Here is a random list of advice for one of my friends who is looking for a house.
If you can find yourself a house that includes white goods, you will save yourself a lot of bother moving them. In Hobart you won’t find a house without a stove, and the majority will have a fridge and washing machine. You may get a dryer or dishwasher if you’re lucky. Somebody else also takes care of repairs and collects the depreciation on the assets, which is nice too.
If you’re a couple, and you can afford a two-bedroom place (even if the second bedroom is tiny), go for it. Having places where you can be separate from each other (one of you in the spare room, one of you in the living room) will preserve your sanity.
Make sure you get a place that gets some sunlight in winter. It will vastly reduce your heating bill, and keep you sane if you’re at home during the day. Hobart-specific advice: be careful with being on the southern side of the hills in South Hobart and Lenah Valley.
Places with built-in heating will save you money. A reverse-cycle air conditioner (heat pump) runs at a lower price per joule of electricity than a plug-in electric heater, and is more efficient to boot. You’re unlikely to get gas heating or a wood fire (which is expensive but very very pleasant) unless you’re looking at more expensive places.
Be realistic about your travel and commute. Carefully consider whether you will save money by living within walking distance of work (expensive house, cheap transportation) or by living further out (cheap house, expensive transportation). Keep in mind it’s hard to change habits – if you already drive everywhere, you’ll keep on driving everywhere unless you make conscious changes.
Make a list of things you absolutely won’t put up with before going to look at places, and dismiss them immediately if they don’t meet with your requirements. It’s better to miss out on a place than to be stuck somewhere you can’t stand.
You will also have a list of nice-to-haves (for me: fan-forced oven, view of the river). These are not the same as your deal-breakers.
Also set a hard limit (or hard limits) on the amount you can afford before you start looking. When I last moved, I set a limit of $125/week for a room with a car or bus commute to the city, a limit of $150/week for a room with a cycle or walk commute to the city, and $200/week if I could rent two bedrooms, one to use as an office (and thus no need to commute). Bonus points if you create a full budget beforehand and can be confident in your numbers.
Real estate rental agents will almost always be ‘meh’ to deal with. They will (generally) be unresponsive and unhelpful. Private landlords will either be great, or even worse.
As a community, we have too much stuff. We have so much stuff, we don’t even notice that it’s there. I became acutely aware of this recently after I broke up with my now ex-girlfriend, and moved house twice (first in with my parents, then out into my own place again).
I had boxes of stuff. Books. Computer equipment. Clothes. Paper (notebooks, filing drawers, and so on). Gifts that I was hanging onto out of a sense of guilt if I threw them away. Stuff that doesn’t even have a category.
So I got rid of most of it. The process took months (and I’ve never even considered myself a pack-rat), but I’m finally making headway. I never want to go back to the world of stuff again.
There are a lot of benefits to having less stuff. I’ve noticed three main ones:
You suddenly have a lot of spare cash. You’re not any richer, since you’ve just swapped a $10 doo-dad for $10 in cash. But it makes you feel richer, which is nice. And you can invest that $10 to get even richer, or spend it on something actually worthwhile.
You appreciate the things you have more. I now look at what I have and think how lucky I am to have the things I do, rather than “oh God, I have too much stuff!”. It’s a nice change.
Everything works. I can pick up any book on my shelf and know I will enjoy reading it. Every single book. Likewise, it would be very difficult to dress myself with any item in my wardrobe and not look half-reasonable, since I’ve disposed of everything that doesn’t fit, is worn out, or I just plain don’t like.
Stuff that I didn’t dispose of:
Anything that I actually needed! Why get rid of something if you are just going to have to buy it again later? It’s a waste of time and money to do that. Your individual situation will determine what you actually need.
Sentimental items. I’m not saying that I’ll never get rid of the stuffed teddy bears I’ve had since I was a small child, but it’s certainly not time for that yet. The antiques my grandmother gave me in her dying days will never go, despite the “where the hell will I put that?” response they caused when I received them.
Stuff I did get rid of:
I used to have a huge collection of books. I had ten “In A Nutshell” books from O’Reilly. I had dozens of Penguin Classics. I had hundreds of books. Now I have twenty.
When you buy a book, it can become one of four possible things. Some you’ll never finish reading because they’re awful. Some you’ll read, but you know you’ll never read again. Others you might refer to once in a while, such as a cookbook. Finally, there are those books you’ve read to death. You know every word, and yet you go back to read them again.
Any book in the first two categories should go immediately. You do not want these books wasting space in your house. Books in the fourth category should definitely stay. Books in the third? Well, it’s up to you. I got rid of them if I could find the same information online, and kept them if I couldn’t.
Now, how to get rid of books. If you live in Australia, this is actually incredibly simple. You put them in a box, and ship them off (with free postage) to a service that sells them online for you. It’s amazing. I love it. It’s called FishPond SmartSell.
Computer Gear / Electronics
Getting rid of computer and other electronic equipment is depressing, for one simple reason: the depreciation on these purchases is incredible. A motherboard you bought for $350 a couple of years ago is now worthless. You cannot even sell optical drives. This stuff is junk.
I had a lot of computer junk. I knew it was junk, but I kept it around anyway. Patch panels. Dozens of SATA cables. A $50 printer with no ink. Sticks of RAM. All of it taking up space in my life (and in my study no less, where space is most precious). By getting rid of it, I’ve made a lot of space, and a bit of money.
In Australia, the best place to sell computer equipment (and most other assorted items) is Gumtree (Americans could use Craigslist). It’s relatively easy (especially compared to the minefield that is now eBay) and has a very large user base. Unfortunately eBay is full of cheap Hong Kong sellers who sell new items for less than you can post your old items for. Don’t even bother. You’ll want to spend a bit of time getting a feel for how much items are worth, so as not to sell things for too cheap.
I now basically have just a laptop, a printer, a mouse, and some external monitors. It’s all I need, and it takes up very little space.
I used to have stacks of spiral-bound notebooks with ideas and grand plans in them. I had filing cabinets full of tax receipts and superannuation reports. I now have very little of that. Here’s how I went about the process:
Obtain a shredder (preferably a cross-cut model such as this) and a scanner (one with a feed tray is best, such as this). You can most likely borrow these from relatives to avoid the need to buy, if you don’t have them.
Make sure you have a good backup program on your computer, so you don’t lose anything (lest the tax man come after you). I recommend BackBlaze. It’s automatic and it just works.
Read through the spiral-bound notebooks, ripping out any page that has what is still a great idea or a useful note in it, and shredding any page that has a password written on it. Dispose of the notebooks.
Scan to PDF all of the notebook pages that you want to keep. This will be a long and tedious process, but it’s mind-numbing work, so watch TV at the same time. After you scan each page, shred it.
Now move on to the filing cabinets and other papers. Some items can just be thrown out (or shredded if they have personal information). Some items can be scanned and then shredded (most things needed for tax fall into this category). Some things will need to be kept (birth certificates, car registrations, etc). Scan these anyway, it’s nice to have a backup.
Put the shredded papers into the compost and make some lovely worm food.
The next step is organising these PDFs into a useful form. The stuff kept just for tax purposes can just be filed away and forgotten about in the depths of your hard drive, but anything that needs to be looked at again should be organised.
Clothing went through a simple three-step test:
Does it still fit me?
Is it still functional (holes, wearing, etc)?
Do I like it?
Unless I got a yes to all three questions, it went into the charity bin. Simple as that.
I disposed of a lot of other items too. A lot of things I sold on Gumtree, as they had some resale value. Unfortunately, others went into the garbage. This made me sad, but it’s important to realise they didn’t become garbage when they went into the bin; they became garbage when they were no longer useful. I just hadn’t thrown them out yet.
While my process of elimination and simplification is still ongoing, starting to clear out my house on a physical level has cleared out my mind too. I can see (both literally and metaphorically) the things that are important to me. I hope to never look at stuff the same way again.