The Type A Guide to Moving

I’ve moved far too many times, particularly in my early 20s when I was interning a lot. (My record is 8 different addresses between April 1997 and April 1999, not even counting 2-week “pitstops” at my parents’ house to unpack everything I needed while interning and repack everything I needed for college.) Things have settled down a lot in the past decade or so, fortunately, but I still have some tips that might be helpful if anyone is moving in the next few weeks.  So, here are my top 10 tips for the Type A Guide to Moving:

Some Notes on Packing Prep:

1) Go to Office Max and buy printable address label sheets. Print sheets of them with the following information: Your name (as well as the names of any roommates or your significant other), the new address, and one cell phone / email address. Affix one to every box you pack, as well as to the back of every picture/mirror/unpackable item. (I learned this lesson the hard way — one of my favorite prints, a framed Miro, went missing after my last move, and we had not affixed a label to the back of it.)

2) Using the same address labels, print sheets that say things like: KITCHEN. BEDROOM. LIVING ROOM. You may want to affix these in numerous places on the box. This will help you get set up when the movers are coming in — they can just drop stuff off in the correct room. I also find it helpful to print up a sheet of labels that say “FRAGILE” as well as “HEAVY” — it helps you realize what shouldn’t be stacked, who can carry what, etc.

3) For extra-double bonus points, NUMBER your boxes as you pack them. (I like to use a colored Sharpie and circle the numbers, but that’s me.  You can see some random numbers on the boxes in the pic above (from our December 2009 move).) Keep a spare pad of paper around and do a really rough description of what’s in the box, like “1 – Kitchen pots,” or “75 – Humor books” or whatever. This list should be enough to help you figure out a) how angry you are if that box is lost in transit, and b) which box you can leave unpacked for 3 months. In fact, you might want to put a star next to the really important boxes. On moving day, draw up a list of all of the numbers — and as your movers come into the room, have someone cross off each box as it comes in the door. (My most recent movers were really great and would just shout out the numbers without any prompting.)

Advice for Actually Packing:

4) Figure out what can be packed first. You should look for things that won’t be missed (say, your reference books from college), as well as things that can be packed neatly away so you don’t feel like the walls are closing in.  For example, I have two big Ikea Expedit bookcases filled with stuff, and they’re my favorite place to start. Not only can I usually live without my books for a few weeks, but I can also stuff 3 or 4 shelves worth of books into one box. As luck would have it, banker’s boxes fit perfectly on the shelves — they slide right in.  It makes for an ugly apartment, for sure, but it keeps the floor space free for other packing.

5) Create boxes to UNPACK first. With kitchen stuff, particularly, I find that it’s helpful to have one box of things that are really helpful on a day to day basis. My box usually contains things such as a big pot, an Everyday pan, and perhaps a smaller saute pan, as well as hard-to-break dishes such as Corelle. Include other important tools in here <cough, wine opener, cough>.

6) Use garment bags for clothes that are already hanging. I prefer to do this because they’re so much easier to unpack, but it can cost a bit more with the movers (they may make you use special garment rack boxes). I stuff as many as will fit into one bag, and then buy long twist-ties (or loop several smaller ones together) to tie the top of the hangers together.  This helps them be rehung easily, and keeps them from shifting around too much in the garment bag (which in turn helps the clothes stay on the hangers).

7) If you’re using a moving company, figure out their rules regarding supplies and time. I once had a mover’s bill be almost double what they had quoted me because of “supplies” — they would decide that, say, a $10 lamp from Bed Bath & Beyond needed a special box with lots of tape around it — as I watched they would use half the roll of tape on one box and then discard the tape roll by throwing it over their shoulders. Amusingly (I can laugh about it now), each tape roll was like $10, and that “special box” was like $30. On the flip side, the moving company I’ve used for my last two moves let me use big bins with wheels to throw a bunch of random things into, which helped save time.  (One bin might have been filled with 4-6 banker’s boxes, my step aerobics equipment, my yoga mat, and 4-6 garment bags.)

Some last notes:

8) Once your old apartment is empty, take a video of it. Just do a simple walk through of every room and show the state of the walls, the floors, as well as any damage that you know about already.  It’s just a good way to insure yourself against any fights with your former landlord.  (On the flip side, before you move into your new apartment, take a walk-through of it, to record whatever damage is already there.)

9) Cook ahead. If you know the next few weeks will be hectic and you’ll still be unpacking, try to prepare your diet for it.  Either make a lot of freezable/microwavable meals (hello, lasagna!) or purchase a bunch of frozen entrees once you move — it will ultimately be better for your diet than ordering pizza every night for 3 weeks.

10) Make it easy to redirect mail. Once you’ve moved, use the address label sheets to print out labels that say MOVED on them (or if you’re really nice, include the former resident’s new address) so when you get the former resident’s mail, all you have to do is affix a sticker to it and throw it back in the mail.  Similarly, you can change your mailing address with the post office online.

Readers, what are your tips for moving?  Any fun adventures or misadventures to share?

Comments

  1. Sydney Bristow :

    I normally unpack asap, but if that isn’t possible I find it helpful to have one box (or suitcase) that has everything I will need for the first day or two. I put in my chargers, towels, soap and toilet paper for the bathroom, sheets, and those kitchen things I need right away if I’m not just ordering in. When I had a car, that box would be with me in my front seat so I wouldn’t have to track it down later. I’ve found this prevents panicked nights looking for boxes with specific things or late night runs to Target.

  2. Lana Lang :

    I tend to try and recycle/throw out/take to the charity shop as much stuff as possible before packing. I find that when moving it all is a prospect I am far more ruthless about stuff and therefore end up with less pointless stuff in my new place. I HATE moving, sometimes I kinda enjoy packing but I don’t enjoy unpacking half as much.

    If I’m moving myself, I borrow fold-up cardboard boxes from work. No idea what they are called… maybe archive boxes? Other legal-corporettes will know what I mean, the kind you take files into a closing/court in. They are great because they have handles on the side so much easier to lift and carry than closed up cardboard boxes.

    • Yes, banker/file boxes. The ones with lids and holes in the sides to use as handles.

      I once sent 30 of these through the U.S. Postal Service when I was moving to Alaska. (There was no cheaper option, seriously.) I was amazed that the Postal Service preferred to carry them by the handle holes, too.

      • SF Bay Associate :

        I “borrowed” a dozen of these boxes when I moved last year. They are fantastic. I also borrowed a pair of scissors (which I brought back), and “borrowed” a roll of bubble wrap. I offered to buy the roll, but the supply person said “meh, take it.” :)

  3. This is perfect for me because I’ve officially decided to find a new place after the roommate/landlord let her loud b/f move in. Hopefully I’m moving into small, but quiet new apartment with a classmate. I usually use a big luggage for clothes and just lay them while they are still on hangers. It makes it easier to unpack and put everything straight into the closet.

    • I remember when you posted about this b/f moving in… I take it the situation didn’t get better? Good luck with your move! I hope the classmate is an excellent roommate.

      • Thanks! And no, the situation go so much worse. If it was just the b/f moving in, I would have considered staying to avoid moving again. They decided to do some ‘minor’ unnecessary construction including mounting the boyfriend’s television and putting in a sound system. A SOUND SYSTEM!!! That is the absolute last thing I wanted during finals and now I have to figure out where to take my online 8 hour exam on Sunday. I cannot wait until I sign a new lease and tell her I’m moving out!!!

  4. I HIGHLY recommend getting boxes from usedcardboardboxes.com. They are recycled, and way cheaper than buying them at home depot, uhaul, or wherever. They ship a whole load of them to your house, flattened. So, not a type-A tip, but definitely a cost-saving tip : ).

    • You can also get boxes for free on craig’s list (from people who have just moved).

      And, I have also just gone to my local B&N and asked them for boxes. They were flat, clean (only books were ever inside), and totally free!

    • Great tips on where to get used boxes, ladies. Thanks!

    • I’ve been lucky enough to have enough space to keep my old cardboard boxes for the next time I move, but I have also seen adverts on craigslist and just randomly driving by a house with boxes for free on the front porch. Buying new is crazy expensive.

      • I’ve kept mine the last couple moves and it’s been amazing. Unfortunately, I’m about to move to a much bigger city, so I doubt I’ll have the space at our new place.

    • If you live in Orange County or Los Angeles County, this is an option:

      http://www.rentagreenbox.com/

    • Wal-Mart and Costco also often have carts full of big empty cardboard boxes. Also, U-Haul had a program where you could leave your used boxes in the van and they would re-sell them.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Through college, I used to work in the mall. If you don’t mind a little loss of glamour, all malls have dumpster areas, typically inside the internal hallways. There is a trash area, and a cardboard dumpster away from the trash so that it stays nice and recycleable. All the stores get shipments in cardboard boxes several times a week, and all of those boxes end up in the cardboard dumpster. I dragged cardboard boxes from our shipments down to the dumpster three times a week.

      So every time I moved in college (which was every year), I would go back to “my” mall, go in the internal hallway (which is never locked), and hit the cardboard dumpster for a TON of nice, clean shipment boxes. They aren’t as sturdy as bankers boxes or official moving boxes, but in college, they were perfect. Your friendly sales associate at your favorite store might tell you when they get shipments (typically, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday morning), and which door on the outside of the mall is closest to the cardboard dumpster.

      • The key is to ask at the stores. During college, I once went behind a grocery store pick up some clean cardboard boxes near the dumpster, and got reamed by an employee for trespassing on private property. Liability issues, they said (?). Point being, I’m hugely in favor of re-use, but some businesses get touchy about their waste.

    • Also ask at liquor stores. The boxes they have are very, very sturdy. Though if you use those almost exclusively, you might raise some eyebrows when actually moving…

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Also, depending on the season, wineries are happy to give you as many wine boxes as you want. We were up in wine country in December (far from bottling/shipping season), and casually mentioned at a few wineries that we’d love a box to go with our single-bottle purchase. The response at every place was, “Great! How many do you want? We have too many and have to throw them away. Please take them!” We ended up with over a dozen boxes, and by cutting up or removing the internal dividers, we used some of the boxes for glasses and other breakables as well as wine.

    • I am leery of used moving boxes because of bedbugs – am I just being paranoid? I’d probably be okay with used boxes from a store or office.

  5. I use large garbage bags in lieu of garment bags (and then tie the hangers together like you mention). The garbage bags work especially well for shorter items like skirts and shirts. If you tie the bags at the top around the hanger (instead of inverting them and cutting a whole in the bottom), you can even reuse them. I save my real garment bags for my suits and dresses.

  6. O how I hate moving. But we just did it…again. One habit I’ve developed is to wrap pictures and mirrors in blankets or towels, using packing tape to secure the edges to each other. It saves us the money for packing materials (bubble wrap, cardboard) as well as the space that those linens would otherwise have taken up. I’ve used this method in 3 moves, I think, and nothing has ever broken.

  7. I take a bunch of my work clothes to the dry cleaners right before the move. This way, I don’t need to pack them and they are ready to wear while my boxes may still be only semi-unpacked. I basically plot for a week’s worth. This is a tremendous help.

    Re: labels, you can save a lot of hassle by just writing with a sharpie on the boxes. This has the added benefit of letting you customize. So, e.g., I will write “Kitchen – dutch oven, omlette pan, etc.” I always know where it all is.

    I try to have a bit of time overlap between move-in date and move-out date. It’s usually simple enough to negotiate, no extra $ required. This way, I can do things like take the things I really care about over myself. This is, of course, assuming you are moving within reasonably close proximity of your old place. Doing this, btw, can actually save you a lot of money. I once moved around the corner and basically spent the day before the movers came moving all the random stuff like lamps and plants and only had furniture and like 10 big heavy boxes for the actual movers. It also gives you the chance to have the cable/phone people come early.

    Either way, you should set up those appointments before the move.

    I also use moving as an excuse to declutter and reorganize. Last move, I donated a bunch of stuff to charity. If you’re in NYC, there’s a great organization called Housing Works that will come to your house to pick up your furniture. If they’re taking furniture, they will also take other donations (which you normally have to drop off) and I was thrilled to be able to give away a bunch of old clothes, kitchen stuff, books, etc. It’s all tax deductible, too, btw.

  8. My two best box solutions are 1. Use paper boxes from work and 2. ask your grocery store to save their produce boxes. The produce boxes for oranges, for instance, are super heavy duty.

    Second, if you are moving yourself (or partially yourself), get a tension shower curtain bar and put it across your backseat. Then use the garbage bag tip from above and hang your clothes on the shower rod.

  9. Love this! I’m planning on moving next month, and the BF and I have completely different ideas on how to pack (I’m a Type A and love these tips, and this article can help him follow my “rules” so he doesn’t freak out the next day trying to find work clothes). Thanks for the perfectly timed article.

  10. Just moved from Virginia to Michigan last week and did most of the things on the list. My husband and I received our items on Friday morning, and five days later, we only have three boxes left to unpack.

    One key thing we did was clean out as much as we could – clothes, kitchen items, books, even furniture. If we didn’t think it was worth paying to move, it went into the charity box. That, and labeling all of the boxes made this the easiest move we’ve done.

  11. somewherecold :

    How do you pick a moving company? I used Flat Rate last year when I moved from NYC to Maine, but I felt like I was really uninformed, and I got quotes that differed by over $1000 from each other. I’ll be moving from Maine to D.C. in the fall, and I have no idea how to find someone or what to look for.

    • I went to the local Better Business Bureau’s website and filled out a form on there. It got sent to all of the top rated movers in my area, and within an hour I had businesses calling and giving me quotes. I read all of the reviews I could find for every company that responded, and didn’t consider companies that get in touch with me within 24 hours. (I figured that if they couldn’t be bothered to call me I didn’t want them touching my stuff!) I wound up using fantastic movers who had the whole thing done in 3 hours and were super professional and nice.

    • I’m super paranoid about moving companies. The past few times I’ve moved, my husband and I rented a u-haul and had a local company load the u-haul so we could drive it across the country. We then had help unloading the truck.

      I’ve read a lot of horror stories about moving companies and didn’t want to give anyone else control over my things.

      • This. I don’t think there’s any industry as plagued by scam artists as the moving industry. Cat’s story about the “supplies” is the tip of the iceberg. The FMCSA and DOT websites have some information on licenses and insurance, which are extremely helpful. Also know that if the shipper loses or damages your belongings, they’re only on the hook for like 50 cents a pound or some other ridiculous number.

    • Once you’re in DC, I highly recommend Bookstore Movers. You can find reviews on Yelp or Angie’s List. I don’t think they do any inter-state moves, though.

    • You might want to try ABF U-Pack…they are really honest and you pack yourself on both ends. Same idea for the “pack yourself” crates. You need about ten truck-feet worth of stuff, but that’s not too hard once you have a mattress, boxspring, and say, a couch or table. For any interstate move, pay really good attention to the “Bill of Lading”, which is the governing document for the move and details your insurance (likely none) and what the moving company is responsible for by contract. I had a really awful experience moving from CO to CA, in which my stuff was supposed to go by truck, instead went by pallet, air-freight, and my year-old, big-girl furniture had, no joke FORKLIFT holes from where the forklift tried to get a grip on my giant pallet of stuff. Also beware of any up-front payments that seem high, or payments that have to be made at delivery–if it’s not in the bill of lading, you don’t owe it. Period.

      • Just a funny movers story: When I last moved, I picked my moving company because one of the moving co. shared one of the surnames in its name with a surname in the name of a local law firm (to clarify, if the moving company was smith and jones, the law firm was brown, jackson, and jones). I asked, and if I recall correctly, there was some relation. I guess I figured that the moving company wouldn’t screw me over if I knew they had connections to a law firm.

        Anyhow, the movers were a little slow, but they were super nice, and the very sweaty head mover guy wished me luck and gave me a very unexpected, big, sweaty hug when they left. I thought it was a little weird, but it was actually kind of nice that someone gave a hoot about me when I was so far away from home and all by myself. Don’t tell anyone, but I might have shed a little tear of gratitude for his kindness when they left.

  12. I have gotten to the point now where I actually hire “real” movers. If you use a well-recommended, professional company, the benefits are: (a) they do all the packing and unpacking, so their insurance covers anything that has been broken, (b) if you let them do the unpacking, they also take away all the boxes, which in my experience are otherwise a nightmare to deal with, and (c) they pack and unpack so much faster than I ever could. Seriously, the reduction in stress and the amount of time I have to spend on packing/unpacking is totally worth the expense. (Of course, I would not have been able to afford this as a university student or intern, when I was lucky to have good friends who helped me move for the cost of beer and pizza, but it is worth it now.)

    • How do they know where to put the unpacked stuff?

      • We moved a lot when I was young and my dad’s company paid for the movers. They always labeled each box with the room it came from (“daughter’s room,” “downstairs bath,” “linen closet” etc.) — upon arrival, we would be at the house to tell the movers which room now corresponded to which label.

      • oh, I see I misunderstood the question after reading Nonny’s post more carefully — I’ve never had movers actually do the unpacking of the boxes. That would drive me *nuts* – it would take me longer to rearrange everything after they’d tried, than to just unpack myself in the first place!

      • They don’t necessarily know which shelf to put things on, but if you give them general instructions, at least things end up being more or less in the area you want them (e.g. put the clothes in this garment box in *this* closet; put the books in this box in *this* set of shelves). Then all you have to do later is rearrange, which you can do at your leisure without mountains of packing paper and boxes in your way.

        You do have to expect to run around a fair bit on moving-in day and I have found it really helps to have one other person around who knows my stuff. Those movers work so quickly, it is amazing.

    • I loved my experience using a “real” mover as well. Having done the moving-on-my-own thing many times, it was just amazing watching the pros at work. They packed up my 2BR apartment in 1/2 a day. They also have these great garment boxes that have a built in bar so your hung garments just get hung and shipped as if traveling in a giant closet.

      Funny story tho – just make sure that anything you DON’T want packed is out of the way/clearly marked/etc… before the movers arrive. I had a large glass jar of lard (basically discarded cooking fat) in my kitchen. It hadn’t occurred to me to throw it out since I was still marginally using the kitchen. But yes, it got packed and I had a lovely, gross surprise 1 month later when I unpacked in my new apartment. (*blech*)

      • Too funny about the lard!!

      • That is gross, but even worse… we had family friends whose movers packed up their garbage cans WITH all the garbage in it. Fast-forward several months (an overseas move with a gap between leaving the old city and settling in the new city), and they were met with the most unpleasant surprise, and had to throw out a huge portion of their belongings :-(

      • Yick! Yes, this sort of thing happened to me too….I was moving internationally and almost forgot to take my passport out of my dresser drawer! I remembered it *just in time*.

      • My sister had movers in, and they packed up several full trash cans, and a coffee maker with an almost-full pot of (cold) coffee in it. Coffee, Coffee grounds, everything.

        • We had family friends who were moving internationally, and the movers packed up the diaper genie with all the dirty diapers still inside.

    • After my last move, I swore I will now only use real movers. The last move involved a u-haul and getting yelled at by a cop at the midtown tunnel for not stopping said u-haul fast enough for their inspection… Yea. Kind of a nightmare. Professional movers only from now on.

  13. I followed a lot of these tips last time I moved – numbered the boxes, had a rough list of contents by box, etc. My moving company ended up being completely flaky though (showed up super late – so late in fact that it was “too late” to move into my new building and I had to pay off the super) – it was such a long, stressful day day that at the end of it all, I had zero ability to unpack anything or set up the bed. We went to my mother in law’s, who thankfully lives nearby, and crashed for the night. I highly recommend having an overnight bag set up and somewhere else to go for the night if possible! :-)

    That said, the numbering system (I had large numbers printed on color-coded paper on four sides of each box) was super-helpful when we got around to unpacking starting the next day.

  14. Have them do it for you :

    This has only happened to me once, but when we moved last time, my husband’s company paid for folks to come in and pack up all of our stuff. It was amazing. We personally packed the most delicate/precious items and let them do the rest. The most stress-fee pack ever! Of course, not every company will do this, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

  15. Last time we moved, we had 2 days between the closing on our condo and the closing on our house. The moving company just kept the stuff in the truck for the 2 days for a $50/day fee, which was AWESOME. This is a good option if you have no overlap (we needed the proceeds from the condo to use on the down payment for the house).

    I endorse the recommendations to pack books first and to do a BIG goodwill cleanout before you start packing. Both of these are invaluable.

  16. Mella loves calendars :

    When my friends Dr and Mrs and their three kids under age 5 had to move cross-country for his unexpected job change, Mrs – a facilities manager by training – bought a giant piece of butcher paper, taped it to their living room wall and created a HUGE calendar with everything from his start date, to the day the movers were coming to the old house, the kids’ last day at activities – EVERYTHING on this giant giant wall. To see all their plans in such a large scale was awesome – and eliminated the “didn’t you see it in Outlook?” factor.

    • This really tickles the typeA/OCD part of me.

    • I did this throughout law school for the last few weeks of every semester. Having all the deadlines up on the wall made it much easier for me to see how to best allocate my studying hours, and was the best way to make sure I didn’t forget little things like paying the utility bill or calling the pharmacy when I was sleep-deprived and overwhelmed by outlining. Plus it kept my husband on the same page without me having to tell him a dozen times which days my exams were.

      I suppose I could have done the same thing with small handwriting and a regular sized calendar, but the giant butcher paper calendar made it much easier to see everything at a glance. I also loved tearing off the past days at the end of each week – it was a great visual countdown to the finish line.

  17. Yankee-Peach :

    I have moved a number of times both cross-town and cross-country and I am a big fan of numbering and/or labeling boxes. It also makes it easier for the movers (even if that mover is you) to drop things in the right room. To me, there is nothing more aggrevating that finding a box marked “kitchen” in the bathroom when I move into a new place. I also recommend an “Unpack Me First” box that has things you need to unpack further — box cutters, trashbags, scissors as well as things you need and want to start making your new house a home — coffeemaker, favorite mugs, favorite pillow, landline phone if you have one, etc.

    Also, you can buy labels for your electronic devices which were an absolute lifesaver the last time I moved. I labeled my remotes, related wires and device (DVR, TV, etc.) with matching colored tags. So I could reassemble everything when they all came out of their respective boxes with a minimum of frustration.

  18. Ah, I aspire to when the professionals move you! When my boyfriend and I moved in together, I ate down all the food I could so I wouldn’t have to deal with transporting it. Also good because it forced me to eat out my canned goods and get a little creative. When we finally got the keys to the new place, we went grocery shopping immediately so we had a stocked fridge as we were moving all the stuff in two days later. VERY helpful when you have thirsty guys who were promised beer for their efforts to have it ready to go and cold! As Kat explained, you don’t want to be so tired from all the unpacking afterwards that you end up eating pizza or something, so it made sense to get a bunch of food prior to the move. It was great to have that food all stocked – made it feel homey right from the start!

    • You know, I realized in law school that renting a truck plus ordering pizza for my guy friends cost nearly as much as professional movers. Most movers in a big city have around a $300 minimum, and that’s about what it’ll cost for a studio apartment (you pack and unpack yourself). So, consider that when debating whether you can afford movers.

  19. The best thing to remember before you need to move a lot of stuff is to become friendly with a number of the strongest men you can find who can do the heavy lifting for you. When I was graduating from law school (but before I studied for the bar) I needed to get out of an apartment that was on the third floor. I had a sofa and a 35″ TV (Tube style) that weighed a ton!

    For a semester prior to graduation, I went regularly to the local college bar/hangout place every Thursday night, and became very friendly with the bartender and the bouncer. They made sure I had all the help I needed when I told them I needed to move out in May. I literally had an army of 8 big guys moving all of my stuff down the stairs and into the U-Haul I had rented. It was just too bad that I did not also have those guys come back to my parents home where I eventually had to unload all these items. All I had at home was my dad and my then 17 year old brother, who was not as strong as the guys who helped me at school. I bought the guys a few six packs of beer and some chips, and we called it a day. 2 of those guys still call on me, and it has been 7 years since I left town!

  20. These are all very helpful tips. Reading this blog entry is giving me a little deja vu. Like Kat, I used to move a lot, too. From the time I was 8 up until I finished my clerkship, moved and bought my condo in DC in 2007, I had not lived in the same place for more than two years. For years, when I was looking at cars, I would judge them by how much of my stuff could fit in them in order to move it.

    I will add that if you can hire a moving company to pack and move your things, I suggest doing that. I moved overseas for a federal job and the government provided this, and it was a lifesaver. I second selling or donating whatever you can beforehand. I unloaded a ton of stuff on Craigslist the last time I moved.

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