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How to pack a moving truck

Save yourself a headache later by packing methodically

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    Most people dread the hassle of moving — packing, loading, unpacking and relocating can be stressful. If you’re using a moving truck, packing it properly can minimize at least some of the stress. Having a good plan of attack when it comes time to load up can simplify your move, protect your belongings and make unpacking easier.

    How to prepare for a move

    Begin by making a moving checklist, then gather all your supplies. Choose boxes that are the correct size for the items inside — for example, if you’re packing books, it’s smart to use small boxes so they don’t get too heavy to carry. (Pro tip: You might be able to get free moving boxes from bookstores, supermarkets or liquor stores.)

    Always clearly label boxes before loading them in your moving truck.

    Here are most of the supplies you’ll need for your move:

    • Boxes
    • Cushioning and packaging material
    • Packing tape
    • Marker or large felt-tip pen for labeling
    • Stickers of various colors for color-coding boxes according to the contents
    • Blankets for covering furniture
    • Twine for securing items that may open, such as dressers

    Depending on the belongings you’re packing, you may not need some of these supplies — and this list isn’t exhaustive. You might also opt for specialty moving supplies, like wardrobe boxes and “fragile” stickers.

    Once you have your supplies assembled, it’s time to begin packing and preparing for your move. First, identify a staging area in your home. As you pack boxes, you can move them to this area so they stay out of the way — and so you can actually see your progress, which can be a great motivator. It also helps keep you organized.

    The area should be large enough that the boxes and stand-alone items can be separated by room (it helps to color-code using stickers), and you can set aside boxes that need to be unpacked first, like bed linens, towels, toiletries and coffee supplies.

    How to load a moving truck

    When packing a moving truck, you want to do two things: maximize your space and evenly distribute the weight of heavy items.

    1. Disassemble your furniture

    If you have dressers, chifforobes or desks with drawers, you can put boxes, blankets or other soft items inside to help keep them more secure.

    Clean your rugs, roll them with the top side facing out, wrap them in plastic and tie them securely. This saves room and protects your rugs. It’s also a great storage method.

    2. Start with the heaviest and largest items when loading

    Furniture, large appliances, mattresses and similar items should be on the bottom toward the front, closest to the cab. This keeps the weight better distributed and prevents larger items from crushing the smaller ones.

    Sofas, tables, headboards, desks and other similar items should be loaded in an upright position. Use moving blankets to add some extra protection for these items.

    The lightest items, like small appliances, boxes, smaller furniture and pictures, should be loaded next.

    3. Put important boxes at the very back of the truck

    Load items you’ll need upon arrival — overnight bags or suitcases, toiletries, etc. — last, at the back of the truck, so they’re easily accessible and the first off as soon as your belongings reach your new home. You may also want to load anything else you’ll be eager to check on last.

    Loading the truck in tiers

    Many truck rental companies and moving experts recommend loading a moving truck in tiers, if possible, to maximize space and keep your belongings from shifting in transit. The process is pretty simple — you can use furniture pads, packing blankets, filling materials and stretch wrap. Your first tier, for instance, might be for big, heavy furniture, and the second tier will be smaller, lighter items.

    Use moving straps and stretch wrap to secure items that may otherwise shift and break in transit.

    Load your boxes vertically, then tie off completed sections with stretch wrap to form a cell. Continue this way, making sure to fill in any gaps to prevent the contents from shifting, until you reach the rear of the truck. Make sure you tie down the last tier before closing the truck and getting on the road.

    Make sure to distribute the weight evenly so boxes will stay where you put them and you don’t have an avalanche of belongings falling on you when you open the door. You can also use moving straps to secure larger items and keep them from shifting as you're going down the road.

    Kathy Bennett, CEO and founder of Bennett Packaging, a corrugated packaging company, pointed out a slight amendment to the “tier and cell” process that might work for you: “The process we follow is we try to load heavy furniture in tiers diagonally and then load the relatively small items inside that diagonal shape. So furniture, being the heavy ones, shield the other items, and we tie all the tiers together to form a cell.”


    Do movers load boxes or furniture first?

    Professional movers typically load furniture first to maximize space and evenly distribute weight.

    Should you empty a dresser when moving?

    If a dresser isn’t stable or feels flimsy, keeping things in its drawers could put added stress on it, potentially leading to a break or crack. To be safe, in this case, it’s a good idea to go ahead and empty the drawers. If the dresser is solid, you can simply secure the drawers — but do make sure to remove any attached mirrors before moving.

    How do you protect furniture when moving?

    You can use packing blankets (or regular blankets), moving pads, moving straps and plastic wrap to protect furniture when you move it.

    How can you protect floors when moving?

    Get some red rosin paper or cardboard to lay on your floors to protect them throughout the moving process. You can also use furniture sliders or runners. If you have plywood or other protective boards, you can also use these to protect your floor’s surface.

    How long does it take to load a moving truck?

    Generally, two professional movers can load the contents of a first-floor apartment in about an hour or two if the truck is less than 50 feet from the door; loading a larger 24-foot moving truck, on the other hand, may take about four hours. A 26-foot moving truck can take up to five hours to load.

    If you live above the first floor, add 20% to these estimates for each floor up. If your truck is parked more than 50 feet from the door, add 20% for every additional 50 feet.

    Professional movers can load and unload contents in the shortest possible time. It probably will take you a bit longer, especially if you have little or no help. If you don’t have a hand truck to load the larger items, this can also add to your time.

    Bottom line

    When you’re moving, take the time to pack your items carefully. This adds some extra time and effort, but it’s worth it. Both the move itself and the unpacking process will be more organized and less stressful this way — plus, there’s a much better chance your belongings will arrive safely.

    Once you pack up properly, your next step is to learn how to unpack your new home. If you’re moving to an older property, you might also be interested in reading about home warranty companies to protect your household systems and appliances.

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