Moving tips

Make a plan for a less stressful relocation experience

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Written by Margaret Heidenry
Edited by Vincent Landino

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    woman taping a moving box

    Moving day is generally long, hard and stressful. The best way to minimize the stress of a move is to be well prepared — the more you put into planning your move, the better you can roll with the unexpected. Familiarize yourself with these handy moving tips so you can have the smoothest moving day possible.


    Key insights

    • Planning early helps you save money and get organized. You can get the best moving rates and find the best deals on supplies this way.
    • Decluttering helps save time and money — not only will you have less to transport, but you can also make money by selling items in good condition.
    • Start packing about two months before you move. Use a labeling system to mark which boxes you'll need immediately in your new home (and which you can ignore for a while).
    • Don’t try to tackle unpacking all at once — go room by room, starting with the parts of your home you use the most, like the kitchen and the main bedroom.

    How to save money on your move

    Moving can take a big bite out of your overall housing budget. To help lessen the load, try these money-saving tactics.

    • If possible, don’t move during the summer. Many families move during the summer in order to get ready for the new school year. If you can, move in September or November — these months are typically the cheapest time of the year to move.
    • Create a moving budget. Starting your move with a detailed budget ensures you don’t get hit with any big last-minute expenses. Instead, you can work backward from your bottom line and figure out where you can save money. Try a budgeting app to keep yourself organized.
    • Research all your options. Do a deep dive into everything from professional movers to truck rentals to see what’s most cost-effective for you. Ask at least three movers for free in-home estimates. Also, ask how their rates are structured — moving companies offer flat rates, hourly rates or rates by the pound.
    • Consider using a container company. It's possible to rent a container you can pack and unpack yourself over a couple of days. This can be a cost-effective option, so be sure to also get moving quotes from container companies.
    • Know your insurance options. Not insuring your move properly could cost you down the line. Ask your mover what kind of insurance they offer and at what price. You can also see if your renters or homeowners insurance policy covers moves.
    • Watch out for scams. The cheapest option may not always be the wisest choice in the long run. There are many moving scams out there that often entice people with low prices. Always check online reviews.
    • Declutter and sell or donate what you don’t need. Get rid of things you don’t want to pay to move — getting cash for items you no longer use can help pay for your relocation. Or you can donate them to your favorite charities — don’t forget to request a receipt for potential tax deductions.
    • Buy packing supplies early (or find them free). Getting tape, bubble wrap and markers early means you can look for — and take advantage of — the best deals. Ask local stores and online marketplaces for free boxes (bike stores with large, thin boxes are great for packing art and flat-screen TVs). You can also use old newspapers rather than buying brown packing paper and use socks, scarves, hats and gloves to protect fragile items.
    • Get a backseat hanging rack for your car. Buying wardrobe boxes can get pricey. To save money, measure the backseat of your vehicle and buy a hanging rack to fit so you can keep your hanging clothes in order.
    • Eat your pantry staples. Lisa Cantu, owner of California’s An Organized Home, has helped move dozens of clients throughout the years. She suggests taking your move into account when grocery shopping. “Plan meals from your pantry and perishables so that you don’t have as much food to move," she said. "You’ll also want to be more mindful about stocking up your fridge and freezer since you’ll have to move all of those items soon, too.”
    • Fix minor issues and clean the home yourself. Whether you’re counting on getting your security deposit back or ensuring you won’t have issues with a new homeowner, making minor repairs yourself will save the expense of hiring a handyperson later. Rather than hiring cleaners to make sure your home is clean when you move out, save money by taking on the task yourself.

    How to prepare

    A move involves several aspects: hiring movers or booking a truck; decluttering and packing your belongings; and dealing with the logistics of changing your address and utilities.

    First, you’ll have to decide if you’ll handle the move yourself or hire movers. If you go the DIY route, consider a truck with a lift gate (a mechanical way to lower objects up and down to the truck) or ramp — or else you’ll be lifting heavy items onto and off of the back of a truck. It’s also a good idea to create a moving folder with all your vendor information, receipts and to-do lists. Having this all in one place will keep things organized as you pack.

    As strange as it might seem, a simple apron can be a lifesaver when moving. … In the pockets I add all the essentials I’ll need closer to the move and when packing, such as tape, scissors, small, laminated contact list, marker pens, and other tools.”
    — Catherine Mack, House Buyer Network

    A month before your move, inform your utility providers of the date you wish to disconnect service at your current home (and don’t forget to set up services at your new address). A week before your move, change your mailing address at your local post office or online.

    Pro tip: A sturdy apron with pockets might be a solid investment for moving day.

    “As strange as it might seem, a simple apron can be a lifesaver when moving,” according to Catherine Mack, co-owner of House Buyer Network, a company that buys houses nationwide. “In the pockets, I add all the essentials I’ll need closer to the move and when packing, such as tape, scissors, small, laminated contact list, marker pens, and other tools.”

    You’ll also want to take your furniture apart before moving day. If your furniture breaks down, tackle the job a few days before your move. Disassembling furniture can take hours and involve lots of tiny parts to keep track of. Be sure to take a photo of your furniture before you take it apart, just in case, for an example of how to reassemble.

    And don’t forget to measure hallways and staircases. “This is crucial if you’re hiring professional movers, as they will need to know whether your furniture will fit through the doorways and stairwells,” Thomas Curry, content management specialist at Moving Feedback, said. “But even if you’re not using movers, it’s still a good idea to measure everything in advance so that you can plan the best route for getting everything out of your old place and into your new one.”

    How to pack for a move

    Packing may seem straightforward, but there’s an art to putting your belongings in a box. Get a jump on packing as soon as eight weeks before you move. Commit to a slow and steady packing plan — rather than get overwhelmed at the last minute, pack a little bit every day. Pack seasonal clothing, decorations, artwork, knickknacks and rarely used kitchen appliances first.

    • Cut handles into your boxes before you pack. Boxes can be tricky to move and carry, but if you cut handles into the sides, they're much easier to manage — even the larger, unwieldy ones.
    • Use big boxes for light items. It’s tempting to stuff a ton of stuff into a larger box, but this just makes it harder to carry. Save things like comforters and pillows for your bigger containers, and avoid packing heavy books in large boxes.
    • Don’t take clothes off the hanger. You can either get several wardrobe boxes or buy a rod to go across your backseat. Another option is to simply tie your hangers together (about 10 to 15 at a time) and cover your clothes with a large garbage bag to protect them.
    • Pack plates vertically. Packing your fragile plates the same way you put them in the dishwasher keeps them safer. Packing plates on top of each other means the bottom plates take all the weight and could break.
    • Keep a list of what’s in each box. Knowing what’s inside the many boxes you pack saves you loads of time searching for one small item you need once you reach your new home.
    • Fill each box as much as possible. You don’t want to create heavy boxes, but you also don’t want to waste valuable space in a box. If you pack a delicate lamp in a box, for instance, fill in the empty space with lighter items like sheets and towels.
    • Use a three-tier system. Label boxes you’ll need right away with “No. 1” and boxes you won’t need for three to six months with a “No. 2.” Everything that can be stored more long-term can get a “No. 3.”
    • Color-code your boxes with stickers. Use a different color for each room. This saves time on the day of the move, and you can easily spot if a box ends up in the wrong room — then the movers can put it in the right place before they leave if it’s heavy.
    • Use your suitcases (and baskets and hampers). You don’t want to pay to move empty suitcases. Use that empty real estate as packing containers. Rolling suitcases are particularly useful for heavier items. 
    • Don’t empty your dresser. Use plastic wrap to secure clothes in your dresser drawers, then move the entire piece of furniture to save you from packing and unpacking the whole thing. (Note that in some cases, you may need to empty your dresser if it's too heavy to move.)
    • Pack a first-week box. What do you need to get you through the first week of unpacking? Think clothes, toiletries, basic cooking tools (pot, pan, colander, spatula) and enough tableware for everyone in your household.

    Hacks for moving day

    Moving day is likely to come with a few surprises. Try some creative thinking and planning to avoid common pitfalls on the big day.

    You have a long day ahead of you, even if you won’t be moving your belongings yourself. If you will be doing heavy lifting, you need clothes that give and shoes with support.
    Sheets will protect your mattress from getting dirty during the move.
    Put your sharp knives into your sturdiest oven mitts to protect them — and anyone from getting cut.
    Put spices and kitchen gadgets in your pots and pans and use your socks to protect your drinking glasses.
    You don’t want to fuss with what cord goes into which plug when you’re trying to relax in your new home. You can also tape the corresponding cord to the electronic to prevent confusion later.
    Use a strong rubber band around automatic locks to keep them from repeatedly locking behind you as you move things in and out.
    When taping up last-minute boxes, you're likely using tape you’ve had for a few weeks. If it gets too sticky on the ends to handle, pop the tape in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it up.
    It’s a good idea to have several sturdy wooden boards handy to provide leverage and help movers get a grip on heavier items.
    Keeping everything open as you go will ensure every box gets packed. You can also leave your kitchen drawers and bathroom vanity drawers open. Don’t forget about below-the-oven storage or the highest cabinets.
    The last thing you want to do on moving day is run to the store.
    You’re likely transporting quite a few things in your car, even if you’ve hired movers. If professionals are transporting belongings for you, make sure they have your contact info and know which items you’re moving yourself.
    If you used the three-tier system to pack, load all of the long-term storage on the truck first. This way the boxes you need the most will be the first out of the truck.
    If you have access to your new home, buy the basics, like milk, coffee, paper towels and toilet paper. Checking this off your list means one less thing to worry about on moving day.
    Did you color-code your boxes? Then don’t forget to color-code your house. This will help movers know where to offload heavy boxes.
    Have cash on hand to tip your movers. A rate of $5 to $10 per laborer per hour is a safe bet.

    Unpacking advice

    You made it to your new house! But what about all those boxes you need to unpack to set up your new home? The good news: Unpacking is usually much easier than packing, even though it can be daunting. Here are some unpacking tips to make the job even simpler.

    1. Organize your furniture first. Before you unpack your boxes, make sure you have your furniture exactly where you want it. Once your larger pieces are in place, you have somewhere to put things (e.g., a lamp on a table).
    2. Unpack just what you need initially. The first few days of settling into a new home can be overwhelming, so just unpack the boxes you need right away. You can unpack the No. 2 and No. 3 boxes later.
    3. Focus on one room at a time. Start with the rooms you use most — likely the kitchen and the bathroom. Unpack each completely before moving to the next so you don’t get too overwhelmed.
    4. Hang up art ASAP. Art tends to remain unhung for months after a move. Avoid this pitfall by hanging up art as you unpack it (you can always move it later). This will make you feel more settled right off the bat.
    5. Further declutter as you unpack. Just because you went through the hassle of moving something doesn’t mean you have to keep it. If you get to your new home and realize you don’t want or need something you thought you would, it might be time to part with it.

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      FAQ

      What’s the fastest way to pay for a move?

      You can usually pay for your move with cash, check or credit card — the fastest may be cash. However, if you’re moving long-distance, you may have a bill that runs into the thousands. In that case, rather than carrying around a lot of cash, you may want to pay by check or with a credit card. And remember, there may be a small upfront deposit, but movers get paid at the end of the move.

      Where do you get moving boxes?

      You can buy moving boxes from moving companies, rental truck companies or office supply stores. You can also check out online marketplaces and electronics, bike or liquor stores for free boxes.

      What should you pack first when moving?

      Begin by packing out-of-season clothing, holiday decorations or rarely used items in your kitchen.

      How do you pack clothes for moving?

      Don’t pack what you don’t have to. Leave clothes on hangers to put on a wardrobe rack or wrap the drawers of your dresser. For clothes you have to pack in a container, start by putting bulky items on the bottom, then add lighter clothing on top. Try to keep similar clothes together (i.e., keep pants with pants and shirts with shirts) to make unpacking easier.

      How do you pack books for moving?

      Set aside small boxes for books so they don’t become too heavy. Mix paperbacks with hardcovers to keep the total weight down. The aim is to not end up with a box so heavy you can’t lift it.

      Bottom line

      Preparation is the key to keeping costs down and making your move as easy as possible, and smart packing lightens your load physically and mentally. Once you get to your new home, unpack one room at a time — if you do too much at once, you may get overwhelmed. Give yourself time to unwind and unpack over a few days or weeks.

      Once you settle in, don’t forget to do a few safety checks. These may include changing your locks and testing your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector. And don’t forget to change your address on your driver’s license and car registration. Welcome to your new home!

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