By the time you’ve found a new home, packed your belongings and moved, you’ll be exhausted and ready for a break. Don’t stop just yet! You’ve got some unpacking and organizing to do. If you put it off, you may end up with boxes sitting around for months (ask me how I know). If you make a plan to unpack in the coming days (or weeks, if you have a very large home) and stick to it, you’ll be ready to enjoy your new place in no time.
How to unpack and organize after moving
Here’s how to unpack and organize after you move into your new home to save time and get settled in as fast as possible. These steps can be done in whatever order makes the most sense for your move.
Locate your essentials box: When you were packing for your move, you should have ideally packed a box of essentials for every member of your household that contains all the things you’ll need for the first days in your new home while you unpack the rest of your things.
Clean the house: Unless the home or apartment is perfectly clean, give it a scrub while it’s empty. It is so much easier to dust, vacuum, shampoo carpet, mop, clean windows and scrub surfaces while a house is empty or your belongings are neatly packed in boxes. If it’s very dirty, hire a cleaning service to get things in order. Don’t forget to wipe down shelves, cabinets, drawers and countertops.
Make a list of every room in your home: The more thorough this list is, the easier it will be to plan. Include storage spaces like coat closets, sheds, basements, mudrooms and pantries.
Decide what each room is for: Whether you’re moving into a large home or a small apartment, you’ll need to decide where everything goes. If you have a large family, choose who gets which bedroom. If you have a multipurpose room, think about if you want to use it as a den, game room, office, guest bedroom, craft room or for some other purpose.
Situate furniture and large items first: Once you have all the biggest pieces in place, it will be much easier to move smaller things around and fill in the gaps. If you’re using area rugs, put them down first. Then set up beds, dressers, couches, chairs, tables, desks and other big items. If you have a very large home, it’s OK to wait a bit before setting up furniture in rarely-used areas of the house so you can move on to unpacking your more important rooms.
Place your boxes in the correct room: This will make unpacking a lot easier since you won’t have a pile of all the boxes in one room. You can use an organizing system like color-coded boxes and rooms, numbered boxes and rooms or by simply writing the room name on each box so you will easily know which box goes in which room. This is a great way to get kids involved in unpacking because they will only have to match a box and a room.
Create an unpacking order: Rewrite the list of rooms and spaces in your home, this time putting the rooms in order of unpacking priority. List most important and frequently used rooms (like the bathroom and kitchen) first and infrequently used rooms (maybe a formal living room or library) last. As you unpack, plan to start with the higher-priority rooms, and try to completely finish one room before moving on to the next.
Set a schedule: Depending on how much available time and stuff you have, you may need a week or a month to get fully unpacked. Set a schedule, on paper, and stick to it. Try to build in extra time for rooms with many small things to unpack. You can make a note on your list of rooms with estimated times for unpacking each area. Plan for about ten minutes per box of large items and thirty minutes per box of smaller items.
Sample unpacking order
This order makes sense for many families, but feel free to plan the order around what makes sense for your needs:
Main bathroom: Unpack and set up at least one bathroom right away. Arrange your toiletries, hang up your shower curtain and store towels and washcloths so you’ll be able to stay refreshed for the next few days while you finish getting situated.
Kitchen: The sooner you set up the kitchen, the sooner you can run to the grocery store for fresh food and stop eating take-out for every meal. If you made a local move and still have a cooler of fresh food, definitely put that away first. You should start unpacking with the dishes and cutlery. You may want to wash these if they’ve been wrapped in newspaper, or if they were not wrapped at all.
Nursery or kids’ rooms: If you have children, get their rooms set up right away. It will give them somewhere to play while you unpack the rest of the house. It will also help them feel settled sooner if they have their own space with familiar belongings in it.
Master bedroom: Get your bed set up and made, your dressers filled, your clothing hung and any other belongings situated so you can rest easy.
Living room: Get your entertainment center set up and connected; you may need to call the satellite or cable company if you haven’t already requested service.
Office: Don’t underestimate the amount of time it can take to sort through cords, connect computers and printers and organize books.
Guest bedroom: If you have a guest bedroom or any other multipurpose area, set it up. Some people use closets in guest rooms to store tools, knick-knacks, seasonal decor and similar rarely-used items; be sure to keep track of what you put where to make it easier to find later.
Sitting room: If you have a formal living room, odds are good that you don’t keep anything there that you need to access regularly. Set up this room after all other necessary rooms are set up.
Dining room: Many people don’t keep anything but a table and chairs in their dining room, but if you keep very-rarely used china in a cabinet you can situate your dining room last.
Wall art: Once every room is unpacked, you can hang wall art throughout your home. This will give your house a finished look and make it feel more like home.
Rosemary Avance, Ph.D., uses her social science research background as a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team to help people make smart choices. She researches products, businesses and industries thoroughly, then passes on the most relevant and essential information for consumers looking to make important purchasing decisions.