Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How to get rid of stuff and stay sane in 5 easy steps

Things. Stuff. Junk. If you like me, i.e. the one who keeps things, you know what I am talking about. I had a small house and this problem had been bugging me for quite some time, until one day I solved it. Oh yes I did! It was easy, it was simple, there were some expenses and time/work involved but I enjoyed it immensely. If you'd like to know how to clean your house from junk and free if for...well, even more stuff :D -- go on reading!

Ok, my solution is of! Self storage is cheap, available and accessible but there is one problem: if you put things in storage, you'll never see them again...that is, until you move them out of storage. But, there is a way around it and if you follow the procedure below you will be able to use your storage just like you use your drawer -- or even better.

Step one. Locate your self-storage facility.

Mine is very close to my house. It is also open any time, day and night. Depending on where you live, this may or may not be available, but this is the key ingredient, without it, it will not work. If you have to drive an hour to get to the storage...forget about it.

Step two. Estimate how much space you need and shop around.

Visit the storage facility, talk to the staff and read reviews. Usually there are several types of units. AC/no AC, floor level/mezzanine, some other choices, and, of course, sq footage. Mine is 5x5 ft, 2nd floor, ladder access (i.e. mezzanine), air conditioned unit. Take into account that you will be stacking boxes 3 or 4 levels high. If during the project you discover that you underestimated the space you need, no worries -- it is usually possible to upgrade your storage inside the same facility. So start from the lower end. AC is usually the must, unless you collecting anchors :)

Step three. Boxes, boxes, boxes. Ziploc bags. Silica gel.

You will be stuffing, transporting, stacking boxes. The boxes, to be conveniently used, should be sturdy, lockable, stackable, the same size, not too big, not too small, preferably transparent to identify the content easily. For my camera collection I have chosen air-tight boxes and used silica gel to keep humidity low. Stackable drawer-like boxes with move-out storage and handles are great but they are never air tight, so I passed on them, for the most part. I used a few I already had. Good boxes are not cheap! I invested heavily in boxes and spent time at amazon and in brick-and-mortar stores shopping for the right kind of box(es) I needed. Also: ziploc bags in different sizes, masking tape to make (removable) box labels, shrapie pens to write on the labels.

Step Four. Packing and The Database.

This is the key step which will empower you to use your staff instead of just storing it like King Tut did, in his grave. Lets start with the second part, the database. We will call it database but its really not. It is just a file in which you will put the info what is stored in what box. Any format can be used; mine is excel spreadsheet, it could be text file or a MS Word file or even actual database file, you should pick the format you are familiar with and feel comfortable using. To be able to use it anywhere you can choose to put it in the cloud, i.e. on your Google or Dropbox drive and alike. Back it up regularly! If you loose it, you have to re-create it and its a lot of work! The file should be easily searchable, most programs will allow this. Now start filling the box with your stuff, in no particular order. Pick random item and put it in the box, use ziploc bag to isolate it from the rest if its necessary.
Now create the first record for the box in the database and fill in the first record for the item under the particular box. After you feel the box to the brim, close it and label it with the number you've chosen.
My record in the database for some box may looks like this (just an example):
CONTENT                 AMOUNT   VALUE (0-5) NOTES
CD/DVD Vallet           7       1          used, good
Car Mirror              1       3          used, good
Videocard ATI Rageon128 1       2          used, in a box marked "Natasha's desk"
Videocard 3DF 256M      1       2          used, in a box marked "Natasha's desk"
Soundcard SB0100        1       2          used, in a box marked "Natasha's desk"
Ethernet card SMC1244   1       2          used, in a box marked "Natasha's desk"
USB 2-port card         1       2          used, in a small box
Ethernet card 100Mb     2       2          used, in a box marked "Natasha's desk"
Frame 12x12,            1       3          new
CD/DVD case             8       1          new
Wristwatch box, empty   1       0          used

As you see, I use simple box number system which includes the year when the box was put in service; the records indicate the name of the item ("content" column), amount, value (I do not use actual value in $, instead, I put in one of 6 gradations with "0" been the lowest and "6" the highest), condition (column "notes"). I also write some additional notes if I feel like it. Continue doing this until you pack all things you were planning to put in storage. Done? test the database search. You should be able to find particular item very easy and very fast. In MS Excel, MS Word or Notepad press Control+F key (or invoke search dialog in the menu on top of the application with your mouse) and type the name of the item you are trying to locate. Press "Find" and presto! -- you have your box number. Open it, take the item out, feel it in your hands for a while: you've done it...well, almost. Put the item back, lock the box and move to the next step.

Step Five. Moving!

Ok, now is time to set your personal space free of junk! It is already packed, cataloged/databased but still sitting in your living room, blocking the TV...let's get it moving. You are going to need a car. I used mine and did this in many trips; you probably decide to rent a van. Little van is not expensive. Carry boxes one by one to the car; invite your family&friends to help you, its fun! When at the unit, stack the boxes one on another in two, three or four rows, depending on the size of your standard box -- but do not make it too high. You should be able to reach any box in a minute after you locate it. You are going to need some space in the middle of the unit to stack a few boxes when you reaching for the lower box or when you rearranging boxes. Do not make a mistake of filling the space with boxes to the brim!! This will make King Tut-style storage out of your unit. Remember, if you do not have enough space to leave the center empty, you need bigger unit! Again, usually you can easily upgrade your unit inside the same storage facility. You may decide investing in some shelving; it will allow you to stack boxes higher and pull them out more easily, making more effective use of the same storage space.
After you arranged the boxes, map them on the piece of paper (I have a paper notebook permanently sitting in the unit where I log my visits and where I have put this map). It is easier to find the box you need when you have this map. You may also choose to arrange the boxes in sequential order, its all up to you. When you come back home, change the "location" field in you database from "HOME" to "STORAGE" for all boxes you've already transported to the storage done! You've done it! You freed yourself from all the junk you've accumulated over the years! Celebrate with your friends, throw a party, congratulate yourself! Go to ebay and buy another camera or an anchor -- now when you have a lot of space!

(this is not the end!)

Now you can start using your new system! As soon as you need anything you've stored (or you think you stored), search your database, find out the number of the box and then ride to your unit and find the box. Open it, take out the things you need or take the whole box and ride home. While at home, update the database for that particular box. If you took the whole box, change the "location" to "HOME"; if you took the things out, delete them from the box's content (or, if you are planning to return them to the box, use strike-through font to mark them as checked out).

One more idea: use the same system in your house. If you have some closet space, fill it with the labeled boxes and add them to the database! Add new standard location (HOME_CLOSET) and you done!


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