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Moving Day: Rules of the Regimen

16 and a half steps to ensure a smooth move.

In this time of financial uncertainty and holiday bacchanalia, I have done my due diligence and moved to a smaller apartment. Actually, in my struggle to learn the screenwriting trade in LA, I have moved to several smaller apartments. But that’s another story.

So in lieu of advice about how to avoid Somalian pirates, I decided to impart observation about which I actually know something.

That said, here, in no particular order, are the sixteen and a half rules of moving.

1. Furniture is absolutely the worst investment in the cosmos—except maybe carpeting. If upsizing, avoid filling every nook and cranny with some expensive hunk of wood. If you later have to downsize, you’ll need to sell lots of stuff. And you can expect every single stick of lacquered oak you bought to go for one-fourth its original cost. Feng shui with less standing in for more. Put another way, if you’re single, but finally meet that enchanted stranger, when they finally shack up with you s/he will want to bring her/his own stuff. Leave some room for hope.

2. Keep a tape measure on you at all times. If upsizing, you’ll want a brief sketch of the floor plan, especially the position of the electrical outlets, and the arc of the doors.

3. If downsizing, your floor plan must be much more accurate. Your tools needn’t be elaborate. I used a cheap 10-foot metal tape measure I’ve had in my pocket for the last fifteen years. Make a quick sketch of the floor plan at first; non-ruled typing paper works best. The only thing accurate about this sketch should be the number of inches from wall to wall. If the place has low ceilings, measure those, too.

Now, get a metric ruler. Use the cheap see-through 6-inch ruler you can buy at most office supply stores. Convert inches to millimeters—no, you don’t need a calculator! Just look at the dumb scale! 80 inches will be 80 millimeters in your next more accurate floor plan. The lengths will be 254 times shorter. If you have a lot of furniture, measure those as well. Cut their shapes out of a manila envelope and stick them to your typing paper floor plan with a (Brand Name) restickable waxy glue stick. Wax candles or lip gloss might work in a pinch. And if you’re European and already into the metric thing, well, you’re just out of luck!

4. When you move, you stand naked before the world with all your worldly possessions at some point standing in the front yard. So make it as quick as possible.

5. You will never have enough boxes ... or box tape. Also, when you go to the cardboard box store to get more, get one of those giant marking pens, too. Knowing what’s in there will help shape the order in which you can unpack. If the UPS Store is out of boxes (like mine) and the Office Depot has gone belly up by now, they’re too expensive anyway.

Liquor stores give away the best boxes. They’re stronger and all have cardboard dividers perfect for drinking glasses and those expensive and easily-bent copper candlesticks your great-great-grandmother brought over from Greater Liechtenstein, you know, from the time of the great zubu famine when the Empire still had beachfront property.

Grocers are also eager to part with their boxes, but grocery boxes are less sturdy, as stock clerks need to flatten them as soon as they’re emptied. But the big ones are still good for clothes, bedding, and pillows. And have sympathy for your moving men. The heavier the item, the smaller the box. Books should go in the smallest boxes.

6. Be prepared to spend money. Unless you’re moving to Nepal, the most expensive cost of the move will be labor. Two brawny men in the Midwest might charge as little as $60/hour for eight hours a day. After that, they charge $120/hour. I got a good deal with those guys. But the move took two eight-hour days. Do the math. I sold extra furniture to relatives to help defray the costs.

6 and a Half. And speaking of relatives ... After pitching this article to the local barista, she cheekily quipped, “Make some friends.” That’ll work if you don’t have a lot of stuff. But the number of friends and relatives willing to help you move is as the inverse square of the total tonnage of all your junk. Like the law of gravity. She’s always cheekily quipping stuff. Some day I might have to give her writing credit. I wonder if she’s single ...

7. Before the move, any attempt to install utilities, paint, do minor carpentry, plumbing, do other stuff out the third floor window … Any adventure undertaken in your new apartment where you can encounter unbelievable risk at some point, the words “and then, disaster struck” will be uttered.

8. Disaster striking can usually be mitigated by spending more money.

9. Stay flexible. On the actual day of the move, there will be a rush order at the office, a Gigantic-Not-a-Holiday-Sale at your department store, or a herd of yak will panic and stampede across the factory floor and your boss will want you full-time for the next four weeks to shovel yak poop. It happened to me. Sorta.

“But I have no mirrors,” I told my prim government-issued supervisors in the Telephone Boiler Room of the U.S. Census Bureau. “I have nothing to shave in. I’ll look like a bum.” “No one can see you over the phone,” they cheerfully replied.

10. Have lots of Band-Aids handy.

11. If you intend to hang stuff on the walls, remember, screws are better than nails, so have access to a drill. Also, a screw in a stud is better than a nail in bare plaster. I know it sounds dirty, but an electronic stud finder is available at any hardware store or Radio Shack for about $9, and they really, really work.

12. Before you even think about electrical modifications, make sure the apartment is properly wired. Here’s the skinny:

The long slot in the electrical outlet is the ground. If the place is up to code, you could stick a bread knife in there and not get electrified. The shorter slot is the hot side packing all that voltage mainlined directly from the power company’s Generator Number Two. Make sure this is the way it is. This is worth another trip to the hardware store for a $1.50 voltage probe that looks like (and is) a small screwdriver. The reason for this is that now many electrical devices have the ground wire directly attached to the metal cabinet to obviate electrocution by the eventual short circuit. One apartment I rented in LA had all the circuits wired exactly backwards, which would’ve caused a nasty shock if I had wired the under-counter lights the right way. So, in the uncommon but exiguous case of the above, let the electrical projects gather dust. It’s up to ones own personal code of ethics as to whether to notify the landlord that is property is not up to code, as he might evict you so he can re-wire everything. I told my landlord of the problem when I moved out.

13. Like the towel in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the humble bottle of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol has a multiplicity of uses. First, it’s the best disinfectant for that inevitable paper cut. Throw the iodine away. Second, it’s a better solvent than ammonia. Wanna clean that grease and dust encrusted tea kettle that’s been living on the stove for the last eight years? Just hit it with a little rubbing alcohol, and it will behave.

Third, moving can be like being on a camping trip for quite a few days, so rubbing alcohol is perfect for a brief sponge bath (using toilet paper as a swab). I won’t belabor which stinky bits to hit; suffice that there are the same number of them on men as on women.

Fourth, do not, and I repeat, do not drink this stuff. This is why whiskey was invented. Got a fly you can’t swat? Pour a few drops of whiskey in the middle of a tea saucer. The little sucker-faced boozehound will go right for it and die. Won’t work with Iso. It’s a poison. Whiskey is also a poison, only a kinder, gentler one. Even the flies know this.

14. Take time each day to rest your brain. Besides major illness, financial difficulties, the death of a relative, final exams, or that upcoming political indictment, moving is the most stressful time of one’s life. The actual business of settling in will take one hundred times longer that the day(s) of the move. So do a crossword. Watch TV. And don’t feel guilty about it. Read Tom Wolfe, not James Joyce. You can tackle Ulysses once you’re settled.

15. You are going to lose stuff. Small stuff, like that favorite nail file, or that special German ground magnifying glass. (I hated losing those.) Or that globe of Mars you had since you were a kid. When this happens, it’s time to connect with your inner Buddha nature and pour another shot of whiskey. Because (1) life is suffering, and (2) possessions are just more baggage.

Squeezing all your stuff through a little door into a bunker-sized hutch—like the basement cave I’m now living in—is a lot like building a ship in a bottle. The order which the furniture gets put in there is absolutely critical, especially for the hefty-sized stuff. Figure out the order and communicate this to your movers often. They may be Einstein-brilliant at moving large objects and prodigies at spatially jig-sawing the contents of the Scarlet O’Hara estate into a storage bin the size of a walk-in closet. What they are poor at is reading your mind.

Take your millimeter-scale floor plan with all the tables and chairs waxed in place, and put it in a prominent place like a kitchen counter for the movers to study.

16. And if they keep disappearing for fifteen minutes at a time for a smoke break, find it in your heart to forgive them. The movers got what is possibly the worst job on the planet, and the movee’s got what is quite possibly the heaviest baggage. 

Oh, to avoid Somalian pirates? Run like hell.

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