Real Estate Advisor: February 2013
Making the Most of Storage
Whether buying or selling a home, storage becomes an issue. Buyers want ample storage areas -- indeed, it can be a make-or-break feature when buying a home. Sellers need it both for eliminating clutter from rooms while showing a home, and for containing their own personal items. Learning how to best utilize the storage will increase the functionality and presentation of your home.
Once you've reduced the amount you would like to store - items have been sorted, unwanted and useless things have been discarded - presumably the remaining items needing storage are wanted, useful, and/or valuable in some way. Here are the steps that will ensure success:
Assess: Storage Areas and Items to Store
What you have and where you will store it are both questions that are pertinent to the task at hand. Storage of dishes or books, clothing or car parts, may require different solutions. The only way to do this is to take a good look. Simply having a lot of space is only part of the puzzle; being able to access your belongings is equally important.
Inventory the storage areas on your property to better understand "reality". Having an attic or basement does not mean that you have more storage if they are difficult to access, wet, unduly hot or cold, infested with mice or mold - so check these areas and really look at their condition. Similarly, cabinets and closets with particularly high shelving or excessively deep shelving provide wonderful storage for items that are not often in use.
Don't overlook non-traditional storage - alcoves, and places where storage furniture or built-in furniture could exist. Your space might have a perfect place to put an armoire, bench seat with storage, or built-in bookshelves. Mantels and large porches, sheds and garages often have places where storage is possible. If these areas are exposed to view, containers should be attractive and appropriate to the spot.
When assessing where to store each item, keep in mind that having items close to the location where they will ultimately be used is often essential to it having value. Items you cannot access might as well not be there. If you are keeping something, consider "charging it rent" - is it worth the space it takes up?
If in your assessment of space and items to store you have far more items than space, then further reduction of possessions might be in order. An alternative is to "find more space" by creating more storage in the home or on the property possibly by building an addition, garage, or shed. Otherwise, if you have more stuff than fits in storage, you will either live with it in your way day-to-day, or have to rent storage space out of the home, which is expensive and inconvenient for accessing your items. Or perhaps you just need a bigger home!
Prepare: The Space, the Items, and the System
After you have assessed the storage space, it is time to remedy any issues found. Creating access, resolving moisture or pest infestation, heating or cooling issues, and cleaning an area can ensure that items stored there will retain their value and usefulness.
Storage space that is climate controlled (not too hot or too cold), dry and easily accessible is the most valuable storage on your property. Renovations that add additional storage of this sort may increase your home's value. Any time that you consider removing storage, eliminating closets or shelving, consider the consequences carefully and determine if that storage will be available elsewhere.
Storing items in containers that are strong, helps keep them in good repair. While storage containers might be expensive, storing your valuables poorly can result in loss or damage, which might be equally costly. Cardboard boxes are subject to moisture and are often difficult to move, and can result in content which is difficult to see and access.
Shelving can provide an alternative to stacking boxes on the floor and make them easier to access. Moving one box to get to another is acceptable, but stacking too many boxes on top of each other can make retrieving items from lower boxes a daunting task. If you cannot get to your stored items, they can become a burden rather than a help.
Using boxes or containers that are sized to the contents will ensure that each box does not get too heavy. Fragile items that are stored in large boxes can be broken more easily, and items with many pieces should be stored together. Ensure that shelving and containers work together, and that items of like kinds are stored near each other, in a place that makes sense. Labels are a wonderful way to cut down on searching for things, but be sure to update them when the contents shift.
Achieve and Maintain: Principles of Storing
Now that you understand what you have in the way of stuff and storage space, and you have prepared the items and the spaces and created a system, placing things is much easier. By this time, you probably understand what you have and whether it will be actively used.
Generally there are levels of storage - long-term, seasonal, and active-use. Understand the nature of what you are storing.
Items being held for future generations, which might not be accessed for years, belong in long-tem storage. If they are well-stored and secure, putting them in a far corner that is not very accessible might be fine. This is the time to consider attic and basement space, but only if the items are well-stored and the space is properly prepared.
Similarly, decorations and house wares that are seasonal will get in the way if they are taking up prime space in the wrong place. Consider dedicating "seasonal storage" that can be rotated so that the next season's items are in the front, ready to be taken out when needed. Packing seasonal storage too tightly and not rotating it may render it useless, so this is one area where establishing a system can really pay off.
Active storage is important to keep organized and not over-filled. Items should be easy to locate, retrieve and replace, and what you want should be where you want it; kitchen and food items in their proper spots, health and beauty items in a hygienic location, and cleaning and maintenance tools where they are likely to be used and serviceable. Items that are out of place breed clutter and chaos, so well ordered active storage is a key to a well-functioning home.
Kitchen cabinets are typically sorted and items stored close to the stations where they will be used. Cabinets that are deeper might store items that are used rarely toward the back, and frequently used tools up front. Everyday plates and utensils should be easy to access and put away, while holiday dishes and party platters are better out of the way.
Garage and sheds and even bathrooms and bedrooms follow similar rules. Enabling access to tools and materials while ensuring clear areas is a key to successfully living and working in a space. Items that you use a lot need a "home" - either in storage or in plain sight. Having items you love and places to keep them will ensure that cleanup is easy and your rooms look tidy.
If you are storing something that you don't use or love, it is taking up valuable space. Every so often, go into the back of your cabinets and drawers to find items you no longer use or love - this is one of the quickest ways to gain storage space without spending money on shelves or storage systems. Similarly, if you are storing something to give to future generations, ask yourself if they will really want it or if they might be ready to receive the item now - then it doesn't spend years in storage and you gain space!
Refine: Love What Works and Don't Let Trouble Continue
Every so often, a homeowner will look up and find that they have a "trouble spot". When tools are hard to return to their storage areas, or holiday items linger in boxes by the door, it is usually a sign that the storage area is too difficult to access or the system of storage hinders use. The ability to return items to storage is as important as the ability to get to them easily - so you might need to refine your system to overcome any challenges you find.
Annual inspections might reveal that there are items to purge, spaces to improve, or systems that need upgrading - but most of all, you stay in touch with your home and its real value to you. While you are at it, don't forget to appreciate what is working well. Storing stuff you love in a way that works makes your home a haven and a place that allows you to function at a high level. It's the best way to get value out of your home, and give you a new perspective on what you really have. After all, as a homeowner you want to be in touch with your most important asset!