Moving: How to pack your home

This week is a bittersweet one for me. After six years in our amazing home, we are moving. I’m sad to say farewell to this place — we love our neighbors, we love the house, and this is my son’s first home. Unfortunately, the house isn’t configured for our needs. My son really needs his own bedroom (he’s been in a crib in our bedroom for the past 18 months), and we also want a dedicated office space since both my husband and I typically work from home.

We found a new place, which surprisingly has fewer square feet than our current house but has the exact room arrangements we need. Honestly, the new house is incredible and it’s going to greatly improve our quality of life, but packing up everything we own, moving across town, and selling our current home is very stressful in the short term.

I’ve moved fourteen times in my life, and I’ve learned a great deal from these experiences. Additionally, I’m learning even more on this fifteenth move. Over the next couple weeks as we personally go through the moving process, I’ll write posts sharing tips and tricks for each stage. Please feel welcome to jump into the comments and share advice you’ve garnered from the moves in your life. My hope is for these posts to become guides for anyone going through the moving process who wants the move to be as simple and organized as possible.


  • Wear shoes with good arch support and full-foot coverage. If weather permits, also wear long sleeves, jeans, and socks to help avoid injuries.
  • Gather supplies: boxes (small, medium, and large), packing tape, roll of bubble wrap for fragile pieces, permanent black markers, band-aids, ice packs, pain reliever, trash bags, a wardrobe box for each person in the house, a good sense of humor, and anything else you’ll need.
  • When acquiring boxes, make a stop at your local liquor or wine store to grab a few boxes with divided inserts. These boxes are perfect for safely transporting alcohol and other kitchen liquids like vinegar and olive oil. (If moving across state lines, check regulations for transporting alcohol and make certain to abide by these laws.)
  • Make a hotel reservation for the night you arrive at your new place. Your goal will be to get the best night’s sleep possible so you can start refreshed for your first day of unpacking. You’ll also want a shower after moving stuff all day, and it’s best to not have to worry about making sure these things can easily happen.
  • Clear floorspace in your home in four different locations and mark each area: Packed Boxes to Move, Charity Donations, Giveaway/Return, and Sell. These areas are where you will put these items until you’re finished packing your things. You will likely need at least a 10′ X 10′ area to hold the Packed Boxes to Move. Also, the area holding items you intend to sell should be easily accessible from the front door or in your garage so that potential buyers can see the product without having to climb over boxes and mess in your home.
  • If you have children under the age of five, see if a grandparent, friend, or babysitter can keep your child occupied while you work.
  • Your first act of packing should be a suitcase with two weeks of clothing and supplies. Be sure to include your toothbrush and toothpaste, a couple bath towels, soap, shampoo, hair dryer and anything else that is part of your daily hygiene routine.
  • Your second act of packing should be an essentials kit — but don’t tape it up! These will be the last items you take out of your current house and the first items you unpack in your new place. These will be things like cleaning supplies, two or more rolls of toilet paper, a frying pan, a few paper plates and plastic utensils, sheets for all the beds, and anything else you will need the first couple days in your new place.
  • Make large print signs for your new home with room names: Living Room, Family Room, Master Bedroom, Sally’s Room, Sally’s Bathroom, etc. These signs will make it easier on you and anyone helping you move boxes into your new place. Bring a roll of painter’s tape with you in your essentials kit and plan to hang the signs immediately upon getting access to your new place.
  • As you move throughout your home packing boxes, I recommend starting with the heaviest items that will form the base of your Packed Boxes to Move area. Books are almost always a good item for this. Use small boxes, and group similar types together (cookbooks with cookbooks, children’s books with children’s books).
  • Label the top and all four sides of a box with a short explanation of what is in the box (Toys) and what room the box should be placed in at the new house (Bobby’s Room). You want to label the top and sides so that the box can be facing in any direction and you can still know what is inside it and where to take it.
  • Try your best not to mix different types of things in boxes (your shoes shouldn’t be with your coffee mugs). If this is unavoidable, at the very least do not mix items that belong in different rooms. Only pack kitchen things with other kitchen things, bathroom things with other bathroom things, etc.
  • Sort and clean everything before packing it. If you never plan to use eight vases, put some of the vases in the Donate to Charity pile. The key is not to move ANYTHING you don’t want in your new home. Clear the clutter now so you don’t have to spend time and energy moving it.
  • Only use trash bags for trash. This will keep you from accidentally throwing something valuable away. If you want to use trash bags for transporting charity items, use differently colored bags (black for trash, white for charity) and write DONATION in big letters on the bag. Be sure to let the ink dry before using the bag.
  • Set packing goals the same way you set other goals in your life. Be as specific as possible: Pack the living room on Monday, the garage on Tuesday, or whatever systematic method works best for you.
  • Take breaks at least once an hour for five or ten minutes. Your sanity depends on it.

60 Comments for “Moving: How to pack your home”

  1. posted by Megan on

    Love all the great suggestions!

    Mine is a somewhat silly one: if you can, put on workout music or other entertainment in the background to help keep momentum up.

    I did my last inter-state move during the UEFA Cup soccer tournament. I kept the games on and loud while I was working: the constant energy of the crowd noise (thankfully vuvuzelas weren’t a hit yet) and the announcers helped me keep moving. When I finished up a box I allowed myself a short “booooooxxxx!” moment and then went on to the next!

  2. posted by Toni on

    I have bookmarked this post and will be re-reading this on a regular basis. After 8 year, I am moving from a 1 bd apartment to another 1 bd or possibly a (gulp!) a studio. I’m trying to declutter and get organized for the move in June. Lots of great tips here. Thanks!

  3. posted by Izzi on

    I laughed at “Fry”‘s comment about not leaving an active trash can out, because it might be packed up by movers– as former military and active State Department, I’ve heard of this, too. In the case of military, State Dept, or overseas moving, you often won’t have the luxury of packing up your own boxes or even labeling them. Our last movers didn’t speak English, and although they were incredibly efficient (fasting for Ramadan, no less), they were so spread out over the house that I couldn’t keep up with the labeling– besides, they were better at securely wrapping things than me. Here’s what I do recommend to make the day go faster if you’re in a situation where liability laws means you can’t touch the packing boxes:

    Pre-pack as much as possible before you even think about moving boxes!

    1. Save all the cardboard boxes for appliances and pre-pack these before the movers arrive. The boxes are bulky, but they’re light and you’ll save hours on moving day if you don’t have to disassemble the TV, stereo, the Wii, the KitchenAid, etc.

    2. Put clothes that belong together into plastic bags before movers arrive. That way Jimmy’s and Jane’s underwear won’t get mixed together. It also helps keep out dust & bugs for long-haul moves.

    3. Set aside a stack of essentials (like others have said), and put them into plastic bags. Watch the movers pack these up and label them. Take your binder of essentials that you will hand-carry (passports, plane tickets, medical records, laptops) and put them in your car, or somewhere else that is CLEARLY marked as a no-pack zone. I usually empty one room out myself before the movers arrive, and tape a big “X” on the door, and lock it. I don’t know how many of my colleagues have chased moving vans down the hill, containing their passport and other vitals.

    4. Before movers arrive, I walk around the house with masking tape and label items “To go”, “To stay” (some of our posts are furnished), and any other applicable labels. This helps movers who are in different rooms than me.

    5. Send your pets to a boarders for the day. I buy cheap pet supplies, keep it after the movers have left, and then throw away/donate the ragged old dog beds or $10 litter box just before getting on the plane. I order replacements on Amazon and have them shipped to my hotel in whatever country I’m ending up in. I call ahead to notify the hotel desk, and just pick them up first thing and get the beasts organized before I touch anything else. Once they’re quiet and napping, it’s much easier to unpack. Be sure to check new houses for hidey holes, open vents, or unfinished rooms– we lost our cat for 24 hours once, and it was scary.

    7. Take a photo inventory of all your belongings and back it up electronically off-site (I like the software “Bento”). I also do a video walk-though of the house, talking through the value of important items.

    8. Tip your movers early and well. I make a big breakfast, keep lots of drinks on hand, buy them lunch, and usually send them home with a bottle of their liquor of choice.

    9. Disguise valuables. I put my jewelry in an unmarked, opaque bag and pre-pack it in something like gym bag or thrown in with pots and pans. Lately, my movers have been very honest, but I had one crew take all the kids’ movies.

    I’m only 26 and I’ve moved 25+ times. What I’ve learned: every move is different. It usually gets easier. Until the time the movers lose or break something treasured. Less stuff = less worry. Also, insurance helps :)

  4. posted by Jay on

    Have extra cash on your person.

    It takes up little room, and you never know when you might need it. You will likely tip the movers, and you might need to pay someone to help you with some unforeseen problem on either end of the move.

  5. posted by cv on

    I was just about to post what Emma said! Make sure you pack a knife or pair of scissors somewhere easy to get to – preferably in something that’s traveling with you and not in the van, but at the very least in an outside pocket of a backpack or suitcase or something. Realizing everything you own that could be used to open boxes is buried somewhere in the boxes labeled “kitchen” and “garage/tools” is no fun!

    When I’m unpacking, I really like focusing on the boxes that I can make go away quickly. Books, a box with a couple of large blankets in it, and boxes that will all go into one or two kitchen cabinets give a great feeling of progress and quickly reduce the amount of stuff sitting in a big pile in the middle of the room. Sure, it might not make the most logical sense to unpack the two large boxes containing winter coats and sweaters when it’s mid-August, but getting that stuff in the closet and out from underfoot makes me feel more settled quickly. That makes it easier to go through the boxes that require more thought.

  6. posted by gypsy packer on

    Use up the refrigerator contents, as much as possible, in the month prior to the move. If you have cereals and grains, repack them in ziploc bags and pack them into odd-shaped spaces.
    Wrap fragile, valuable items in heavy winter clothing, label the winter clothing box as fragile, with one side up. Pack underthings and small gowns around your glassware, inside those liquor store dividers, to keep shock down. Use Space Bags or the equivalent, inside boxes, to keep moving space down, if you are moving yourself or having a friend do it. I pack current wardrobe inside the dresser case, and then use the dresser drawers as additional boxes.

  7. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    Make sure you have a kettle and your favourite beverage (coffee / tea) in your 1st open box so you can keep yourself going during the day. Better yet, pack a picnic basket and, if you’re driving to your new place, keep it in the car so you have plastic plates & cutlery to eat from while you’re unpacking your kitchen items.

    From bitter experience, I say choose your movers carefully – make sure they insure for damage THEY cause. And unless they have this insurance, DO NOT pay them to pack! On our 2nd last move, we paid the removalists to pack (all packing materials supplied – ha!). They were meant to come the day before the truck but turned up that morning. They didn’t pack a drawer of teatowels and then threw glass dishes with no packing into the same box as our telephones and other assorted items! (We had had to drive up to the new city a few days before.)

    And then they refused to take calls from us and never answered our letters of complaint. Do you think I recommend them to any of my friends who are moving?! I could go on at length but I’ll stop the rant here.

    I pack my own glassware because I know how to do it in a way that makes sure it doesn’t get broken. One of the tricks is to pack the box tight so things inside can’t move against one another and break each other.

    Through all my moves I’ve only ever had one item that I’ve packed break and that was a terracotta look bowl that was brought back from the UK. I’m rather proud that on that same trip the fine china tea set got here safely – I used my quilting material to stuff the insides of the teapot and cups; so I used one set of things to be moved to move the other.

  8. posted by Space Savers Correspondent on

    Good luck on your upcoming move. It sounds like you’re prepared and ready to go! Just wanted to thank “gypsy packer” for recommending Space Bags as an essential moving supply. Space Bag products compress bulky items and also protect their contents from dirt, water and pests. Feel free to view other advice for moving day at Space Bag’s online community for fans, Space Savers. Here’s a link to our article on how to save space and destress a move: Congratulations on your new home!

    Best wishes,
    Space Savers community correspondent

  9. posted by Teresa on

    Your suggestion on labeling boxes gave me an idea. Buy large mailing labels. Doing this online early in the process will likely save quite a bit of money over going to the local office supply store to get them.

    Create labels for each room, either on your computer and print them out or with a permanent marker. Make a goodly number of them ahead of time. (if using a printer make large easily read fonts – you can even try different colors to make the differences easy to spot without actually reading the label). On packing day, put the sheets out first in each room so they are ready to go.

    Then once the box is packed, you can just peel and stick the labels on the surfaces instead of spending time writing on each side and maybe even digging around to find the marker because it got buried under “stuff”.

    Happy moving.

  10. posted by Liz on

    We got this great tape last time we moved – it was a multi-roll pack with coloured tape labelled for each room. ie, the yellow roll said KITCHEN on it, the green roll said BATHROOM, the blue roll said BEDROOM 1, etc. It was brilliant, saved labeling, and organized the boxes with no extra effort. Of course, there were some miscellaneous boxes that didn’t fit the labels, but it worked for the most part. And, we only used about 1/2 of each roll, so we gave them away with the moving boxes once we’d unpacked and we were able to pass on the easy brilliance to someone else! :)

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