Is It Downsizing Time?







Preparing to move - packing - is really the most labor-intensive job you'll have.  It's physically demanding, and it takes on-the-fly planning and decision-making.  Even if you hire or borrow packers, there are a lot of questions that will crop up, and it can get stressful if you aren't well prepared.

Keep in mind that you have only so much time and energy to use, and plan accordingly.  If you're on your own, you'll probably need help.  One of the best investments a single friend of mine made was to pay for my plane ticket across country to help her pack and move and unpack.  She thought she was well prepared... but ohmygod! - there was so much to do, and she had a lot of stuff (and she was downsizing, and couldn't take nearly as much as she'd thought).  She had movers move her, and help pack - but I found lots to do all day long for two weeks (while much of that time she needed to be at work).  If someone fairly strong and well-organized hadn't been there to help her, it would have been a disaster (actually, it would have been impossible).  Let your friends help you (especially if they're experienced movers!) - accept the gift (someone has probably helped them), or hire someone if you must and can.  You can't afford to arrive at your destination utterly worn out.

Here are critical packing tips that will prepare you for a smooth move...

General packing tips:

  • Start packing soon!:  It's much easier to take it easier, by sorting through stuff (delete!) and packing as you go.  You may like to do it room by room, or flit from one to another for variety.  You may think you don't have time to sort in advance, but you'll find yourself doing it as you pack anyway. ...Unless you're in a real hurry and you just need to quickly grab and stow.  In that case, every day counts - if you put it off, you'll pay in stress (and/or you'll have to pay someone else to pack).
    Perhaps different family members will want to take care of different sections of the household belongings.  The important thing is to decide on a labeling system (see below) that everyone will use, and then get to it... because it always takes longer than you think it will.
  • Save stuff up!:  If you know you're going to be moving, begin to set aside piles of packing materials well in advance if at all possible.  And I mean big piles!  It's extremely frustrating (and expensive) to run out of boxes a third of the way through packing and loading day...  So break those boxes down and sort them into order of size instead of just piling them up in a corner.  Collect boxes of all sizes and shapes, if your space allows...
    Small boxes are good for super-heavy items, or for corralling little things inside larger boxes (e.g., silverware and spices in the kitchen) or protecting smaller fragile items inside bigger boxes.  Use medium-small boxes for heavy items (dishes, books, tools, rocks you can't leave behind).  Use big boxes for protecting smaller items of furniture and for packing lighter-weight belongings.
    Have a pile of newspapers on hand.  Save styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap stuff.  Save up clean plastic bags from your grocery shopping...  You'll likely want to grab them - to keep items clean (especially if you'll be using printed newspaper), and to cushion small objects.
  • What about pre-used packing materials?:  Great idea! - for the most part.  If you can find someone who's just moved in while you're preparing to move out, you'll do each of you a favor by offering to take their boxes and cushioning materials as they unpack.  (You can also buy previously used moving boxes from most moving companies. ...In which case it's a good idea to use big stick-on labels for you to write on - so as to differentiate from what they wrote on them.)  Just be aware that already-crumpled paper has lost maybe half of its cushioning power; but you'll probably find use for it, if only just for wrapping.
  • Don't waste all your linens by packing them neatly in boxes!:  Don't forget that you have good packing materials in your towels, sheets, blankets, and pillows - even in sweaters and other clothing you won't be needing right away (and perhaps a fabric stash?).  Utilizing these soft items for padding can save you quite a bit of money and space overall.
  • Got suitcases?:  ...Pack in 'em!  These are perhaps especially good containers for the things you'll need on arrival.  (If you limit your suitcases to such items, it will be easy to get all of them into one place at unloading time.  In this case, you'd want to take your suitcases in the car or have them loaded toward the rear of the truck.)

Box/container packing tips:

  • Be sure your boxes won't fall apart!:  Do not put a box together by folding the bottom flaps inward in an interlocking fashion.  You can do this on top if you've packed well, but any heavier contents are liable to push their way right on out the bottom of a box assembled in this way!  If you're reconstructing a flattened box, fold the bottom flaps inward so that they meet all the way across, and tape all the way and a few inches up the two sides; plus, if the contents will be heavy, add reinforcing tape across the bottom perpendicularly.  (If you must use a vegetable box type, whose flaps don't meet in the middle, secure a large piece of cardboard inside the bottom - and reserve these boxes for items that aren't too heavy.)
  • What to know about packing a box:  Keep in mind that most cardboard boxes aren't exceptionally robust.  It's important not to underpack a box, or it will cave in when stacked (likewise, unstuffed corners are liable to crushing) - aside from the fact that the innards can shift around.  It's also obviously important to protect any fragile contents by packing them well, providing cushioning between the contents and box sides (and top and bottom - for most things, you'll want to start with a layer of crumpled paper or styrofoam kibble) and between multiple items in the box.  Put heavier items in the bottom layer of a box, lighter ones toward the top.
    If you use crumpled paper for cushioning, take care with the little items you wrap in it...  A cousin of mine threw away a tiny and extremely valuable antique goodie because it was just wadded up into newspaper that looked like all the other paper wads.  Put such tiny treasure wads into large plastic bags amongst the stuffing, or wad them in colored tissue paper - something to make them easily distinguishable from the trash.
  • For crushable contents:  Don't pack the box too tightly with stuffing material - a blow to the side could smash the fragile item inside because of it.  You need a little "breathing room" (or squishing room) within the padding material to absorb any impact.
  • Label extremely well!:  It takes a little more time, but it pays to label the top and all the sides of each box - that is, you may be sorry that you didn't.  The top isn't as essential as the sides (since it's hidden when you stack boxes), but it's very handy when it comes to unpacking.  (I used to label only top, one long end, and one short end... but my husband stacks boxes willy-nilly, and one time the old photographs were placed on the bottom of the pile with the blank sides facing out - and the garage floor was flooded with water.)  If you're computer-minded, you can prepare printed labels for different rooms in advance, then just slap them on when the time comes (leave room for adding contents notes).  
    Especially take care to clearly label the things you'll be needing right away! (maybe with special-color stickers?).  And if the contents are fragile, mark this well!  (If you aren't moving by yourself, don't mark a box to show contents that are very valuable - or use a code word others won't catch onto.)
  • Pack and label for your new home, not your old home:  While it may be simpler to box up one room at a time in your current house, consider where the items will go in your new house.  If the floor plan is different, or if you'd like to take this opportunity to rearrange things, what's in your den might not go into your next den (if you're downsizing, you might not have a next den!).  Especially, avoid mixing items for different rooms in the same box.
    Your labels should tell the unloaders which rooms to stack the boxes in.  And if there are certain boxes you'll have to get at earlier than others, devise a means of labeling these so that they're put into their own stack (and not in the corner behind others!).

Good packing materials to have on hand:

  • Wardrobe boxes:  These are designed to be used for clothing on hangers - but they're handy for other items as well.  Also, if you replace the rods with longer dowels that stick out on either side of the box, it's easy for two people to move the box by carrying the handles.  (You could also do this with other sturdy cardboard boxes to save money.)
  • Smallish boxes:  For multiple very fragile smaller items, it's a good idea to wrap them and put them into boxes that will snuggle together (perhaps separated by styrofoam peanuts) into a larger box.
  • Plastic tubs:  In the spirit of deleting items before your move, there aren't many things you'll want to buy in advance - but plastic tubs can come in very handy during a move! (as well as in organizing your closets, garage, etc. when you arrive).  Especially good are those with carrying handles and lids that snap on well, or attached lids (though those without lids can be useful too, for items that will stick up).
  • Bubble or foam wrap, styrofoam bits, etc:  They're lightweight, they're clean, and they're excellent protectors - plus they're free, if you save them up in advance!  (Or ask your friends for theirs - lots of people hoard them in their garages and have extra on their hands.)
  • Newsprint:  Yes, it can be useful - but it's actually quite heavy and will cost you pounds with a moving company (moving companies use the stuff when they pack - gee, I wonder why!).  One major problem with free newspaper is the filthiness of the ink - and you'll dirty your belongings as well as yourself while you pack and unpack.  If you have a free source of large sheets or rolls of unprinted paper, stock up!  (Former teachers tend to have rolls of butcher paper, for instance.)
  • Tissue paper:  Yes, it's good for wrapping small items - but it compacts readily, so you won't be able to use tons of it.  It's also expensive to buy, so save it up if you can.
  • Stretch wrap:  You can buy this stretchy plastic stuff in rolls.  Movers use it - it sticks to itself, so it's quick and handy for securing as well as wrap-protecting furnishings.
  • Plastic bags:  From large to tiny, plastic bags come in very handy as you pack.  Super-large bags can protect furniture.  You can pack soft things in garbage bags (mark contents on small pieces of paper securely taped onto the bags).  Grocery bags can be used for cushioning or for soil-protection.  Zip-locks can corral smaller items together.
  • The important little stuff:  You'll need lots of cellophane tape, both narrow and wide - narrow to use in holding protective wrapping around smaller items, wide in closing boxes and holding moving blankets in place around larger objects.  Be sure to have good rubber bands on hand, especially large ones.  You'll probably also want mid-size sticky notes (which you can tape down for extra security).  And plenty of pens and markers.  And extra writing paper (you never know what you'll need to list or note for yourself as you go along).
  • And the tools:  Scissors (one for every person!).  Big tapers, so you don't have to waste time cutting.  Screw drivers, in case you need to take some things (like furniture) apart.  Box cutters - because you'll sometimes want to add to a closed box!

For furniture:

  • The big upholstered stuff:  You can get huge, sturdy plastic bags that fit even big couches (buy them, or try furniture stores).  If not bags, it's a good idea to completely cover the visible planes of soft furnishings with something protective - plastic (moving companies use shrink-wrapping) or roped-on blankets/pads.
  • Furniture with legs/feet:  It's a good idea to pad-wrap casters and furniture legs/feet so that they won't be popped off in the move.  (Getting big things into and out of the truck is tricky, and it's tempting to the loaders to twist furniture on fragile legs while positioning the stuff.)  For tables with removable legs, remove them and strap or roll them together, keeping the hardware handy in a zip-lock bag.
  • Furniture with drawers/doors:  You'll also be glad you protected doors and drawers that open and handles/drawer pulls that stick out.  It's easiest to stretch-wrap drawers or cabinet doors closed.  Don't use tape on their surface - but you could wrap something like a strip of paper around it and tape around that, tightly.  If there are keys to drawers, you'll want to put them in a marked envelope or plastic bag and either tape them (if tape would be harmless) to the item or keep them with you.
  • Smaller pieces:  Consider protecting fragile cabinets by packing them inside sturdy cardboard (wardrobe?) boxes - especially if an item has spindly legs.  You could pad the box with pillows or blankets if need be.  Less delicate pieces, such as stools, could just be wrapped in taped-together moving blankets.

For lighting fixtures:

  • What to pack them in:   Wardrobe boxes can be useful for lamps (especially for hanging fixtures, which can be hung from the rods).  This is also a good use for clean plastic tubs - and for excess towels and pillows, perhaps, to pad the lamps.
  • Shades:  If you're careful, you may be able to nest multiple lampshades together (especially if different sizes), perhaps with bubble wrap in between.  You'll likely have to put similarly shaped shade together (though a smaller square one will fit into a larger round one - assuming the framework isn't in the way).  Be careful not to get your shades dirty with newspaper ink!
    It's not the all-time best idea to pack heavy items in with lamp shades.  However, if you have lots of lamps and separate the bases from the shades, be sure you have a way of quickly matching the right shade with the right lamp when you unpack.  
    And be sure you're able to put your hand on some lamps for the first night you move in! - at least at your bedside (and elsewhere, of course, if there aren't ceiling fixtures in your new house).
  • Tall lamps:  These are a bit tricky...  I'd strongly suggest wrapping them (with a blanket or moving pad) before they're squeezed into the moving van, or they're likely to be marred.  If there's a removable shade on the lamp, better box it up separately.

For paintings and mirrors:

  • Ensuring rigidity:   Paintings without glass (and smaller wall hangings that can't just be rolled up) require special handling, because they can easily be damaged if you don't pack them carefully.  You can pack one painting to a flat box - or you can separate multiple paintings inside a single box by sheets of cardboard or masonite, or perhaps by large trays wrapped in toweling.
  • For fragile frames:  Use multiple layers of the bigger bubble wrap to protect ornate frames.  If you can afford the room and they are very delicate, carry them one at a time frame-side-up in a padded box or crate in your car - or bubble-wrap them gently and separate them by a layer of styrofoam pellets.

For dishware and the like:

  • Are they clean?:  The last thing you need, after the toil of moving, is to spend eons washing your dishes, pots, glassware, vases, etc.  They were clean when you put them away in your old house... but if you use printed newspaper, they'll be dirty when you take them out in the new!  I think you'll be very sorry...  Save printed newspaper for cushioning around the outer edges (bottom, sides, and top of box, not touching contents) - or, slip everything into a clean plastic bag first, if you have a stash of those.
  • What to protect them with:  Besides, if you use wadded paper to separate fragile dishes, it'll take up way more room in the box than if you use thin bubble wrap or foamy sheeting stuff - these are great for between plates.  Be sure to protect the edges - never put them right up against the sides of a box.  And don't pack dishes too closely together in the box - if a side gets pushed in at all, the dishes could crack together.  For pots and pans that nest, you could deploy kitchen towels and potholders between them to keep them from scratching.
  • What to cart them in:  Cardboard boxes or plastic crates are good, if they aren't too large - because this stuff is heavy.  
  • Keeping organized:  Be sure you've separated out the dishes, etc. you'll need in the first week.  For the others, try to keep like items together so they'll be easy to sort into cupboards in the new house.  For pots and pans that don't nest, you might stash small kitchen items inside them (e.g., if you keep your spices in a drawer, distribute them amongst these boxes).

For clothing, bedding, etc.:

  • What to pack it in:  Wardrobe boxes are expensive, but you'll keep your hanging clothes in far better condition if you don't crush them flat into boxes; and you need to move your hangers anyway, and they take up room elsewhere otherwise!  If you're moving things in a car, garbage bags make good containers for bunches of like clothes (tie the hangers together and let the hooks stick out the opening) or bedding.  If you need to unpack furniture drawers filled with rattle-y items, you could repack them with folded fabric for the journey.  Empty suitcases are also obviously suitable containers.
  • But use it when you can:  If you don't need it right away, use the soft stuff to pad fragile items in boxes.

For books and recordings: 

  • Packing them:  Don't use too-large boxes! - books and records can be very heavy; and so use sturdy boxes for them as well (liquor boxes may be good; book shipment boxes are perfect! - ask at your local library).  Avoid placing hardback books on end, which can damage their spines, or albums on end, which leaves them open to damage when set down heavily.  (You'll need to take care to keep record albums, CDs/DVDs, and videos away from excessive heat during, and after, the move.)
  • Keeping them organized:  If you want your books/etc. in the same places in the same shelving units in your new house, you might want to use a system to mark boxes according to the unit and shelf - e.g., shelving unit "A-1, A-2..." and "B-1, B-2...".  Then if you have to mix books from A-2 and C-5 into the same box, it will be simple to put them where they belong later.  If you don't care about order to this extent, just label boxes by subject (or however you have them set up), or bookcase, or room.  
    A trouble is that books come in all sizes, and the largest ones will probably have to be separated out from the others they go with.  If you have to put disparate big tomes together in one box, label it something like "BIG books" so you'll know they need special handling on opening (assuming you don't have too many of those!).

For food: 

  • Perishables:  Hope you've eaten most of it up ahead of your move! - or given it away.  But you probably have to move an ice chest or two anyway, so pack up what's left in these if you're going by car.  (Some things you keep in your fridge can easily last out a day or so without icing - eggs, bottled condiments, apples, onions, potatoes, cabbage, corn on the cob, etc. - if not exposed to too much heat.)
  • Non-perishables:  For the most part, food is heavy, so use smaller boxes.  Try to keep like things together so it isn't awfully time-consuming unpacking into your cupboards and pantry.  And of course, be careful of glass containers.  (If you intersperse them with plastic ones or metal cans, or boxed goods, they'll probably be fine.)

Miscellaneous items: 

  • Tall, skinny things:  It might be simplest to corral all such items in one tall box or barrel - things like curtain rods, doweling, long-handled tools, the old movie screen, etc.
  • Wall hangings, draperies, and the like:  Fragile fabric-y things that can't be folded might be rolled around a wide tube of some sort (even the outside of a barrel in which you store other things - or around a large cardboard tube inside a barrel).
  • Smaller appliances:  These would be good to wrap in spare towels, perhaps.  In any case, it's best not to simply set them into styrofoam pellets or shredded paper, because the bits could get into an appliance's innards and wreak havoc - at least slip it into a plastic bag first.
  • Preparing large appliances:  Make sure the refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, washer, and air conditioner are dry and no hoses can leak (check the ice maker) - i.e., a day ahead, probably.  Tape shut any drawers, tape metal shelves in place, and take out and separately wrap and pack any glass shelves/etc.  Pad the refrigerator/freezer coils that are exposed.  
    Now we're also speaking of the clothes dryer and stove...  Seal/strap the doors closed (and tape the oven shelves and separately wrap the stove burner thingies).  For any external hoses and cords, tape them up against the body of the appliance (wrap multiples together first) - except, detach the big dryer hose and put it inside, wrapped in a blanket.  It's a good idea to fill the washing machine basket with something like blankets so that the agitator and basket can't move around en route.
  • Shop and garden tools:  Be sure to wrap any sharp edges that will be exposed to your other belongings.  Box up power tools with good cushioning so they aren't jarred awry.  Definitely remove gas and oil from your lawn mower, tiller, etc. before putting them in the truck.  (You should never move cans of gas - or fuel-soiled rags - in an enclosed truck either!)
  • Bicycles:  Loosen handlebars and turn them sideways.  Protect gears and chains (wrap with an old towel?) so they won't get grease on or catch on other items.  It's best to get a cardboard bike box for a 2-wheeler, because the spokes are subject to damage too.





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