Move-packing hacks
March 22, 2014 11:52 AM   Subscribe

We are starting the first wave of packing to move - I call this wave "cleaning to pack", involving mostly going through closets, cabinets, drawers etc and organizing/tossing so that we don't give up and just start upending drawers into boxes.

This is my first mid-range move (more than 40 but less than 250 miles) as a post-college adult, and in our last move halfway across the country I packed up my primary kitchen items and then left the state so my husband could throw away all my packrat shit. That at least means we're relatively lean on crap but the new house is 140 miles away. We can't do 20 carloads of lamps and odd bullshit on top of the big moving day. (This is 3br house w/ yard to same, so we still have a lot of stuff.)

We're using professional boxes and tape guns, I've got that colored label tape from Upack that has room identifiers printed on it, plus white Avery labels to jot the jist of the contents. I do have a medium roll of bubble wrap and both small and large rolls of that cello-wrap stuff. I have several econo-packs of zip-top gallon/quart/sandwich/snack baggies. I own all the markers.

The best thing we learned from the last move is that every sheet, towel, sock, dishrag, and piece of old clothing is perfectly good packing material. A friend of mine recently tipped me to put the bedsheets and pillows for the bed you want to sleep in inside the dryer before it goes on the truck, so there's no "where'd I put the sheets" crisis at midnight. I read a tip to use foam picnic plates between your plates instead of using those expensive foam sleeves.

I have a box in the hall closet marked DEAD TECH and another marked CABLES-MISC. (I'm about to put one out for socks, because they're such good packing material.)

These are the things I'm looking for - tips for the safe packing of things, tactical moving-planning ideas, ways to make the packed-but-not-moved phase less stupid (and the moved-but-not-really-unpacked). Less emphasis on things to buy unless they make such a difference in time/damage/future regret that I should know about them.
posted by Lyn Never to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
I like to label the boxes with a big 1, 2 or 3. Then stage those in the garage at the new place. Then the boxes are brought in in that order, one box at a time. That box then is unpacked and put away and packing materials are disposed of. Then on to the next box. This way, in a day or two, your house is liveable and you don't have have a big mess of boxes and material around the house for the time it (realistically) takes to unpack everything.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:04 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I worked for several years as a mover, including household packing, so I have a few tips.

1) More boxes with less stuff in them is gold. Light boxes are far preferable for the other end. Air rather than stuff creates a cushion against breakage from impact.

2) You. Need. Newspapers. Get lots and lots of old newspapers. You can wrap most non-precious but breakable items in *loosely* wadded newsprint to create a lot of air cushioning around each item. A box full of dishes loosely wrapped, individually, in puffed out newsprint creates a thick shock absorber for the entire contents of the box. Frankly, cloth materials (like your towels and sheets and socks) are not nearly as good for fragile item packing, as they can't be crumpled into a form-holding layer, so they have to be *much* thicker to provide equivalent protection.

3) Label everything precisely. Your boxes should state as clearly as possible which room they will be moved to as well.

4) Chowder, as it is called in the trade, is a huge time waster in terms of carries (whereas boxes can roll on a dolly or hand truck, 2, 3, or 4 at a time, each piece of chowder takes one hand per carry). Chowder includes "unpackable" loose items like lamps, pillows, etc. And movers will tell you almost nothing is actually unpackable. A pillow in a box; a disassembled lamp in a box. Boxes are your friends.

5) Tape correctly. There are better and worse ways to tape boxes. There are online guides for this, or if you bought professional boxes they may have diagrams.

Just a few thoughts. When we saw a house full of chowder, in my day, we'd high five each other because it meant the move would take many hours more than the estimator had figured, imagining everything in boxes, light carries (albeit lots of them), and a fat check at the end.
posted by spitbull at 12:08 PM on March 22, 2014 [13 favorites]

For each member of the household pack a suitcase, as if you're going on vacation. Into that goes a few sets of clothing, pajamas, toothbrush, shampoo - whatever you'd need for an overnight visit somewhere. The book you want on your bedside table. Maybe even your alarm clock. Keep those out of the truck - in the car, or with you in whatever way fits, so that you have them when you arrive.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:19 PM on March 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

We have moved tons (in one 6 year stretch we moved every 6-8 months). Here's some of what we do regularly:

In addition to the suitcase BlahLaLa suggests, keep a box or something (we use a plastic milk crate since you can see what's in it) and toss some food and basic utensils/cups/etc. in it. Sometimes we just use disposable cups and plastic utensils, but whatever. Point is even if you wind up ordering pizza that first night, you don't go "Crap, we don't have anything to drink out of" and that first morning you can just eat some cereal or pop tarts or whatever rather than scrambling around trying to unpack enough stuff to put breakfast together or having to go out for breakfast then come back and unpack stuff.

Use the "unpackable" stuff as packing materials. I use our extra pillows to pad breakable things. I wrap things in the extra sheets and use them to keep dust off or as another layer of padding in boxes.

When unpacking, I work on what we tongue-in-cheek call the Maslow's hierarchy system, which is to say very basic creature comforts like stuff to make food, stuff to sleep on, and bathroom stuff always get unpacked first. Like it doesn't make sense to spend a ton of time unpacking and shelving books when I could be getting the kitchen to the point we can actually use it and quit eating out or ordering pizza every night.

A plunger and a pack of toilet paper always arrive in the new place when I walk in the door for the first time.

Treat yourself a little bit. Like if you sleep in pajamas, bring your favorite pajamas with you. It's so nice when you're tired and sore and pissed at the world because moving sucks to shower and dry off with your softest towel then change into your most comfortable pajamas.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:31 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

You. Need. Newspapers.

I'd go with newsprint - no ink.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:39 PM on March 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

A set of toilet paper, paper towels, and hand soap, as well as some basic cleaning items, should be the last thing to leave the old place and the first thing to move into the new place. Particularly if you're doing this over several days, you want to be able to clean yourself and your new place to keep yourself from completely succumbing to grimy moving grossness.
posted by MadamM at 12:53 PM on March 22, 2014

We just moved. We wrote a semi-detailed label on each box, took a phone photo of the label and a second photo into the top of the box before it was sealed. Renamed each photo (Bedroom box 1, Bedroom box 2, etc.) and threw them all into a folder. Has helped immeasurably on the arriving side when attempting to locate random items.
posted by erebora at 1:36 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Three tips: first, resist the urge to pack similar items that live in different rooms together in the same box. A box of knick knacks results in having to visit 4 different rooms to unpack it; second - pack a new shower curtain, shower curtain rings and a couple of towels to bring to the new place so that you'll be able to shower after the move without soaking your bathroom; third bring multiple utility knives for opening all your boxes (they are cheap, and when tired, easy to set down and lose in amongst the unpacking chaos, helps to have more than one)
posted by walkinginsunshine at 1:39 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Label everything precisely.

A cautionary anecdote about box labeling -- some years ago, I packed and carefully labeled boxes in preparation for a cross-town move. The boxes were stacked against the walls of the garage at the new house, carefully turned so that all the labels were visible from the front. Sometime before I was fully settled, someone evidently managed to break into the garage.

I have often kicked myself at how easy I made it for the thieves to pick me clean. They ignored boxes marked "bathroom supplies," "kitchen ware" and "books" and bee-lined for things like "stereo receiver", "coin collection" and "jewelry". Because there were so many boxes, I didn't even notice anything missing until I went looking for the liquor box before the housewarming party. Yup, they took that, too.

Since then, I still label boxes ... but I now code valuables with unappealing titles like "canned goods" or "laundry supplies". I know what they are, but no one else does.
posted by peakcomm at 1:46 PM on March 22, 2014 [22 favorites]

The boxes that wine bottles come in are perfect for packing wine glasses and the liquor store will just give them to you. Liquor store boxes in general are great because they're designed to carry heavy, breakable things.
posted by desjardins at 1:49 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have a "go box" that will be readily accessible at the other end. Pack it with cleaning supplies, paper towels, an extension cord, perhaps a few basic tools, and a flashlight. You may need to clean or fix some stuff in the new house before you put anything away.

I second clean newsprint over old newspapers.

Foam picnic plates between china is a brilliant idea. Stabilize the plates by creating bundles of ~6 plates wrapped in newsprint and taped together. Same with bowls.

Pack boxes so that they are solid. Ideally, you should be able to stand on a box without crushing it or disturbing its contents—consider how many will be stacked on top of each other in the truck. I always pack like things together—all books together, all clothes together, etc (until I get down to the last 10% of "where did this come from?"). Get boxes that will give you a reasonable target weight for whatever you're putting in them—books will need smaller boxes than sweaters.
posted by adamrice at 2:11 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was a military wife for years. My main advice: When in doubt, throw it out.

That yogurt maker you keep intending to use someday that has been gathering dust in the back of the pantry? Toss it. Clothes that haven't been worn in a year or more? Toss it (unless it's a ball gown that you literally wear once a year to the annual military ball).

Our first few moves involved packing, moving and unpacking a lot of items that were then thrown out or given away. That's so exhausting and just soul sucking. Like "I am so overwhelmed by this move and it turns out I did this to myself. It wasn't remotely necessary. I just moved a bunch of crap only to then get rid of it. ARRRRRGH!!!" Over time, I got a lot more ruthless and pushy with my husband and kids to just toss more stuff beforehand and skip the whole pack it, move it and unpack it phase of the process.

I don't care if you move across the street: The new house and the new life will be fundamentally different from this one. At the new home, you will wind up acquiring the things you really need as those needs become apparent. A lot of the crap you can't be bothered to use now will just never, ever, ever get used again. Don't let it eat all your time, energy, money and half your soul in the process.
posted by Michele in California at 2:19 PM on March 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

Don't pack your first aid kit until you are making the very last trip and have cleaned out the old place. You're going to be doing weird things with lots of tripping hazards all over the place, sharp implements, basically prime time for injuries. A pretty good burn cleaning an oven while moving out helped me learn that lesson. And an advil or two the next morning will probably be welcomed.

And yeah, have the mentality that you're going on vacation to a crappy rental house and pack accordingly. A bag of snacks, few utensils/plates, shower curtain, towels, few nights of clothing, etc. I kept that bag in the top of a closet where it would be out of the way of the chaos.

Same deal with important documents, especially any that will be relevant to the move (mortgage/lease papers, stuff required to get new state drivers licenses, etc).

Dedicate a place to hold empty flat boxes after the move, and several contractor size trash bags for packing materials. Craigslist it.
posted by fontophilic at 3:16 PM on March 22, 2014

Pack the important annoyingly fiddly/small things first, then less important things of similar size, and so on up in size / importance. Otherwise, when you're exhausted and fed up, you might find yourself indiscriminately chucking your grandmother's ring, the poem your first boyfriend wrote you, etc. (Maybe the poem is worth chucking overall, but still.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:40 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

You sound super organized. I'd go one step ahead of this and instead of writing the contents on each Avery label, write a number. Create a Google Spreadsheet to share with anyone else packing, and as you're going type in the contents of each box. This has a few advantages:

- Fewer "where is the Sharpie?" moments (just number them all first)
- If you end up moving things between boxes while you're packing, you just retype not rewrite
- If a box is stolen/lost/damaged, you know what's in it
- If you aren't full unpacked (or still packing) and need to find something in a box, it's as CTRL+F
posted by radioamy at 3:46 PM on March 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

In my first move, the person doing the inventory downgraded the condition of a lot of things that were to be moved. For example, she marked some brand-new items "soiled and worn." I found that out only after the truck had left. I suggest that you go over the list before it's too late. For a more recent move, I told the note-taker that I wanted to accompany him every step of the way; he agreed to tell me when he'd completed each room so I wouldn't have to spend so much time overseeing his work.
posted by wryly at 4:31 PM on March 22, 2014

Label every side of the box w/ the originating spot in the old house (e.g. office shelves). Totally worth the time when you can see what's in the box at the bottom of the stack where the movers put it in the new house.
posted by nosila at 5:27 PM on March 22, 2014

Definitely have a "first open" box with things you'll need the first day/night. Make sure to include a shower curtain, towels, sheets, toiletries, and pajamas! I have definitely tried to take a much-needed post-move shower without a shower curtain, and it wasn't pretty.
posted by radioamy at 5:30 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get a carpenter's ? apron from the hardware store, the little half-apron with the pockets. Wear that while you are packing/unpacking to hold the packing tape, markers, box cutter, necklace found under the radiator and other misc things you find.

A clipboard with attached marker hanging smack in the middle of a blank wall is good for keeping a To Do list.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:18 PM on March 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

something that i've used during several moves are the cheap,woven-plastic, zip-top laundry bags like you find at a 99-cent store. these are the best for moving books or records. they hold a decent amount of stuff, but not so much as to make them too heavy (which can be easy to do when packing books). the best part though is the fact that they have handles and can be carried with a low center of gravity which really pays off if you have a lot of books to move. i also use the larger version for packing bedding and clothes (and sometimes layer fragile items in with these). boxes are a definite necessity for certain items but these are really cheap, handy and durable. plus it's really easy to unzip them and look to see what's inside. they also usually come in a variety of colors so it's easy to assign a specific color to a specific room or type of item.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 7:35 PM on March 22, 2014

One thing that proved helpful was to wrap painter's tape around my loose cables and cords (making a label where the tape overlaps) and write which item it belonged to. For more complicated set-ups like your entertainment center electronics, I also labeled exactly which port each cable should use etc. This allows anyone to help set it back up, even when they are exhausted after a big move and can't think straight.

I was recently very appreciative that I left my labels on when I needed to remove an electronic from a cabinet. From the back of the unit, all the plugs look the same, but this time I didn't have to guess which cord to unplug, it was labeled.

There is also boring waiting around time at the new place during moves. Whether it was waiting for the locksmith, cable guy, or for the truck with boxes to arrive... Maybe bring a magazine or something to entertain yourself, because your phone will probably be running low on juice on such a busy day.
posted by MuckWeh at 12:05 AM on March 23, 2014

1. Stack books in 8-12" tall piles of similar sized books.
2. Wrap liberally in packing cling film (you can buy it at any Uhaul type place or at office supply stores).

These make dense little packs that are not too heavy, are easy to stack on a hand cart, and can fill up can fill up awkwardly shaped gaps in your moving truck.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:23 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're debating about whether to pack or donate something ("Do I really need 2 whisks?") donate it. I moved across the country in a passenger car and it was the best move I've ever done, since it forced me to whittle my possessions down to what I actually liked/wanted/needed.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:36 AM on March 24, 2014

Cling film was awesome - I actually just wrapped that around my full dresser drawers and moved them as-is. I would put the books in a box, though. I had a ton of book boxes (no, really - I think the final count was around 40).

Also, you may not label the contents of each box in detail, but mark which box had the coffee maker. And put your coffee and filters in that box (and mugs). That was super-important the first morning in the new place.
posted by timepiece at 1:50 PM on March 24, 2014

My philosophy is, even if it's something you need (like a bed, or a fridge), do you really need to move it? Could you not just buy another one at the other end?

This certainly goes for cutlery and all the weird kitchen crap that tends to accumulate: you can get a box of a dozen forks, knives, spoons and teaspoons for about ten bucks at any department/dollar store. Plates? Glasses? Cups? Unless they are valuable heirloom pieces, why would you move that stuff? Donate it, or sell it/give it away on Craigslist or whatever, and buy a fresh batch in your new place.

Got a lot of books? Those things are a pain to move. Cull ruthlessly, especially anything that's now in the public domain and can be bought in any hard format for about a buck, or can be downloaded for free. DVDs and Blu-Rays get burned to a hard drive. Same with CDs. This is a great opportunity to remove clutter and bullshit from your life.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:46 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pack all of your irreplaceable items, such as photos or old family recipes, in your car with you, not in the moving truck.
posted by vignettist at 2:58 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

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