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Lessons Learned from Packing and Moving

I’ve arrived! In Northern California, that is. My husband and I sold our condo and we are living temporarily with my parents. Escrow was very iffy for a while there, so ultimately it was a great decision that we didn’t sign a lease or try to put in an offer on a house. Packing and moving was an eye opening experience, so I thought I’d share what I learned before those lessons are too far in my rear view mirror.

ten tips for packing and moving

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Ten Tips for Moving & Packing

Or alternatively, create a packing system that works for you and learn how to give yourself grace when you need it most.

1. Start Early

When we knew we were going to be putting our house on the market, I did a huge decluttering and depersonalization sweep. In 2016 I spent the first half of the year doing the Konmari method, but we really ramped things up in July and August. I packed as much as I could into my dad’s truck during their summer visit and they kindly agreed to store it in the garage for me. I wasn’t all that discerning in what I packed, I just knew I wanted to create a lot of visual space in my home and depersonalize it.

Start packing things you know you won’t need in the immediate future, like holiday and seasonal decor, small kitchen appliances and cooking paraphernalia, extra linens, books, DVDs, toys, and art. If you have a very large wardrobe, try selecting just what you need for the time being and packing the rest into boxes.

2. Use the Right Materials

Purchase the correct tools for packing and organizing, and be prepared to go out and buy more boxes if you run out, which is inevitable. We had lots of Sharpie markers, packing tape, and colorful duct tapes that I used to designate a handful of categories. We ran out of boxes multiple times, and that was a huge lesson I learned (more on that story later!). Avoid the impulse to pack stuff in awkward shaped vessels like baskets, or boxes or bins smaller than a banker’s box.

I know there are a lot of posts out there about how to get free boxes from businesses, but we purchased boxes from the hardware store. My experience was very positive with new boxes. There’s not any additional visual clutter because the boxes are plain, which allows the writing and color tape we used to stand out. We prefer the medium size boxes, though we did use a few large, extra large, and small boxes. Medium sized boxes can hold a lot but they aren’t so heavy that I can’t lift them myself.

3. Label Like Crazy

Perhaps you’re packing room by room, or person by person, but my preferred method for the most part is to pack like items with like items. For example, I tried to keep all of my kitchen things in boxes labeled KITCHEN. I also wrote a summary of what was in the box on the outside of it (e.g. cake pans, cupcake tins, baking sheets, etc.) so I could find something quickly when needed in the future. I also decided well in advance that most of my kitchen items would be in deep storage, meaning that I knew I would have no immediate use for them. In addition to labeling each box, I also used colorful tapes to categorize my boxes.

4. Create a System

Try to be very conscious about your categories and labeling system from the beginning. I’m not suggesting one method over the other, they all have their merits, just pick one that makes most sense for you and your brain and your type of move. I read about the color tape method via Pinterest, and decided it was the easiest system to implement. I knew I wouldn’t have the energy to track each box in a spreadsheet, and I didn’t want to photograph each box either. I bought a set of colorful Duck tape from Amazon (6 for ~$30), which seemed way more cost effective than buying special labels that I’d have no use for after the move. (I can’t wait to use the rest of these cute Duck tapes in the future!)

Here’s the gist: I assigned different colors to different categories–pink to myself, yellow to my son, and green to my husband. Fragile items are orange, and blue is for what I’ve dubbed “deep storage.” We will be living in a temporary residence for at least three months and possibly longer, so we know that at some point we are going to want to access the pink, green, and yellow boxes. We’ve already rearranged everything in our unit so that we can get to these boxes more easily.

We used orange tape on fragile items, and blue for deep storage. We don’t anticipate needing fragile stuff like our dishes, and could easily have labeled those boxes with blue, but orange is just another way to remind us to take extra care when moving those boxes. As I continue to maneuver our boxes after the move, I’ve been a little bit more liberal with the tape. Some are both orange and blue, some are pink and yellow–it’s natural that when you pack you may need to comingle things. For example, some of my decor items like pillows were used as stuffing for my son’s boxes that were only half-full of his toys. I really appreciate the simplicity of this color tape system because with just a glance I know which boxes are the most likely to hold a certain item based on the tape color and I can ignore any of the others.

5. Remember You’re Not in Complete Control

Unless you’re doing all the heavy lifting and driving yourself, you’re going to have to accept that hiring movers or delegating to family and friends means a lot will be out of your control. Even though I instructed our movers to try to get those blue taped boxes in the back of the unit, I wasn’t able to stand there and direct every piece they unloaded because it was pouring rain. There was literally nowhere to stand that wasn’t in their way or in a puddle. I feel some level of reassurance, however, because my color tape method makes visual organization quick work.

Packing up everything in your house for a move means you’re going to have to make a lot of quick decisions. Try not to get too stressed by the process, because in the end it’s all going to be okay. I promise. I was very aggravated on move-out day, but once we were in the car I kind of forgot about it. Now it’s just a lesson that I’m happy I learned.

6. Pack Everything for the Moving Truck

This was a huge learning lesson for me because I did not follow this rule of advice. But here I am giving it to you after a very stressful move-out day! I’ll start with a story…my husband’s coworker who moved cross-country with two young kids warned us not to hold anything back from the moving truck. He said that even if you have a small cabinet here and there and assume the contents will fit in your car, don’t depend on it. He was right. On our last day before escrow closed, we had a patio full of crap that wouldn’t fit in our cars and my dad’s pickup. We ended up abandoning a vacuum, a hand cart (I owe my dad a new one!), almost all of my cleaning supplies, a dozen empty plastic bins, a couple of houseplants, a beautiful rattan basket that housed my kid’s toys, and like twenty pounds of cat litter.

If I had a time machine… I would have had the movers wheel out my vacuum and load it on the truck. I would have packed my plants in boxes and left the tops open and had the movers take them. I would have given away ALL of my food and cleaning supplies to friends. (I did try, but I still ended up packing about three boxes in my dad’s truck and now that food is just sitting in a cold garage, and the new owner of my condo got all my cleaning supplies.) I regret that I didn’t box up my kid’s toys more ruthlessly. I kept too many out in that damn basket and its awkward shape made it impossible to fit in the car.

When you’re moving, you’ll feel like you’re packing a never-ending stream of crap. You will wonder how you have so much stuff. And in my own defense, I thought I only had what brought me joy. Well, clearly I’m a little delusional because I found little joy in cramming so many last-minute boxes into my car.

7. Take Only What You Need for a Few Days

A couple days before you move, pack a suitcase for every person with clothes and toiletries to last only a few days. If you have kids, pack some toys and books in the diaper bag or their backpack. Bring your chargers and electronic devices in their regular laptop/messenger bags. Organize your purse like you’re going on vacation. Stuff some snacks and drinks in an ice chest. Include any other critical items you may need (pack n play, strollers, etc.). Also, allow room for any documents, valuables, and equipment you must transport on your own. Do NOT plan to bring anything else in your car, because it will get out of hand very quickly. Be very intentional and ruthless.

My husband insisted that he needed his coffeemaker, so we packed it in someone’s car. We could have easily packed it for the moving truck and labeled it with green tape and made sure the box was situated in the front of the unit. We did this time and again with other items like our kitchen knives, food, and the majority of our wardrobes. Though our moving company warned us not to store food in our storage unit, there is no reason we couldn’t have packed a box of our favorite things like coffee and spices for the moving truck and then just taken them out of the unit on move-in day.

It becomes such a slippery slope when you intend to pack all of your comfort items in the car. Truly, it’s not worth the stress of trying to squeeze a beloved houseplant into a pickup or a cast iron pan into a car. Just pack everything, even if it makes you slightly uncomfortable.

8. Don’t Forget About Valuables & Paperwork

Before leaving town, Nick and I had to visit our safe deposit box at the bank to close it out and bring all that stuff with us. We don’t have a lot, but it was still an errand on the list that we had to do as close to move-out as possible. This is also a good opportunity to update your address, order new checks if you need them, and withdraw cash or get a cashier’s check for the movers if necessary.

If you have valuables that need to be transported, make sure they will fit appropriately and safely in your car(s). I would not advise having your movers handle or transport anything irreplaceable like heirlooms or expensive items like gold or jewels, but definitely check with your moving company to find out about their insurance policies.

Don’t forget about paperwork, particularly financial paperwork. Hopefully you’ve Marie Kondo’d most of that stuff, but if you’re a homeowner buying or selling, you’re going to have at least one or two banker’s box worth of stuff. It’s probably fine to let movers take paperwork, just remember it does have very sensitive and identifiable information about you! We chose to pack those boxes in our cars, but if we were flying we’d have probably made a different choice.

9. Keep Your Precious Cargo Happy

Do you have pets or other littles? We do! We have a cat and a toddler, and they have a lot of stuff! We tried several options before landing on transporting our cat in her soft carrier. Logistically, we just couldn’t fit her cage with litter and food and water in a car. I had a friend assist me with getting her setup on our first night at my parents’ place. She brought over some of those disposable litter boxes and a new box of litter, since as I mentioned above, we had to throw ours away.

I definitely overpacked for my son. I never used his stroller during the move, and I definitely didn’t need ALL of his clothes either. I was so concerned about the upheaval of the move, but in the end he turned out to be the easiest going one of us. Depending on where you’re moving, you may need to have a lot of your kid’s stuff pretty quickly, like a crib or bed. If you can make do with smaller versions, like a pack n play for babies and toddlers or sleeping bags for older children, definitely go that route. We are very lucky because my parents already had a crib and dresser for him. To make the transition easier on Rory, we have kept his bedtime routine the same (bath, books, and his Scout dog).

10. Give Yourself Grace

In the end, we spent about eight months preparing our condo to go on the market, three months on the market, and two months in escrow. I only dedicated about two weekends to packing before the final push of the last few days. I made my final selection of our moving company about one week out. I needed a lot of help from my in-laws, parents, and friends to get it all done. It wasn’t perfect, but that’s okay. Give yourself grace during the process. Moving is hard.

Maybe you have experience moving around a lot and you have a much better system and all you ever have is a smooth move. But more than likely if you’re reading this, you’re hunched over a screen frantically searching for tips that will reassure you before a move. So here it is: take a deep breath, treat yourself to a coffee or some take-out, arm yourself with supplies, and get to work packing. You’re going to do great.



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