11 July 2013

Big Post of Packing and Moving Tips

I'm about to move cross-country for the third time in three years.  So I thought maybe I should actually write a post about how I do it.  I've pretty much got it all figured out.  ;-)

Let's get this out of the way: We move by packing our own boxes, loading our own boxes onto a semi truck, and then letting the semi truck moving company drive our stuff to its destination.  We pile into our car, beat the semi to our new home, then unload it when it shows up.  So all these tips are from that perspective.  We do it this way because we've found it's the cheapest for cross-country moves. Yes, even cheaper than renting a U-Haul and driving ourselves (gas is expensive), in addition to considerably less stressful. Neither Norman nor I wants to drive a U-Haul towing a car, nor does one of us want to be alone with Lucy while trying to drive that far.

Tip #1: Keep track of all expenses.

The IRS allows a tax deduction for expenses incurred during moves for changing jobs. (See the specific qualifications here.) If you qualify, you can deduct the costs of packing materials, transportation of your belongings and yourself, gas or mileage, hotel (but not meals), some storage costs, and some other stuff. Check the link. Keep track even if your employer will be reimbursing you -- you can still take a deduction on any qualified expenses that your employer won't reimburse for.  You'll need to file Form 3903.

Tip #2: Check out MovingScam.com.

This website helped me a ton before the first of our major moves.  They have hundreds (thousands?) of reviews of moving companies.  Definitely check the forums there before deciding on a company.  The forums also have pages and pages of packing tips -- it's where I got most of the ideas I implement.

Tip #3: Declutter before you start packing.

Maybe this is just me, but I can't declutter while I pack.  When I'm packing, I'm in packing mode, just trying to get everything to fit snugly and safely in the box.  I can't think about whether or not I want to keep the things.  So I sweep through the house for a while looking at everything and thinking, "Do I really need this? Do I use it? Do I want to pack it? Do I want to pay for the space on the truck necessary to transport it?"  It's easy to do most of this while you're going about life.  When you're putting dishes away, stop for a second and think about the things on the next shelf over.  When you're picking out clothes in the morning, think about the pieces in your closet that haven't been touched in the last year.  This phase can be going on while you're gathering packing supplies or finalizing your decision to move.

Tip #4: Start packing as soon as your know for sure that you're moving.

Fact: It will take you longer to pack than you think it will.  Start as soon as you can by packing stuff you can do without until after you move.  I usually start with seasonal items, books, craft supplies I don't use often, nicer china and the like, and stuff that is already in storage.  If you get done packing things you won't need way before you feel comfortable starting to pack things you *will* need, lucky you! Go for a spa day or take your kids to a museum or something.

Tip #5: Get the right stuff for the job.

Even though we move on a budget, I still want to use the right tools and materials for the job, because in the end, a few extra dollars will make my life way easier.  So here, in my opinion, are things to buy and things not to buy for packing and moving:

Don't buy:
*Boxes. These are free everywhere. Check Craigslist and Freecycle. Ask friends. Check your local liquor store. Here's a list full of suggestions of places to get free boxes.
*Bubble wrap. It's really not necessary. Paper, good technique, and your old towels will be perfectly fine. Not to jinx myself, but in two moves, we haven't broken one thing. Not one.

Do buy:
*Certain boxes. Yeah, I said don't buy boxes. But you really do need:
1.) Dish packs. These are large, extra sturdy boxes meant for filling with dishes. Get some cell packs to go along with them for your drinking glasses.
2.) Frame corners set. Like this. They'll fit almost any size framed thing. This would be for very large art or posters framed with glass.
3.) Wardrobe boxes. Actually I never bought any of these. Pro: You take your hanging clothes out of your closet, you hang them in the box, you pull them out, you put them in your new closet.  Saves a lot of time.  Con: Your clothing will take up more space in the truck that way. I've always taken the clothes off the hangers, put most of them into our extra luggage, and put all the hangers in one giant box.

*Packing paper/newsprint.  Really, just do it. I get mine from U-haul. It's blank newspaper. It comes all compact in a box. You don't have to save up newspaper and circulars for forever. And most importantly there's no ink to come off all over your dishes.
*Mattress bags. Super easy. Just spend a couple bucks and buy these. You just stick your mattress in (with the top sheet if you really want), tape it -- boom. Mattress stays clean.
*I use an old egg crate foam mattress pad to protect my picture frames. (I either had it from college or bought one at a thrift store -- I don't remember.) Just cut it up with scissors to the sizes of the glass in your frames, place the piece of foam on the glass, then wrap the whole thing in packing paper like a present. Then label the outside with a word or two that will tip you off to what is inside. You can also use bubble wrap (if you happen to have some) or wadded up paper to pad the glass.

*STRETCH WRAP. This one is so important I'm yelling it at you.  BUY SOME STRETCH WRAP. Your life will be so much easier.  I think we've gone through 3-4 rolls of 5" wide 1,000 ft stretch wrap on each move.  Use it to secure the lids on Rubbermaid tubs and the drawers of plastic organizers, wrap removable bookshelf shelves together, wrap folding furniture shut, wrap tall skinny things together -- last time we even used it to just wrap our flatware into its drawer organizer.  Endless uses.  You'll probably also want a much wider roll to wrap up couches and to secure moving blankets onto wood furniture.

*Packing tape dispenser. I almost forgot this one because it seems so obvious to me. (But I use packing tape for packaging Etsy items several times every week.) Definitely pick up a packing tape dispenser and several extra rolls. Doesn't have to be anything fancy -- I use one of these.

You'll also need moving blankets and a dolly/handtruck. These are included with the moving company we use, but if they're not you need to buy or rent.  Sometimes it'll be cheaper to buy a bunch of old blankets from thrift stores, then donate them to another thrift store on the other end.

Tip #6: Pack (and unpack) one box at a time.

Do not, under any circumstance except the most dire, have more than one open, half-packed box going at once.  Start packing a box, fill it as best you can with relevant items (i.e., items that will go in generally the same area in the new house), pad the rest of the box with extra linens or wadded paper, taped it up, then and only then, start filling another box.

Same goes for unpacking.  Unless you're just desperate for a specific kitchen utensil or something, don't leave half-unpacked boxes sitting around.  Find a place for everything from one box (even if it's not ideal -- you can shuffle and perfect organizational systems later), break the box down, then open another box.  This will save you mental energy because you won't have to keep track of what's going on in more than box at a time, and it will save floor space as you pack and unpack, which will help save your sanity.

Tip #7: How I label boxes

I read about this method somewhere (probably the MovingScam forums), and I just thought it was brilliant. It is, it's brilliant. It's the only way to label and inventory boxes for moving long distances, in my opinion.  Here's how it works:

You need:
*An index card organizer
*A pack of index cards
*A hole punch (optional -- some index card organizers are two-ring binders)
*A pen
*A Sharpie

You're going to write a code on each box (on the top and on at least two different sides) in Sharpie. It's going to look like this:  CR#11

The first two letters are an abbreviation for the room the stuff came from (you can make up whatever abbreviations make sense to you); the number is which number box from that room it is. (So this one is the 11th box from the craft room.)

Then write the same code on one index card.  Underneath, write everything you put in the box. It's a 3x5 card, so you have plenty of room.  Especially if you're packing kitchen stuff, you're going to want to know exactly what is in each box.

Keep the index cards organized in order, by room and number, in the index card binder.

Then, when you get to the new house, you can tape signs to the doorway of each room with the room code, so whoever is helping you unload can at least attempt to put everything in the right room.

This method will also enable you to:
*Cut down on theft if someone else is handling your items. If the outside of the box doesn't say "Bluray player", it's a lot less likely to get stolen.
*Check off everything as it comes off the truck.
*Give yourself a nice visual checklist when unpacking. Once a box is unpacked, throw away the index card that goes with it. The binder of cards will dwindle, and you'll feel like you might actually be making progress even though your house is a giant mess.
*Easily compose a household inventory for insurance purposes.

Find more tips: 

There used to be a fabulous website that showed, in depth, how to pack every kind of thing in a house. The kitchen section was especially helpful, and it's where I learned how to pack all the different kinds of dishes I have.  Sadly, the website is gone.  However, this video does a pretty good job of explaining the basics.  (Caveat -- for goodness sake, do not individually wrap every hardback book you own in paper. Overkill.)  Additionally, I've been trying to gather websites with excellent packing and moving information on this Pinterest board.

Bonus tip that maybe no one needs but me:  Stuff giant bean bags into twin mattress bags.

 And then... you just have to unpack everything in your new place. Good luck!

If you have questions or other tips, leave a comment! I will be adding to the post if needed!


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jessie said...

[Removed comment suggested crating for long moves... because s/he sells crating. If you pack your boxes and your truck properly, generally speaking, things won't get broken. Moving overseas, however, you'll probably need to crate.]

Jenny said...

If you happen to have a group over to help pack boxes, write a long, detailed list of things to do and post it where everyone can see. Then you're more free to do things instead of finding things for others to do and they can pick and choose their favorite. One woman said, "Ooo! Cleaning! I'd much rather clean than pack!" And they're there to help, so don;t be afraid to encourage them to work!

Jessie said...

Ooo, good idea, Jenny. I'm so bad at delegating, especially on the spot. That'd be a great idea for the actual moving day, too!

Anonymous said...

Headed over here after seeing your comment on my blog. Lots of great stuff here! And when I poke around and find Totoro, N.T. Wright and xkcd all in one home I know you all are quality people. :)