Moving: Working with a professional moving company

This is part one of a two-part series on this topic.

Like many people, I had moved houses several times with the help of family, friends, pizza and beer. I prepared, planned, organised and the move went smoothly. After I married my husband and he was transferred for his job, we were entitled to full-service moves (pack, load, ship, unload, unpack) by professional moving companies. In our 22 years of marriage, we have moved 8 times with professional moving companies. On our very first move, I learned hard and fast that there are different things to take into consideration when working with a professional moving company than when doing it on your own.

First of all, declutter and organise as much as you can prior to the moving date. The moving company will base the estimated cost of the move on the weight and volume of your goods and effects. The less you have, the less the move will cost. The cost of moving household goods is approximately $6-$12 per kilogram ($3-$5 per pound) for a full-service move. The less you have, the less it will cost not only in shipping fees but in the time it takes to pack and unpack these items.

Prepare a home inventory. This is essential for your insurance purposes as well as any loss or damage claims you may wish to file with the moving company after your move. Although a list of goods is sufficient, having pictures of all your items is beneficial in case you need to prove that an item was in good condition prior to the move.

Ensure you understand the moving company’s policies regarding claims. Prior to the move, mark the claim deadline in your agenda at least one week before the claim needs to be submitted. This will allow you to gather your documentation for the claim and submit it on time.

Decide what to do with items that the moving company will not ship. Because of transportation safety regulations, flammables (matches, solvents), explosives (fertilizer, aerosol cans), corrosives, (bleach, drain cleaner), cannot be shipped. If the move takes place in the winter, the moving company may refuse to take any liquids (including canned food) because these items can freeze and burst. You may wish to transport these items in your own vehicle or leave them with friends and family. If you throw away any hazardous material prior to moving, please respect the environment and use a designated municipal disposal facility.

NOTE: Transporting alcohol, tobacco and firearms across state, provincial or international borders may require special documentation. Contact the appropriate government departments prior to moving these items.

If your household goods are clean, dry and in their proper place in your home prior to packing, they will be very close to their proper place in the unpacking phase. A little extra cleaning and organising in advance will save time and energy in your new home.

Although most moving companies are very good, occasionally something gets packed that should NOT be packed so empty all of the garbage pails before the packing crew arrives. Wash and sanitize your garbage cans so they arrive fresh and clean in your new home.

Keep your wallet, purse, valuables, and important paperwork locked in your car during the packing process, but, if you need to, designate a bathroom as a “Do Not Pack” area. This will make sure that essential extra roll of toilet paper won’t be packed.

When the packing crew arrives, introduce yourself and give them a tour of the house. Point out any fragile or oddly shaped items that require special care. Let the crew know that you are available to answer any questions.

Before your goods are loaded onto the moving van, politely ask if you can look inside the cargo area. You may not be able to enter the cargo area because of liability reasons but look inside if possible. If you notice any stains, greasy spots or holes in the walls or roof of the cargo area, politely point them out to the driver. Contact the moving company if you are concerned about possible damage to your household goods.

ANOTHER NOTE: During the loading day, never leave an open moving van or house unattended. A member of the loading crew or one of your friends/family members should be in the house and truck at all times. Passers-by can easily walk away with a box or two!

Before the truck rolls away, do a final walk through of your home. Verify that all the closets and cupboards are empty, especially on the highest and lowest shelves. Check behind doors too! Exchange contact information with the driver. Ask when he/she expects to be arriving at the destination and what route he/she expects to be travelling.

Say your final good-byes to your home and as you drive away you can look forward to your next adventure in a new and organised home.

Building a custom home: Four steps to help you stay organized

There’s a wonderful discussion happening on the Unclutterer Forums. The topic: Building a new house. Quite honestly, it has me feeling a little envious. Building a custom home has got to be an exciting experience. At the same time, I suspect that it also can be a little overwhelming because there are so many things to consider and decisions to be made.

The process can go smoothly and with fewer hiccups if you do a bit of planning ahead of time. A key step would be to get everything out of your head and to organize all the necessary information in an easy to use system.

Think about changes you’d like to make

Start thinking about the home you presently live in. What seems to be working well? You’ll want to make sure those elements are present in your new home. What are some things that need to be improved upon? Do you have particular solutions in mind? Walk through each room in your current home and record the things that you would like to change.

Keep a list of “must-haves”

Once you’ve walked through each area in your home, you’ll have a better idea of the features that are most important to you. Create a list or chart of each room with the specific features you would like to have (hidden storage areas, extra outlets). Be specific about the things that you think would make each room function better based on your current lifestyle, and include any elements that you would find it difficult to live without. Your list will likely start out as a wish list and then get refined once you begin working with your contractor.

Collect important information in one central location

Speaking of contractors, consider using a binder (with tabbed pages) or a digital notebook (like Evernote or Springpad) to keep track of builders and other professionals (architects, designers) that you want to contact or who have given you proposals. Your binder, digital notebook, or a website like is also a great place to keep track of your ideas. Be sure to also include a copy of your budget in your notebook. That way, you’ll be able to find it easily and see the budgeted dollar amounts as you think about features you want to include in your new home.

Plan your next move

It’s never too early to start preparing you current home for your departure. You will get a timeline for completion from the builders, so you can schedule time to unclutter your current space. Then, when it’s time to pack, you’ll only be handling the things that you will be taking with you. To help you stay on track, consider using a moving checklist.

Building a custom home can be fun and managed without feelings of stress. With a solid plan and understanding of the process, you can successfully see your plans come to life. Keep in mind that you can always get more information before you make any final decisions. There are lots of articles (like 10 Things to Consider when Building a Home) and books (check out Building Your Own Home For Dummies) on building your home from scratch — as well as the mistakes to avoid — that can be great resources for you.

If you were to build your dream home, what uncluttered features would you include in the space?

Ask Unclutterer: Helping parents downsize

Reader Amanda submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

After over 40 years in their home, [my 73 year old parents] … have decided to sell and build a house in a nearby community where HOA fees will pay for things like taking care of the yards. I am delighted for them.

… my mother has already expressed:

A) Anxiety about having to clean out their house to get it ready to sell. This also includes having small repairs made and staging the home.

B) Excitement about this being a chance to go through the things that they’ve collected over 40 years and toss/donate/sell the things they no longer want. She sees this as a chance to dump the unwanted and move forward only with what they want, need, and enjoy.

Do you have advice and resources I could pass on to my mother? … Any help you can offer would be welcome! Thanks.

Question A is easy to answer because good real estate agents have contractors and stagers on their staffs who do exactly these types of projects or they have a short list of trusted professionals they recommend using. When we sold our house last year, our agent’s team patched small nail holes, replaced a broken latch on a window, brought in a professional cleaning crew, mulched our flower beds, and staged the whole house. If the agent your parents are considering working with doesn’t have quick access to these services, they may want to interview some more agents to find one who really knows what he/she is doing. Since your parents are planning to move in just six months, now is a great time to start working with an agent.

Question B is terrific news because it means your parents are already thinking about the uncluttering and moving process in a positive way, too. You can help your parents by researching names of local charities and what types of donations the charities accept and how to make donations (drop off times, days of weeks, locations) to those charities. You can research what types of trash your parents’ waste management service collects for those things that really do need to be purged, as well as the area’s hazardous waste policies for any chemicals you parents won’t want to move into their new space. You can set up a Craig’s List account for your folks, if they’re interested in selling items. You can also find out names of local professional organizers who are specifically trained to help move people over age 65 through the National Association of Senior Move Managers.

If your parents are interested, you can also help them to unclutter, drop off items at charities, and pack. Work out a schedule with them so each day a little work can be done, and so you’ll know when you’re welcome to lend a hand and when they would rather privately work. Most of all, be prepared to listen. Downsizing from a family home can be emotionally difficult — even if it is a welcome move — and the difficulty is often alleviated through the sharing of stories about the memories that were made in the home.

Thank you, Amanda, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck to your family over the next six months. Also, be sure to check the comments for even more advice from our readers.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

You don’t have to turn off your emotions when uncluttering

We sold our house yesterday. We signed a lot of papers, handed over the keys, and said an official farewell to a place we loved.

The rational part of me accepts that a house is just concrete, bricks, glass, steel beams, and wood. As George Carlin once pointed out, a house is simply a container for you and your stuff. The emotional part of me, however, has a difficult time separating all the wonderful memories created in the house from its drywall. The house we sold is where we brought my son when we brought him home. I wrote my book in that house. There are six and a half years of my family’s laughter and happiness within those walls.

As with almost all possessions, though, there comes a time when an object stops meeting your needs. Something that was perfect for you in the past, is no longer a perfect fit in the present. And, as difficult as it is to let go, it’s the right thing to do to be able to pursue the life of your dreams.

Even though I’ve been living as an unclutterer for close to a decade, I still haven’t come to the point where I can completely turn off my emotional attachments to sentimental things. I’m not an automaton. I still mourn a little when I say goodbye to objects that have passed through my life, but now I can at least bid them farewell when it’s appropriate.

There is nothing wrong with feeling a little sting when saying goodbye to objects you have loved. Just don’t let that sting keep you from parting with something that no longer fits with your life and the life you desire. When uncluttering, if you need to take a few minutes to mourn the end of ownership of an object, take a few minutes to mourn.

Staying organized during an office move

In some ways, moving offices is more stressful than moving a home. Personal appointments can be scheduled around a home move, but work demands continue regardless of an office move. Some things need to be unpacked right away during a home move (toilet paper, bed sheets), but for the most part you can take a few days, weeks, or months to put your belongings in their new locations. With an office move, it all needs to be put away instantly or you could suffer negative repercussions, like losing productivity, clients, income, or even your job.

I’ve learned a great deal during this recent move about what works — and, more importantly, what doesn’t work — when moving offices. If you’re gearing up for an office move, the following tips can help you to stay organized and avoid a good amount of chaos:

  1. Before unpacking a single box, make sure your office furniture is in its best place for your work. If you’re in a cubical, this decision has usually been made for you. If you’re lucky enough to have furniture you can move around the room, adjust it to accommodate your needs. You’ll want a location for your desk that will avoid glare on your computer screen, allow for a quick and unobstructed exit in case of emergency, will make it easy to plug in your computer and peripherals, and best suits your ergonomic needs.
  2. Once your horizontal surfaces are in place, grab your computer keyboard and a chair and establish the best location for these two objects. You want to be able to work so that typing at your keyboard every day won’t create any pains in your neck, arms, or back. Most people also need a good amount of empty work surface to spread out with projects during work hours. Make sure your keyboard will be in a location to work with these needs, too.
  3. Set up all of your technical equipment — computer, monitor, keyboard, printer, telephone, back-up drives, scanner, speaker system, headset, etc. Put the devices you access multiple times a day in the most convenient locations and those pieces of equipment you access the least often further out of your reach. Remember to leave yourself open work surfaces as necessary.
  4. Manage your cables. If you didn’t do so before your move, label the device plug with the device name (a silver permanent marker or label maker work great for this) so you’ll never wonder what cable belongs to what device when you’re crouched under your desk. Group and shorten cables with velcro cable ties or turtles or whatever works best for you. As best as you can, keep your cables from becoming a mess of a nest.
  5. At this point, locate any work associated with your current projects and set it in your open work surface area. You’ll want this at your fingertips if needed.
  6. Continue on to setting up your desk drawers. Again, put most accessed items in the most convenient locations.
  7. Set up the very few desk supplies that will take up space on your work surface. I only keep a pen cup and a pad of sticky notes next to my phone, and a well-labeled inbox on my desk so co-workers will know where to put items for me when they come into my office. You may also want a tickler file/to-do list, a reference book or two, and a to-be filed bin on your work surface if they fit your work needs.
  8. Books, binders, and archived files are usually the last items that can be put away in your new office. When you pack these items before the move, keep like objects together and label each box so you know exactly what items are included — labels like “Archived files A-N” or “Conference binders 2009-2011” will be more meaningful to you than “Files” or “Binders.”

Similar to a home move, unclutter as much as possible on both the packing and unpacking side of the move. You may also benefit from unpacking your office outside of regular business hours. You may not get paid for this time, but you will be rewarded for it in other ways during the work week — mostly with your sanity. Also, be prepared to be responsible for your most sensitive and current projects during the move. Many employers do not wish for these items to be moved by professional movers for security reasons.

What method do you use for unpacking your office during a move? Share your experiences in the comments.

Ask Unclutterer: Emptying a storage unit

Reader Allicia submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I recently moved to Minnesota from New Mexico. I didn’t have a job at first so I moved most (almost all) of my stuff into a storage unit. Now that I am settled, I have a plan to go to New Mexico to unload and organize my storage unit and get rid of stuff I no longer need, etc. I am sitting here in Minnesota and cannot fathom an idea of how to sort through the stuff packed away. I also wonder how to deal with family who will be helping me and may not want me to get rid of stuff. They have more attachment to things than I usually do. Can you help me devise a plan to attack my storage unit?

Storage units are great resources when you temporarily need a place to put your things for three to six months, like you needed to do with this move. Storage units, however, are not where things should go to live for years. When you abandon things in storage units you end up spending more money storing the items than you would selling everything and buying replacement items in the future. Additionally, the storage units are much more likely to be infested with bugs, rodents, mildew, mold and other possession-ruining things than they would be in your home.

It’s not exactly clear in your question if you plan to move your items to your new place in Minnesota or if you just want to organize the unit and leave your things in New Mexico. Whatever your current thoughts, I’m advocating that you completely get rid of the need for your storage unit. I think you’ll find that you don’t want or need the majority of the things you left in New Mexico when you headed to Minnesota.

Think of the first step of your storage unit clean out like a treasure hunt. Go through the unit on your own and find the irreplaceable things you truly value — photographs from your childhood, your favorite pieces of jewelry, and whatever else you would feel truly crushed about if they were destroyed by a fire. For most people, these items fit in one medium-size box.

Tape up the box and carry it with you on your flight or drive back to Minnesota.

For the next step of the process, have your family come in to help you sort through the remaining stuff. Before opening the storage unit door, let your family know that you plan to close the unit by the end of the day. This goal should be crystal clear in everyone’s mind, including yours.

Then, clearly mark four areas near the storage unit for your objects — trash/recycle (these are things everyone agrees are ready to be purged), sell (these are items you can post to Craigslist or take to a consignment shop), donate (these are things in good shape that a local charity could benefit from having), and family stash (these are items your family members will take with them at the end of the process).

The family stash pile is going to be the most controversial pile you create (or, rather, don’t create). What will likely happen is that someone in your family will say, “Oh, you can’t give that away!” about an object in your storage unit. In response to their declaration, you can respond, “I will gladly give it to you if you would like it.” If the person says she wants it, then it will go into the family stash pile for that person to take home. If the person says, “I don’t want it, but I think you should keep it,” the object will then go into the donate or sell pile. If someone doesn’t want an object enough to want to care for it themselves, they have no leverage to try to guilt you into keeping it.

Have a truck or trucks available at the end of your sorting process to immediately haul the four piles to their appropriate destinations. If you are selling objects on Craigslist, you will likely need to store these objects in someone’s garage for a few days so potential buyers can come by and view the items. Give yourself a strict deadline that any objects that haven’t sold by the day before you leave will be donated to charity.

With the money you get from selling items on Craigslist or through consignment, you can buy things (if you want) for your new place in Minnesota.

Finally, I strongly recommend thanking your helpers by providing them with drinks and snacks as they work and dinner when you are all finished. People tend to be more level-headed and easy going when they’re well fed and hydrated.

Thank you, Allicia, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was able to help you navigate this process, and congratulations on your move. Be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions and different perspectives from our readers.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Moving: Change of address notifications

Changing your address when you move can sometimes feel as exhausting as unloading a moving van full of boxes. Having an organized checklist of all of the institutions and individuals you need to notify can reduce some of the stress you’re feeling and help to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Using these lists as a guide, create a list tailored to your specific needs.

Two weeks before your move you’ll need to call your utility companies to set dates to end your service at your old place and subscribe to utilities at your new place. These utilities are usually:

  • Electric
  • Water
  • Gas
  • Telephone
  • Cable and internet
  • Sewer
  • Postal service
  • Trash collection
  • Regular home care service providers (lawn care, snow removal, etc.)

Then, once you’ve arrived at your new place, the adventure will begin to notify individuals, government entities, companies, and organizations of your address change. If you drive, always start your address change process by notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles. In some states, you have less than a month to update your records. After the DMV, I recommend setting a goal to make five notifications a day. You won’t feel overwhelmed when you do only a little bit each day, and you’ll be done in less than two weeks.

By no means is the following list a comprehensive one, and not all groups on the list may apply to you, but it’s possible you’ll need to change your address with the:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Post office (if you didn’t take care of it with your utilities)
  • Bank (and don’t forget to order new checks)
  • Voter registration
  • Human resources and payroll where you work
  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Insurance companies (auto, home/renters, life, workers comp, etc.)
  • Doctors offices
  • Schools (yours/your kids)
  • Cell phone company
  • Credit card companies
  • Loan companies
  • Personal and professional clubs, licensing boards, organizations, and memberships with benefit plans (like AAA for your car)
  • Places of worship
  • Gym memberships
  • Lawyer
  • Financial advisor/investment firms
  • Accountant
  • Possibly the IRS (Form 8822), especially if between filing and receiving a return/refund or if you pay quarterly taxes
  • Regular deliveries (such as restaurant delivery places or CSAs)
  • Friends and family

Many businesses, organizations, and government entities now will allow you to change your address online. Save yourself some time by checking out a group’s website before hitting the streets.

Also, be sure to check the comments to this post for even more suggestions from our readers.

Moving: The art of unpacking

If there is a stage of the moving process I dislike the least, it is probably unpacking. I’m not suggesting I enjoy it, because I certainly do not — I garner about as much enjoyment from unpacking a house as I do from getting a cavity filled at the dentist. However, compared to packing and carrying boxes, the unpacking stage of the moving process is the bee’s knees (and since bees have six legs with multiple joints in each leg, I guess that is worth something).

If a new place wasn’t cleaned before the previous residents moved, I start the unpacking process by having professional cleaners come in and give the place a good scrubbing. No one wants dust and grime under their belongings in closets, on shelves, and on the floor.

After the cleaning crew is gone, I unpack supplies and rooms in this order:

  1. Essential items: Toilet paper, hand and body soap, shower curtain, bath towels, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, paper towels, trash bags, scissors (I use them to open boxes), a change of clothes, vacuum, broom, dustpan, pillows, bed sheets, and pet food and bowls. I usually pack these things in a clothes hamper and have it packed in the car, not the moving van.
  2. The kitchen. I start by unpacking the food first and then dishwashing supplies, drinking glasses, silverware, plates, pans, and finally everything else.
  3. Assemble beds and put on sheets.
  4. Bathrooms. They’re easy to unpack, and easy is what you’ll need at this point.
  5. Coat closet. This is more of a priority in cooler weather than in warmer weather.
  6. Clothes closet and dressers.
  7. Laundry room. Dirty clothes tend to pile up quickly when moving.
  8. Remainder of bedroom.
  9. Home office, if you have one. Beware, hooking up equipment with all of its cords and cables can be stressful, so take your time with this step.
  10. Dining room. After putting your office together, you’ll need this low-key room.
  11. Family room. Setting up the television and all of its peripherals can be just as frustrating as putting together the home office. Take your time.
  12. Porch. You’ll need a breather.
  13. The garage, basement, and storage spaces. Save these spaces until late in the process because it might take you weeks to get these the way you want.
  14. The last thing I do is hang artwork throughout the entire house.

When you’re unpacking boxes — and unpack all boxes — be sure to lay all pieces of packing material flat to ensure you don’t miss small items. Also, break boxes down as you go instead of waiting to do them all at once. Moving boxes are great to sell on Craigslist, so try not to damage them if you can.

I try to wait until I’m in the process of unpacking a room to buy any organizing products. You may not need bookshelves, storage bins, etc., once you’re in a space.

Finally, a few weeks after you’re unpacked, evaluate all of your decisions and make any changes as needed or desired.

Do you have unpacking methods you can share? Add your insights to the comments.

Also in this series:

Moving: How to transport the belongings of your home

I’m not sure there are words to fully express my feelings of loathing about moving. After a week of boxing up our things, moving the things to the new house, and starting to unbox our things, my animosity about moving has only deepened.

I’m of the opinion that if you can afford it, you should have professional movers handle the entire process for you — packing, moving, unpacking. At the very least, have professionals take care of the moving part. Your body and mind will greatly appreciate not carrying boxes and fighting with large pieces of furniture.

Our move is actually happening in two parts, and we decided to only get movers for the second part. Since we are selling our old house, we needed to leave some furniture in it to stage it. Staging a house is when you make it look like a home that belongs in a magazine or catalog — no personal items, no clutter, and nothing in the cabinets or storage areas. Our real estate agent told us that staging a home can improve the sales process because it allows people to see the space in use, but also imagine their lives in the home.

As a result, our dining table, chairs, bookshelves, and other large pieces of furniture are still in the old house. These items will remain there until someone buys our place, and then we’ll have professional movers come and do the heavy lifting for us.

Unfortunately, this means we handled the first part of the move on our own. We carried boxes and boxes and boxes out of our old house, into a van, out of the van, and into our new house. I’m honestly surprised I have enough arm strength after carrying so many boxes to type this post.

The following are lessons learned about moving from this experience and the 14 times I’ve moved previously:

  • As previously stated, if you can afford it, hire professional movers to take care of the move for you.
  • If you can’t hire movers, the first thing you should do is have a lot of drinking water and food on hand. You don’t want to get dehydrated or hungry during this process. You need as much energy as possible to keep you going and in a good mood.
  • When loading a moving truck or van, I like to put the heaviest objects in a U-shape against the sides and back wall of the space. Mattresses, couches, dining tables, and dressers are the things that I usually load first.
  • Use blankets to wrap the objects and keep them from being damaged.
  • In the open space at the center of the van, I stack the heaviest boxes in a single layer on the floor. Then, I build up boxes from heaviest to lightest and from back to front. Since you tried your best to get absolutely everything into boxes, you shouldn’t have much left after creating your tower of boxes.
  • Play a game of Tetris and fit in the last, unboxed items. Again, use blankets to wrap these items to protect them from damage.
  • Get a large padlock and lock up the truck.
  • When you arrive at your destination, plan to unload the truck in the opposite order, starting with the unboxed items and finishing with the large furniture.

Be sure to check out our article “Moving: How to pack your home” and the comments for advice on packing. The next article in this series will cover the more pleasant, yet still mentally demanding process of unpacking. Also, please share any advice you have about the actual moving stage in the comments to this post.

February resolution wrap up, and introduction of March resolution

In 2011, I’m trying out small, monthly resolutions instead of large, annual New Year’s resolutions. My public resolution for January was to be more organized in the kitchen, and create and use more nutritious meal plans for my family. In February, my public resolution was to go through everything — absolutely everything — in my office.

Within days of declaring my February resolution, I had abandoned it. My aunt passed away and I ended up traveling to Kansas and tending to family responsibilities for awhile. Uncluttering my office wasn’t a priority on my list of things to do, and I wasn’t even physically near it had I wanted to organize. After returning to the east coast in the second half of the month, my immediate family then decided to sell our house and move. Without intentionally doing so, I ended up sorting through everything in my office after all.

February came to a close and everything in my office had been sorted, dusted, and packed in a box, dropped off at a charity, sold, recycled, or thrown in the trash. Even the Elfa shelving system was disassembled and sold, as we purchased new office furniture for the new place. Packing the office was similar to packing the rest of the house, but with some notable exceptions:

  • Sensitive data. My corporate clients almost always have me sign non-disclosure agreements. As a result, I have to transport their files personally and can’t let a professional mover or friend tend to them. If you’re in a corporate or government setting, you might have similar restrictions when moving offices. I recommend color coding all of these sensitive boxes with bright orange or red stickers and numbering them (Box 2 of 7) to help keep track of them. Then, personally move the boxes last out of the old place and set them up first in the new space. Don’t leave these boxes in your car overnight if you are making a multiple-day move — your job and/or client relationship depend on it.
  • Knick knacks. I realized I had a ridiculous number of personal knick knacks in my office. For example, I had four pictures of my husband on my desk … and he works seven feet away from me. It’s nice to personalize a space (it sends a cue to your boss that you are not planning on leaving), but not let the personal items become a distraction to you or others. In the new office I’m going to try to limit knick knacks to one per every two or three feet of desk space, which will be about three knick knacks total.
  • Cable control. With the help of a label maker, I labeled both ends of every cable before packing it (external hard drive, scanner, stereo speakers). This will speed up the unpacking process and make things easily identifiable the next time I have to crawl under my desk to unplug a device.
  • Office supplies. Painter’s tape is great for keeping cables with electronics, lids on small containers, and little objects grouped together. Don’t use Scotch tape, masking tape, or packing tape for these objects, as you will waste too much time removing the adhesive once you’re in the new office. You can also write on the painter’s tape to identify objects.
  • Scan and recycle. Paper is extremely heavy, and you will want to move as little of it as possible. Use the move as an excuse to sort through all of your paper files and purge anything you don’t need in physical form. Scan the data you want, and then recycle the paper. Also, don’t move any “to be filed” piles — file before you pack to avoid moving something you don’t really need.

It should be no surprise that my public resolution for the month of March will be to completely unpack and organize our new home and office. In fact, my husband’s family is coming to visit in mid-March and my goal is to have almost everything unpacked before they arrive. I’m trying to think of it like an adventure instead of a chore. Wish me luck!

Do you have resolutions? What are you doing to achieving them? Can you do something today to get one step closer to your goal?

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.

Ask Unclutterer: Sell everything and buy new to achieve an uncluttered life?

Reader Catherine submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

In two years, [my husband and I] will be moving back to California where most of my family lives. I want to sell just about everything we own and ship only the things we want to keep and know we will use, along with photos, important papers and other sentimental items. We would also sell the car and fly out. We have made two cross-country trips over the years, trucking all our belongings and towing our vehicles both times. To be honest, I really don’t want to do it again …

We will be moving from [a] large house to an apartment only about a third of the size. I have told him that one of my fears is that we will truck all our stuff out and then find out a lot of our stuff won’t fit. Then we will end up selling stuff anyway, but will have transported it all for nothing … My husband keeps saying, “But then we’ll have to buy new things.” It’s just stuff to me and I am actually looking forward to starting over and buying new items to fit a new smaller apartment. Any suggestions on bringing my husband over to my side?

I understand the tabula rasa desire to wipe the slate clean and start a new life with new things in a new place. I get it, really I do. You’re imagining all of your problems with clutter and disorder magically disappearing when you create your new life together in California. It’s a blissful thought!

Except, your problems with clutter aren’t going anywhere.

You and your husband will acquire things in California in the same patterns you do currently. The disorganization will eventually reappear and the chaos will come back because the two most important factors in your life haven’t changed: you’re still you, and your husband is still your husband.

Until both of you choose to commit to a clutter-free, organized life, it doesn’t matter if you move the stuff across country or not. And, as much as I’m sure you would like to force him into becoming an unclutterer, you can’t make him. He’s an adult with free will and an attachment to his things — and you love him, clutter and all.

You should definitely talk with him about your desire to live as unclutterers. Have a respectful conversation detailing your specific visions for your current living space can help him to better understand the benefits of an uncluttered life. (You have two years in your current home, and your plans for California could easily change, so forget about some distant future and focus on the present.) He may be 100 percent on board with your vision of an uncluttered home and the path you should take to get there. But, you have to be prepared for the possibility that he might not agree with you and you’ll need to listen to his opposing viewpoints. Additionally, your definition of clutter might be completely different than his. Check out “What to do if you are organized and your partner isn’t” and “How can I change someone into an unclutterer?” for ideas on how to open up effective communication lines on this topic.

I’d also suggest you spend some time thinking about why you are so eager to let go of the vast majority of your possessions when you move? It makes sense to purge the clutter, but why do you want to get rid of things that aren’t clutter (like a car, if you use it)? Is it because you love shopping, and you’re simply looking for a reason to buy new stuff? Or, is there something bigger going on that you haven’t yet admitted to yourself? There might not be any underlying issue, but if there is, now is a good time to explore it. Otherwise you could find yourself in California, surrounded by new stuff, but plagued with the same old clutter problems.

I’m sorry I don’t have a “do exactly what Catherine wants you to do” response for you to show your husband. I was really tempted to write it, though, because I often hear that same siren call to recreate myself in a new place. But, it doesn’t matter how far your go or how little you carry with you, the underlying issues always reappear if you don’t deal with them. You have at least two years to get clutter under control in your current place — if your husband is on board, learn to live an uncluttered life together now and what stuff you want to move won’t be an issue when/if you go to California. Plus, you won’t have a two-year disagreement over moving logistics wreaking havoc on your marriage.

Thank you, Catherine, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope your conversation with your husband brings about an outcome that satisfies both of you and helps you in your current and future life together. Good luck!

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.