I hate moving.
September 5, 2006 9:09 PM   Subscribe

I just moved into a new apartment and am having trouble setting up house. Does anyone have a tried-and-true plan of attack for unpacking?

There are a lot of great responses to posts about how to pack for a move, but none about how to unpack. Maybe that’s because this is the sort of common sense thing that’s un-“hackable,” but I’m really dreading opening all these boxes this weekend (and it seems like I go through this hassle with every move) so I thought I’d give it a shot.

My new home is a pretty small place (and a share), so I’m in a position where I can’t move around to unpack my boxes until I get the huge framed pictures hung, but I can’t hang the pictures until I move the boxes, and so on. Ugh!
posted by chickletworks to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Take it in steps. Not by rushing. You prolly need kitchen stuff first, so why not start with that first? Then move on to what is important to you in your daily life? As long as you've got a place to sleep and somewhere to eat from and with, you should be better position to think what to do next. It's a pain, I know but best to do it with a bit of forthought rather than stuff everything into piles. Good like. Moving sucks :)
posted by keijo at 9:21 PM on September 5, 2006

My normal "hack" is to leave things packed until you need them. Anything that's still packed after a month or so gets a reconsideration on how important it is to my life. It's a bit messy for a while but it definitely helps declutter.

But it doesn't sound like you can do much of anything interesting like that, since you have to unpack now to get any space.
posted by smackfu at 9:22 PM on September 5, 2006

Set the TV up. Then the armchair. And relax. You have the rest of your life to unpack.
posted by gergtreble at 9:23 PM on September 5, 2006

Well, I'm sure the advice on packing includes "get rid of stuff."

When you're unpacking, employ the same principal. If you don't have anywhere to put it, get rid of it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:57 PM on September 5, 2006

My fiancee and I just moved to a 525 square foot apartment over the weekend. For future reference, planning for your new space is important to do before you move. In our case, we found a space with high ceilings and built an 8' x 8' loft.

Here are some tricks we use in our moves:

1) Have temporary shelving for during the move. I swear by InterMetro, but you can pick up knock offs in Target or WalMart on the cheap. The benefit to InterMetro is that each shelf can bear 200lbs of load easily. When your move is finished, the shelving can be collapsed easily and quickly and stored in a closet or under a bed.

We assemble the shelves early in the move and put boxes onto the shelves to give us floor space to unpack. Since we tend to unpack slowly, we also use a cover to hide the contents of the shelving.

2) Unpack your bathroom first. When you need a shower or an Advil, it's nice to have these things in an easy to find space.

3) Unpack your kitchen next. Unless you have very little in the way of pots, pans, dishes, food, and cleaning products, your kitchen might have the most boxes for per square foot of actual space used. If you're like us, all of your glasses, pots, pans, and dishes are wrapped in newspaper. This takes up space. Unpacking creates a lot of trash, but also cleared up a lot of our floor space quickly.

4) Empty your trash often. Don't let it pile up. Do a room, empty the trash. Throw away unused cardboard. It's free and easily had for your next move.

5) Buy, rent, or borrow a dolly. This is useful for trash, moving lots of boxes quickly and easily, and is a handy door stop.

6) We set up our living room next. This gave us a space to rest, let our TiVo catch shows we were too tired to watch, and cleared up a lot of space.

Building the loft increased our floor space to about 600 square feet. Not counting our kitchen, bathroom and hallway, our studio went from having 150 square feet of open space to having over 200 square feet. It's a huge improvement. If you can't build a loft, the general idea is: get your stuff off the floor. Think vertically. Then unpack box by box.

In the process of unpacking, I tend to make a pile of things to sell, recycle, donate or trash. Every move I net a couple of hundred of dollars and clear out things I can't remember owning or things I can't imagine wanting to own. It's not a hard process, but if your a packrat, it may seem like it. Making a bin or box of unused stuff to store is the first step. At the very least, you get it out of the way.
posted by sequential at 10:02 PM on September 5, 2006

lets start from packing behavior - my packing tactic is "pack things that belong to the room into the same box(es)", that is, i have boxes for things that belong to kitchen, etc.

assuming you pack that way, you should start unpacking boxes that belong to the room that makes you feel most "at-home".

i have this weird fetish about bathroom - having bathroom my way makes me most at home. so i usually unpack the boxes that have things that goes into my new bathroom.

it's the easiest, because i know it's the place that makes me feel at home, and i can easily imagine where things go or what it should look like. once that's done, the place feels more like mine, then the rest sort of goes...piece of cake.
posted by grafholic at 10:06 PM on September 5, 2006

Unpacking hacks that have worked wonders for me:
  • Stack stuff you need least/last, as high as you can, in the middle of each room. The point is to clear floor space, so get it up, up, up, as much as you can, as high as you can, safely. Light boxes on top, the way your moving truck or trailer was packed. With floor space, you can move furniture, hang pictures, etc.
  • Fill closets first. Get your clothes, linens, and all closet stuff put up first, then continue to stack closets as full as you can, temporarily with other stuff, to clear more floor space.
  • Stack a narrow row of boxes down a hall, as high as you can. Most halls are wider than they have to be for a body to move down, and if you can stack boxes in hallways to clear floor space in rooms for moving furniture and other unpacking, the few minutes a day you are squeezing by in the hall will be worth it. Obviously, this only works if your major furniture pieces are already in the right rooms.
  • If the problem is really bad, rent a 5' X 10' storage locker nearby, haul stuff over there until you get enough temporary working/living room, and unpack from your storage area at your leisure. This works best if you can find a storage area on your way to/from work, and you have a car.

posted by paulsc at 10:06 PM on September 5, 2006

I moved about a month ago. My hack, if you can call it that, was to pack one of my medications separately from the others. It worked like a charm--I was unpacked in record time, though I ultimately replaced the meds before finding where I had packed them. And since that approach won't work for everyone...

Think about unpacking your stuff in the reverse order in which it was packed--presumably the most important stuff was the last to make it into boxes, right? Kitchen stuff takes up a ridiculous amount of room, boxed up or not, so that might be something to tackle first. Really, anything that'll be going into a closet or cabinet frees up floor space to maneuver the rest of your stuff. If you've got bookshelves, use them to get the smaller boxes off of the floor, pile, or what have you. How big are these big paintings of yours? Small enough to fit under your bed?

Oh, yeah: remember, you don't have to come up with the ultimate organization system all at once. Try to approach it in layers--get the boxes into the rooms their contents will belong in, get the contents into the general area they'll be living in, then go through at your leisure and (re)organize one or two of these areas a day. This really does work; my current workroom is now unpacked and organized to a point that it easily took me a year to reach in the last place I lived.
posted by Vervain at 10:11 PM on September 5, 2006

Play music, or old episodes of "This American Life". Incense? Never tried it, but maybe.

Also, this is very important, unpack a box onto a wide table, then move things from there. Don't just open a box and dig in. Use a big, wide space that you can stand next to, like when you're wrapping presents.

Emptying boxes on beds, tubs, and counters also lends a source of necessity to putting it away.
posted by ontic at 10:17 PM on September 5, 2006

I just finally finished unpacking (or at least mostly finished unpacking). I don't have an exact un"hack" but this is pretty much what I did this time. (I moved into a shared house):
1. Bed and furniture: Somewhere to sleep is always a nice start. Stacking all the full boxes off to the side of the room makes it easier to do this.
2. Bathroom/Kitchen stuff: Kitchen and bathroom storage stuff are usually pretty straight forward because there are set places where they go.
3. Books/cds: These take up lots of space on the floor but, once on shelves, no longer get in the way.
4. Clothes: I seem to have accumulated a lot of clothes so getting these out of the way usually clears a lot of space up for me to deal with other stuff. The nice thing about clothes is that bedrooms usually come with a closet to put them in.

Once all that is done comes the part about unpacking that I don't like. The extra stuff that doesn't seem to fit anywhere (this time it was my collection of sweaters). So I'm planning a trip somewhere where I can buy a small shelf to put in the closet and use for extra storage space. I also try to keep everything else in shoe boxes or something that makes it stack nicely for easy storage.

After that generally all that is left is decorations which make the place seem like I've actually moved in.

My main suggestion for starting though would be to just pick something that has an obvious place to live and put it there. You can always move things around later but if you just start putting things away you'll clear space up for yourself and it might make things seem more managable.

And I second making donate/recycle/trash piles as well as emptying the garbage often.

Good luck!
posted by kechi at 10:23 PM on September 5, 2006

Wow! Thanks so much, all; this is exactly what I needed and so much more than I expected. MetaFilter continues to rock my world!

Of course, additional responses are welcome. :-)
posted by chickletworks at 10:26 PM on September 5, 2006

Last time I moved I hired the Got Junk guys to haul virtually everything away.

When they were done I managed to fit everything else into a sports car.

Felt amazing and exhilarating. I don't regret it for a moment. I got the idea watching different friends and family move overseas. For most of them getting rid of almost everything started out painfully and then became an interesting exploration of what their stuff really meant to them.

(I know, it's too late and you wouldn't do it anyway, but seriously, what do you have all that stuff for?)

So... on to the helpful advice:

Go slowly. Unpack as you use/need things. Consolidate boxes as they begin to get empty, and start with the easy things (A box of kitchen stuff should be unpackable in about 10 minutes) and work your way to the "where do I put it?" stuff (like the box marked "Misc red things and sand")

And if something is still in a box 6 weeks from now, throw it out. You clearly don't need it that badly. (Sorry, had to get that in there.)
posted by Ookseer at 10:30 PM on September 5, 2006

...old episodes of "This American Life"

Not really a "hack", but in all honestly, episodes of TAL is what got me through all my packing and unpacking on my last move. Definitely makes things less tedious.

You can stream them from the website, or buy them from iTunes.
posted by Famous at 10:53 PM on September 5, 2006

And if something is still in a box 6 weeks from now, throw it out. You clearly don't need it that badly.

Be careful with that. Especially where passports and the like are concerned.

(moving in a few weeks, reading this thread with interest)
posted by corvine at 5:33 AM on September 6, 2006

One of my rules of packing is to pack like things together (books with books, clothes with clothes, etc). And to label each box heavily.

This makes unpacking easier. Move the boxes to the points where you'll be unpacking them, and unload straight into whatever you're unloading into. Having a friend to help will make a big difference. When I moved (in February), this didn't quite work for the books—we had a lot of books, and had to make piles on the floor before we could decide how to organize the bookcase.

I'm in favor of unpacking as quickly as possible: you don't have the boxes sitting there mocking you, collecting dust, and storing all the stuff that makes you wonder "what the hell did we do with XYZ?". After that move, I think we had almost everything except the books unpacked after three days, worked on the books the following weekend, and were left with one box of tchotchkes we still haven't quite figured out what to do with (and, somehow, two more boxes of junk we took to the thrift store).
posted by adamrice at 7:07 AM on September 6, 2006

Probably too late to help, but if you have lots of kitchen stuff and a large kitchen like I do, this is what worked for me:

Label every shelf and drawer with what will go there before you unpack anything - I just wrote a word or two on a piece of ledger paper, ripped that off the page, and laid it on the shelf or in the drawer before unpacking. Really think about where you will need things as you use them.

For example: I put all baking utensils together in a drawer (brushes, spatulas, etc), other gadgets like peelers and melon ballers and corkscrews in another. Everyday cups on one side of the sink, wineglasses on another. I have two ovens but use one unless it's the holidays, so I stuck my crock pot in the other one to store it. Muffin tins and cake pans go above the unused oven.

Try to avoid putting all your important morning appliances in one corner -- you'll end up jostling your significant other while you make toast and the SO makes coffee.

Labels also help other people put things away for you! And you just throw them away once each drawer/cupboard is filled. Easy-peasy.
posted by mdiskin at 6:53 PM on September 6, 2006

1. Most urgent.
2. Wine, wine glasses, corkscrew.
3. ???
posted by oxford blue at 8:00 PM on September 6, 2006

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