Important Document Organization Can Save Time, Money and Grief

Consumer Reports’ blog had a great article today about having your documents  organized in case of emergency.  I’m reproducing their included table here and linking to them.  I figure if maybe I link enough times they won’t ask me to remove it.

The  good news is that I already do most of this.  Spending so many y ears as an insurance agent I saw the value in these preparations.   Something I also recommended that I don’t see here is a written and video inventory of your possessions, including as much detail as possible (where bought, how  much paid) expecially for the big ticket items.

SAFE-DEPOSIT BOX Birth and death certificates; marriage license; adoption, citizenship, divorce papers Yes Home file
Inventory and photos of household property Yes Home file
Deeds, titles, bills of sale, car title, mortgage Yes Home file
List of location of important papers Yes Home file
HOME FILE CABINET Tax returns; supporting documents for past 3 to 7 years No
Passport No
Bank-account information Yes Friend’s or relative’s home or at your office
Insurance policies No
List of all assets, including brokerage and mutual-fund accounts, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, real property, and employee-benefit accounts Yes Friend’s or relative’s home or at your office
ATTORNEY’S OFFICE Will, durable power of attorney Yes Home file and executor or personal representative
Funeral instructions Yes Friend or relative
Living will, health-care power of attorney Yes Home file, physician, personal representative
Location of safe-deposit box Yes Joint owner, friend, or relative
WALLET Driver’s license or other photo I.D. yes Home file
Auto insurance card Yes In car
Emergency contacts No
Blood type, list of allergies, medications No

I don’t know about you, but I know it would help calm me in the time of an emergency to know that much of the information I need is safe and sound, organized and easily accessible.  And when we lose someone we love our grief is tempered slightly by the knowledge that they cared enough to prepare and make the logistics of dealing with the aftermath as easy as possible.

Go forth and organize!


Self Storage Part 3 – How to Be a Smart Self Storer

This is the last in a three part series on Self Storage.

Check out the other articles in this series:

Self Storage Part 1 – When Paying to Store Your Stuff Is a Good Idea

Self Storage Part 2 – When Paying to Store Your Stuff Is a Bad Idea

Now that you’ve made a decision to store your items there are things you can do to make sure you store smart.

1. Gather and Cull. Again. Once you’ve gathered all the items that need to be packed, go through them again and weed out any items that can be thrown away, given away, or actually used. Don’t be afraid to get rid of unnecessary items in order to have room for the stuff you really need to store.

2. Pack smart. Don’t close up half-empty boxes. Make the most of the space you have since the more space your stuff takes up the more you’re going to pay to store it. Make sure breakables are well-cushioned, too!

3. Make an inventory. Just writing “kitchen stuff” on the outside of a box is not the best way to go. When I recently put some items in my in-laws’ hangar I modified my Relocation Packing System (I’ll post that soon!) to keep track of what was being stored. Who wants to look all over the house for something that you forget you put in storage, or have to go through fifteen boxes to find your lobster pot?

  • List loose items (treadmill (really, just sell it!), canoe, crib, etc.).
  • Inventory each box individually. You don’t need to go into excruciating detail. Instead of “12 blue highball glasses, 12 lowball glasses, 12 blue juice glasses, Proctor-Silex Toaster Oven” simply write “blue glasses, toaster oven”.
  • Assign each box a number. This will help you find things quickly, and save lots of tape wasted by looking in the wrong box.
  • Place your name and contact number inside and outside each box and attach a tag or label to each loose item.
  • Save list in a computer file.

See how easy? This can save you loads of aggravation. Loads. Trust me.

4. Figure out how much space you really need. You don’t just have the space on the floor, so don’t forget to go vertical. Err on the side of too small, as they’ll be happy to sell you a bigger unit if all your stuff doesn’t fit. And if it doesn’t fit perhaps you’ll want to cull some more!

5. Look for the right facility. Don’t store your grandmother’s fur coat in a facility without air conditioning. PODs can also be a good alternative to traditional storage. Consider location, price, condition of the facility, security, service, and access. Here is a list of questions to guide you:

  • What kind of security system do they have?
  • Are the grounds patrolled, and if they are, how often?
  • Have they had any break-ins and if so, how did it/they occur?
  • Are there smoke alarms in each building?
  • Is there a sprinkler system in case of a fire?
  • Are there any limits to your access?
  • Can you rent space on a month-to-month basis? If so, how much notice do you require to vacate the storage unit?
  • If you can’t tour the facility yourself, can you see photos of the facilities, including a picture of an empty unit?
  • How is the climate controlled?
  • Will my items be safe from the elements? Leaky roofs ruin stuff. Visit on a rainy day.
  • Are the grounds and inside the facility well taken care of?
  • Are there large bushes or overgrown vegetation along the sides of the building? This may be a deterrent if you plan on accessing your storage unit at night.
  • Are both the inside and outside areas well lit?
  • Is the security fence intact? Make sure you walk around the entire perimeter to make sure.
  • What is required for someone to access the storage unit areas?

And, finally, the gut check:

  • Do you feel comfortable leaving your things in their care?

6. Buy the best lock you can. The better the lock the better your chances of your stuff staying where you put it.

7. Use tarps. Put one (or two) on the ground under your stuff, and put one (or two) over your stuff. If there’s a roof or plumbing leak you’ll be really happy you did.

8. Visit your stuff monthly. Make sure that all is well secured. Look at the units on each side of yours to make sure there are no leaks, pried locks or other red flags.

9. Get your stuff out as soon as possible. Don’t let it languish there past your initial target removal date without revisiting the wisdom of paying to store the items. Are you ready to let go of the items? Can you sell or donate them? Can you find a place to store them for less, or no charge at all? Are they worth the money you’re spending?

10. Pay. Your. Bill. The most un-frugal self storage mistake you could make would be to stop paying the storage bill. They will lock you out and sell your stuff. I once picked up a beautiful solid wood bookcase for $10 at a storage company’s abandoned stuff sale. And they’ll throw out your childhood memorabilia and paperwork, leaving you vulnerable to identity theft. Really, pay your bill.

That’s it on self storage. I hope this series helps you make the smartest choices for you.

Self Storage Part 2 – When Paying to Store Your Stuff Is a Bad Idea

This is the second in a three part series on Self Storage. Look for Part 3 tomorrow. See the bottom of this post for a link to Part 1.

In Self Storage Part 1 – When Paying to Store Your Stuff Is a Good Idea I listed some scenarios in which paying to store things can not only be a decent idea, but can also be a frugal one.

I admit it. I have a “thing” about paying for storage. I hate the idea. If I don’t have room for it I should get rid of it.

That frugal, sensible part of me wars with the other part of me: the part that doesn’t like to let things go. It’s hard for me, but I’m getting better. Before you decide to pay to store stuff, ask yourself these questions. If these are true for you, you may want to think twice before agreeing to rent storage space.

1. If you don’t even remember what’s in the boxes. Spend the time to go through them. Sell, toss or donate anything you don’t really need or want. If you still need to rent space you’ll likely be able to rent a smaller one, for less money. Who knows, you may wind up with little or nothing to store after all…

2. If you don’t really want the item(s) you are planning to store. Don’t store something out of a sense of duty or obligation if you don’t want or need them. Just because Aunt Bernice left you her taxidermied pets doesn’t mean you have to keep them. And just because you lost your…fruit…on that couch doesn’t mean it shouldn’t support someone else’s grapes. Memory box items should be smaller than a breadbox, so take a picture and put it in a scrapbook. But not of the pets. Please.

3. If the items to be stored aren’t valuable. Do the math. Spending $150 a month to store $1000 worth of stuff is a bad financial decision. Spending good money to store 1000 Gatorade sports bottles just doesn’t make sense. Donate them to a local school instead.

4. If you have room to store it in your home already. Maximize the storage space you already have. We have very little storage inside our townhouse, but we do have a small garage. Husband has built shelves in the garage to keep things neat, organized and off the floor. He’s built shelves that hang from the ceiling. We store things under our beds, use a toy box as a bench, built extra shelves in our closets. Get creative with your storage solutions.

5. If you can store it somewhere else for free. Okay, I’m know that I’m lucky to have in-laws that rent an airplane hangar. But that’s not the only way to store for free. Can someone else use the item? I have friends trying to sell their empty condo. We made a deal that they can use some extra furniture of ours to make their condo look lived-in, and therefore more attractive to buyers. It’s a win-win. I have less clutter, they have a more salable property. If someone agrees to store stuff for you at no charge make sure you discuss ahead of time how long the arrangement will last, and don’t take advantage. If you agree you’ll get it out of there by July 1st, then get it out of there by July 1st.

6. If you don’t know how long you’ll be storing it. If you don’t have a plan ahead of time you greatly increase your chances of spending an enormous amount on rental fees that doesn’t make financial sense. Have a plan. Really.

If you’ve answered these questions and you still need to rent storage space you can still save time, money and grief by renting smart. Read Part 3 of the series for great tips on how to be a smart self-storer.

Check out the other articles in this series:

Self Storage Part 1 – When Paying to Store Your Stuff Is a Good Idea

Self Storage Part 3 will be published tomorrow.  Come back to read it!

Self Storage Part 1 – When Paying to Store Your Stuff Is a Good Idea

This is the first in a three part series on Self Storage. Look for Part 2 and Part 3 over the next two days.

Nearly 1 in 10 US households currently rent a self storage unit. That’s 10.8 million of the 113.3 million US households, an increase of approximately 65 percent in the last 12 years.

Wow. Americans have a lot of stuff !

So when is does it make financial sense to rent storage, and when is it a waste?

When it makes sense:

1. If you must return to the nest. I’ve rented storage space twice in my life. Both instances were in my twenties after misguided attempts to flee South Florida that turned out not-so-great (though I’m confident that my next exodus will lead me to the Promised Land, or at least Georgia) . Both times I’d had to shack up with a parent temporarily, so placing my stuff in storage made sense. I figured I’d spend less in storage rent than I would have to replace the items that I stored.

2. If you are putting your house on the market. We currently store a few things at a hangar rented by my in-laws, and they generously don’t ask us for money. We’re getting the house ready to go on the market, so I’ve packed up some items I want for the new house (the one that at this point is just a twinkle in our eyes) but don’t need here in a clutter-reducing move. I also had stored some garage sale items there. Storing them there makes the garage less cluttered, but if we needed to, or if my in-laws needed the space, we could store the items here. All of the real estate experts say to get rid of clutter to make the home more attractive to buyers and sell quicker. In this market you need every edge you can get, so a few months in storage fees could save you time and get you more money.

3. If you are renovating. Home renovations are stressful enough without trying to squeeze the target room’s furniture into every available nook and cranny elsewhere in the house. It also protects the items from damage.

4. If you are relocating. If your house won’t be ready when you get there, or if you want to rent first to get a feel for the area before committing to buying a home, renting a smaller, less expensive apartment and storing all but the necessities can help you save for your dream house. Oh, I just remembered a third time I paid for storage: when I was in college the local storage company always did $99 Student Summer Specials. I’d store all my furniture and stuff for the summer break. It would have cost me way more to schlep it all home and back…

5. If you are traveling. Taking the family for a year-long trip around the country in an RV or circumnavigating the world in a sailboat? Yes, storing your household items makes sense.

6. If you are experiencing family challenges. Death and divorce are emotionally exhausting, tumultuous ordeals. We often don’t make our best decisions when we’re still raw. Placing your stuff and/or inherited items until you’re ready to make good decisions about what’s next can save you from making a decision you’ll regret later.

When the idea for an article on self storage first came to me I was sure I was going to write an article with a very negative slant; that paying to store stuff is mostly a bad idea. But as I began composing the piece in my head I kept coming up with situations where it’s a good idea, or at least one that makes sense. Hence a series was born.

But don’t worry. Tomorrow’s article covers when it’s a bad idea. Check it out!

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