Setting Up Your New Space


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A checklist for turning that new house into a home.

Credit…Pedro Nekoi

  • Feb. 25, 2020

Congratulations! You made it through the stressful process of finding and signing for your new home.

Hopefully you’ve already Marie Kondo’d your things and packed thoughtfully (and hey, even if you didn’t, I’m proud of you for doing your best). Now it’s time to focus on the other half of moving: Prepping your new space before you get there. Though every home has different quirks and needs, I’ve gathered some sage advice from the experts on the tasks that are easiest to do before you’ve moved in, or at least before you’ve unpacked all of your belongings.

Note: If you’re renting, consult with your landlord or management company before tackling the major projects on this list, such as painting walls and changing the locks. You don’t want to run afoul of your lease agreement.

Assuming other people lived in this space before you, it’s worth changing the locks on all of the exterior doors before you move your stuff in. Many landlords and management companies will do this for you, but whether they do it or you do it yourself, make sure it’s done.

Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews and recommends products, likes the Schlage B60N single-cylinder deadbolt. They even have tips on how to install it.

Let’s be honest: You don’t want to do your work at the cafe down the block and your internet provider probably has a backlog of appointments.

I know moving into a new space can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to put off simple tasks — like scheduling your internet installation — until they become a source of deep anxiety. Anne Helen Peterson coined the term “errand paralysis” in her viral Buzzfeed article, putting words to the relatable and innate impulse to ignore any mundane tasks that seem to be high-effort, low-reward, and ultimately unimportant … until they’re neglected for too long.

There are probably many other moving-related tasks you’re ignoring right now in the name of errand paralysis, and that’s O.K., but we’re going to tackle this one together. Trust a Wi-Fi-addicted millennial and schedule your installation appointment as far in advance as possible.

Though it might seem counterintuitive to spend time or money on a problem that hasn’t manifested yet, it’s easier to prevent pests than get rid of them.

Matt Frye, an urban entomologist at the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University, suggests checking the perimeter of your space before moving all of your things in.

“The thing that you would want to do before you move in is a thorough inspection to identify any pest evidence that may be present, and also any entry points that pests may use,” Mr. Frye said.

Mr. Frye pointed out that many pests enter your space through the openings around utility lines — take a look at the pipes under your sink or the holes that were drilled during your internet installation.

“If the opening around one of those utility lines is the size of a dime, a mouse can fit through a hole that size,” Mr. Frye said. “If it’s the height of a pencil, they could fit under something like that, so you’re looking to basically completely seal those pipe penetrations to make sure that pests can’t get in.”

There are also some obvious entry points that people often forget, like the gaps around your windows and doors.

“People don’t really think about pests coming in the front door but if you’re in an apartment building and one of your neighbors has a huge mouse infestation or a huge cockroach infestation, they can actually come from the hallway in through the front door,” Mr. Frye said. “So even looking at the front door — and especially getting at ground level to see if there’s any light coming in from the hallway when the door is closed — can tell you whether or not you need to install a door sweep that would prevent insects and rodents from coming in.”

Though some of these tasks are easy to do yourself, Mr. Frye stressed how important it is to consult your landlord, Co-Op board, or management company before making any major changes in the name of pest prevention.

“One of the challenges though, especially in New York City, is that a lot of these things are something that the resident doesn’t really have access to do,” Mr. Frye said. “It may be a union thing to install door sweeps on the door, or the management company may require a plumbing contractor to seal around pipes, so that’s one of the difficult considerations; that even if you’re renting that space you may not legally have the right to perform any of these actions.”

If you are allowed to take these pre-emptive measures on your own, Mr. Frye recommends using a stainless-steel wool, like Xcluder mesh — which won’t rust and degrade over time — to stuff any gaps.

“I think if you’re using Xcluder mesh — or there’s another product that’s a copper mesh — those can be stuffed in there and you can actually use a silicon-based sealant to hold it in place and that provides a good tight seal, especially for things like cockroaches that might also come through the same opening,” Mr. Frye said.

And if you notice other pests are getting into your space through the window, despite having a window screen, check on the weep hole.

“Windows actually have this little hole, so water can drain out of the window well, and it’s called a weep hole,” Mr. Frye explained. “If there are insects that are trying to crawl up the building and get inside, they can often come right in through those weep holes and then get into the window casing, and then if someone opens the window then the bugs can come in. That same Xcluder material can be used in that hole, because it allows the water to percolate out, but doesn’t allow the insects to come in.”

Or maybe just paint the living room. If you don’t like the color (or lack of color) in any of the rooms, it’s easier to change that now, before there’s furniture in the way.

Wirecutter has a handy list of supplies — think paint, brushes, rollers, tape, and other less obvious tools that may otherwise slip your mind — and they recommend using Benjamin Moore Regal Select paint for indoor spaces.

Choosing a color is hard, and there’s no expert who can give us the universal piece of advice we need to convince our roommates that a tasteful, muted green, is the way to go for the living room, but it can help to think about the lighting and furniture that each room is going to have.

Discuss potential color options with the people you cohabitate with — if you want to make a collaborative vision board or something elaborate like that, more power to you! Grab some samples to try out before you commit to a color. Also, wait for the paint to dry to see how the color looks different in natural or artificial light.

If you have plants that need reflective light it’s probably worth using a light color on the walls. No matter how beautiful your windows are, dark colors like burgundy won’t reflect the sun enough to sustain many plants.

If you’re lucky, you’ll move into a space that’s already been deep-cleaned by the landlord or the previous tenants — but, as many of us have learned, this isn’t always the case. Regardless, it’s always worth investing some of your own elbow grease before you get too comfortable.

Saudia Davis, founder and CEO of Greenhouse Eco Cleaning, suggests cleaning all of the closets and any appliances that are already in place, including the bathtub, the oven, the fridge, the dishwasher and all of your kitchen drawers.

“Do a deep cleaning, even if they did one prior to your move,” Ms. Davis said in an email. “The bathroom, kitchen, closets and floors are the priority.”

“It’s important to spend time getting to areas like the floors, corners, baseboards and molding,” Ms. Davis explained, “areas that are difficult to reach once you get furniture in there.”

Even if you’re moving into a space that wasn’t previously occupied, the residue from previous construction projects isn’t something you want to be living in.

In spaces that are being renovated, many renters and buyers believe that an initial cleaning post-construction will be enough to remove all the dust, but according to Ms. Davis, they’re mistaken.

“In fact it resettles after about a week or two,” Ms. Davis said. “We always recommend they set up two deep cleanings: one prior and the other after.”

Another great way to prevent pests? Proper trash disposal.

Each city and neighborhood has its own recycling rules, so you should familiarize yourself with them before you start throwing out your boxes and packing materials. Learn which of your plastics are recyclable and how your area wants them separated from other recyclable materials. Check if there are local composting options while you’re at it.

Wirecutter suggests the Simplehuman Rectangular Step Trash Can for your kitchen. For recycling, you may want separate bins to differentiate your paper recyclables from your glass, metal or hard plastic recyclables.

For composting, there are lots of D.I.Y. storage options that work perfectly fine; My roommates and I choose to freeze our compost in large Tupperware containers before we move it outside to our building’s compost bin. “Today” has a wonderful step-by-step composting guide if you need help determining the best option for your household.

Resources like GrowNYC and Sustain Chicago are another great way to find your local recycling rules and composting options, and your local resources will likely come up with a quick search of “compost near (insert your neighborhood here)”

You might even be able to request a recycling or compost bin from your local sanitation department, so let’s just nip that errand paralysis in the bud. Seriously — go look up your local trash, recycling and composting options right now. I promise this article will still be here when you finish.

Moving is disruptive — and at times, stressful — for everything living in your home, including your plants.

Daryl Beyers, an Adult Education Gardening Program Coordinator & Instructor at the New York Botanical Garden, suggests giving your plants trial-runs in their new spots, keeping an eye on how they react to the new environment.

“It’s not like setting your chair in the corner or stacking your books somewhere,” Mr. Beyers said. “The books aren’t going to wilt, or die, right? But the plant might. So understand that you may need to move things around a little bit until you find that perfect spot for the plant.”

Ideally, the plant should go in a similar space as your last home, if it seemed happy there.

“If it was in the bathroom, that plant got used to living in a bathroom with the humidity of the shower and all that kind of stuff, so if all of the sudden you take it and put it in some sort of sunroom, or somewhere where it doesn’t get regular humidity, it won’t like it,” Mr. Beyers said. “Plants get used to the conditions that they’re growing in, and once they’re used to it, it’s safer to give them the same thing.”

If your new space doesn’t allow for your plants to live in similar spots, it can help to focus on the type of light they need. Start by checking which direction your windows are facing and work from there.

East-facing windows for medium and low-light plants

  • “Your eastern exposure is actually going to be the most friendly light,” Mr. Beyers said. “The morning light is never as harsh as the afternoon light, so it’s good for a medium-light plant or a somewhat lowlight plant.”

South-facing windows for high-light plants

  • “Southern windows are going to give you this all-day bright sun, so your real sun lovers are going to like that,” Mr. Beyers said. “If you have any succulents and things like that — and a lot of people love succulents now since they’re really pretty easy — they would do well in that sort of all-day sunny spot.”

West-facing windows for foolproof plants

  • “The western sun is going to be kind of difficult since it’s the hottest,” Mr. Beyers explained. “It can really come in there and get things cooking, so you’re planting really tough stuff; a spider plant, for example. You just can’t kill it — it’s totally impossible — so you would put that in that sort of a harsh condition.”

North-facing windows for low-light plants

  • “Your northern windows are going to be very little light at all. Especially in the winter, there’ll be almost nothing then,” Mr. Beyers said. “So all of your real shade lovers — your super low light plants like snake plants and things like that — are going to just dig it over there.”

In all of these situations, it’s important to think about whether your plant needs direct or indirect sunlight. Some plants prefer direct sunlight, but many plants can’t handle the intensity.

“Plants get a lot out of the reflective light because not too many of them really want to sit directly on that windowsill,” Beyers explained. “Sometimes that’s too much for them, so the brightness of the room — tall ceilings, light colors, paint, light floors — things like that are going to create indirect light, which is doing most of the work for the houseplant.”

If there are some plants that just don’t seem happy anywhere, it might be worth repotting those as well.

“Put them in a slightly bigger pot with fresh soil,” Mr. Beyers advised. “It’s almost like starting them over; they get a fresh start and then you can try your spots again and see if you find a spot for it. You got a new home, and the plant gets a new home, and then everybody’s happy.”

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