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How to pack for a move

Updated on September 3, 2014
Label boxes on both the top and side so it's easier to find the right box when the boxes are stacked.
Label boxes on both the top and side so it's easier to find the right box when the boxes are stacked. | Source

According to the US Census Bureau, 11.7 percent of Americans moved between 2012 and 2013. In 2012, the average cost for a full-service move was $12,459, according to Worldwide ERC.

Whether it's for a new job or a new family member or just more space, moving can be both exciting, stressful and costly. One way to cut a great deal of the costs is to pack your belongings yourself.


Sure, in college you may have tossed everything in a garbage bag, but garbage bags are not good for stacking and could make a helper confuse the stuff you want to move with, well, garbage. What you really need are the following:

Boxes- These can be reused from packages received, purchased at home improvement stores or moving truck rental stores, or even acquired for free from a local business. To get free boxes, visit your local grocery store, retail store, or even your workplace early in the morning and simply ask the manager if they have any boxes from that day's (or night's) deliveries. Usually, these businesses are just going to recycle the boxes, and won't mind giving them away, if any are available for you.

Packing Tape- At least one roll of tape per room will be needed. To keep boxes more secure, cover all seams with tape.

Stretch Wrap- This is great for keeping lids on boxes and storage ottomans. It can even "create" lids on large open bins, like ones used for toys or sports equipment, It can also be used to secure blankets on furniture. Basically, it can be used to secure things you may not want to use tape on.

Space Bags- These make packing pillows, quilts, comforters and sweatshirts easier.

Labels- Color-coding rooms makes it easier for you and movers to put boxes in the right room for unpacking. Families can either use different color markers, different color duct tape, or purchase moving labels.

Notepad and Marker- These needed to keep an inventory of everything.

The Prep

Sometimes, families know a move is likely in a few months, but have nothing set in stone. This is the time to prepare for a move, so packing is faster and easier. There are three things families want to do to prepare: organize, reduce and collect.

Organize- Sometimes, even the cleanest house gets clutter and things in strange places. Do a full spring cleaning of the stuff in the house, and determine bins and boxes needed to keep everything organized. It's so much easier to pack and unpack when everything has a home in a bin or box. It's also easier to find things when unpacking if like items are together. Shoe boxes, whether actual or plastic ones, are great for keeping small items organized and contained. This is also a great time to make sure all storage items, like holiday decorations, costumes and other attic and garage items are stored in sturdy plastic bins, preferably with handles that lock the lid on the box.

Reduce- While organizing, create a sell/donate pile and a trash pile. There's no reason to fill a moving truck with stuff you no longer need. Families with toys, gear and sports equipment in good condition may first want to try to make a little money and sell their unneeded items to places like Once Upon a Child or Play It Again Sports. Donate to places like Goodwill and Habitat ReStore, and don't forget to pick up a receipt for tax purposes. Even extra furniture and books can be donated.

As a plus for those who need to sell their house, this prep work- or getting rid of the clutter- will make the house easier to sell.

Collect- Newspaper and plastic bags are great cushions and protectors for fragile items. Start saving these items so less packing peanuts or bubble wrap are needed. Also, don't recycle boxes when a package arrives- the boxes can be reused to move stuff.


Once you have an official move date and all the supplies, you are ready to officially start packing. This can be very overwhelming if you don't know where to start.

Plan- If you have a month until your move, plan to pack 3-4 boxes per day. There may still be a mad rush to get everything packed on the last day, but it won't be as bad if you found 3-4 boxes of stuff to pack each day.

Also, keep an inventory of what is packed in each box. Number each box and write what packed in the box on a notepad. This process may seem tedious, but it will help when unpacking and if a box is "lost" in the move.

First Things First- The best things to pack first are things you will not use before you move. This can be books, decorative items, collectibles and fine china. Books should be packed in small boxes so the boxes are easier to carry. Be generous with cushioning on all sides when packing china and other breakables, and fill the cushioning to the top of the box. As a guide, only 8-10 plates should go in a medium size box.

Next?- Toys and clothing are next best things to pack. Let the kids pick out a backpack's worth of toys they cannot live without and get the rest in boxes. Make sure small items, like Legos, are packed in well-sealed containers before packing in boxes. (Packing up the toys will also prevent the stress of messes in the kids' rooms.

It's likely the family will not wear everything in their closets before moving day. Pack all out of season clothes. When packing the closet, don't take the clothes off the hangers- simply grab a few items, and fold in half (or thirds for longer items) into the box. It will be faster to pack and faster to unpack.

Kitchen and Bathroom- These rooms are best saved for last because the items in these rooms are the most used. Some small appliances, like the mixer, can be packed earlier. Dishes may be packed a week before the move- just use disposable versions for that week. Silverware can be packed in its holder and kept in place with stretch wrap. Any bathroom liquid soaps and shampoos should be first wrapped in a plastic bag to prevent leaks onto other items.

Don't Pack

There are several things you'll want to make sure stay with you and don't go on a truck:

  • Suitcases of clothing to not only cover the days your items will be in transit, but an extra day or two just in case the truck is late. Make sure there are outfits for work and outfits for loading/unloading/unpacking. If you will be painting before the truck arrives, don't forget clothing for that activity.
  • Kids will want that backpack of toys for comfort.
  • Unpacking supplies- scissors, box cutters, inventory
  • Air mattresses and pillows to camp out on the floor and eliminate the need for an expensive hotel room. Because you'll also want to shower, a towel and toiletries will be needed.
  • Phone charger
  • Memory cards for devices and game systems. (A game system somehow did not make it to our new house once. Fortunately, we had the memory card with us so all the progress wasn't lost.)
  • Any important documents or items
  • The coffee maker
  • Basic cleaning supplies for the last cleaning of the old house and any initial cleaning of the new one. (The vacuum should be the last item placed on the truck for related reasons.)

Laundry baskets can be helpful for keeping the smaller car items organized and for helping see how stuff will fit in the cars before actually loading. Usually, the car will be loaded after the truck, and you won't want to find out everything doesn't fit in the car after the truck has left.


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