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How to pack for a move

20 packing tips to make moving easier

by Jami Barnett, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
woman sitting on floor taping a moving box

You’ve found a new house and now it’s time to pack. Don’t panic as you look around at all the stuff you’ve acquired since you last moved. Packing can actually be a good time to clean, declutter and simplify your life. Use these tips to pack quickly, stay on budget and get organized.

Packing tips for moving

  1. Declutter before you move
    Start going through your belongings at least two weeks before you move, if you can. Working one room at a time, start with big items you don’t want to move, like heavy pieces of furniture, heavy tires and anything with hazardous chemicals. Call a dumpster rental company or haul away service to get rid of items like these.

    Sort the rest of your belongings into three categories: sell, donate and trash. Sell anything that’s in good condition at a garage sale or online. Donate things that won’t sell but are still in decent condition, and trash anything that’s junk.

  2. Identify “last on, first off” items
    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.
  3. Designate a “don’t pack zone”
    There will be some 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) to put things you’ll want to keep with you. Make sure anyone helping you move, whether friends or professional movers, knows not to pack or load things in that area.
  4. Know what items movers won’t take
    • Aerosol Cans
    • Ammunition
    • Batteries
    • Charcoal, kerosene, lighter fluid and propane
    • Chemicals and solvents
    • Cleaning 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
    • Weed killer
  5. Know what to pack first when moving
    Start with the least used areas in your home (think storage and guest rooms) and work your way to the more commonly used areas, like bathrooms and the kitchen.
  6. 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. 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 to the last minute. It will make it easier to see your progress and gauge how much packing you have left.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Pack your clothes
    You have a few options for packing your clothes. If you have the extra funds, consider buying a few wardrobe boxes. These boxes cost $10–$20 each (depending on height) and have bars so you can just move your clothes directly from your closet to the box, still on the hangers, and make packing and unpacking closets much faster and easier.

    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 voilá: DIY closet-moving.

  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Sell unwanted items
    Take all of those items you’ve already deemed as non-essential and have a garage sale or list them online to make some extra money for your move.
  13. Hire professional movers
    This service will cost you, but if you’re facing a tight deadline and can afford it, call in the professionals. Most moving companies have a full-service option. Movers will box up all your belongings so you don’t have to do it. One of the pros of hiring professional movers is that they can do the job quickly.
  14. Ship books via the USPS
    Books weigh a lot, and professional movers charge by the pound. Consider shipping books through the U.S. Post Office (USPS) as Media Mail. Visit the USPS pricing website to see if the price per pound is cheaper than the one offered by your mover.
  15. 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.
  16. Keep downsizing
    At some point during every move, you’ll wonder how and why you have so much stuff, even if you started getting rid of items before you began packing. When you hit that point, don’t be afraid to make a new pile to donate or throw away. Better yet, invite your friends over to help you pack, and encourage them to take away items you don’t need anymore.
  17. 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 hire professional movers.
  18. Pack for the new house, not the old one
    If you have the benefit of knowing the floor plan and cabinet layout in your new house, label boxes with directions for where they go, not where they came from. Unpacking and settling in will be easier if all the boxes end up in the right rooms.
  19. Pack essentials separately
    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 available. You don’t want to be digging through boxes looking for something you need immediately before you’ve had the chance to unpack.
  20. 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 red, yellow or green stickers to identify priority.
moving boxes piled on the floor

Bottom line

Packing doesn’t need to be stressful. With just a little bit of planning and forethought, you can get your move off to a good start. If you decide you don't want to pack for a move, some professional movers offer packing services.

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by Jami Barnett, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Jami Barnett, Ph.D., is an experienced researcher, and she believes consumers have a right to clear and honest information about products. In her role at ConsumerAffairs, she thoroughly researches products and companies by interviewing experts, reviewing research studies, reading governmental regulations and investigating customer service responses. Her work gives consumers the information they need to make smart purchasing decisions.