In the first five years after leaving my parents’ home, I moved eight times. I moved from one floor to another, one neighborhood to another, and from one city to another. Then, last autumn, I made my biggest move yet—from New York to San Francisco. Luckily, even though I accumulated a lot of stuff over the years, I also learned a lot from my early moves. By the time I was ready to make the drive across the country, complete with two pets, hundreds of books, and a full-size piano, I felt like a professional. Done right, moving definitely does not have to make you lose your mind.
1. Be Ruthless About Cleaning
There’s nothing worse than unpacking in your new home and thinking, “Why did I bother to bring this?” Before you start divvying up precious box and van space, be honest about the clothes you’re never going to wear, old linens, and other clutter that isn’t worth your time and effort, especially if you’re moving far away. If your furniture isn’t valuable, it might be more economical to buy new things at your destination than to pack and transport old items. If you have a large CD collection, get rid of jewel cases and transfer discs into one easy-to-carry book. Better yet, burn the discs onto your hard drive and then get rid of them. Take shoes out of their boxes and begin storing them in shoe bags, which take up less space. The more you can toss and downsize, the less you’ll have to lug up and down the stairs.
2. Start Preparing Immediately
Even if you have several months’ notice, it’s never too early to start getting ready. If you’re using a moving company, booking early can help you lock in the previous season’s rates, as well as ensure that the company you choose will be available when you need them. It’s also never too early to start packing. If you begin with out-of-season clothes, holiday decorations, books, music, or other items that you don’t use every day, and pack just a few boxes per week, the process can feel relaxed and organized, rather than rushed and chaotic. Even little-used kitchen items such as fondue sets, roasting pans, the good china, or other gadgets and appliances can easily spend a couple of months sitting in a box, ready to go. If you want to hold yard sales or donate items to charity, you’ll have plenty of time to plan and arrange. Starting early almost guarantees that you won’t end up frantically throwing things into boxes at the last minute.
3. Get Organized
Moving can feel much less overwhelming when all the details are kept in one convenient place. Putting estimates, measurements, inventories, and other information in a folder or binder keeps it handy and accessible. For my move, my binder included contact information for the movers, my rental car information, household inventories, receipts, and other important documents. No matter where I went or who I spoke with, I knew that the information I needed was right at my fingertips at all times.
4. Get Your Own Supplies
Moving companies are happy to sell you boxes, as are rental and storage companies like U-Haul. They usually have a great selection, but are often expensive, and this is one area where it’s incredibly easy to save money. You can get free boxes from businesses like retail stores, grocery stores, and liquor stores, or even from your office. They often have extra boxes that would normally go into the trash, and are usually happy to let harried movers take them off their hands. Re-using boxes is good for your wallet, and even better for the environment. There’s also no need to buy expensive packing newsprint if you have months’ worth of old magazines and papers lying around, which can be used for padding and insulation. Even better—use towels, sheets, and coats to line boxes containing anything fragile or breakable. It will cut down on litter as well as box space.
5. Label Your Boxes
Besides the standard “kitchen,” “bedroom,” or “attic,” take the time to write detailed descriptions of each box’s contents. Attach the list to the box itself, and you’ll always know exactly what’s in each box. This can come in handy for unpacking, since you’ll know exactly what boxes need to be unpacked first, and you’ll be able to find items quickly, no rustling through a dozen boxes in order to find what you’re looking for. Make a copy of the inventory for yourself, and if any boxes go missing, you’ll instantly know what their contents are.
6. Let the Postal Service Help
For items like music, DVDs, books, and other media, the USPS’s Media Mail service may be the most inexpensive option to get them from point A to point B. Since these boxes tend to be heavy, it’s cheaper to ship them than to have movers handle them (or God forbid, your friends whom you’ve bribed with pizza and beer). As long as the boxes meet the size and weight requirements, the postal service will ship them for a song. Many other items are worth shipping, too, from valuable clothes and jewelry to things that are fragile and breakable. You can also insure the package for its full value and track it to its destination. If somebody at the other end is willing to receive and store the packages for you, shipping is a good way to lighten your load.
7. Don’t Expect Perfection
Even the best-laid plans and the most meticulously researched move can have complications. The movers could be late, it could be pouring rain, and a million other things can go wrong. If you’ve managed to stay organized and sensible about what you can control, you’ll be less likely to freak out if things don’t go exactly as planned. My move to San Francisco was picture-perfect … until I saw the workers drop my piano as they lifted it off the truck (luckily it wasn’t damaged). There are some moving headaches that just can’t be avoided, like dropped pianos and freak thunderstorms. Simplify the things you can control, and then you can focus on the important things … like decorating your new place.