Condo owner or renter’s guide to unpacking

Packing up and moving is stressful, but unpacking and settling in is no picnic, either.

In fact, Kelly McMenamin, author of Organize Your Way: Simple Strategies for Every Personality Type, estimates it takes at least 75 hours to unpack a small home.

“Most people allot a weekend,” she says. “But the reality is, you need about eight hours a day for a week, minimum, to fully unpack. Not everyone has that kind of time.”

If you’ve just purchased a condo, or if you’re in a rental suite, you might be tempted to cut corners just to get settled in. But Ali Wenzke, author of The Art of Happy Moving, encourages you not to shortchange yourself.

“My husband and I moved 10 times in 11 years, and we still aways spent the time and effort to make our apartment feel like home,” she says. She contends that you’ll enjoy your space much more if you truly put some effort into it — and that starts at the beginning.

To help, here’s a checklist everyone should keep handy while unpacking after a move, so you can settle in and start off your new life on the right foot.


Take photos before you unpack

This step is designed to ensure that if you’re renting, specifically, then when/if you do vacate this space one day, you have proof that shows the state of things before you got settled.

“Protect your security deposit by taking photos of your space before you move things in,” says Wenzke. “Focus on any problem areas, such as scuffs on the wall or stains in the carpet.”

Keep these pictures handy, in case your landlord wants to claim when you move out that you were responsible for issues that preceded your arrival. These photos will help keep you in the clear.


Clean up for a clean slate

Whether or not you hired a cleaning service before you moved in, you may want to make sure that everything is up to snuff in the cleanliness department before you unpack. Go ahead and give your space another vacuum, and scrub cupboard shelves before you start unloading your boxes of dishes.


Get your furniture to where it belongs

Try to map out where you think you want your furniture to go before you move. That way, you can have the movers (or you and your friends) deposit the correct couch/bed/table at least close to where you think it will ultimately rest. This will help give an immediate sense of order to your space. And if you do start moving things around, be smart about it.

“Use furniture sliders when dragging heavy items,” says Peter Warhurst, CEO and founder of Red Rover Moving and Storage. “Floor damage is very common.”


Make sure your utilities are on

Hopefully you’ve planned in advance to make sure that your electricity, gas, water, cable, etc. are all activated when you arrive. If you haven’t, get on that immediately — it won’t feel like home if you’re sitting in the dark with no Wi-Fi (not our homes, anyway).

If you did set up or transfer your utilities accounts ahead of time, this is the moment to make sure things are working. Go around and test all the lights, hot water, stove, air conditioning, and so on. If something isn’t working, you want to report that immediately.


Make your bedroom your No. 1 priority

“On that very first day, move hell and high water to get your bedroom in perfect order,” says McMenamin. “I always tell clients that your bedroom should be your oasis from the chaos of modern life. This is especially true when you move and your world is turned upside down.”

And let’s face it — you’re probably going to be flat-out exhausted the day of the move, and for at least a good week afterward. You’re really going to need someplace to collapse and sleep.

Bonus: If you are able, unpack a few mementos, framed photos, or other items that make the space feel like your own.


Make your kitchen priority No.2

The kitchen is the next room you really need to get into some semblance of working order.

“The kitchen is one of the first rooms I set up when unpacking clients, since it’s the linchpin of any home,” says McMenamin. “Plus, life feels upside down when you can’t find your favourite mug.”

But don’t just unpack things — customize that kitchen around your stuff. Take the time to adjust cabinet shelves up and down to fit your kitchenware.

“My holy trinity for organizing kitchens are these three tools — cabinet shelves, Lazy Susans and drawer organizers,” says McMenamin.


Consider painting an accent wall or two

Adding your own colour to your space will make it feel more personal. This is one you may wish to undertake before you start unpacking everything (and risk paint spills).

If you’re renting, depending on your rental agreement, you will probably need to ask your landlord for permission to paint. You will probably need to return your apartment to its original colour if you ever move out, but don’t let that stop you.

“My husband and I used our apartments as the ideal canvases to perfect our painting skills,” says Wenzke. “We painted our walls yellow, blue, orange, turquoise and white, although not all at once.”

That way, when you move into your forever home, you’ve gotten in a lot of painting practise.


Put up some artwork

“For some reason, the idea of hanging up artwork intimidates many people,” says Wenzke. “It doesn’t matter if you get the level just right or the proportions perfect. If you find artwork that makes you happy, get a hammer and nails and just put it up.”

Alternatively, you can prop your artwork on a mantel or a bookcase for a more casual look. For the perfectionists out there, you can purchase artwork hanging kits and a laser level. However, don’t let perfectionism get in the way of surrounding yourself with artwork that makes you smile.

If you don’t want to paint right away, this is a perfect way to warm up those white or dingy walls.


Personalize your light fixtures

It’s rare that a condo or apartment comes with what anyone would consider their dream lights or chandeliers. Consider swapping out standard light fixtures with something that has more personality.

“Ikea always has cool, not crazy expensive, light fixtures that can instantly transform a space and make it truly yours,” says McMenamin. And if you’re renting, you can always take your ceiling fixtures with you to your next place. Simply store the old lights in a labeled box high up in a closet, and you can reinstall them when you move out.


Determine your new point of contact

Issues may crop up as you start to get settled, so you’ll want to know whom to contact if you discover things that need to be addressed.

“Clarify who will be your point of contact for any issues. Make sure you have all relevant contact information, and program it into your phone,” says Cara Ameer, a real estate agent.


Meet your neighbours

Truly, the best way to quickly make a new condo or rental feel like home is to meet your neighbours. Condo living comes with an instant community, and is one of the many benefits of this lifestyle.


Whether you’re buying or renting, a REALTOR® can help you find the place that’s perfect for you.