Yet another holiday checklist…

It’s summertime, and our thoughts are turning to hotels and holidays!

Being a Renter Nomad can be a bit like living in a hotel, in that there are a lot of people with keys to your space, and it’s harder to keep them out while you’re away than settled folk might imagine.

That can be an advantage, of course. If there is a fire, break-in or other emergency (which the helpful neighbours have reported to your LL or managing agent), someone can do something about it without breaking a door or window to get in.

Yet equally, someone can enter in your absence, whether to inspect or for some other purpose. We once agreed for sales viewings to take place in our rented house while we were away because of the hassle of accommodating viewings while we were there. For some reason, our son was always a bit upset to have people walking through the house, looking at things (but carefully not looking at us)…

Our preparations for that scenario should be the master checklist of any Renter Nomad going on holiday for an extended period (more than a few days).

Don’t let these assumptions upset you. I am not saying dreadful things will happen in your absence. However, your home is not perfectly secure, and it would be sad and silly not to take precautions. This scepticism could also preserve your (hopefully) sensible, arms’ length relationship with your LL/ agent.

  • Personal documents certainly out of sight, but ideally locked up. Think of identity theft, and the sheer embarrassment of someone’s seeing your GP letter about a urinary tract infection!

  • Valuables locked up, or even moved to friends and family for safe-keeping. I certainly don’t take all my jewellery and tech on holiday! With people potentially walking about in your home (and we knew there would be), any insurance claim could be quite tricky.

  • Post stopped. Royal Mail will hold the post, including any redirections from previous addresses AND, I’ve just confirmed through experience, post for any friends which you are helpfully receiving. The service is called “Keepsafe” and the only pain is that it has to be set up by phone or… post.

  • Fridge, bread bin and fruit bowl cleared. No-one wants to meet flies on their return.

  • Crumbs swept away – this is a matter more of mice than of nosey parkers.

You might even want to do a mini-inventory with a digital camera. I once found a sales-viewer had wrenched a window lock while opening the window, and that was a viewing I was present for, albeit downstairs. If things are damaged, you have to ensure the blame is attached to the correct party.

Don’t take this talk of a mini-inventory too much to heart, though: you are not obliged to present a show-home in your absence. This is still your home, and even though you’re taking a holiday from it!

Posted in A Nomadic Life, Family Life, Tips for Temporary Living | Leave a comment

Putting the Tot on the Pot: Potty Training in a Rented Home

Potty-training has a more filthy and frightful reputation than most other childhood transitions, even more than weaning a baby onto food. Potty training is unpredicatable, can be lengthy, and can produce “surprises” and regression for months after – oh, goody. As I’m writing for people like me, who move often – from every six months up to every two years – I know well the feeling, always in the background, that messes must be rectified quickly and completely, or they will cost, and so potty training in a rented home can be a particular anxiety for the parent, let alone a child!

Nevertheless, it’s spring, and if you have a toddler, you may still be thinking about potty-training, not least because parents around you, in their own houses or in secure tenancies, will probably be discussing potty training their child. Eighteen months and into the Terrible Twos seems to be the socially-acceptable window, driven by factors such as the countdowns to a new baby or to starting preschool. People are also subject to social and familial pressure, sometimes quite severe, and this can be a real problem for you in short-term or insecure tenancies.

The first questions, though, are WHEN and WHETHER. Don’t let pressure from others get to you. It really is important to get the timing right, or, if it is wrong but unavoidable, to get your nerves in a state when you can deal with it all.

WHETHER is a question I don’t think people ask very often. They think, “Of course it’s not a question of whether to potty train a child. They all have to learn! S/he can’t be the only one still in nappies. How humiliating/ awkward/ expensive!”

Nevertheless, there are plenty of factors which can cause problems for a child learning to control his or her bodily functions, and the two-year check could be a good time to discuss those. Any additional physical or psychological needs can turn an attempt to potty-train into extra problems for the child’s self-confidence, and also a strain on your relationship with the child. Any history of urinary tract problems in a child should also prompt caution in teaching bladder control: excessive pressure on the bladder, or excessive “holding” can trigger painful infections, or re-trigger other problems. If you have medical backing (health visitor, GP or specialist) for your decision to delay, that could help you stand up to pressure. Have a look, too, at the Mumsnet talk board about potty-training, where there are frequent discussions of how to reply to passive-aggressive questions like, “Oh, still in nappies, are we?” “When are you going to be a big boy/girl like your cousin?” and “well, of course, in my day, you were all dry at fifteen months.”

Assuming there are no physical factors, let’s turn to the question of WHEN. Here, what will hit a Renter Nomad child more than most is the effect of moving home. This really can’t be underestimated as a factor which sets back any attempt to potty train. Toddlers’ lives have been so short that a move can represent the loss of a home they have known all their conscious life. When physical control is so new and, actually, pretty uncomfortable (they do wait till they are bursting to go), it’s just another stress for them. Therefore, it’s good to leave a period of a few months from the end of potty training (having allowed a month or so to perform the potty training) before your next move.

If you are unfortunate enough to have got stuck in a pattern of six-month tenancies and/or moves, or even if you are in a rolling tenancy, meaning your LL need only give you two months’ notice (though this must tie in with the rent day, so a mistake in the issuing of the notice could give you some leeway), this kind of potty-training window can seem unachievable, and really quite stressful. This leads us to the second WHEN question, which is about age. Your child is more likely to “get” potty training more quickly, and have more robust control, if s/he does it relatively later, closer to three. My son was a spring baby, so “all” his peers were being potty-trained in the summer after their second birthday. However, we were moving again that summer, so I didn’t attempt it. There was absolutely no point distressing him, and since he was angry and stressed enough to be in a new house, I didn’t have his goodwill, and didn’t want to fight with him when I should have been reassuring him through the transition to a new home (which was stressful enough for me, too!). He potty-trained closer to three, and “got it” quite quickly, with steel control which really confused me at first: I had been expecting frequent peeing, with lots of wiping up everywhere (thank goodness we had hard floors for this, I thought); however, it became clear he was already holding. He was also dry at night pretty quickly, so limited extra mess there, too. His being older also meant we could have a quite sophisticated tarriff of rewards: one chocolate button for telling me he needed to go (even if he didn’t get there in time, because that might not be his fault), and two for going there himself. There was also an additional one for peeing on the pot, or one for pooing on the pot. With up to five chocolate buttons to be won, this was a great chance to gain goodwill, rather than losing it. However, there’s no way my daughter, who’s just starting now, could manage such arithmetical complexity, at just 2¼ year old, so I’m expecting it all to take longer with her. (Just to give a bit of context: I would like to take my own advice about waiting, but she is demanding half a dozen nappy changes a day, which is driving me mad, and we do have a window before we are likely to move again this summer.)

Another WHEN question concerns new babies: just don’t try to potty-train a toddler when a baby is either on the way or is newborn. Don’t be fooled by anyone saying: “You don’t want two in nappies at the same time!” Of course you do, since the alternative is very likely the toddler pooing on the carpet and stamping in it, just as you’re stuck changing the newborn’s nappy (while the nappyless newborn might possibly use the distraction provided by the toddler for a liquid projectile poo).

The WHEN question about season really is less important than all other WHEN questions. The warm months offer pleasant opportunities for toddlers to be outside during the day, which is a very welcome reduction in chances to spread numbers one and two over rented carpets. It will also be quicker to dry the extra washing, and the ultraviolet light in sunlight will fade poo-stains better than detergent. However, colder weather doesn’t mean you can’t go outside, and, having done winter potty-training, I can tell you that any accidents will be cold and uncomfortable enough to be felt, and learned from well.

Stain and spill protection

This is the major potty-training anxiety for many Renter Nomad parents, and rightly so. A rented home is rarely set up for low-maintenance living and cleaning (God knows why). Maybe you have been luckier than I, and have benefited from more hard floors, even if they are the cheapo sort of laminate or vinyl. In my renting experience, though, carpets, and light-coloured carpets in particular, have abounded. I think the light colouring became popular because this reflects light, gives the impression of space, and looks all right if you don’t have to live with them and clean them (and if your landlord/landlady was a buy-to-letter, s/he, of course, doesn’t have to). Moreover, carpeting supplements the often inadequate insulation of a rented dwelling (which, again, a LL does not have to experience, so may not invest in).

You may have already taken everyday precautions over your carpeting, so there’s that part of your planning already done. If not, here are some potty-training precautions for your floors:

  • Rugs are useful for sopping up wet accidents, and providing a barrier between poo and a LL’s carpet. However, pile rugs need cleaning just as much as laid carpets, so there’s no particular reason to buy one of these: you might as well leave the laid carpet uncovered, unless it’s very ugly and you want your own rug underfoot. There are also smaller, washable rugs, which can include mats and runners (Lakeland has some good ones), especially rubber-backed for front hall use (the sort of versatility which is excellent in the Renter Nomad’s household), or woven mats which can double as mats in the bathroom or for outdoor picnics (Ikea’s smaller flatwoven rugs can be put in the washing machine).

  • Office-chair floor protectors traditionally sit under a rolling chair to protect the carpet from wear, but for a Renter Nomad, they represent a see-through barrier which not only protects the rental deposit (er… I mean the carpet), but also provides a wipeable/moppable surface – a big labour-saver when potty training. When not in use, floor protectors can be stacked and stored under a sofa or bed. Ikea has the Kolon, and Ryman has chair mats in different shapes, and other shops will stock similar items. These protect wooden floors from deposit-destroying scratches, too. I have also used a floor protector under a dining table to prevent food from getting stuck in the cracks in the wooden floor, which would have ended up being thoroughly unsanitary!

As for furniture, throws will perform the same functions that rugs will, for floors. If you are renting unfurnished, you can also make an effort in the first place to buy stain-resistant furnishings, or sofas and chairs with removable covers. Leather is also wipe-clean, if you can afford it (and some leather sofas are only leather on the contact-surfaces, with vinyl elsewhere, which can really cut the cost of leather furniture). Waterproof mattress protectors are another thing you can throw over a sofa during potty-training.

Finally, don’t forget the final barrier, which is on your toddler him- or herself. Terry-lined potty-training pants should soak up about an accident’s worth of wetness, or catch one poo, before they leak, and the wetness in particular is a good start in getting your child to understand the connection between muscle-action and consequence, something that absorbent disposable nappies can de-teach. Speaking of nappies, there’s another thing disposables users can learn from cloth nappy users (and I am not making a passive-aggressive point of this; I use disposables): and that is placing soft liners (in fleece, silk (!), other materials or flushable paper) inside potty-training pants to catch poo, as pooey pants are worse than pooey nappies because they don’t open! If placed correctly, the liner will “catch” the body of the poo and and allow you to throw it away, rather than having to wash it out using your washing machine. You can find liners in the reusable/cloth nappy section of your Boots/ pharmacy, or order them online. Buy in small quantities, though, since potty training really ought not to take months. If it does, please do revisit the WHEN and WHETHER questions. People do stop and re-start potty-training, and if it is going to save you stress, money on your rental deposit, and save your relationship with your child, it will make your life easier.

Posted in Family Life, Flooring, Tips for Temporary Living | Tagged | Leave a comment

Renter Nomads: On Minimalism

Minimalism is one of THE Big Ideas (rather paradoxical, that) in lifestyle and domestic economy, and one every Renter Nomad in particular should think about, although there are arguments against it, so don’t fear a bullying list from me!


Minimalism addresses, and has the potential to solve, the inventory question, which I think is one of the biggest non-legal and non-financial problems of the Renter Nomad household. In suitably minimalistic bullet-points, here is why:

  • If you buy and maintain a smaller household inventory, you are not tying up loads of capital in Things you can only use in occasional years, say, when you have a balcony/conservatory in your rented place, or when you need long curtains, as opposed to short. If you are careful, you can spend more on better-quality things, and this cannot be bad!
  • The fewer things you have, the more multi-functional furniture (e.g. chest instead of coffee table) you use, the less space and time it all takes up when it comes to Moving Day(s). You may be able to hire a smaller van, or keep the van and “help” for just one day rather than two.
  • Not having an inventory in storage means that you are always surrounded by the same (hopefully good-quality and belovèd) items, which is, after all, being “at home,” no matter what permutations you have had to adopt because of yet another move.
  • One of the classic pieces of advice for managing a household is: “Have plenty of storage.” However, as every Renter Nomad knows, you don’t always have space for the storage. What happens if the ceiling is too low for your grand, over-topped Billy Bookcase, or the cupboard space has already been fitted, leaving you with unplaceable wadrobes, which, in the worst scenario, will add to your monthly rent by requiring their own residence somewhere else?
  • For families, there are persuasive arguments, along the lines of Simplicity Parenting, that a more limited inventory of toys allows children not only the time to play more intensively, but also the space. According to this argument, a few, simpler toys, which don’t “do” anything, take the place of many single-function toys. Moreover, it’s important that toys be not too closely identified with a particular play-universe, in order that they might be used in many worlds and play-scenarios, including ones generated entirely by your children.
  • Following on from the previous point, minimalism applies to schedules as well. Applied to the physical environment for the purpose of the Renter Nomad ‘blog, Minimalism could mean possessing a tent or share in a static caravan, or being a member of the National Trust or local library, all so you can spend time out of your rented home, if it is too small or un-homely.


In contrast to the previous bullet-pointed list, my arguments against minimalism require more substantial paragraphs and more explanation, not only because non-minimalism is bulkier and more complex, but because it requires subtlety to argue against such a seductive idea as a clutter-free life.

My biggest problem with minimalism, whether for the Renter Nomad or for more settled folk, is the sheer vigilance required for minimalist living. In the UK, where I live, the economy, lifestyle and seasons are not at all regular. In the economy, flexible working, very long or very short working hours, and insecurity are all widespread, so what hope of a daily regime of shopping, cleaning and leisure, which would lend itself to keeping-on-top-of-things minimalism? We’re more likely to have to live between “blitzes”, both of entropy and of energy. Likewise, our climate is chaotic, with both freezes and heatwaves likely at any time of year. This makes “spring-cleaning”, periods of renewing and repairing our shoes and wardrobes, changes of bedding and seasonal cooking all a big headache. I would absolutely love to clean, vacuum-pack and correctly store our winter clothes and bedding, and use up all the winter-warmer dry foods, such as pearl barley, risotto, chicken stock which I made myself, etc. However, with “summer” lasting just two weeks sometimes, and over by the end of July, I need to have cardigans and tights filling my drawers, alongside the liner-socks I wear in the warm weather.

Another capital concern about minimalist living, this one particularly for the Renter Nomad, is that, without enough of my possessions around, a place doesn’t really feel like home to me, and there’s even a danger that my things will be simply “lost” in a rented environment, which is terribly sad. In an earlier article, I referenced the lifestyle of tribal nomads, and tried to evoke the elegance and cosiness of a tent lined, floored and covered by the family’s own carpets and hangings. There simply must be some element of this in a Renter Nomad’s life if s/he is not to live in alienation. Even a favourite poster, which will cover the damp spot on the wall, marks a place as not belonging to a landlord or landlady.

Children can be particularly sensitive to being in alien and alienating environments, so I do think there is such a thing as too much minimalism or Simplicity Parenting as far as their possessions are concerned. For one thing, toys do stimulate the senses, the imagination and a combination of gross and fine motor skills, which digitally delivered toys and games find hard to deliver (remember the oral stage, when children put everything in their mouth?I’ve found that it extends quite far through childhood, meaning tactile toys are always needed). Yes, children do collect lots of clutter, and are often indifferent to that clutter, particularly disposable Happy-Meal/CBeebies magazine style toys, or tat generated for them by birthdays and birthday parties, or by not-very-close-grownups who feel obliged to give presents. Therefore, culls are inevitable, and very desirable! Possessiveness and guilt about getting rid of toys – the Toy Story philosophy, carried to extremes – are a real hindrance if comfort-clutter becomes hoarding, especially when there is another house-move to be faced. However, there is also truth in the Toy Story philosophy, and it would be inhumane to strip our children of all the items which make up a familiar environment, even if we hate the naff teddies and twee little dolls and ugly Happy-Meal toys made (badly) of sun-faded plastic – which somehow have gained the love and trust of our credulous little people! My son will have moved house five times by the time he is six years old, and I really do feel sorry for him, so I have relaxed some of my hard-line anti-clutter attitudes for his sake. How could I not, after I was plaintively asked, “Mummy, are we going to bring [his cuddly tractor, stuffed car and carrot, which he sleeps with] with us when we move house?”

Now that I have been thoroughly manipulative, with that reference to my little boy’s sad brown eyes, I do have a final argument against minimalism, and it’s a sensible one, with no parental guilt and no other kind of emotional blackmail (though maybe just a bit of scare-mongering): minimalism leaves you vulnerable to unexpected situations and to emergencies.

As I indicated above, many of us, particularly Renter Nomads, live hectic, even chaotic lives, and this means as a minimum that we don’t always have the laundry up to date. I’ve seen some minimalist discussions lauding capsule wardrobes and capsule sheet-and-towel inventories. This, to my mind is several steps too far, since it leaves one unable to respond calmly and practically in the case of midnight vomiting, to the other effects of Norovirus, and to having guests to stay on a blowup bed that one simply hasn’t got the sheets or towels for because there normally aren’t that number of beds and bodies in the house. Meanwhile, stockpiled “emergency gifts” are likely to be less expensive, and nicer, than the handcream bought at the petrol station at midnight, or the bottle of plonk or child’s puzzle from the corner shop. Packs of blank cards, bought at a museum gift shop, represent good value for money, and are likely to be more attractive than what your local Post Office has in stock. Is it really a problem to personalise a card rather than having to locate one specifically for your neighbour’s daughter, on having passed her driving test?! I also keep a stock of toothbrushes, which is nice for guests, as well as good for the oral hygiene of my own family (the children chew their brushes).

This essay hasn’t been very minimalist, has it? Minimalism has many things to teach us, and it is good for any Renter Nomad to have a sceptical attitude to excessive possessions – that is, after all, the problem which drove me to start this ‘blog – since so much domestic stuff is “wasted” if one is moving house every year or so (or even more frequently). Yet we shouldn’t be too hard-line with our minimalism, or else we as serial tenants not only don’t own our own homes, but don’t own even the “households” we carry about with us.

In Agatha Christie’s They Came to Baghdad, the heroine goes on an archaeological dig and is entranced to find a world like hers, domestic cosiness preserved through centuries because those cosy domestic items were preserved through years by the owners themselves:

“Kings of Babylon,” she added, with a strange little smile. “But what I like so much about all this is that it’s the ordinary everyday people – people like me. My St Anthony who finds things for me when I lose them – and a lucky china pig I’ve got – and an awfully nice mixing bowl, blue inside and white out, that I used to make cakes in. It got broken, and the new one I bought wasn’t a bit the same. I can understand why these people mended up their favourite bowls or dishes so carefully with bitumen.”

I’m really not sure what archaeologists would or could make of a large-scale Renter Nomad population….

Posted in A Nomadic Life, Life Themes, Tips for Temporary Living | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sunblock for Summer: Blackout Solutions for Renter Nomads

I suppose you can well believe that this article has taken me months to write, as I have been experimenting as I drafted. Although I have been renting for years and, yes, I do have a fund of experience with blackouts, this year, British Summer Time coincided with moving to another house: new orientation, different window sizes… did that mean yet another round of purchases, to block out the light and make it possible for us (and the children) to sleep?

Of course, it would be wonderful if blackout solutions were well-fitted and remained with the property, rather than having to travel with a tenant, but only one out of my last five rental properties has had blackout curtains in situ. I understand that “simple” (especially unlined) curtains are cheaper, but… well, any sight is a depressing one at 4:30am! Therefore, if you find it difficult to sleep unless it’s dark, you will need to sort your own.

Blackout curtains and blinds work best when exactly fitted to the window, which could be expensive if you keep being moved on (I’ve now been moved on from four rental properties because the landlords wanted to sell, and there are, of course, no penalties for exercising legal notice periods : long-term rental is tricky to guarantee).

So, let’s look at some solutions which can become part of your portable inventory.

Blackout materials

Anything can be blackout material, as long as it is either dark in colour or impermeable to light. In my son’s current room, which is north-facing, we use black Ikea fleece blankets, a channel sewn at the top and tension rods pushed through. This is extremely cheap, and cosy in the winter, a very good solution for draughts as well. Moreover, if sunlight hits the black colour on the window side, it is absorbed, and can warm up a room better than the greenhouse effect of a single-glazed window.

This was our blackout solution in all the windows of our last house, which was not very well insulated, but in the summer, the greenhouse effect is not always desirable, so probably the best solution all round (though considerably more expensive) is blackout material.

Blackout material in fact appears white; it is coated cloth, which lets through pretty much no light, only letting in light around the edges of the curtain/blind. It also has thermal properties, trapping heat in a house/flat in winter, and reflecting heat from the outside in the summer.

Yet even blackout material has its disadvantages, apart from expense. If it is pierced, light shows through, so can only be sewn once (not easy if you are changing from house to house, with differently-sized and -shaped windows, and it’s rather expensive – and bulky – to keep a stock of it as you move around). A certain amount of piercing could, however, be covered up with duct tape (incidentally, it’s not a bad idea to use duct tape to hem blackout material, instead of sewing). The thickness of the material is another drawback, as the drape is extremely important; light bleeds around the edges of the material and so a good fit is important… alas for the Renter Nomad!

The best solution I’ve found for using blackout material to best advantage is ready-made lining, which includes the heading tape for the hooks. I have a much-travelled pair of these, but recently saw similar at Dunelm Mill. This sort of lining requires curtain hooks, to attach it to the curtain heading tape of the existing curtain (a bit of a pain if it’s one of those idiotic trendy eyelet curtain tops, but it wouldn’t be too, too bad to sew the top of the blackout lining to the curtain, or if too much light leaks through at the top of the curtain, see my next suggested solution, below). If the liner is too long for the curtain, you can always “hem” with duct tape (be careful to respect the drape, or the curtain will look as though it’s wearing a tulle skirt underneath!). It would be a shame to trim the blackout material, though: you never know when you’re going to need that extra length!

As always, there is the risk you will buy such blackout material/liners and either have nothing to hang them on (e.g. your next property is fitted with Venetian blinds throughout, no curtain rails!) or the windows are a different size and/or shape. Yet it’s handy to have in the inventory: I’ve recently brought a blackout curtain back into use. I originally bought, and used it, when living in a Victorian building, where the windows were long. It had to go into storage for the next, also Victorian, property, where the curtains had been decently blacked out. More recently, in our new area, the houses have wide, short windows. I tried looping a single curtain lengthways over a tension rod in the window, which fitted close to the window and was effective against light, but it kept falling down (I didn’t want to sew or duct-tape it!), so I have hooked it behind the existing curtains. This lets in a bit of light around the edges, but that is because the curtain rail is too far from the window. I also haven’t cropped the curtains to fit, so it looks a mess at the bottom, but I’m not prepared to lose the use of the full length, for the future…

Even shorter-term improvisation

Some baby products might be a solution here, for example the static-cling-fitted Magic Blackout Blind or this or this. OR this. However, those are, again, window size specific, so not very sustainable, so, for real short-term use, either revert to the tension rods or else use a dark-coloured fitted sheet: the elastic at the corners holds she sheet on the curtain rail, and the dark colour dims the daylight out. This is what we do at my mother’s house on visits, so I can recommend it as being very sustainable over years!

All these materials MUST be aired. You do NOT want to cultivate mould in your curtains and blinds.

Materials: pros and cons

Fleece/dark cloth

Pros: cheap, warm, easily available, blankets and material can be used for other purposes

Cons: dark colour traps heat, so not suitable for summer and/or south-facing use, not totally light-proof, can trap window condensation and grow mould.

Blackout material

Pros: This is the solution preferred by people who don’t move around so much, as it is extremely effective against light and also has thermal properties (against the heat in summer, against losing heat in the winter).

Cons: expensive, lets light through if pierced so cannot be hemmed more than once, except by something like duct tape, must be fitted exactly to the window’s shape or thedrape will make it gape, can trap window condensation and grow mould.

Blackout “paper”/ film

Pros: quick, sizeable to whatever window, applied by static cling, easy to “open” and “close” for light and dark.

Cons: not sustainable for moving between different window sizes, therefore not an economical buy for domestic use.

Fitted sheet (about double-bed size should do it)

Pros: very cheap, quite effective even over thin curtains, easy to put up and take down, not necessary to take one with you (leave a cheapie navy sheet in polycotton at your parents’ or inlaws’ house), can be used over blinds as well as curtains

Cons: not the most beautiful curtain, not 100% effective against light, requires curtain rail or blind fitting outside the window aperture

Posted in Lighting, Tips for Temporary Living, Walls and Windows | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

You must be digital

A Renter Nomad must have some of his or her life in digital form, as cold and intangible as that can make that life and those memories seem. Yet who wants an external memory? Who wants his or her belongings out of reach, because there was no space to store them in a new rented house? Who trusts Amazon not to hoik books off the virtual bookshelf of a Kindle? Who wants all the old photos archived in a memory stick with a corporate logo, or in a memory drive as opaque as the 2001 monolith?

So why do I say a Renter Nomad “must” be digital?

  • online billing can be cheaper;
  • a Renter Nomad cannot afford to carry the sort of paper archives needed to reclaim PPI, or claim compensation for utility company abuses, years later (and why should that sort of financial protection belong only to settled “homeowners” and tenants in the settled public sector?);
  • we have, objectively, more and more memory-records; storing and classifying those (especially pictures, “home videos” and music) is a hard task even if the physical volume of these records isn’t daunting;
  • and digital records help protect Renter Nomads’ rights and interests, in a life in which those can conflict with others’ interests, notably on the question of inventory and property condition.

This last point is possibly the most important of all. No matter what memories are stripped away by circumstances (fires, floods, loss in transit, decluttering before downsizing), we still have our “human backups”, that is, real memories. However, when money, credit rating and ego are stripped, there is no human backup, so you will need:

  • a digital camera, to record the condition of both the property you are moving out of and the one you are moving into. Absolutely do not skimp on photographing defects in the former case. The video function might be helpful.
  • an e-mail account and internet service provider ISP). This requires some thought, as you will need to be able to file your e-mails in such a way that correspondence can be found (an important part of asserting your rights, not to mention keeping in touch with your friends). If you use your ISP’s e-mail address, you could end up with a headache if you ever want to change ISP. I have a gmail account, which I have set up on my computer, with an e-mail client, Thunderbird (though you could use Windows Mail or something similar) so I can file, archive, access e-mails without being connected to the internet, and so on. Another potential problem with ISPs is that they all want contracts of at least 12 months, if not 18. If you have to move house before the end of that contract, they will move the internet access with you… if you sign up for another contract period. This, means that a Renter Nomad might never be “out of contract” and thus free to switch provider. However, we tested this recently, moving into a house which we expect to be in for as little as six months: our new provider, Plusnet, offers no-contract access, for an extra £2.50 a month, which is considerably less than paying the monthly fees for months when you are not receiving any service.
  • a Pay As You Go internet dongle. This sounds very techie, but is basically an antenna you plug into your computer’s USB port, to “catch the internet out of the sky”, as I explain it to my five-year-old. You can buy them from all the major mobile providers. This is essential kit for a Renter Nomad, as it takes 10+ days to connect a new property to telephone, let alone switching on the broadband internet as well. Many Renter Nomads know the frustration and fear of not knowing until the last week that a move will. My family lost a rental in Christmas 2008, when the landlord, having strung things out, finally refused to sign the contract, just five days before our planned move date (admittedly, this was after the 2008 banking crisis, which threw many accidental and unwilling landlords onto the market, but the threat was underlined in June 2010, when a letting agent snarkily told me there was nothing we could do if a landlord refused to sign, whereas if we did, we would lose our deposit). With your dongle, you will continue to have internet access at home, like a “normal person,” and you will be able to administer in a timely way all inventory- and deposit-related queries, as well as setting up your new utilities, getting onto the electoral roll, etc.
  • a computer, ideally a laptop (and probably not a netbook), to run all of the “tech” I have just listed. The reason I suggest a laptop is that it does not take up the space of a desktop computer, and is portable (sounds stupidly obvious, but if you think of what you can do through a computer, doesn’t it make sense to have something you can take up to bed, to watch television with earphones in, without disturbing a partner or a baby?). I must admit we have a tablet, and also a little netbook which I really like (it’s very cute!), but neither of those is powerful enough to be the kind of all-purpose machine which will be useful, rather than being a paperweight… or millstone!

There. Please note that I am not encouraging you to digitise your library, you music collection or all your pictures, although I have done the latter two myself. It really is none of my business how you keep your memories. There are enough constraints on your life as it is, enough people inspecting you and your lifestyle.

At the end of the day, these digital solutions should be here to help us. “Digital” refers to the fingers, and fingers and hands help us, but they are not the same as head and mind.

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Inventaria inventariorum, inventariorum, inventariorum….

I feel a bit like a meta-index at the moment, with at least four inventories active at the moment.

There is the schedule of condition for our old rental house, which the agents “think” will cost over £700 to put right.

There is the schedule of condition for our new rental house, which I have tried to add some items to, but which is proving difficult, thanks to having no broadband through which to send a film of the kitchen floor. If I hadn’t managed to get an unlimited data package for my phone, this moving period could potentially cost hundreds (if I had to leave extra photos off the inventory).

There is the set of belongings which we are using in the living areas of our new house.

Finally, there are all of the appliances, furnishings, books, clothes, pictures, toys, items to go to the charity shop, items to go onto eBay, et ceteris, in storage. Although it is the fourth I’ve listed here, in a way, it’s the one that most represents me and my family, as it physically represents our background and memories.

Posted in A Nomadic Life, Flooring, Lighting, The Four Corners: Walls, Floor, Lights Above, Tips for Temporary Living, Walls and Windows | Tagged | Leave a comment

End-of-tenancy countdown: tips aggregated from @RenterNomads on twitter

January 16, 2013: Still running down stores b4 move: pasta with sauce of tinned tomatoes, chickpeas, frozen chopped spinach. Seasoning: black pepper, garlic.

January 16, 2013: Storecupboard meal for lunch: sardines in tomato sauce w/chick peas, on pasta. Calcium & protein from the fish; chick peas towards 5-a-day.

January 14, 2013: In lease countdown, remember to run down your store cupboard supplies. Tonight, we’re rediscovering bulgur wheat – perfect for this weather!

January 14, 2013: For those end-of-tenancy repairs, be sure to check local hardware shops: I spent £1.50 for a basin plug chain, not £2.98 at B&Q!

January 10, 2013: Less time between rubbish collections this week, so space in the bin for a declutter throwout!

January 9, 2013:  Today’s tasks, to stop living in clutter: return unwanted online shopping, make eBay pile, admit what sewing repairs I’m not going to do.

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Flooring: Tread Softly

Flooring is a big source of stress for the renter nomad: that carpet can stain so easily; that laminate is slippery, cold and vulnerable to scratching/chipping; those bare wooden boards, though they look so “vintage” or “country” or “homely”, are draughty and vulnerable to marking.

Renter nomads really ought to carry their rugs with them, from place to place, like the furnishings of a yurt. It’s lovely to “nest” with a cosy or familiar rug underfoot, cover up something hideous, prevent staining, insulate a bit better. Yet not everyone wants carpeted floors. There are those with dust mite allergies and those who simply prefer a hard floor underfoot. Moreover, rented accommodation comes in all shapes and sizes, so it is more than likely that at some point you will end up with floor coverings which don’t fit, and that will be added to the temporarily-useless detritus of a Renter Nomad (and where will you store it? In the landlord’s locked loft?).

Here, therefore, are some considerations for flooring if you do need to buy something:

You will never regret:

  • a carpet protector, like the ones used in offices. This protects carpet and hard flooring alike, and when you are in a carpeted house, it isn’t too thick to cause doors to stick (unlike adding a rug on top of carpet). They are thin, and will stand up to store behind furniture, if you are ever in a position not to need them.
  • Plastic-backed runners and mats, like these from Lakeland. We have three of these: two runners and one mat. They are currently down in the front hall, which is covered in pale carpet (why do landlords do this?! There is no benefit and quite a lot of downside). It’s worth mentioning that, in our current rented house, there is no hard-floor exit from the kitchen, meaning the bins have to be brought out via the pale-carpeted hallway. Plastic-backed mats are essential.

You will probably regret:

  • Large area rugs. Are you sure you’re always going to have such a big space? Where will you store it if you can’t use it in your next place?
  • Anything in bold colours. Remember, not all landlords cleave to the magnolia colour scheme, particularly accidental landlords, who are renting out their home due to a job move, inability to sell even though they needed to upsize, or other personal circumstances. Accidental landlords in particular are unlikely to have budgeted for redecoration, as they are already aware of the costs which drove them to let out their house/flat, and letting agents will take considerable up-front payments off them. You don’t want to clash with the colour scheme: it will just make you feel less at home.
  • Shaggy carpet/rug. This is not just prejudice on my part. A shaggy rug is cosy underfoot, and can give a look of luxe, but is very high-maintenance and and can look a mess very early in its life. It is bulky to store and, on the subject of storage, remember that it will need cleaning before being put away for six months or more (or should that read “six moths”?): a shaggy rug takes longer to dry, and adds to the time pressure of a rental move.

You will definitely regret:

  • Anything shaped to the space, unless it’s a conservatively-sized rectangle. It may be very beautiful, and will make you feel at home, but for how long? Consider this question seriously, since many is the tenant who is caught off guard by being given notice. I’ve been moved out of three, possibly four, places, for the landlord to sell, and the two-month notice period – although short for arranging another place to live – is long enough to regret money spent on something like a good wool carpet, whipped round at the edges and indented to accommodate a fireplace, for instance.

Repairing the Damage

No matter how careful you have been (unless you’re like my incredibly houseproud friend Charlotte), you’re going to have to do a clean at the end of your tenancy. Wooden floors can have a good mop, even if only to deal with that faint stickiness which agglomerates in corners. Do not go any further than this, because renting a floor sander is not your responsibility, and things will go badly for you with the hire shop if an exposed nail damages the sander (o, those Victorian wooden floors!).

With carpets, I have no better recommendation than hiring a carpet cleaner (NB – it should shampoo, rather than steam. Steam cleaners just kill dust mites; they don’t do much about dirt) and doing it yourself, which means spending £25+ rather than £200+ (and the latter was a quote from about 2009, in outer London). The Rug Doctor is widely available, but I can’t make any personal recommendation as I have always used HSS Hire, which has a choice of machine sizes, and has upholstery attachments, so you can clean your things as well, for a change. Take photos afterwards, and include then with pre-tenancy photos and a copy of the carpet cleaner hire receipt, when handing the property back, and that will look good for you in case of any nit-picking.

Transient People, Settled Surroundings

An alternative is, of course to buy or inherit items from previous tenants. We have acquired a dishwasher, curtains, a stairgate and all manner of items from previous tenants. You save on the purchase of the items, and the items fit and suit because they have been bought for the space. Equally, you could try to do the opposite at the end of a tenancy, for your bought- or made-to-measure furnishings or appliances: you might make some money back, and save on transportation and storage of something which is not going to suit your next place. This method is not a sustainable guarantee, though, what with:

  • tenancy voids (particularly relevant if you are reading this as a student)
  • not meeting successive tenants
  • successive tenants’ not being interested in a transaction, even an inheritance. For one thing, they may not like your taste: as Oscar Wilde had Lord Goring say, in An Ideal Husband: “Other people are quite dreadful.” I myself have been exasperated to “inherit” broken vacuum cleaners, dishes and pots, and twisted and moulting old “Christmas trees”. It’s also worth noting that some tenancy agreements include a clause about clearing all possessions at the end of a tenancy, lest the landlord/agent charge for removal: previous tenants may not trust that they will not be charged fined.
  • no “next tenant”, if the house is being put up for sale. Your effects could end up on the “fixtures and fittings” list!

Charity shops and freecycle can help you acquire and/or dispose of rugs and any other effects which are not going to get on the “boat” with you, to your next stop. However, too much of that means you risk living in almost total flux, a transient person living amongst transient movables, and that is a very hard way to live, especially if you have children. As I write this, my son is not yet five, and has not lived anywhere for more than a year and a half. Our last move, to a different town, was the worst. Starting school, he got more clingy, rather than more confident. I really hate to think of what he would have been like if we had changed our furnishings, from floor to ceiling, at each move. As it is, he still goes to sleep under this Ikea leaf  and the first thing he sees when he comes home are our green mats in the front hallway. So please take care what you buy for your rental house or flat. Make sure it is as much a part of your household as a pet, and will make the next move with you.

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Tension rods, or the Renter Nomad’s tent pole

Tension rods are the number one item I recommend for anyone in temporary accommodation.

They are a rod which can be re-sized using a spring, twisting, or screwing a bolt into place. They can be used in any aperture, for:

  • curtains or blackout curtains (for blackout, use a black fleece blanket);
  • wall hangings (use a throw, add loops to a pretty rug, or use a real felt or tapestried wall hanging). Wall Hangings are particularly good in winter, for poorly insulated walls; or
  • a picture rail (we all know landlords like to forbid nails and BluTac);
  • an external or internal door curtain (we all know, also, that draughts are officially Not a Landlords’ Problem).

These unassuming bits of hardware, which can be bought in local hardware shops, John Lewis (very upmarket), or even through Amazon, are the tent poles of a Renter Nomad’s portable household. They provide a framework, and using them, the familiar walls and curtains can always be with you.

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