Monday, February 27, 2012

Tackling home organization - one shirt at a time...

Back in March, I showed you my new closet interiors.  And at the time, I wasn't ready to talk about my obscene number of clothes, which is most certainly out of control.  But I have finally decided to stage my own intervention.

I have WAY more clothes than I need, but I have zero ability to part with anything - even if I haven't worn it for 2 years and it doesn't fit.  But lately the sheer mass of clothes has been bugging me more and more, and I'm noticing that there are tons of great pieces that I never wear because I don't see them through the chaos. 

(Why do I have so many clothes? I used to work at an office that allowed casual clothes, so I accumulated comfortable shirts and sweaters. Then I switched to an office with strictly corporate attire, and I had to rebuild my wardrobe quickly with a bunch of frumpy office clothes. Then I learned how to make corporate attire work with more fashionable and feminine clothes, so I started to incorporate some better pieces... but still have all the frumpy that came before it. In all of these cases, the clothes are not really "out of style" now, although, they are not really "in style" either. They just are.  I admit that I am a clothes hoarder.)

So yesterday I decided to finally start the overhaul, first tackling the overabundance of tops.  I have two shelves of tops: t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, sweater-type shirts, and so on.  And this doesn't even include the hanging rod of blouses, and another shelf of hoodies and sweaters. 

Previously, they were sorted by sleeve length (short/long/three-quarter length).  The rationale being that I choose a shirt based on weather.

However, there are many work-appropriate shirts that I never think to wear to work, since they are in the "t-shirt" pile, which I generally assume is all casual. 

So yesterday I changed the whole system.  I sorted the tops into two piles: work-appropriate and not-work-appropriate, each getting its own shelf.  Then, I arranged by sleeve length and colour within those shelves.  I'm hoping to now make broader use of all the clothes I own, since it is more obvious what their use can be.

But this doesn't solve the quantity issue.  Since I have such a hard time parting with old clothes, I need real, viable reasons to get rid of them.  So as I sorted them yesterday, I tried everything on.  Anything that didn't fit, went to the donation pile.  But there's a catch - I won't get rid of anything that's too big or too small, because I tend to fluctuate within a 10-pound window of body weight, and need to allow that variation without shopping for all new clothes.  I am ridiculous, I know.  So for now, I only got rid of things that I don't like the fit of.  Like shirts that show my midriff (why was that ever acceptable?) or pants that flare too much (I don't care if fitted/skinny jeans go out of style, I'm committing to them for life, they are WAY more flattering). 

Next, I implemented the hanger trick, which I'm sure you've all heard of.  I turned all the hangers around so they are facing forward, and as I wear something, I will turn the hanger to the "normal" position, of facing backwards.  After a reasonable period (6 months?  One year?), I will have a look at what hangers haven't been turned around, and these are obviously clothes I can live without. 

It's harder to come up with a system for folded clothes.  But I figured it out!  As I folded and organized everything, I put a safety pin through/around the label of each item.  As I wear the clothes, I will remove the safety pins, and will apply the same rules as the hanger trick - if the clothes still have the pins in place after a year, then why am I keeping them?

I think this is pretty ingenious if you ask me!  I also will try and make an effort when choosing an outfit, to choose things I haven't yet worn.  I'm pretty sure that I currently wear the same 7 outfits over and over again, on rotation.  So this will be a way of livening up my outfits too!

Here is what the closet looks like, with everything neatly organized and folded:

Isn't it beautiful?!

Next up is pants and sweaters.

How do your sort/organize YOUR clothes?  Do you have trouble getting rid of old items too?  How do you decide what/when to donate?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A flaw in my plans

My plans for the basement office are coming together.  I think we've settled on the base cabinets and the desk surface.  The upper cabinets/shelving are still up for debate, and the wall colour is still a huge dilemma. 

But I realized there's something pretty important we oughta do before we start painting the wall and building things into place.  Have a look at the picture of this wall and try and guess what the problem might be.

No?  Not sure yet.

Let me give you some hints:

Ah yes!  Where does one plug in all these gazillion electrical devices that would be used in an office?

Unfortunately I thought of this AFTER we patched all the drywall from the waterproofing repair.  But at least I thought of it before we painted!  Ideally, we will have a few outlets right in the middle of this wall.  We plan to have them a few feet off the ground - either just below or just above the desk.  That  way, it will be easy to plug things in, and the socket will be above the potential (but hopefully never an issue again) "water level".

I talked to two different electricians.  One of them couldn't come for a quote, so I sent him this photo with notes via email to give him an idea of the situation:

Both electricians feel that we can feed electrical over from the nearest outlet.  One felt we'd have to patch all the drywall again in order to do it.  The other electrician suggested he could wire it over along the base of the wall, and when we put the baseboard back, it will hide the holes he has to create.  I'm much more partial to that idea!   I didn't love the idea of patching the already-patched drywall.

So our office plans are now on hold until we can get that electrician to come install the outlet.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy Family Day!

Happy Family Day to those of you in Ontario!

The good news is, we finally got the hot water sorted out at the condo - it took until 11 pm on Wednesday night.  But we luckily didn't have to call in a plumber - I was right, the issue was with the boiler installation, and so the rental company did the repair.

So now that everything is in order at the condo, and with no real obligations or mandatory celebrations, I am really enjoying this free day off.  After rushing out for an early morning yoga class, I'm using the rest of the day to just relax at home - our dinner is in the slow cooker, and I'm doing some organizing, laundry, etc.

We were given a Costco membership as a Christmas gift this year, and we finally started to take advantage of it a few weeks ago.  But it means I know have to find room for things like 5-litre bottles of Palmolive dish detergent.   5 LITRES... for less than $9.00!  It's like they are practically giving it away!  I can totally see how Costco would turn people into hoarders.  

We also have enough ravioli to feed all of Italy.

I also have a new problem at home.  A certain brother of mine gave a certain husband of mine this wonderful birthday gift recently:

HELP!  It is ruining my beautiful home.  I am trying to figure out how to make it disappear.  But I've never seen anything bring Matt so much joy?!  My brother has offered to spray the entire thing gold and he thinks it will make it look "even nicer".  Matt, in an effort to appeal to my tastes, suggested that we could spray the whole thing glossy white.  I think he thinks that will make it fit in amongst the things I love, like my white owl lamp.

But it doesn't matter what colour Elvis is, every time I walk into the room, he gives me the heebie jeebies!  Has anyone else had to find a place for their spouse's ugly possessions?  Unfortunately we don't have a "man cave" for Matt in this house.... so how am I supposed to deal with this?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It goes from bad to worse

On Saturday, when I went to the condo to get the microwave fixed, I was talking to the tenant about the hot water and the heat, and feeling relieved that it all seemed to be working alright.
But then he told me that it's not. 

While the heat is working fine, the hot water is working inconsistently.  A few times since the boiler replacement, he'd had a shower that started as hot but turned to pure cold within a minute.  The problem happens sometimes but not all the time, and the sinks don't seem to be affected the same way the shower is. 

I called the highest up person I could reach at Reliance, on their personal cell phone, as that is who finally got me some progress last week.  But it wasn't until yesterday - Monday - before I got a call... from the contractor... not from Reliance.  The contractor feels that since there is hot water sometimes, that the issue is with my plumbing, not the boiler unit.  Are you kidding me??  Doesn't that seem a little too coincidental?

So the contractor is resisting coming out for service, feeling that it was outside of their scope of work.  I couldn't convince them to come last night, and now the next appointment they claim they can do is Wednesday evening. 

So the problem continues, and I am at my wits' end with both companies! 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

And then the microwave broke too....

So as I mentioned, the tenant was also having issues with the microwave this week.  He heard something snap when he opened the door, and it wouldn't shut properly since.  Consequently, the light also wouldn't turn off.

I stopped in to the condo early in the week to check it out, and apart from the non-latching door, everything about the microwave seemed to be in great shape.  It's about 7 years old now, but for the first 5 years of its life, was barely EVER run.  In the time I lived in the condo, I might have occasionally melted some butter, but I'm an air-popper girl, so even my popcorn wasn't made in the microwave.  I just don't love microwave-quality anything, and so we don't even have a microwave in our own home.  

Anyway, it's a microwave hood fan, so the replacement cost is at least a few hundred dollars.  So I decided to go the repair route instead of the replacement route.  I called a parts company with a local warehouse, and they were able to suggest 3 different parts that it might be.  They also indicated it might be tricky to repair though, as the whole door would have to come off.  And with their no-returns policy on parts, I might end up buying the wrong one of the 3 possibilities.  So they suggested I find a repairman.  

I put feelers out on LinkedIn, Facebook, and verbally, trying to find an appliance repairman.  They are not to be found!  Every place I called, said their repairman had "retired".  Weird common theme!

I finally had luck through Frigidaire, who referred me to a local repair company, Quality Assured. The repair would cost $129.95 + parts.  They were willing to bring all three possible parts though, so they they could hopefully repair the microwave in one visit.  (If they had to come out a second time, I'd be billed an additional $89 just for the first useless visit).  

So I met the repairman at the condo today.  Right away, I learned that he'd only been told by administrator to bring one part.  So I was stressed about whether it would be the right one or not.

Then he started playing around with the door of the microwave, and it was obvious to me that he wasn't familiar with this particular microwave, and that he knew as much as I do about it.  He pulled a few pieces apart, and noticed a spring had come disconnected.  And we realized that was all there was too it!   The snapping noise that the tenant heard must have just been the spring unhooking.

It was so frustrating seeing how simple the fix was, because I could have definitely done that myself.  I would have been reluctant to take the door apart the way he had (there are no screws, so it was a matter of forcing the plastic frame off - I would have been afraid of breaking it).  But once he got it open, it was so easy to fix.

But wen he plugged it back in, the microwave started up  right away, even though we hadn't programmed it to, and nothing would get it to stop.  So he realized he hadn't lined the door up quite right.  I don't know if I would have figured that much out, so I was glad to have him there to adjust that.

All in all, I definitely don't think it was worth $130 + tax.  But I was glad to not have to mess around with it myself.  In my own house, I wouldn't mind doing that.  But with the tenant, I want a quick and painless repair.

And on the upside, I didn't have to pay for any parts...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Trouble on the (rental) homefront

Last week, when we contacted our tenant about his lease agreement, he informed us of a few things that weren't working the way they should be:  one issue was with the microwave, which we're still dealing with.  The other is the boiler unit - it had been working intermittently, and probably needed service.

I was a bit mortified that everything was breaking all at the same time - especially because our tenant's lease is up soon, and we're hoping he'll stay on after the lease expires.  So now is a key time to convince him what a great place it is, and what great landlords we are!  So I set to work right trying to get both issues fixed.

The old unit

We rent a Quietside boiler unit from a company called Reliance Home Comfort, and it has been nothing short of a nightmare trying to get this problem resolved.  Reliance outsources their service work to a contractor called Dynasty, who determined that the machine was leaking in 5 different places.  They shut down the unit so that it couldn't be used until they came back with parts to repair it.  The problem with that, is that the boiler not only heats the water, but the entire condo too.  So the tenant is without both when the unit is shut off.

Yup, that's cold.

After a few days of frustrating phone calls, some miscommunications, and a no-show appointment with the service techs, we learned that the entire unit would have to be replaced rather than repaired.  But here's the real kicker: our venting on the boiler was apparently no longer up to code, and would have to be replaced too.  The cost of the new venting is to be billed to me.  I would also be left with up to 30' of drywall cut out of the condo, and the onus would be on me to replace and repaint.

You can imagine this news didn't sit well with me, so I spent a good portion of the week on the phone with different agencies, trying to learn my rights.

In the end, I came to an agreement with Reliance, and we finally had the boiler and venting replaced this past Wednesday.  I had to take a day off work to meet the contractors, and I stayed at the condo all day while they worked.  The condo was freezing cold and uncomfortable.  I can't believe our tenant lived like that for a week.  By Wednesday evening, the hot water and heat were both fully functional, but the condo had some significant holes in the drywall.  So yesterday we had a drywaller there, and today he returned to paint.  What a week!

The new unit

It was a definite learning experience, despite all the frustration.  And I learned about some useful resources in the process:

311: The City of Toronto's service hotline was able to confirm for me that there is a Toronto Bylaw which states that as a landlord, I'm required to provide heat above 21 degrees Celsius from September 15th to June 1st.  So I promptly offered the tenant space heaters, although he declined.  311 also provided me with numbers for some other agencies I could contact.

Better Business Bureau: I filed a complaint against the rental agency on Monday.  I'm not sure if it had any impact, especially since 164 other complaints had been filed against the company over the past 3 years.  What's one more, right?

Ministry of Consumer Services, Consumer Protection Branch:  A quick phone call to this government agency provided me with lots of information.  They suggested I send a letter (either by fax or registered mail) to Reliance, stating exactly what the issue is, what outcome I want, and a timeline/deadline.  They even directed me to sample letters on their website.  I did as they suggested, and I do think it helped.  The Ministry wasn't able to help me directly, as they mentioned that as a landlord, I am not the consumer of the boiler unit - despite the fact that I pay the rental fee for it.  I fall into a grey area which makes it difficult for them to step in.

One last suggestion they provided is that I call the Law Society of Upper Canada, and they provided me with a phone number.  I wasn't aware of this, but all Ontarians are entitled to 30 minutes of free legal advice for any particular case they made need assistance with.  I tried the number, and was quickly redirected to a Real Estate lawyer who answered on the first ring, and discussed the whole situation with me.  She was helpful in determining what would be a fair compromise with Reliance.

In the end, both Reliance and Dynasty did pull through for me, and they have kept in close contact by phone to ensure I am getting the service and attention I require.  But I can't help but wonder what the outcome would have been had I not been so vocal and assertive about the issues and my rights.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Converting to month-to-month

A few weeks ago, I realized that we are soon approaching the end of our tenant's 1-year lease agreement.

So I investigated what our options are when a lease expires.

The tenant and the landlord can negotiate a new contract with a fixed term.  But the landlord cannot force the tenant into a new contract.  So if no agreement is reached by the last day of the existing lease, then the lease automatically converts to a month-to-month agreement.  The only thing I'm a little unclear about, is what happens if the existing tenant wants to stay, but the landlord wants them to leave.  Is that considered a lack of agreement, and therefore conversion to month-to-month?  Or does the landlord have the right to force the tenant out?  Ontario law generally favours the tenant, so I'm not sure about those circumstances.

Anyway, I presented the option to my tenant as:

  1. We could start a brand new fresh 1-year lease agreement, in which case we would not increase the rent over that period.
  2. We can switch to a month-to-month lease, but we do have the right to raise the rent at any point now.
  3. He can leave, but we would require 60 days notice.  Even if he's leaving at the end of our agreed 1-year lease term, he would still have to state his intent to not stay.

The tenant's response is that he thinks he'll stay 6 months to a year, so the best option for him is to switch to month-to-month.

So far, we've been very happy with this tenant, and we'd be happy to have him stay.  Since he's thinking he might stay up to a year, I'm debating offering him $10 or $20/month off his current rent if he does sign another 1-year lease?  This way, I'm not stuck finding a new tenant in the middle of next winter, and he saves a little off his rent.  The way rents are increasing in that neighbourhood, I imagine that the discounted rent would be one of the best prices he can find in the area.

I haven't presented this offer to him yet, but I'll let you know if I do!