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How to pack for a move

5 steps to a fresh start

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You’ve found a new house, and now it’s time to pack. Don’t panic, though. Packing can actually be a good time to clean, declutter and simplify your life.

We talked to some industry experts to get tips on how to make the packing part of moving to a new home as stress-free and simple as possible.

Key insights

  • It’s a good idea to clean before you pack — and get rid of anything you don’t need.
  • Most professional movers charge by the pound, so it’s in your best interest to do away with clutter.
  • Because books are so heavy, you might consider shipping them (via Media Mail) or packing them in small boxes in your car.

1. Clean house

The simplest way to make packing easier is to reduce the number of items you need to move. Setting aside some time to declutter and get rid of unwanted or unneeded items can save you time and reduce the cost of hiring movers.

Set aside some time to declutter your home and get rid of unneeded items to save time and money when moving.

“Not only will you arrive at your new destination only with the items that you love and find useful, but you'll know that all of the furniture fits, you haven't paid to move anything you don't want or need, and you won't waste unnecessary packing materials,” said Lauren Saltman, a professional organizer and owner of Living. Simplified.

Decide what to keep and what to sell

Sort your belongings into four categories: keep, sell, donate and trash. Sell or donate anything that’s in good condition, and trash anything that’s junk. Some nonprofits may schedule pickups for furniture or other large items — be sure to ask around to see if you can save yourself some trouble.

» MORE: Charities that offer free donation pickup

Get rid of clothes that don’t fit or you don’t wear

Don’t forget to include your closet in your decluttering efforts. If you haven’t worn something in the last year, chances are you won't wear it in the next year. Instead of taking it with you and having it take up valuable real estate in your moving boxes, consider donating it to someone who would wear it. 
Similarly, try not to feel too sentimental about clothing that doesn’t fit anymore — if your size changes in the future, you can treat yourself to new clothes!

» KNOW WHERE TO GO: Where to find moving boxes

Have a garage sale to get rid of unwanted items

Take all those items you’ve already deemed nonessential and have a garage sale, or list them online to make some extra money for your move.

» DO IT RIGHT: Tips for a successful garage sale

2. Think about what you don’t want on the moving truck

While you’re going through your belongings, you might want to set some things aside for special treatment during your move.

Pack essentials separately

For long moves, you want to make sure you keep a bag of essentials by your side, especially if you’re traveling to your new home separately from your moving truck. You’ll want these essentials for any necessary overnight stops — and, once you’re at your new home, you don’t want to have to unpack before being able to brush your teeth.

You should also consider what items you’ll need in the first week or so after your move and pack those items in their own boxes. For instance, you’ll probably want toilet paper, a shower curtain, towels, hand soap and similar items easily accessible. Ginny Underwood, a professional organizer, also recommends keeping a kitchen starter kit with you that has enough silverware, plates and cooking utensils to last a few days.

If you’re working from home, you should also consider packing a mobile office, Underwood says. Keeping your laptop, tablet, charging cables and important documents with you lets you keep up with work-related emergencies while you’re moving.

woman packing books
Shipping books through Media Mail may be cheaper than paying movers to transport them.

Designate a “don’t pack zone”

There will likely be some other nonessential items you don’t want packed or loaded into the moving truck. Think of items of greater importance or sentimental value, like jewelry, family photos or financial documents.

Additionally, professional moving companies prohibit moving certain items that are considered hazardous or perishable. Designate an area (like a closet or specific room) for things you’ll want to keep with you. Make sure those helping you move, whether they're friends or professional movers, know not to pack or load things in that area.

Ship books via USPS

Books weigh a lot, and professional movers charge by the pound. Instead, consider shipping books through the U.S. Postal Service as Media Mail.

Visit the Postal Service’s website to see if its price per pound is cheaper than the one offered by your mover. For reference, shipping 70 pounds of books through Media Mail costs about $52 at the time of publishing.

3. Get organized and make a plan before you start packing

Having a packing plan removes stress and helps you avoid frantic, last-minute packing.

“Distribute the packing task so you don’t get overwhelmed or have leftover things to pack on the very day of your move,” said Kate Hart, removals and relocations manager with Fantastic Removals. “This may include taking time off work or scheduling around the delivery of packing materials, inspections, etc.”

Consider a portable storage unit or moving pod

Portable storage units can make packing and loading a less stressful and more flexible experience. A container is dropped off on your property, and you can load it as it fits your schedule or hire professionals to load it for you. When you’re ready to move, your pod can be transported to your new home.

Know what items movers won’t take

If you’re using a professional moving service to load or transport your items, there are certain items the company won’t be able to transport for you. Pack these items separately, give them away or dispose of them properly. Commonly restricted items include:

  • Aerosol cans
  • Ammunition
  • Batteries
  • Charcoal, kerosene, lighter fluid and propane
  • Chemicals and solvents
  • Fertilizer
  • Firearms
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Fireworks
  • Fuel/gasoline/oil
  • Matches
  • Nail polish and remover
  • Oxygen
  • Paints, varnishes and paint thinners
  • Perishable food
  • Pesticides
  • Plants
  • Pool chemicals
  • Propane tanks
  • Scuba tanks
  • Weedkiller

Gather packing supplies

Make sure you have whatever packing supplies you’ll need well ahead of moving day. Your exact needs will depend on your situation, but here are some basics to get you started:

  • Boxes
  • Cushioning
  • Trash bags
  • Markers
  • Labels
  • Tape
  • Plastic wrap
  • Moving blankets
  • Twine or string

You can probably score some free boxes from friends, family and neighbors. If not, try hitting up your local grocer or retail store to see if it’s willing to part with shipping boxes.

Identify any items that you’ll need to find easily at your new house

Load them last when you pack the moving truck so they’re the first things to get unloaded. This will ensure important items are easy to find when you arrive.

4. Look for ways to make packing easier

Many of your friends, relatives and neighbors will offer packing tips — sort through these and decide which ones work best for you. Not all ideas make sense for everyone, but incorporating a few — especially when packing clothing — can save you money and time.

Using suitcases to pack items saves money on boxes and lets you pack items more efficiently.

“A lot of packing time can be spent on clothing,” said Zac Houghton, the founder of Loftera, a home improvement website. “Clothing takes up a lot of space in a moving truck if you're not careful, so make sure to save as much room as possible.”

Hire movers to pack for you

Hiring people to pack for you is an obvious way to make packing easier, so consider calling in the professionals if you’re facing a tight deadline and can afford it. Most moving companies have a full-service option that includes packing services.

Look for movers with solid company reviews and customers who say they’d recommend the company. You want movers like Reimar of Kansas found, which “made my move stress-free and seamless. The team was friendly, courteous, and worked diligently to ensure that everything went smoothly. They were attentive to my specific needs and handled my fragile items with extra care. I would definitely use their services again.”

» COMPARE: Best packing services

Use trash bags and hangers for transporting clothes

If you’re moving on a budget, try the trash bag method. Put trash bags around your clothes while they’re still hanging in the closet. Tie up the tip, leaving the hangers sticking out, and voila: DIY closet moving.

Consider splurging for wardrobe boxes

If you have the money, consider buying a few wardrobe boxes. These boxes cost $10 to $20 each (depending on height) and have bars so you can move your clothes, still on the hangers, directly from your closet to the box. This makes packing and unpacking closets much faster and easier.

Pack your suitcases

Utilizing suitcases helps cut down your spending on boxes, and if your suitcases have wheels, it’s a great hack for transporting particularly heavy items.

5. Follow your packing plan

Now that you’re organized and have a plan together, it’s time to start packing. Try to give yourself more time than you think you need to avoid rushing and creating more stress than necessary. If you’re using movers, make sure you have everything ready before they show up to avoid paying them while you finish packing.

Make a packing inventory

As you pack, assign each box a number and label it. Record what’s in each box with its corresponding number. Check off each number when the boxes are loaded and again when they’re unloaded. This will help you identify lost items, making it easier to file a claim if you’re using professional movers.

Label boxes to identify unpacking priority

When you number boxes while making your packing inventory, identify the priority for unpacking them. You could write an "A" on very important boxes that contain items you’ll need in the first couple of days (ones containing your sheets, for example), "B" on boxes you’ll need within the first week (like extra socks) and "C" for ones that don’t need to be unpacked on any schedule. You could also use green, yellow and red stickers to identify priority.

stack of labeled moving boxes
Labeling your boxes makes it easier to prioritize what you should unpack first.

Pack one room completely before moving on

Some items (like jewelry) are more difficult to pack than others. It’s tempting to leave those items for later, but resist that urge and forge ahead. By getting one room completely packed before you move on, you’ll avoid leaving only the most difficult things until the last minute. It will make it easier to see your progress and gauge how much packing you have left.

Identify small items with colored tape or tissue paper

When you’re packing small, breakable items, use colored tissue to wrap them or put a piece of colored tape on the outside. This will help prevent you from accidentally throwing away something little because you think it’s only packing paper.

Pack dishes with care

Your most breakable items deserve special care. Use extra packing paper and wrap each item individually. Stack dishes vertically, not horizontally. Pad the top and bottom of the box with cloth or towels. Mark the box as fragile so movers know to take extra care when transporting it.

Use plastic wrap on liquids

Remove the lid, cover the opening with plastic wrap and then replace the lid. This should help prevent leaks if items get tipped over during the move.

Leaving light items in drawers helps you maximize the space you have in your moving truck — but be sure to secure the drawers so they don’t open in transit.

Use towels and clothes as packing materials

Towels, linens and smaller clothing items make great filler for boxes. Use washcloths and socks instead of packing peanuts to keep things from shifting in boxes, and wrap fragile items in thick towels to provide extra padding. This will help you use fewer boxes and save money on packing supplies.

Leave items in drawers or other containers

Leave lightweight items in bureau or dresser drawers. Use kitchen plastic wrap over the tops of the drawers to keep items from shifting in transit. Then use heavy-duty stretch wrap around the outside of the piece of furniture to prevent drawers from opening when you’re carrying the furniture. Use kitchen plastic wrap around silverware trays and other organizers that you store in cabinets to make packing kitchens and bathrooms go more quickly.

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    How long before a move do you start packing?

    Ideally, you should start packing about six weeks before your move. Starting early gives you enough time to plan things out while leaving room in your schedule for any setbacks.

    What is the hardest room to pack?

    Garages and kitchens usually rank as the hardest rooms to pack. Both rooms often contain a combination of oddly shaped items, small tools/utensils, fragile materials, and heavy objects or appliances that can make packing a challenge.

    What is the first thing to do when moving into a new house?

    The first thing you should do when moving into a new house is take care of your essentials. Before you start unpacking and organizing your new home, it’s important to make sure that you and your loved ones are set up with basic toiletries and supplies so you can feel human while you go about the task ahead of you.

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