House to let, two careful owners

We’ve just had a week away with friends – a now annual tradition for early December when we hire a whole youth hostel, fill it with friends and share an early Christmas together including carolling, secret santa gift exchanges, a nativty play at a nearby farm and full Christmas dinner with all the trimming for 60 people. There are not many things we will be able to fit into our lives next year as we roam but Christmas Camp 2011 will be organised at a location we can still attend.

The week before we went we spent the evenings stripping wallpaper around the house and moving things about ready to leave it for my Dad to redecorate everything. Dad is a decorator by trade and was here twice daily for chicken sitting duties and did a fantastic job of making all the walls magnolia and the paintwork and radiators bright white. It all looks very crisp and clean – and not like our house at all! We don’t have anything left to get rid of but we do still seem to have quite a bit of stuff. There are a last few things to freecycle just before we leave, otherwise everything else is going into storage while we’re away.

Christmas decorations have gone up and the whole house could now do with a spruce up tidy before I call in the letting agents. We’re still in post-holiday recovery here with both Dragon and Star suffering a nasty cold and me ploughing through washing, writing Christmas cards and getting on with things such as getting my car MOTd so I’ve put off contacting agents until the end of the week and am planning to arrange visits on Monday or Tuesday next week with a view to giving one or more agent the go ahead to find tennants by the end of the week. A friend has also recommended a DIY website for house letting which I will look at in more detail alongside what the agents have to say / offer about their service and see how they all compare against each other in terms of security, likelihood of letting, potential price per month and so on.

We have taxed Willow the van, which we were not planning to do but decided was a good idea as it means we can use her if we want (and we still have a plan to try at least one night away in her before we head off for our year) and she is ready to go to the garage for an MOT before we go and a final checkover / a few small things we want done or fixed.

We need to make our short short list of Zone two hosts – North Wales. That is my main priority this side of Christmas, I’d like to have that more or less sorted by the end of the year so we have a clear six months of arrangements made.

So a tidy up, getting finding a tennant in progress and more lining up hosts to do – busy, busy, busy!

Operation House Rent

Way back when we first started talking about the WW plan for next year we had several stumbling blocks to get past to make it all happen: firstly we needed people to actually want us to come and WWOOF for them, secondly we needed a campervan to transport us around the UK and to live out of when hosts can’t accomdate all four of us or when we simply take some time out (it’s our intention to have the odd week off here and there), thirdly we need to rent our house out in order to pay the mortgage and give us enough of a little income each month to cover petrol costs and any other things that crop up (food, clothing, emergency supplies of wine or chocolate, that sort of thing!).

We got the first three months worth of hosts booked fairly quickly. I am in the process of drawing up the short list for Zone two and composing an email to start booking the next three months but early signs were promising so if the good people of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are happy to have us, hopefully the lovely folk of North Wales will feel the same.

The campervan also fell into place pretty easily, sooner than expected and aside from needing a bit more work done to her and an MOT before we go Willow is ready to roll.

The house is the final hurdle. If we don’t rent it out we can’t pay the mortgage and if we can’t pay the mortgage then we can’t give up work. If we can’t give up work we can’t go. So it is pretty crucial. We have rented this house out before, five years ago for a 2.5 year period. It rented easily, had three sets of tenants in it and was a fairly straightforward operation. Timing is pretty tricky this time, no point in having it arranged too far in advance as that leave too much time for it to fall through, people are not necessarily looking for somewhere to live in 3 months time, they are looking for now and in order to make it attractive we need to remove our stamp on it and make it look more like it could be a potential tenants home. This means making everything clean, clutter-free and blank canvas-like. In short, magnolia!

So the house is all but clutter-cleared, the last few things will go this weekend. Then things which are staying will be boxed up and moved into the middle of each room and my Dad will come in with a paintbrush and a vat of emulsion and make it look fresh and ready for a new chapter in the biography of the house. I’m hoping to get two or three letting agents in to give me their idea of monthly rental prices and sell their services to me in terms of marketing, securing tenants, preparing contracts and making it a smooth and hassle free arrangement. Then one of them can start trying to get a tenant.

Ady needs to hand his notice in by the end of January to leave by the end of February to be off at our first hosts at the beginning of March. So we will have until the end of Jan to have a tenant signed up to take the house on before he hands his notice in. If we don’t have one, he won’t hand his notice in and we’ll have to put plans on hold until we do have a tenant. We do have the option of moving out of here earlier than March as we can live in the van and have several options for parking it on people’s land so we can still work in our jobs til the end of February before going off.

Every step of the way we have been so lucky so far, our own planning has paid off and things have fallen into place. I am keeping my fingers firmly crossed that the same good fortune follows us for this next big part of the master plan.

Job List

Things still to do before we go away and the house gets magnolia-ised.

Hall

  • I’m thinking we will leave the empty bookcase in situ, assuming the tenants don’t object. There is one large box-ful of books to go to my parents. 
  • There are rather a lot of coats on the coat rails along the wall which need going through. Some will be coming with us, some will be going. A job to do

Lounge

  • Not a lot actually. All it contains is: 2 sofas which are staying, a table and chairs which are staying, a rug which is staying, a TV unit with selected dvds which are staying, TV, video, dvd player etc which are staying. The furniture will go over to my parents for storage, the dvds etc will be boxed up and go over there too. There are pictures on the wall which will come down and go over there too. The room just needs everything moving into the centre and taking off the wall ready for Dad to come in.

Kitchen

  • I have already cleared all the crockery etc we won’t be keeping. Some of the remaining pots and pans will be coming with us, the rest will go into storage. Approximately 2 boxes worth of stuff to pack up just before we leave. Food will obviously all be eaten! There isn’t much decorating to do in the kitchen, maybe a bit of cleaning but we can do that the day before we get letting agents in.

The Playroom aka the holding bay!

  • The cupboard under the stairs needs attention. It was emptied completely but currently contains camping stuff such as a tent. The camping stuff we are keeping needs to go into storage (I think it will fit in our loft which we will be storing stuff in), the rest needs selling. A Job to do
  • The units now contain things we are keeping including photo albums which could be boxed up, my sewing machine and some fabric which needs either using up or selling or putting into boxes for storage, a few games and puzzles we are keeping which could be boxed up for storage and then the units dismantle and put away for storage. The walls need clearing of pictures and posters. A job to do

The Bathroom

  • Has been cleared of all but things we will be using up before we go. It is ready to be repainted.

Star’s Bedroom

  • Rather more to do in here 🙂 Her wardrobe needs a final cull – some of the stuff is to come with us on holiday to be given to smaller friends before the wardrobe itself is dismantled and gotten rid of. A job to do
  • Star’s bookcase has a couple of boxes full of books which need to be boxed up to keep and the bookcase gotten rid of. A job to do
  • Star’s bed is full of cuddly toys which she wants to keep. A box needs to be got ready to store them in and I think they will fit in the loft. She has several boxes of toys which will also go into the loft. A job to do
  • In summary this room needs some furniture clearing and disposing of, some toys and clothes still to leave the house, some toys and clothes to go into boxes so that all remaining is the bed and boxes of toys and clothes ready for repainting the room.

Dragon’s Room

  • Needs all but the identical treatment to Star’s room above. Wardrobe, bookcase and drawer units need clearing into boxes and furniture needs to go. Soft toys and toys, books and clothes being kept need putting into boxes so that all left is bed and boxes ready for decoration. A job to do

Our bedroom and en suite bathroom

  • have been cleared already with only stuff being kept and ready to be boxed up left. It’s ready for redecorating already.

We have two weekends left before we go away in which to achieve this – one weekend for the playroom and hall and one for the kids rooms. Dad will come and decorate and we can invite some letting agents in to view the house and start marketing it to tenants. We still have the garden and garage to totally clear but that can be done during December and January and won’t prevent people looking round the house.

The liberation of letting go

We’re beginning to see an end in sight to the declutter. We stood yesterday in the playroom which has become the sort of holding bay for stuff we’ve sorted out as needing to leave the house before it actually does so. It veers between very empty and very full and has spent the last week or so incredibly cluttered as I have a large amount of clothing waiting to be collected by a friend. She is doing a Nearly New sale of clothes and gifts to raise money for her disabled daughter. She takes a percentage of what you sell and passes the rest on to you – you set prices for your stuff. Very similar to the NCT Nearly New Sales I have bought kids clothes from over the years. I also have the remainder of the books from the Open House Books Sale we did. We discussed how we’d not really thought our house was that cluttered to begin with but it has been fairly epic emptying it ready to head off. Of course our combined ages in this house total 100 years (how very tidy, hadn’t realised that before 🙂 ) so that’s a lot of years worth of living and acquiring stuff.

A few new readers seem to have appeared lured by the promise of Extreme Decluttering Tips so whilst people who have been reading from the beginning may well now be bored with How Nic’s House Got Emptied I’ll do a bit of a round up as we are very close to the end of that phase now so it’s a good time to do it.

I’ve always done at least one big clear out a year, mostly of clothes – my own if I have not worn them since the last clear out a year before and the kids if they are outgrown / worn out. I have used various methods of clearing clothes over the years – passing them on to smaller friends and relatives for the kids clothes, selling on ebay (I got more for my maternity clothes that saw me through both pregnancies than I paid for them when I came to ebay them), passing them on to charity shops and I also went through a phase of making rag rugs so cut up lots of clothing to do that (although technically that didn’t mean they left the house they were in smaller, useful incarnations).

We’ve cleared toys fairly regularly too, mainly to make room for more toys it has to be said but better they leave than form the base layer of plastic in a sort of archaelogical landfill inside our home. They have mostly left by the same method – ebay for resale if worth it, donation to family, friends or charity shop or indeed freecycle. Board books and early picture books have gone the same way, we simply don’t have a big enough house to home all of the stuff a family of four collects and as we had Dragon and Star just two years apart and knew we were done with babies after them we were able to decide each phase was over once Star reached it and get rid of toddler jigsaws, lift the flap books, stacking cup and shape sorters as we went.

But we still had a heck of a lot of stuff to get rid of once we started needing to clear the house. Storage is expensive and whilst my parents have kindly offered to take some of our stuff and we will have room in our loft for a few boxes so the few bits of furniture and things we can’t part with will be kept stuff has really had to justify it’s position not to be shipped out.

That meant going through our house a room at a time and making decisions on everything as to whether we could bring it with us, justify storing it or whether it had to go. Furniture, books, clothes, toys, cds, films, kitchen contents, appliances. Everything.
 

We’ll be extreme living proof of the sorts of statistics you hear on Trinny and Susannah about how we spent 90% of our time wearing just 10% of our clothes (or something) so we’ll be doing Capsule Wardrobe in a serious fashion. Any clothes the kids won’t wear next year won’t fit them by the time we get home. Ady and I have kept a suit for funerals, one for job interviews and a small box full of clothes between us (containing mostly Ady’s collection of vintage Pompey tops and my wedding dress) and the rest has gone to the clothes bank or is awaiting collection for the nearly new sale. The kids clothes are all packed up ready to be passed on to smaller friends.

Cds and films were next to be scrutinised. A small selection of each will be kept but we had more music and more films than we could watch or listen to back to back with two being played at once for the cumulative totals of the rest of our natural lives. Precious music had already made it onto MP3 players so the cds went on ebay, collection only. It’s not like we can’t download any tune we want at some future point. Videos went on freecycle, after nobody wanted them on ebay. They are now part of an entertainment library at a local youth club. DVDs did sell on ebay, the smaller collection will be going into storage.

Books! I work at the local library and recently spent some time working out how many years worth of reading material there was just in our small branch. I worked out the avergae word count per book, the average reading speed and the average number of books per shelf. Did the maths and calculated how many lifetimes worth of reading you could get for free from your local library. We were not that far behind with our own book collection here! A couple of shelves were mostly ex library books or other kids reference / non fiction, gathered in the early days of our Home Ed career back when I cherished this notion Dragon and Star would request ‘Mama, do tell me more of the pyramids in Egypt?’ at which point I would gather a selection of relevant books from our in-house library, we’d read together, create sugar cube pyramids, dress with tea towels on our heads for the day, stick The Bangles Walk Like An Egyptian on and make lapbooks complete with hieroglyphics. The thing is Dragon and Star aren’t that sort of Home Ed kids, I’m not that sort of Home Ed mama, we don’t have enough sugar cubes, we’ve sold The Bangles Greatest Hits and we could just google anyway.

I also have a fair few books of my own, some biographies and autobiographies, a selection of fiction and a few other titles. The kids also had some childrens fiction on their bookcases (we have a ceiling height 7 shelf book case in our hall and the kids both have a 3 shelf bookcase in their rooms – all were full, along with a shelf of cook books in the kitchen). We were ruthless in our going through the shelves keeping only the books we simply couldn’t bear to part with. For me that was a couple of parenting / home ed handbooks (Alfie Kohn, Sandra Dodd, David Edwards), dictionaries and thesaurus, a shelf of a few educational books, some Ladybird books and a shelf of books we will be taking with us – Collins books of nature, wildlife, trees, plants, food for free that sort of thing. Dragon has saved mostly fiction, Star mostly non-fiction from their shelves.

Books are tricky to get rid of really, heavy for posting so not great for ebay or amazon marketplace, bulky to lug back and forth to car boot sales but hard to see going for nothing. So I came up with the idea of an Open House Book Sale day, stuck it up on local home ed email lists and as a facebook event for friends and got in a supply of tea and biscuits, displayed the books on the table and in sorted out into themed crates and opened the doors. We had 6 or 7 visitors and it was a really nice day of chatting to friends about our adventure, seeing the books go off to new homes where they will be used and appreciated and watching the pot for collecting money filling up. I do still have loads of books left and have had some interesting suggestions for ideas on what to do with them including donating some to the local doctors and dentists waiting room (I know we have appreciated kids books in both over the years when waiting a long time for appointments), setting some free in the Bookcrossing scheme, giving some of the adult titles to residential homes, hostels, giving educational ones to schools, home ed groups with premises etc. All excellent ideas and some have been taken for those purposes, the rest are now on ebay as a big wholesale lot, with a couple of bids already from second hand bookshops, being sold as collection only.

Toys and general ‘stuff’ went through various processes – if we thought it was individually worth something it went on ebay. We have ebayed perfume, mobile phones, decent toys, small electrical appliances, branded clothing and raised several £100s. I confess to not liking ebay. The process of photographing, listing etc is time consuming and boring, the disappointment when something goes for 99p, the worrying that you have ripped someone off when it goes for way more than you expected, the trek to the post office with wrapped up items. But it is an effective way of getting rid of stuff and making money. Stuff not worth ebaying made it to the carboot sale pile. We did two car boot sales and made a decent amount of cash at each – we priced low and sold hard and it was an enjoyable few hours touting our wares in a field. We got rid of clothes, shoes, toys, more electrical stuff. Anything that didn’t sell was donated to a charity shop on the way home.

Freecycle has been another route for getting rid of stuff. I love freecycle, we’ve done well from it over the years and it’s nice to give stuff back. Toys have gone to grateful new homes, furniture we no longer need has gone to sit in someone else’s home and it’s saving landfill from our rubbish.

So decluttering stuff – easy to find new homes for pretty much anything once you have made the decision to remove it from your life: sell it, give it, donate it.

But I guess that’s not the hard bit is it really? Time consuming, means for a time you end up with more mess than when you started as everything is strewn about the place awaiting decisions but the tough bit is actually making the decision to let stuff go in the first place. To accept that you don’t need to hang onto it ‘just in case’, that there may one day come a moment when you slap your forehead and ask ‘why did I get rid of X? It would be worth £500 now / would be perfect to have in this very situation’ but it’s a small chance and probably worth the risk.

I read something the other day about too much choice preventing us from actually making a decision and I think that’s true. Faced with a jam packed wardrobe of clothes, most of which you have never worn it’s really tricky to think which item to wear, faced with a solid wall of books it’s very hard to select just one title to pull off the shelf to read. Who does that layer thing? That mental segregation or even physical dividing of stuff – the clothes you wear all the time and usually choose something for today from that often don’t even make it back into the wardrobe but move just between the dirty washing, the clean washing and the on your back? Who has a full bookcase but generally selects books to read from the pile beside the bed which is a pre-selected ‘read next’ pile of newer books or library books or ones a friend has given with a ‘you MUST read this’ recommendation. So maybe accept that actually you don’t need all the unworn clothes in the wardrobe, the unread books on the shelf and unused lotions and potions in your bathroom, sauces and spices in your kitchen and let them go.

I’ve let some interesting things go during this process. One was the box of cards we were given when we had Dragon and then Star. I also had folded up helium balloons in the box along with the hospital wrist band for Dragon (Star was born at home). A big box that has moved with us twice, never been opened to look at and if we were not doing this declutter and questioning every single thing we keep would probably have remained in the loft and moved with us if we changed address again. We looked at every card, racked our brains in some cases to recall some of the people the cards were from and then put them in the recycling bin. Did that make you shudder? Realistically they mean nothing, they were good wishes to us for our new babies who are now strapping young children. The good wishes came true, we now have years worth of memories and photos and times spent with those babies. If we stash those cards away again all we are doing is leaving those babies with a legacy of one day having to clear those cards away themselves; dustier, more curled at the edges and with even less chance of anyone knowing who they were from in the first place.

When we bought our house 17 years ago it was on the market as the owner had died. Mr and Mrs Rowe were the only previous owners, buying the house new when it was built in 1950 or so. They had no children and listening to our neighbours accounts of the elderly couple they were nice people, happy together living here until Mrs Rowe died a few years before Mr Rowe and he grew gradually more reclusive and less able-bodied. I think he eventually lived pretty much in one room. The house was cheap, run down and needing lots of work and being sold by a neice and two nephews with proceeds going three ways. The house was cleared by a clearance company and when we first viewed it the contents were still here, ready marked with destinations ‘Sell’, ‘Skip’ etc. The image of a brown suitcase, laid open on what is now my lounge floor still haunts me. It was marked ‘skip’ and contained some sepia photographs of the young Mr and Mrs Rowe along with the something blue garter I assume she wore on their wedding day. I don’t know why they didn’t have children or anything else about them but I know all of their collected stuff was one day picked over by someone and consigned, probably without any emotion, to it’s next destination. I don’t want to burden Dragon and Star with piles of stuff to make harsh decisions over one day after I’m gone, I’d rather read those baby cards one last time, smile at the remembering of those crazy early days of new parenthood, wishing people would stop sending flowers as the doorbell invariably rang and woke a baby I had just lulled to sleep or enjoying recalling how others shared our joy at the birth of our babies. Not cold or unemotional, but not needing pieces of cardboard locked in the attic either.

I’m not necessarily advocating a life without possessions (although that would be an interesting concept). Even in the van we will have the need for useful things, precious things and pretty things. For each of us these conjur up different ideas. For me precious things are not always valuable and valuable things are not always precious. I recently sold a small pile of jewellry I have had for years. I don’t wear much – wedding and eternity ring, a ring of my grandmothers that my Dad gave me at the same time as my wedding ring (which was also hers), a watch from Niagara Falls that Ady bought me when we visited when I was pregnant with Dragon. I have a locket my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 16, a gold bracelet they bought me for my 21st birthday and a necklace Ady bought me for our first Christmas together (all of the ones I don’t wear need repairing). I also had various necklaces, rings and other gold that meant nothing to me, I didn’t like and never wore. Selling it paid for the service on the van. I will keep the few bits that do mean something to me but they are small enough to fit into my purse – one day I might get them repaired to wear again or I might do as a friend recently told me her mother had done with a heap of gold she had that she didn’t like but had sentimental value and have it melted down and made into something I will wear all the time instead. Other precious possessions of mine include a giant wooden clock which hangs on my lounge wall and Ady bought me for my 21st birthday. That will be kept (I don’t think we could hang it in the van!) and will again grace the wall of any other lounge I live in and probably one day hang in Dragon or Star’s lounge I hope. I do have photo albums and framed pictures I love and we will keep those to again hang up, place on shelves when we settle into a house again. They are defining, personal things that make where I live my home. They are on display and I see them every day, I would miss them from my life if they were not there. Anything that does not fit into this category fails to be precious in my opinion and then unless it is useful it doesn’t justify it’s place.

So look around, walk yourself around your home and see what falls into the categories of precious, pretty or useful. The rest is just stuff. Letting stuff go is A Good Thing, it frees up space, lets go of the guilt of not using those things, can raise money, give you a good feeling to know it is now being used elsewhere. Dance in the open spaces it leaves in your home, rejoice in the lack of things creating and capturing dust, spend the money you make on something that *isn’t* stuff, something freeing, something to celebrate releasing yourself from the shackles of stuff.