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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 taping up a moving box

Introduction

You’ve found a new house and booked a mover or rented a truck. 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.

Boxes with plant on top

Before you start

There’s a lot to do when you move, even before you start packing. Use our moving checklist for a full list of everything to do when you’re moving, and start with these activities before you pack.

Downsize first

Before you begin packing, clean out your closets and cabinets. Packing and unpacking will be easier if you don’t move things you don’t want anymore. It’ll also be easier to keep your new house tidy if you clear clutter out before you move. As a bonus, the fewer belongings you have, the cheaper it will be to hire a professional mover. Start this process before packing, and you’ll be better able to sort through items without feeling rushed. You’ll also have time to consider whether you want to try to sell things or donate them.

Buy packing materials

You’ll need plenty of packing boxes in various sizes. You can purchase packing boxes from most home improvement stores and truck rental companies. You can also visit local businesses to ask if they’ll give you their discarded shipping boxes for free. Also buy packing peanuts or bubble wrap, newspaper or packing paper, permanent markers for labeling boxes and plenty of packing tape.

Clean and dust

You’ll need to clean your house or apartment before you move out, especially if it’s a rental, but cleaning the stuff you’re packing is also essential. You don’t want to be unboxing items later that are covered in dust or need to be washed. Do a thorough cleaning and dusting job before you start packing to make the unpacking process a little more pleasant.

Woman writing on moving boxes

5 general packing tips

Regardless of whether you’re moving soon or have plenty of time, if you’re home is perfectly organized or just organized chaos, these packing tips will help your move go a little more smoothly.

Identify “last on, first off” items

When you’re packing, identify any items that you’ll need to find easily at your new house. Load those last so they’re the first things to get unloaded. This will ensure that those things are easy to find when you arrive.

Designate a “don’t pack zone”

There will be some items you don’t want packed or loaded into the moving truck. 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.

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.

Use plastic wrap on liquids

Packing liquid items (like cosmetics or perishables) is challenging because you don’t want them to leak or spill and ruin other things. 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.

Don’t pack certain items

Professional moving companies prohibit dangerous items and things that could damage your possessions or another customer’s goods while in the moving truck. Ask for a list of prohibited items in advance, and make a plan to either transport those yourself or give them away before your move. Propane gas tanks from grills, loaded firearms, cleaning solutions, charcoal and other chemicals are frequently a no-go, as are perishable items like food and live plants if you’re moving more than just a few miles distance.

Woman donating her clothes

5 packing tips for moving fast

Sometimes you need to move quickly, but packing fast is definitely a challenge. Here are a few suggestions to help you get your stuff in boxes ASAP.

Use wardrobe boxes

Wardrobe boxes have bars so you just move your clothes directly from the closet to the box, still on the hangers. These boxes make packing and unpacking closets much faster and easier. They cost $10-$20 each depending on their height, and the time you save is well worth the money.

Hire professionals

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.

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 the kitchen go more quickly.

Keep (or start) downsizing

At some point during every move, you’ll wonder how and why you have so much stuff, even if you followed our advice and 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.

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. This might not specifically save time, but it will make it easier to see your progress and gauge how much packing you have left.

Friends packing up boxes

5 packing tips for moving on a budget

Moving is expensive. Just paying a deposit on a new apartment or renting a moving truck can put a dent in your bank account. Use these tips to save money in the packing stage of your move.

Pack yourself or get friends to help

Getting professionals to pack for you may be faster, but it’s also more expensive. Save on moving costs by packing your own items. Moving companies may offer to pack hard-to-handle items like large mirrors and pictures for you. But by taking extra time you can pack these things yourself, so just say “No, thank you” when they offer to box up your TV or other major items.

Keep downsizing

Hopefully, you started early and cleaned clutter and other unwanted items out in advance, but keep doing this as you pack. The fewer items you move, the cheaper your move will be. If you decide you don’t need larger or more expensive items, consider selling them online to make some extra money for your move.

Use trash bags instead of wardrobe boxes

Wardrobe boxes are handy for moving your clothes, but they cost $10-$20 each. Put trash bags around your clothes while they’re still hanging in the closet. Tie up the top leaving the hangers sticking out, and voilá: DIY closet-moving.

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.

Use towels and clothes as packing materials

Towels, washcloths, 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.

Boxes labeled with different words

5 packing tips for staying organized

Moving can be stressful and chaotic, but it’s a great time to get your house in order. Taking a little extra time when you pack can help you end up with better organization in your new home.

Make a packing inventory

As you pack, assign each box a number and label it with that number. 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.

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.

Keep downsizing

I know. This tip shows up in every section, but that’s because it really is useful no matter what. The best way to stay organized is to get rid of items you don’t need. As you’re making your inventory, you might realize you have seven whisks and three hand mixers. If your inventory list shows unneeded duplicates, get rid of the extras.

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.

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 days (ones containing your sheets, for example), B on boxes you’ll need within the first week (like extra underwear) 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.

Family unpacking boxes

Conclusion

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.

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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.