44 pairs of socks
Have 158 books
Have two craft projects in progress
I made myself count stuff in my ever-present donation/sale bag, because technically I still have it, and I've wound up moving with "donation" or "eBay" or "yard sale" bags more than once. I also counted our car, even though we sold it after I wrote this.
This is a silly idea in many ways, because presumably you don't have two drivers licenses, two dishwashers, or two ...I ran out of ideas there, because people may well have two refrigerators, two houses, two beds, two couches, or two spouses. Anyway, the point is that we can always look around and consider how much territory and how many accessories and accoutrements it takes to "be us."
Hopefully you just have twice as many friends, twice as much fun, twice as much energy, and twice as much love in your life as I do!
I've been posting free stuff on Craigslist. We got rid of our car, and taking donations to a thrift store has become a bigger deal than it used to be. Also, there are certain things they won't accept that people are still eager to acquire. I realized one evening, though, that I am pretty wide open about interactions with strangers.
I told my husband.
"I just literally brought a coil of rope and a roll of construction-grade garbage bags out to a strange man in a van who has our home address and my cell phone number."
It was fine, of course. He was an average suburban dad who just wanted some free stuff for his garage.
What was he going to do, grab my cell phone out of my hand and stuff me in his van, in broad daylight, with bystanders watching? Okay, the thought did cross my mind. I've taken self-defense classes. Also I've read way too many true crime books. I probably know more about the biographies of the dozen most famous serial killers than I do about the dozen most famous pop singers right now.
People are trustworthy. In many ways, I think strangers are more trustworthy than the people we're closest to. For instance, if I told a complete stranger a secret, he or she might be mildly interested, but probably wouldn't tell anyone else. If they did, it probably wouldn't be anyone who could or would trace it to me. Whereas! If I told the same secret to any of fifty people in my inner circle, they most likely would tell everyone, assuming it was available as general knowledge. Another example would be eating my snacks. Chances are pretty high that a friend or family member would help themselves, while most strangers would be wary about eating strange food.
If you tell strangers your goals, they'll not only be encouraging and supportive, they'll most likely try to connect you with someone they know who could help you in some way. If you tell someone close to you, they'll most likely tell you all the reasons why it's a horrible idea.
Since we moved, we've been exploring the sharing economy in a big way. As we were waiting for our car buyback appointment, we started having our groceries delivered. It was great! We used GrubHub for the first time on moving day, and that was great too. We stayed at an Airbnb for the first time, and, hey, it was great. Then my husband tried Lyft for the first time, and that was great as well. It turns out that it's a fun way to have brief interactions with strangers, who probably have just as much reason to be afraid of us as we do of them. They probably share their own safety and self-defense tips. Their moms are probably really nervous about their whereabouts after dark every night.
The interesting thing about the sharing economy is that we haven't had any of the unpleasant transactions we've occasionally had at chain stores. Adding in that element of personal rating really does something. I rate you, you rate me. That's not happening at the pharmacy or the grocery store, or certainly not at the airport. My goal in every business transaction is to get a smile out of the other person, and extra points if I make them laugh. I'm easy to please. It always surprises me when someone is crabby, impatient, or rude after dealing with me, partly because it happens so rarely. Add in some tips and a star rating system and the dynamic changes, doesn't it?
We're not done yet. Living in a tiny apartment tends to bring attention to the background possessions we have just because we have them. Every time something goes out the door, everything else gets to scooch over a bit. Many things can go to Salvation Army or Goodwill, but not everything. We gave away a fire extinguisher, five sets of plastic storage shelving, a set of foam mattress pads, some extra cleaning supplies, and all our moving boxes, none of which Goodwill would take. They also wouldn't take a pop-up canvas closet or a set of glass shelves. Whether they'll take furniture or electronics depends on the store, and some won't take clothes hangers or other arbitrary things. I went this weekend and they sent me away, saying they weren't accepting any donations at all that day. That's where we are now. Our hyperconsumerist material culture is overloading even businesses that rely on donated goods to make their profit. You can't sell it and you can't give it away. That is, you can't give it away anonymously.
We're neighbors and we help each other out. That's how society was built. If we see a stranger in trouble, we rush to call for help. We buy and sell from each other. We hire each other. We live next door to each other, because it's so much more convenient than the alternative. The great thing about living in a city is that I can give away a coil of rope and a roll of industrial trash bags, and someone will show up, unafraid, to claim them.
The check just came. Not only did we get our deposit from our last house back in full, but we also got a discount of six days' rent. We moved out so fast and did such a thorough job of cleaning that the landlord was able to get a new tenant in almost immediately. You can't put a price on a sterling reference, but you can certainly put a price on rent per diem, and another price on your cleaning deposit. If you'd rather spend your money on cool stuff than fines and fees, read on.
I've been living on my own since 1993. Even at the tender age of 18, I always got my cleaning deposit back. I've moved... starting to lose track here... 28? times as an adult, so this represents literally thousands of dollars by this point. I don't know about you, but the only thing I like better than thousands of dollars is tens of thousands of dollars. Whether I like cleaning my house is a moot point. Frame the question like this: "Would I clean my house top to bottom for several hundred dollars?" Really, it's the one and only time you're likely to be paid for such an annoying task, so you might as well make the most of it.
The first consideration is: consideration. Think cheerful thoughts about the tenant who will come after you. This really helps to make the drudgery and scutwork feel like a gift. Having moved so many times, I can tell some pretty appalling stories about grotesque surprises that previous tenants have left for me. Drain-clogging wads of long soapy hair the size of an SOS pad. A piece of bubble gum soaked with kitchen grease. Soap scum on a shower door so thick I had to use a paint scraper. Shelves covered with grease, crumbs, sunflower seeds, and flour. Rusty toilet bowls. Window tracks filled with dead flies. Red splatters on the ceiling: blood? Ketchup? Salsa? BBQ sauce? If you lived here before me, and I had to gouge your filth off a floor or countertop, I am cursing your name.
No paid cleaning service will ever do as thorough a job as someone who actually lives there. That's because it's an act of love and it's hard to put a fair market value on it. In a tight housing market like most of the places I have lived, the owner, landlord, or property management company simply doesn't have to care.
Case in point. The place we rented in 2014 was really gross when we moved in. We wouldn't have taken it except that we were out of time and all the other places we had called on had been rented within a few hours of listing. It took two months to finish cleaning it up and doing minor repairs. When we moved out, I spent three days cleaning it from top to bottom. The property management company tried to charge us a cleaning fee of $150. I sent them an email detailing the work I had done and attaching half a dozen photos of the dirtiest areas left by the previous tenant. They cut me a check the very next day. They should BE so lucky as to have tenants as clean as me. One of my landlords told me, during our exit walk-through: "Jessica, you are a clean machine!"
Okay, so what's the secret? The secret is to have the interior design sensibility of what clean looks like. It's like having good dental hygiene - if anyone notices anything about your teeth, such as a piece of spinach, there's a problem. The cleaner a house, the more a single speck is going to stand out, especially when all the rooms are empty. This probably sounds terrifying, but it's really not difficult to clean a modestly sized, empty house. What makes cleaning so difficult is 1. Clutter 2. Excessive square footage and 3. Never having been taught how to clean quickly and efficiently.
Most people don't give a darn about housework. That's totally fine. Your house, your rules. Live however you want. Personally, I am extremely uptight about unpleasant smells, and due to my parasomnia disorder I need a clear pathway through the house, so I run a pretty tight ship. Routine housework definitely helps make the exit cleaning easier, but it's not necessary. Animal House could still have clean surfaces by the end of June. Remember, this isn't about social standards or impressing whomever, it's about COLD HARD CASH. We're getting paid for this.
Get a broom and knock down all cobwebs from the ceiling. A lot of people miss these because their vision isn't so great, and the lighting may have been dim. It's fair to ask for help, or pay a young person if you have trouble holding a broom over your head. I use a dust mop on an extendable rod. Should take 10 minutes to do the whole house. If you have blinds, dust them, too, while you're at it. I also do any vents in the ceiling and walls, and anything ornate on the doors.
Use a squeegee to clean windows, mirrors, mirrored closet doors, shower doors, and shower stalls. Vinegar does a magical job of removing soap scum. I can do a glass panel (mirror or window) in under a minute.
Get a Magic Sponge and go after any stains on the walls. Also, don't squish bugs and spiders on the wall. If you're good at finding spots, each should only take a few seconds.
Wipe down the shelves and the insides of cabinets. This can involve some climbing for the higher areas in the kitchen, so I label this a "tall person job," although usually I do it myself. Should only take a couple of swipes with a damp paper towel per surface.
Vacuum out the drawers. Our last house had 14 built-in drawers, and it took me about five minutes to clean them all with a hand vac.
Clean the bathrooms. For an exit cleaning, this will probably take 40-60 minutes per bathroom. It helps to quit using all but one in the days before the move so you don't have to do them all in one day. I use a $15 battery-powered scrubber.
Deep-clean the kitchen. This always takes more time and effort than the rest of the house put together. It means defrosting the freezer and wiping down every surface of the fridge, inside and out. Same with the microwave. Same with the oven, alas, and I've never managed to clean an oven in under an hour. Often I buy new burner pans because I can't get the old ones clean enough. Wipe down the cabinets and appliances. Scrub the sink and countertops until they're shiny. Notice how very much jam tends to drip down things, unless your dog is taller than mine.
Spot-check the floors. If you have carpet, I'm sorry. Some leases require that you have a professional service come and steam clean when you move out. If you have bare floors, there may be sticky spots that regular mopping didn't get up. I use the plastic tags off of bread bags for jobs like this. Of course, it helps if you have a dog whose main job is Backup Roomba. Then sweep and mop as thoroughly as necessary.
Deep-cleaning a house top to bottom takes at least a full day. It depends on how grody it is. When we moved out of our last house, we loaded the van and did the final cleaning on the same day, and it took us 13 hours from start to finish. That's for a 728-square-foot house and a 20-foot van. Our previous house was about 1400 square feet, and it took significantly longer. That's why we have podcasts.
Cleaning sucks. We don't do it for the process, we do it for the outcome. I believe it's good karma. Deep cleaning can help you find lost objects, such as earrings that flew into a back crevice of a closet. It burns calories. It's good self-discipline, making other hard and annoying things seem relatively easy. It allows us to claim an uninterrupted 24-year streak of always getting our cleaning deposit back. Most of all, it allows us to claim our nice fat deposit checks and spend them on things we want, rather than just paying an unnecessary fee.
We set a new record. From the day we got the moving van until the day we finished moving in, two weeks elapsed. The fastest I've ever done it before was three weeks. This is a great argument in favor of minimalism! Anyone who has ever lived amongst boxes for a prolonged period, unable to find important things like, say, the forks, knows how annoying it is. It's such a relief to be able to relax on your own couch, looking around and not seeing any boxes to unpack. Normal and boring can be so satisfying. It's quite common, though, for most people to have boxes that never get unpacked at all. In that case, living with boxes becomes the new normal.
Why can't we unpack any faster?
We probably could have pushed through and finished our place in four or five days. By 'finished,' I mean that all the pictures are hung on the walls and everything has its own designated spot. All the boxes have been given away or recycled. All the packing material is gone. The staging area of pens and tape dispensers and razor knives has been redistributed and put away. Anyone coming over for the first time wouldn't know that someone had just moved in.
Experience has shown that it's better to live in the new place for at least a week before installing hooks or extra towel rods or that sort of thing. It can take a bit of time to figure out the best placement for the furniture, and that means the pictures have to wait. There's a brief buffer period where the place shifts from "just moved in" to "living in a mess." That feeling of messiness is the feeling of settling in, developing a comfort level and an intuitive sense of where everything works the best.
Or, it can just stay messy forever...?
After the first big push of our move-in weekend, we elected not to do very much on weekdays. We needed a break. It also gave time for the parts that take more mental bandwidth. It's really obvious how to unpack certain things, but others take more creativity and System 2 planning. For instance, the area under our kitchen sink is configured in such a way that it was really challenging to find space for everything I wanted to put under there. That was the only thing I did about moving in on that particular day. It sounds dumb when I put it like that, but kitchen real estate is really valuable. Getting it right can make the difference between a functional kitchen or a dysfunctional kitchen. If people aren't comfortable cooking most nights of the week, if there are almost always dirty dishes in and around the sink, if the fridge almost always has spoiled food in it, then something is wrong. A system isn't working right and the house is the boss of the people. Living with a dysfunctional kitchen is expensive and it causes a lot of arguments. This is why I put in so much thoughtful planning when we first move in - so that we can get back to living and cooking and eating and enjoying life the way we prefer it.
The kitchen is the heart of the house, and that's what I always unpack first. It's a good sign that it's working well when I find myself cooking more elaborate meals. A tiny kitchen can be nice, because you can reach almost everything simply by turning back and forth! The secret is to get rid of absolutely anything in order to maintain clear countertops. I have a two-foot-square countertop in this kitchen that has nothing stored on it, and it's just big enough to cook anything I like. Two square feet isn't very much, but it's more than almost every cook manages to keep clear.
The next most important area is the bathroom. This is the second most likely area of the house to cause arguments, because it's the area that relates to getting places on time. It's also the second most difficult area to keep clean. A dank, moldy bathroom filled with funky towels and damp laundry all over the floor is just a sad, scary kind of a place to start your day. A countertop covered with bottles and stuff makes it hard for everyone to get ready. Inevitably something is going to get knocked into the toilet. I am obsessive about keeping my bathroom countertop clear, even more than in the kitchen. When you have the smallest possible bathroom, with basically no counter and a minuscule medicine cabinet, then choices have to be made. Almost everything gets stored in the linen closet or the bedroom instead. Otherwise, it just gets cut out of our lives. How many lotions and potions and bottles and jars does one household need?
I realized that I am giving the bedroom short shrift. That's because the bed is literally the first thing we set up in a new place, and then we're done. We figure out which direction the head will be; we set up the frame; we drop the box springs into place; we drag the mattress on top. We make the bed in five minutes, the same way we do every time. Then we realize we haven't made enough room to plug in the lamp, and the outlet is always blocked by the mattress, and we have to drag it askew and deal with that. The blanket chest goes at the foot of the bed, the extra blankets go in it, the two small dressers get walked into place, and we're done with the entire room in maybe half an hour. Unpacking all our clothes takes maybe another half an hour. It's really not a big deal, although it would be if we had more stuff, I guess.
That's what it all comes down to. The more stuff you have, the longer it takes to unpack. The greater the proportion of non-essentials, the easier it is to leave them taped inside boxes. When you don't have much, and almost all of it is necessary to a functional home, then it tends to get unpacked quickly. What are we going to do without for a month: towels? Kitchen knives? The dog bed? I know from experience that what most people have in those perennially packed boxes consists of extraneous stuff like books, old school papers, junk mail, ornaments, toys, memorabilia, and gift bags with the tags still on them. Some people will take the big step of just walking those boxes out to the trash and dumping them, without even bothering to look inside, because they finally realize that if they've lived without it for that long, then they really don't need it. I think a better rationale is that the house is functioning fine, we're surrounded by everything we need, and we're enjoying living so comfortably that anything else is just extra.
The thing about downsizing is that eventually you wind up with only one closet.
Why is this? Why can't all homes have the same amount of built-in cabinets and closets and cupboards, and just have fewer rooms and less floor space? It makes sense to me.
The thing about stuff is that everyone has far more small objects than we do large objects. This is especially true after we start doing serious space clearing. Maybe we start with a boat or an extra car or truck - the big ticket items. When we move to smaller living spaces, we understand that we'll have fewer rooms. The guest bedroom goes, and with it the guest bed, guest dresser, possibly guest desk and chair. I know of one person who downsized from five couches to two. Maybe we don't really need both a kitchen table and a formal dining table, or maybe it's time to let go of the grandfather clock, the china hutch, the sideboard, the chifforobe, the davenport, or any other furniture that might show up in the final round of the middle school spelling bee. We've finally realized that we're unlikely to have regular dinner parties for twelve or more, and we're okay with that. Still, we need somewhere to put the tools and housewares of daily life.
My husband and I have just moved into a small apartment. There are plenty of smaller places to live in the world; we saw some of them just a couple of weeks ago, before we found this place. Studio apartments. We considered a couple, but I can tell you from this experience that we are not ready for that level of downsizing yet! The reason for that is that we're already struggling to deal with having only one closet.
Fortunately, it's a decent-sized walk-in closet with a shelf, or I don't know what we'd do. Suspend everything from the ceiling in cargo nets?
Throughout our marriage, every time we've moved, we've downsized. The first two times, both our garage and kitchen storage were cut in half each time. We also dropped the dedicated laundry room, the pantry, the coat closet, our original walk-in closet, and the family room. Then we dropped the dining room and a bathroom. Then we dropped my office, and then his, and the closets that came with them. That's when the trouble started.
Neither of us are really all that into clothes or shoes. We haven't had any trouble sharing a clothes closet, even though we both have recreational pursuits that involve special gear. It's...everything else.
It starts with the kitchen, because we both like to cook and entertain, and we're also into canning. I dehydrate my own backpacking food, too, because it's so expensive. This has caused us to accumulate a great deal of equipment. In the past, the kitchen excess has spread into other areas like the pantry, garage, and coat closet. Now, if it doesn't all fit in the kitchen, there's nowhere else for it to go. But - one kitchen isn't enough! If we go any smaller, we'll have to give up on at least one thing that we actually use on a regular basis. It will be a lifestyle change, not just letting go of an aspirational "one day" item.
We have non-perishable pantry items stored in our fridge right now, because all but one shelf in the kitchen is full of dishes, pots, baking pans, mixing bowls, small appliances, and other cooking paraphernalia.
Then it goes to the office. Most people don't have such a luxury, but we're empty-nesters. It turns out there are far more two- and three-bedroom homes on the rental market than there are singles. We shrugged and made use of the space, when we had it, though most people will fit in these items wherever they can. A holding area for incoming mail and pending paperwork. Paper records. Electronic storage media, which at one point included floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, SD cards, a backup drive, and more. A desktop computer, printer, and other peripherals. Printer paper and cartridges. Extra cables, chargers, power strips, and backup batteries. Product and software boxes. (Why are these so hard to let go??). Envelopes of various sizes. Office supplies. A red stapler. A rubber band ball, though the attraction of such a satisfyingly fine object mystifies my husband. Canned air. Boxes of photographs. Art supplies. In my husband's case, a bunch of electronics doodads, circuit boards, a soldering iron, robotics and mad science contraptions galore. Two busy people who like to work at home tend to generate a lot of accessories.
Then there's the recreational stuff. Backpacking gear. Bicycling gear. Motorcycle gear and hockey equipment, in his case. Exercise mats. Luggage.
Then there's the cute stuff. Board games. Pet toys. Outdoor toys like Frisbees. Decorations and tchotchkes. Souvenirs. Small items that might have gone into various drawers or been displayed on various flat surfaces now have nowhere to be.
What has helped during our downsizing process has been to think of objects as part of a larger collection. Take each individual thing as a representative of a category. When I thought of "fitness equipment," for example, it was easier to let it all go at once when I thought, "How will I work out? I will go running and I will use the fitness center at our apartment complex." We were able to let go of everything filed under "gardening" and "automotive" as well.
What's happened is that we're successfully containerizing everything. The office stuff has gone into a set of aluminum storage boxes, which are now sitting on a shelf where a few dozen books used to be. The paper files are in another storage box, which has likewise displaced a shelf of books. Basically, the extra books and food stockpiles have had to make way for things we don't yet feel we can do without. As we continue to move toward fully paperless, and as we learn to make a life in a smaller space, we will find that we are crowded by all these bits and bobs. We'll jettison them in favor of breathing room, and we'll feel a sense of satisfaction as we do.
The core of downsizing is the inner directive to "make it all go away." Living surrounded by boxes and bins and tubs and stacks and piles is demoralizing, irritating, confusing, distracting, and just not super-pretty. It's not doing us any favors to keep things we can't even find, much less things we don't use and don't feel like dusting. We have to put more attention on the smaller items than we did on the larger pieces, because there are more of them. We're outnumbered, but we're winning the fight.
MISC: Everyone's favorite four-letter word. This is a self-evident truth because almost everyone in the English-speaking world has had, at one time or another, at least one box full of it. Or so they think. It is my assertion that MISC does not exist.
MISC is an abbreviation of 'miscellaneous,' which means that something consists of various types of things or comes from different sources. The word most commonly is used on file folders and moving boxes. This means that it refers either to 1. Papers or 2. Household objects. To my way of thinking, the term MISC is worse than redundant; it's obfuscating. It's almost like it's not a real word at all, but a hex written in arcane symbols. It might as well be a piece of parchment labeled 'ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.' Puny mortal! You think you can defeat this box of miscellany? Stronger and braver fools than you have tried and failed! Tremble before the power of MISC (the dreaded misc)!
Boxes are objects of power. There is something about a moving box that doesn't get unpacked within the first month after a move. Chances are that it will remain intact for years, perhaps even a lifetime. Boxes in storage units? No question. The majority of people who pay for a storage unit seem to have no firm plans for ever emptying it and reclaiming their cash flow. I often wonder whether the average renter of extra storage space could sit down and write an accurate inventory of what's in there.
That's the incredible thing about boxes. We keep them around and forget all about them. We forget what's in them. We have no idea, until we open those boxes and see the items again, at which point they become newly precious. I see this in my work all the time. Maybe ten percent of the time, an object will turn up, and the owner will have no memory of it, no idea from whence it came. The rest of the time, it's like, "Oh yeah! So that's where that went!" Usually it goes right back into the box, because, as awesome as it seems to be, it's...
If it's in a box, it's not getting used. That makes it, ipso facto, useless.
Exceptions to this are items of seasonal use. For example, I still have our wedding cake topper, even though our eighth anniversary is coming up, because I want to reuse it at our twenty-fifth. My husband put on magnifying lenses and carefully hand-painted the blonde female figure's hair brunette, and I guess he'll have to do it again and add in some gray. Anyway. We're allowed to keep things. It's simply that they should justify their existence. The reason we have them should be relatively self-explanatory.
(Just because you don't understand why I have a machete doesn't mean I don't have an explanation).
Okay. Back to the misc. Most people have collections or agglomerations of accumulated objects that actually are useful, but are not sorted or stored in a way that makes much sense. Take the typical kitchen junk drawer. Usually a kitchen junk drawer includes: legitimate kitchen utensils; hardware, tools, and garage-type items; office supplies; parts to things; old electronics; things that need repair; papers. When we put it that way... A kitchen drawer may be the most logical place to put all of those things, and a lack of alternative spaces forces them to be strange bedfellows. Cut some strips of cardboard and make some drawer dividers. Pull out one category and put them in an empty pickle jar. Something. Don't be like me and ram metal under your fingernail because you're scrambling around in your junk drawer looking for something. Be kind to yourself, spend 15 minutes, and sort it out. If you have three separate junk drawers, like I have seen in a few kitchens, it will take longer, but you can have a tool drawer, an office drawer, and a repair/to-do drawer.
MISC in boxes is still the worst. Every home visit I have ever done has had a box like this, and usually a dozen. The box will be 80% one category, like books or kitchen wares, and the rest will be a mix of other things. Almost always, it's receipts, junk mail, hardware, office supplies, and a coin. If there are kids, add in a LEGO and a crayon. Taken one at a time, we know what to do with all of these things. Put the penny in the penny jar. Put the crayon in with the other crayons. Throw out the junk mail. Look at the receipt, realize all the ink has faded and it's effectively blank, and throw it out, too. Take the paperclip and the pencil with no more eraser, and put them with the other office supplies. Or, guess what? You're actually allowed to throw that stuff away. A rusty paperclip is no good to anybody. You can recycle it. There is no obligation to wear every pencil down to an inch-long nub. (Although I used to do that every year in college, as a good luck charm). My solution for avoiding MISC during a move is to label boxes by room, and not mix items from more than one room in the same box.
The answer to most boxes of MISC is that we don't need them. We don't need a single item inside. If we did, we would have torn the house apart looking for them. Even the truly important stuff, like our passports and birth certificates and social security cards, can be replaced for a nominal fee. MISC as a word is nothing more than a code for "I'm not sure what to do with this and I never realized I could just get rid of it."
Just for fun, here are some categories of common household objects.
Books and magazines
Craft tools and supplies
Clothing and accessories
Decorations and art
Paper files: bureaucratic, academic, reference
Active papers: schedule, contacts, action items
Cash and equivalents (checks, gift cards, lottery tickets)
To be repaired
To be returned to owner
Garbage, recycling, compost
If it doesn't fit in one of these categories, what the heck is it? More importantly, what have you been doing with it?
He sounded great on the phone: a courteous, practical man with a calm demeanor. I liked him right away. In person he was even better. It's fun to chat up cheerful people who like their jobs. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to ask, let's call him Bruce, just what it's like to manage a storage facility.
Is it all junk? Mostly. A few people use their unit for work, like contractors, painters, and landscapers. That makes perfect sense; not everyone is going to want to store paint cans and lawnmowers in their apartment. In that scenario a $200-$300/month storage unit pays for itself. Most people don't have a business case for maintaining a storage unit. We only do it to postpone making decisions or confronting difficult emotions.
One tenant has had a unit at the facility since 1974, the year before I was born. I offered my working hypothesis that most storage units contain grief boxes from a loved one who has passed on, usually a parent. Bruce said that actually, it was her husband who had died. Probably she will meet him on the other side and all of those boxes will still be in the unit.
What happens to the stuff that people leave behind? It does get auctioned off, only now it's done online. People can bid on specific items. Much of the stuff is worthless. I shared about one of my toughest jobs, a storage unit that included boxes of old phone books, rusted-out cans of expired food, stained mattresses, and damp paperbacks. Bruce nodded along, obviously unfazed by the description.
"We had a hoarder who lost his unit, and it was just like that. Actually he still has two units here." From the sound of it, the three-storage-unit hoarder was struggling to keep up on his payments and was about to lose the others as well.
Had Bruce heard about the reality TV shows about storage unit auctions? Indeed he had. "They keep calling me but I won't do it." Why is that? "They're rude." Also, the shows are staged and they won't let the public in to bid on the units, only their own people. "If you watch carefully, sometimes they show the same lot on more than one show, with a couple of different items." He said they also 'salt the mine' by supplying valuable items that were not stored in the unit. This met my hunch about the few episodes I've seen; I've never seen one single item of any value in any storage unit. Much of it includes stuff people would have to pay to have hauled away.
We saw a unit with a car parked halfway inside. There was a couch with a TV at the back. "It looks like someone's living there," I remarked. "That's my parking space," said Bruce. "I take breaks there when I can get away." I asked whether people ever tried to live in the units. "Yeah, sometimes."
Bruce is a real pro. He had us drive through the gate with our 20' foot moving van. "You have a twenty-foot van and a 10 by 15 storage unit?" He tactfully offered to show it to us and we all boarded his little golf cart. The unit had a man-door. We saw at a glance that the dimensions of the unit and lack of a roll-top door made it impractical, although the cubic footage was the same as the van. We accepted the professional expertise of the estimable Bruce and allowed him to up-sell us to the next larger unit.
It took us five hours to shift the contents of the van into the new unit, which is eleven feet wide by ten feet tall by twenty feet deep. Bruce drove by on the golf cart a couple of times, glancing over and grinning at our progress. "It's like Tetris, isn't it?" We had the van empty and broom-clean with ten minutes to spare before closing time. Bruce was right; we had some wiggle room in the bigger unit but would have been wailing and gnashing our teeth with the smaller one. We couldn't have finished on time. This was a man who could size up volumes of stuff on sight. I called him a "Pack-Fu Master" and he smiled.
Storage units are a subject of endless fascination to me. What do people keep in them? Why are they willing to pay so much money every month, for years on end, with no deadline, for stuff they can't even see? I've started to think of storage facilities as our era's tombs and monuments, the places where we pay tribute to our departed dead because we have no more enduring ceremonial way to mark their passing. A Taj Mahal of box towers. Folks like Bruce are our monks, living in attendance on the temple grounds.
We plan to have our unit for about a week and a half. We're living in an Airbnb because we had less than two weeks to prepare for my husband's new job, and the alternative was a two-hour commute each way. There just wasn't time for us to look for a new place while packing to move. Our unit holds our bed, our couch, our desktop computer, the dog crate...99% of our possessions are behind that rolling door. (The rest includes the suitcases out of which we are living for the week). We told Bruce we'd see him next week. He smiled and nodded. He's heard it all before.
[We moved in on a Saturday and had moved out by close of business the following Saturday].
As we were going through the TWENTY-SIX PAGE LEASE for our new apartment, we discovered that we were required to show proof of renters insurance before we could have the keys. We already had renters insurance, but figured we'd change to their suggested provider, since we were radically downsizing as well as relocating. The main purpose was to insure against potential damage that we might cause to the apartment, since we are such party animals. Secondary was a worksheet estimating the value of our possessions, and this is where it gets interesting. We had until the end of the week to put a price on everything we owned.
We did it in twelve minutes.
We've had numerous conversations over the years about what we would keep and what we would downsize in various situations. We've also had the conversation about how much insurance to get on our stuff. In the world of insurance, there is a lot of fine print, such as whether the policy includes earthquake coverage. (Assume that whatever is the most likely threat of natural disaster in your area, your insurance specifically excludes it, whether that's tornados, UFOs, giant ants, or what-have-you). Our concern was the concept of "replacement value." If our place really was completely destroyed by one of the many hazards of our fair state, not limited to flash floods, landslides, wildfire, typhoon, or earthquake, what would it cost to start from scratch? What would we actually replace and what would we shrug off?
Obviously we would replace our bed, couch, dining table, computers and desks. We would need replacement sheets and towels - but would we buy as many as we currently had? We would need to completely outfit a new kitchen - but again, would we buy as much kitchen gear as we had in our real kitchen? How do you insure food? We would need to replace our clothes and bathroom stuff. Predictably, if we started from zero, with nothing but a blank spot for a house and a big insurance payout, would we really buy the hundreds of items we had in our bedroom and bathroom again?
The shock and horror of losing everything you own must be truly devastating. It wouldn't do to be flippant about such a thought. However. My husband rode out the Northridge Earthquake, a topic that I find endlessly fascinating. We know that disaster is real. For us, a little black comedy helps when contemplating serious crisis. As long as nobody dies, if one of the many temporary homes we've rented were to be destroyed, well, we're insured and so are our landlords. The idea of starting over again, with nothing but a check, can be a cute little fantasy. If we went on a mandatory shopping spree, with hardly a sock to our name, what would we buy?
Lids without matching containers! Junk mail! Dried-up pens! Rusty paperclips! Sheets that don't match any of the mattresses in the house! Shopping extravaganza!
The sad yet liberating truth is that most of our stuff is relatively worthless. We can't calculate a replacement cost for photographs, because we can't go out and buy them again. We can't put a price on souvenirs, mementos, or memorabilia for the same reason. We can't assess the market value of his engineering drawings or software, or my manuscripts, because money wouldn't reproduce them. The only stuff we can buy with money is generic housewares.
That's exactly what insurance money would cover: generic housewares. It's not like we would suddenly be able to level up and hire an interior designer. Also note that when we pay for insurance, the more we buy, the higher the premiums. Insurance is like a fire extinguisher or a first aid kit: you hope you never need them. If we're lucky, we'll have paid hundreds or thousands of dollars over the years for insurance we never need. That would be awesome; let's pick that one.
When we learned that we would need to estimate the replacement value of everything we owned, we were undaunted. Most of what we had, we'd bought together during the past eight years of our marriage. We both attend to the value of a dollar. We had a solid memory of how much the bigger-ticket items cost, and if we didn't, we could check our digital financial records. We were ready.
There was a "Property Worksheet." It had a field for each room, and as I entered numbers, it kept a running total at the bottom. Bedroom 1. Bedroom 2. Office. Den. Kitchen. Bathroom. Living Room. Dining Room. Other/Misc. Additional living expenses.
Well, let's see. We only have one bedroom. We no longer have an office. We've never had a "den" and I have no idea what would go in one. We no longer have a separate dining room, but what the heck, let's put the price of the table and chairs there. We were chatting back and forth over text message, a conversation that included a couple of 'crying laughing' emojis. We did our own independent estimates, and got within $400 of the same amount. Then my husband recalled that none of the rooms listed included the garage, and had to come up with an estimate for his tools. Wow, that's a pretty big number, we thought. I input it in the insurance company's website.
The total price we had estimated for all our worldly goods was barely over half the lowest amount offered.
We fell about laughing, and laughed even harder when I tried changing the optional jewelry coverage. I could replace most of my wardrobe with the default option! Never spend a lot of money on anything that will fit down a drain, that's my advice.
We wound up with the lowest coverage and the highest deductible we could get. After tacking on earthquake coverage, it's still less than a dollar a day. I'd have to check, but it's almost identical to what we were paying before. Now, if our upstairs neighbor leaves the bathtub running or the sprinkler system malfunctions, we'll be financially fine.
The most important consideration, whenever our attention wanders to crisis and disaster, is to think of the living. We plan escape routes. We check our go bags. We rehearse what we'll do if we need to evacuate and get our animals to safety. We bolster our finances, maybe tuck a few more small bills in our go bags just in case. We insist on discussing emergency preparedness with our friends, who usually don't even have a jug of water set aside. We do what we can to try to make sure we'll be on the emergency response team, helping our neighbors.
It also helps to think about the priceless things. Are our work products and tools backed up? If even a single irreplaceable file exists only on one computer or one storage medium, that's asking for trouble. BACK UP YOUR DATA! If we have legacy or heirloom items, have we recorded them in some way in case the original is damaged? Photographs, letters, documents, vital records, family trees, and anything else flat can be scanned. I like to see these things distributed across a family, so everyone has a copy. Pictures can also be taken of the 3D stuff, like furniture or textiles, so that at least some visual record will survive.
Ultimately, it's all just stuff. What's important has a heartbeat. What really makes a legacy is the rich tapestry of stories, relationships, recipes, shared experiences, inside jokes and alternative song lyrics, and little mannerisms that make us family. No physical object of any description is worth a plug nickel in comparison to a strong bond of affection. Maybe we'd do better to make worksheets of our love and loyalty.
BE RIDICULOUS was my quest for the year, and the most ridiculous thing about that is that I didn't give much thought to the many ways the Universe would interpret this command. Every single thing I planned to do with my brand-new, freshly minted 2017 has already been completely upended. Our lives have been in total upheaval every single day of the year so far. I keep talking about the desire for transformation, and now I'm going to stop that for a while and talk about the desire for tranquility!
There are certain things I don't talk about on this blog, namely personal, familial, and health events. Suffice to say that we got hit with two of the three, plus a bonus veterinary crisis. It's been...interesting. Eliding over a trillion details, my husband got an offer for his dream job, and we suddenly found that we had twelve days to move to a new city. Cut to us packing up our house in between giving our dog eye drops three times a day while he can't get his Cone of Shame through the dog door and needs to be let out constantly. Most of First Quarter 2017 was an epic disaster for us, but hey! Now we live at the beach and my husband is working in the space industry!
Unconnected to any of the above, we decided to get rid of our car and try being car-free. It's been three weeks. My husband has been taking the bus to work, and he just ordered a little scooter (toy kind, not internal-combustion kind) to get around between bus stops. Our new place is within less than half a mile of almost everything we need or want, so it's been an easy transition.
My major personal goal for the year was to "follow a set schedule." I choose a counterintuitive, uncomfortable goal that is contrary to doing what comes naturally for me. That's where the juicy stuff is hidden, in the radical change of perception. I used to hate running, and then I pushed myself, fell in love with it, and ran a marathon. I used to have an abiding dread of public speaking, and then (last year) I pushed myself, and started winning ribbons and learning to work a crowd. I thought, heck, what's left on the list of things I hate and also suck at? Then our life went crazy and a schedule was the least of my worries. Then the unexpected happened. Even though our new bedroom window faces west, (my parrot and) I have been waking up around 7 AM every day. We're not quite done unpacking yet, but I'm already moving toward a more natural-feeling, biologically appropriate daily rhythm. Ridiculous.
My career goal has somehow been moving forward, despite everything, mostly because my business partner is a person of great dedication and industry. Sometimes just not saying no is enough to maintain momentum.
My physical goals of doing P90X and running five miles have not happened yet. What has happened is that I've spent the last three weeks lifting and moving heavy objects. Moving is moving! The other thing that's happened is exactly what always happens when we move, which is that I rapidly gain five pounds from eating convenience foods. Now that we're in an apartment, the dog needs to go out at least three times a day, and we're also car-free, meaning I am walking to the grocery store about 5 out of 7 days. At this rate, I can lose five pounds in roughly... three months. [(3500 calories per pound x 5 pounds)/65 calories per mile]/3 miles per day] = not quite 90 days. Or just quit eating my stress and get more sleep.
My home goal was to "digitize, downsize, minimize." I will call that a SUCCESS+. All I was planning to do was to clean out the garage! Now we don't even have a garage. Or a car. Or a yard. Or a... Our new place is awesome, but it's smaller than our tiny house, with significantly less storage. We're still getting rid of things after a yard sale and something like six carloads of donations.
We haven't done our couples goals yet, which are both summertime things. Shared adversity will either drive you apart or bring you closer, and in our case it's closer. We're feeling pretty smug about living in this tiny shoebox apartment; it's like living our twenties all over again, even though we could almost be the parents of most of our neighbors.
I haven't done my stop goal, my lifestyle upgrades, or my wish yet. I will say that my lifestyle has been massively upgraded anyway. Looking at the tiny postage-stamp sized square of ocean we can see from our balcony while wild parrots fly overhead definitely does not suck.
My "Do the Obvious" goal for the year was to transform my appearance. I am also going to call this one an early SUCCESS. Speaking of my quest to BE RIDICULOUS, I got this wild idea to apply to be on a game show, and I actually got a screen test! Of course I didn't get selected, because I am not in the least bit telegenic. But I did go out and get my hair blown out and have my makeup done beforehand. I couldn't believe the results. Suddenly I looked both younger and smarter. My husband absolutely couldn't take his eyes off me. He took me out to dinner, and I think he spent more time making eye contact with me than he did at our actual wedding. All righty then! I learned how to straighten my hair, and astonishingly, it only takes me ten minutes. I finally have the answer to my depressingly unmanageable hair, which has been the plague of my existence for 35 years. If I'd learned to do this when I was 14, I would have had a completely different life. Now I'm 41 and I already have a completely different, completely different life.
2017 has been a very weird, whirlwind year for us so far. Topsy turvy and all that. Now we're starting Second Quarter and it's like we're the ensemble cast of a TV series that just went into a new season, like American Horror Story with slightly less horror. Now I've gone off on a mental tangent, trying to figure out whether there has ever been a TV show much like our life, but there really aren't any sitcoms about engineers, and someone else would have to play me anyway.
This is the short version of my 2017 goals, resolutions, quests, wishes, etc.:
Personal: Follow a set schedule
Physical: P90X, run five miles
Home: Digitize, downsize, minimize
Couples: WDS, homemade pickles
Stop goal: Stop being the last person to pack up my tent
Lifestyle upgrades: Phone and work bag, tent
Do the Obvious: Transform my appearance
Quest: BE RIDICULOUS
Wish: Pay off my student loan.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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