MOVING, OUT AND IN
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...
- 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
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.)
- 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
- 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!).
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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!
- 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
- 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.
- 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
For paintings and
- 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
- 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
- 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).
- 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
- 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!).
- 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
- 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.)
- 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