Get moving: A checklist for an organized move

Today we welcome Bonnie Joy Dewkett as a guest post author on Unclutterer. She is a professional organizer (The Joyful Organizer) based out of southwest Connecticut. The following advice is based on her Guide to a Joyful Move.

Moving can be stressful, but it’s nothing to fear. These tips will help to make your transition less stressful, more organized, and an enjoyable new adventure for your family.

Before You Leave Your Old Home:

  1. If you have children, make sure each child has his own bag packed with any toys, blankets, or books that he will need to go to bed at night. These will help him feel comfortable during the transition.
  2. Purchase an expandable file folder and start gathering documents such as birth certificates, passports, and currency. These items should not be shipped with your household goods.
  3. Call your doctors to obtain written copies of the family’s medical records. Offices sometimes charge for these documents, so have a form of payment ready. Also, see if your doctor can refer you to a new doctor in your new location. If applicable, ask for copies of prescriptions in case you cannot see a doctor quickly in your new location. If you have remaining refills at a local pharmacy, call to see if they can transfer them to a new pharmacy where you are moving.
  4. Arrange for the home to be cleaned after all your furniture has been moved. Stay one night in a hotel and return to the home to clean, or hire a cleaning service to do the job for you while you are traveling to your new location. Keep in mind that many real estate contracts state that the home must be left in “broom clean condition.” Failure to do so could result in a fee or difficulty at closing.
  5. Call your utility companies to arrange for final readings. Give them your new address to have any remaining bills forwarded.
  6. If you are using a professional moving company, ask about insurance for your items while in transit. You should also contact your homeowner’s insurance company to inquire about the same.
  7. Send out change of address cards to friends and family.
  8. Fill out a change of address and mail forwarding forms with the Post Office. These forms can be filled out online as well.
  9. Pack irreplaceable or valuable items such as cameras, jewelry, wedding photos/videos, or family treasures to travel with your family. Also, keep in mind that most van lines are not climate controlled. Consider this when deciding to pack items like candles in with your other possessions.
  10. If you are packing yourself, color-code your boxes. (Blue for the kitchen, red for the bedroom, etc).
  11. Pack a kit of the following items for use while you are in transit, and for your first night in your new home:
    • Toilet paper
    • Shower curtain
    • Snacks and bottled water
    • Clean clothes
    • Cleaning products
    • Flashlight and/or night lights
    • First-aid kit and medicines needed by your family
    • Air Mattresses and sleeping bags (if you decide to spend your first night in your new home).

When You Arrive At your New Home:

  1. Start by sorting your boxes and bringing them to their appropriate rooms. (Red to the kitchen, etc).
  2. Evaluate if you will need to purchase any organizational supplies such as shelves, pot racks, closet systems, etc. Purchase these before you start to unpack. Not doing so will make unpacking more complicated.
  3. If you need assistance in getting unpacked, contact a professional organizer. She will help you determine the best organizational systems for your new home, have them installed, and unpack your possessions using the systems.
  4. Use labels and/or sticky notes to help everyone locate items in the kitchen cabinets or pantry. This will alleviate questions and frustration when trying to find items in their new locations.
  5. Allow kids to help unpack their rooms. If possible, allow them to decide where their bed will go, where they want their play area to be located, etc. This allows them to make the new room their own.
  6. Have a sleepover your first night in your new home. Set up air mattresses, play cards, or if you have the capability, watch a movie on a laptop or portable DVD player. Bring flashlights and snacks for the family. Spending your first night all together in one room helps kids with the new creaks and noises associated with a new home.
  7. Unpack every box. Even if you are not using everything in your new home, you should unpack everything to look for any missing or damaged items. Insurance often limits the amount of time you have to file a claim for missing or damaged items.
  8. Lay each piece of newspaper or bubble wrap flat after unwrapping an item to make sure that you completely unpacked everything from its wrapping.
  9. Call the newcomer services in your area. They will often provide you with a basket or package of coupons and offers for your new area. You will probably be eating out for a little while, so you might as well save some money!
  10. If you do eat out a few times be sure to ask for menus, coupons, and business cards. Create a three ring binder with the menus of the places you like, and make sure to circle the items your family enjoyed. This will come in handy on those busy nights when you just aren’t sure what to eat.
  11. After you have been in your new home for about a month, re-evaluate your organizational systems. What is working for your family and what is not? Are you still missing items? Are the items you use in your daily routine hard to find or use? If you did not hire a professional organizer when you first moved in, now is a great time to do so.

25 Comments for “Get moving: A checklist for an organized move”

  1. posted by j-squared on

    thanks for the extensive list! another thing to be aware: chargers — cellphones, cameras, mp3 players, and any other battery powered item that you consider a necessity. you definitely don’t want to get stuck with a dead cellphone!

  2. posted by Kate on

    My #1 moving tip – an absolute essential!:

    When loading the moving truck, load all the boxes first, followed by the furniture. When unloading the truck, unload the furniture first, assemble it and put it directly into place in the correct room of your home.

    Then unload the boxes, put them in the centre of the correct room (or in a spacious unoccupied corner). You can then sit comfortably in your assembled home while unpacking the boxes.

    The alternative – loading the furniture first and then the boxes – results in all the boxes coming out of the trucks first and lining the walls of every room. Then the furniture comes out and is stacked in the centre of each room in a big tangle. You have nowhere to sit until you unpack all the boxes – nowhere to sleep, nowhere to eat.

    Now that I use a moving service, I insist upon this. It saves days and days of setup time in my new home.

  3. posted by Charlotte on

    U-Haul (and probably others) has kits of moving tape. For instance, the red tape says “kitchen,” and the blue tape says “bathroom,” etc. In addition, there are “fragile” and “open first” tapes. The cost isn’t that much greater than plain tape, and it really helps me stay organized. The moving-in process is easier, as well.

    They have many other items that simplify the moving process, and everything flattens out and gets stored for my next move (which I have done about 30 times in 45 years).

    I pack as much as possible in small boxes, because it is easy to overload the larger boxes, making them too heavy for me to handle.

  4. posted by OogieM on

    If you have pets or livestock be sure to get all the appropriate veterinary health certificates, import permits and other documents needed to transport animals across state lines. Yes, even your dog and cat need certain vaccinatiosnand a health certificate if you are moving them across state lines.

    Also check to be sure your pet is legal in the new place, ferrets and some rodents are often problems as they are outlawed as pets in many states. If you have an illegal pet, find a home for it before you move.

  5. posted by Rue on

    My biggest tip is start packing early! There’s nothing more frustrating than having to move in a week and having nothing packed and ready to go. I usually start packing a month or two before a move – things like knickknacks and photo frames, or things that have been in storage in my current home. I also take that time to evaluate whether I really want to keep something or not and usually make a couple of trips to Goodwill.

    In the week of the move, I pack up essentials like clothes, personal care items, dishes, etc., leaving just enough to last until moving day.

    @OogieM: I recently moved my two parakeets across several state lines. I didn’t even think of vaccinations, etc., when I did it. I did remember to make sure that they weren’t illegal though, as some species of birds are.

  6. posted by Rue on

    Also, one tip that I forgot to mention: If you’re moving yourself and have the financial resources to do so, buy all your boxes from a moving company like U-haul. They do tend to cost more, but they make loading the truck so much easier because the boxes are all of similar size. The larger U-haul boxes even have diagrams showing how you can arrange the different sizes of boxes on top of each other to make a nice big cube, as well as a diagram showing how to pack items into the truck.

    If you work at a large company that goes through a lot of paper, you can also see if you can snatch the boxes that carry 10 reams of paper. They’re great for packing because they’re sturdy, easy to carry, and even have pre-made handles!

  7. posted by Another Deb on

    Even your houseplants can get you into trouble if you are headed into California!

  8. posted by HMR on

    One more item for the “first night” list: a window curtain. Maybe not essential when moving into a house, but for apartment dwellers, there’s nothing worse than waking up that first morning and seeing your neighbors across the way seeing you drool into your pillow.

  9. posted by Jay on

    You mention “change of address cards to friends and family” and Post Office “change of address and mail forwarding forms.”

    When moving, people should also close accounts that will no longer be needed: bank, cable, landline phone, power, etc. As to the accounts that will continue to be open (credit card, cell phone, car mortgage, etc.), people should change their address with those account holders.

    Also, notify your automobile insurance company that you are moving. If moving out of state, get a new policy in that state.

    In addition, get a new driver’s license and automobile registration.

  10. posted by Jennifer on

    That first night box is really important. If you can, bring it in the car instead of the moving van.

    Label your boxes well–really well. You WILL NOT remember what’s in them after a few days.

    If you have small children: “Mouse Moves House” is a great book about moving. The Bearenstain Bears also has a book about moving.

    Also, be sure to let your children help you pack their things. I’ve seen more than one child worry they weren’t coming.

  11. posted by Carol on

    When I moved between states I was told the movers wouldn’t take my candles. I didn’t have room for them in my vehicle either. The lady at the moving company who did our estimate suggested I pack my candles into a cooler and just not tell the guys loading the van that there were candles in there. The cooler kept the candles from melting and if they had melted it would have contained the mess.

  12. posted by Jessica on

    Now they tell me!

    I just moved two weeks ago, and we’re still unpacking. We merged two households, and I’d give an 80% to one end and a 35% to the other end. Here’s what worked and what didn’t work:

    I started collecting free boxes as soon as I knew we’d be moving, about 6 weeks in advance. The result was that I had enough boxes to pack 95% of my things. He spent $50 and bought a stack of boxes about a month ahead, that wound up being enough for about 1/3 of his things. The result was that it took an extra week, making a 40-mile trip each day, to collect the rest of his things. We had to make one trip back to my place with some hurriedly emptied boxes – mostly for cleaning supplies!

    I made a goal to pack a box a day for the 4-5 weeks before the move, then set aside the day before to finish. He wasn’t quite so organized, and went out of town the day before. The result, again, was that I was 95% done and he was less than half done. I started with the fragile items, while he saved them for last, adding to the problem of estimating how long packing would take.

    I started labeling all my boxes with a piece of paper with the room they belonged to and a rough list of the contents. Somehow the box with the silverware and the kitchen utensils missed getting a label, and it took me three days to track it down, but otherwise that worked well.

    What didn’t go well on my end was the final cleaning. I put off cleaning the oven until the day I was supposed to return my keys. We were also supposed to wash the windows inside and out, but I hadn’t read the note thoroughly enough and missed that until the last minute. If I had it to do over again, I would have scheduled out the big cleaning chores, and maybe just planned to eat microwaved food for the week before the move so I could have done the oven the previous weekend.

    To sum up, I am mostly organized and my honey isn’t. There turned out to be a vast difference between my move (couple of “whoopses”) and his move (total disaster). The moral is, buy twice as much tape as you think you’ll need, anywhere from 10% to 100% more boxes than you think you’ll need, and no matter how well organized you think you are being, there is pretty much no way to overdo the planning and preparation.

  13. posted by Ann Rose on

    We made 8 major moves in 30 years. The best hint ever was to be sure to pack lots of old towels/rags and cleaning supplies and put them in the LAST box to be loaded/FIRST to be unloaded.

  14. posted by Mickey on

    I too just completed a move, that included moving 90% of our stuff into storage, some of it to stay with me while I spent the summer with family and some of it to stay with my husband while he spent the summer working out of state. Things I learned:

    You always need more boxes than you think you need. uhaul is nice cause they will buy back so buy more than you think you need – chances are, you won’t need to send them back, but they will take them if you do.

    I used color coded paper for different categories, not just rooms, since I have TONS of kitchen gear, but very little bedroom stuff. My categories: Bedroom/Bathroom; Media; Knicknacks; Kitchen Tableware; Kitchen Cookware; Storage. I labeled two sides of each boxes and wrote details on the sheet. So it would say: Media – Fiction Books or Kitchen Tableware – soup bowls, small plates.

  15. posted by BB on

    When we moved each box was labelled with the room it was to be placed in, and then I wrote a number (large, with a big pen, and on all sides of the box) on each box. Then I made a spreadsheet and put the number of the box and what items were in the box.

    We had started off writing on the boxes but in order to make the most of the room in each box we weren’t always putting related things in one box, so the list would get too long.

    So I came up with the inventory system, and even though I felt like I was probably being a control freak about it at the time, when we got to the new house it worked perfectly, we were using the printout of the inventory to find things while we were waiting for work to be done on rooms before we could unpack properly. When a box was emptied and flattened I’d cross the number off the list.

    It made things a lot less stressful. I also did a rough schedule of what needed to happen on moving day and when, because we couldn’t really think straight on that day through nerves, so it was good to see everything was going to plan, and that we’d done the final things we needed to.

  16. posted by Sheree on

    Unload one bureau drawer from each room into a box. In that empty dresser drawer, pack a set of sheets, pillows, towels, washcloths for each room/person. Also a blanket if it’s wintertime. Use more than one drawer if necessary.

    Then, the first night in the new place, when everyone is tired from all the unloading, the kids are cranky, and you have no idea where everything is, everyone will at least be able to quickly make beds, take a shower and drop into bed.

  17. posted by Randy on

    After you are done unpacking in the new house, I used and signed up for a local group to give away all the moving boxes. Someone would love to take them off your hands.

    I also used freecycle to give away things I didn’t want to bring with me to the new house.

  18. posted by 2009 Cleanup « Joel's Scattered Thoughts on

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  19. posted by Robin on

    Without reading all the comments, I must say that is a pretty good list, having moved in October myself. I did indeed use Freecycle to get rid of stuff that wasn’t making the move. And, although I didn’t print out postcards for friends and family, I did print out a sheet of address labels with my new address in large print for my elderly mother to use. The picture on the label is a historic location in town, giving her the notion that my new home town is a pretty place to live.

    One other tip I might give is that if you own furniture that must be dissembled and reassembled in the new place, take a digital photo or have the movers do it. Especially with certain knockdown furniture, not mentioning any brand names (>>cough<>cough<<), it's not always evident how the parts fit together. My mover was smart enough to take a pic with his cell phone so they had something to refer to.

    My seller was kind enough to leave me toilet paper in each bathroom! To me, a functional toilet is the single most important thing not only in houses but also hotel rooms…even more important than a functional tub/shower.

  20. posted by ecuadoriana on

    I have moved many times over the years. Bit of a nomad, I guess. And I am in the process of moving across country yet again!

    I agree that it is vital to a successful move to start packing as soon as you know you will be moving! Pack those knicknacks, pack up all the stuff hanging on the walls, pack up everything that is not a day to day necessity. Each day make a goal of packing up one room.

    Freecycle is my friend! I can get boxes or totes that I need & get rid of things I don’t need. A few weeks before I move I sign up for the local Freecycle of my new area & check what’s being posted to give away. Different areas of the country are offering up different “local flavor” furnishings, draperies, dishes, etc. It helps give me a feel for the local scene (furnishings in Florida, for example, are WAY different than in New England. What may look fabulous in your house in Nebraska may look down right ridiculous in your adobe style home in New Mexico!) Then if I see something posted that I will need (like a table or couch) I contact the person & let them know I’ll be arriving on a certain date & would REALLY appreciate the item, “as I’ll be arriving almost empty handed”. More often than not, that person will hold on to the item for me until I arrive! (And ALWAYS do the right thing- Go Pick it Up when you get to your new home! Even if you end up hating the color or style, you have a free temporary couch that you can give away later!). An added bonus: I’ve made a new friend/contact before arriving! THAT really helps. And often times they’ll even offer up some other things that could come in handy! (That way I know I don’t even need to pack & bring my lamp, or bookcase, etc- I’ve got one waiting!) I’ve found that people giving things away on Freecycle are generous by nature & I always repay in kind!!!

    My best packing & moving trick- I am one of those freaks who have saved all of my pilfered plastic milk crates from my college dorm days. (I have even acquired some of the cool looking older metal milk crates & wooden beer cases, as well- functional AND decorative!) I am lucky that I have the coveted rectangle shaped ones, not just the square 4 gallon size. They make the BEST moving boxes because they are already color coded (my orange crates are for kitchen items, blue crates for living room, red for bedroom, black for misc.). They stack perfectly, don’t hold as much as large boxes so they can’t be packed heavier than I am able to lift, and they don’t crush down and tip like card board. I also have the clear plastic totes (with lids) for my sewing & craft supplies (being clear, I can easily see what is inside without having to untape them like card board).

    After I get to my new home the crates are easily stacked into shelving arrangements inside my closets, basement, garage, laundry room, etc. I’ve even stacked them with a board on top to use as a table or desk until I was able to get one from Freecycle!

    Craziest after move use of the milk crates: I couldn’t bring my bed so I laid out all the empty crates (though some were packed with stuff I was storing), tied them together with saved shoe strings (don’t throw the extra shoe stings out! A million uses!), and I placed my futon on top! Voila, instant bed! It works, though it’s difficult to dust & vacuum under there.

    Happy Moving!

  21. posted by bogglefan on

    One hint I read about years ago and found really useful on my move was to label all 4 sides of the box because when they are stacked on each other you don’t know which side will be facing out. I also had a spreadsheet that all the numbers (1, 2, 3, 4 ….) and a general breakdown of what was in each box and then when I needed to find .. something I knew which box to look for and it was easy to find because the number of each box was on all 4 sides.

  22. posted by nj progressive on

    Last year I organized the move for my 76-year old mother from one state to another, downsizing in the process. Mom was going to be buying a new place with my single sister, combining households.

    Before my husband and I went to Mom’s place, I had called and scheduled appointments with 6 moving companies to come and give quotes, scheduled an appointment with an estate sale specialist, and had spoken with Mom’s health insurer and made appointments with her doctors for one last visit for Mom to get prescriptions and copies of medical records.

    I had even made a worksheet for me to use taking notes when I spoke with each moving company, so that I had all of the phone numbers, contact people, and had already asked some key questions (the move was going to be in two steps; first emptying her house, with things going into storage, then the move to the new state a few weeks later when the new house was finished; Mom was going to stay in an assisted living facility during the interim and my sister took care of visiting all of the assisted living facilities that I had contacted and made the selection!).

    On our first day at Mom’s, I had two big pads of sticky notes, and I went around the house tagging furniture, art work, rugs, and other items into two categories: what was moving and what was going into the estate sale.

    The next few days while I met with movers, made arrangements for donating some items, and started working on final billing arrangements with utilities and other local businesses, my husband started organizing Mom’s financial records.

    By the end of the first week, we had quotes from all the moving companies, and sat down with Mom to make a selection. The estate sale company was going to be able to do much more than we expected (although they took months before sending the check to Mom): they photographed every item, cataloged it, then held a three-day online auction. A pickup date was scheduled for local buyers, and shipped items to out-of-state (and out-of-country) buyers. We made arrangements with the realtor for a cleaning service.

    Moving day was going to be Thursday of the second week. Four packers came on Tuesday and Wednesday, and they were great. I just wish I could have cloned myself to be with each of them. There were many items that I hadn’t had time to tag as being part of the estate sale, so more things got moved than we had really intended, and my sister had to take many, many things to Goodwill for charitable donations.

    But Mom was in poor health, and was grudgingly going along with the move, so she was unwilling to make the tough decisions about what should go to the new place and what should be sold or donated, so if there was any doubt, it got moved, and a decision could be made later when she saw how much space she had in the new place.

    Emotionally, it was hard for Mom. Her health had been declining for several years, so we were asking her to give up a measure of her independence. We were asking her to leave the last home that she had shared with my father, who had died six years earlier, which was very difficult for her. But it was also gut-wrenching for me, for my sister, and my husband. Mom fought us about everything, and was angry and openly hostile.

    When my sister and I were growing up, our family had moved several times, as Dad moved up the corporate ladder. Even after I was married, my husband and I had moved ourselved several times, when we were young and changing jobs. I’ve had lots and lots of moving experience, but this was the hardest move ever. Moving yourself is hard enough, but moving a parent is much, much harder.

    Being organized helped a lot. I had a single small notebook that I used for everything, plus my interview sheets for the moving companies. I had my laptop with me, and could update my to do list daily.

  23. posted by Carmen on

    For our last two moves, I went and purchased colored index cards (4×6 or larger labels would be even better). I assigned one color for each room. Master bedroom might be blue, kitchen – yellow, living room – pink. I also wrote on the label which room it belonged to – that helps if you have more rooms than colors of cards.

    I’m not sure where you could find these, but at one job my husband worked at he was able to pick up some pill-shipping containers. They are round “cardboard” and have metal tops that lock in place. Since they are designed to ship medicine/pills, they are considered crush-proof. They don’t hold a lot, but they were awesome for packing my delicate china and glassware. It won’t prevent breakage if they’re dropped :), but I still feel better about using them.

  24. posted by ecuadoriana on

    @nj progressive, wow, that not only was hard for your mom, but hard on you as well. I hope you had time later to give yourself a much deserved mini vacation or massage!

    You said “…she was unwilling to make the tough decisions…” It wasn’t really that she was “unwilling”, she was just unable. Moving around so much I can understand why she was reluctant to move again once she had settled down in the home where your father died. She already suffered the loss of him leaving her- now she had to leave “him” all over again. So emotionally stressful for both of you.

    Because I have to move around so much I do look forward to the day when I can actually stay put. And the dilemma that you faced with your mom is what I want to avoid for my family. While I am still young enough & mentally healthy enough I’ve already given them the things I want them to have (that I was only storing away in boxes anyway!). The other things that I’ll want them to have (that I’m still using so they can’t have them now!), or that I want to go to certain organizations or charities, or to certain friends, I have written down in a note book, along with all the other instructions about what I want, who I want called, etc. Not stuff that is so crucial that lawyers & such have to be called in (THAT is a separate issue!). I don’t really have anything of such value that anyone would want to fight over anyway after I am gone (if they want to start a family feud over my blender, well I am just happy to know I won’t be around to see that nonsense- and I’ve told them all so!).

    I want to be proactive about this stuff because one never knows when something could happen- a sudden debilitating illness, Alzheimers, an accident… If I go crazy & suddenly become obstinate, I want my family to have a guideline of what I want while I still am clear thinking.

    nj progressive, after this experience with your mom you probably are able to think ahead about how you’d want it to be if you end up in the same situation. Same for your husband.

    I hope things are going well now.

  25. posted by nj progressive on

    Thanks for the kind words and thoughts, ecuadoriana. It was hard for my mom, and for me. But my mom really was unwilling to make the decisions. My sister and I had been asking her about moving for several years. Mom had already downsized once: after my dad had a stroke in 2000, they moved into a smaller place, so that Mom would have less house to take care of, fewer things. She had an estate sale before she and dad moved in 2001. So she knew what was involved.

    And, yes, I’ve started uncluttering in my home, but I have much, much more to do — even though I never accumulated as much stuff as my mom and dad.

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