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The Move’s a Piece of Cake: Real-Life Moving Advice From a Master Migrator

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Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789 that nothing is certain in life other than death and taxes, but I posit a further certainty: The misery of moving. (And Franklin would no doubt have added moving advice to his repertoire, were he alive today.)

Studies have shown that moving is among life’s most stressful events, and it’s not hard to understand why. First comes the arduous process of finding a new home, the subsequent need to sort and pack the entirety of one’s belongings, the physical toll of repeatedly picking things up and putting them down, the hassle of making repairs and cleaning — all while continuing to wade through daily life before finally reaching the, “should this go here? Maybe over there? How did we have this set up in the last place?” dilemmas of unpacking.

I’ve moved more times than I can remember throughout my 35 years — most significantly when I relocated from South Carolina to Germany at the end of 2015 — and I just moved again in late June. My husband and I bought a new apartment; so new, in fact, that we had a two-year wait between closing and the completion of construction.

With so much time to prepare, I’d vowed that this move would be different from the proceeding dozens. Faster, more efficient, less miserable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the notion of moving felt like a vague concept for most of those 24 months, and it wasn’t until early February of this year, when we had to nail down a date to give a three-month notice on leaving our rental apartment, that relocation reality began to set in. I knew it was time to start making progress, particularly as COVID-19 was steadily taking over headlines across Europe and the United States, and some form of lockdown looked inevitable.

While I can’t claim to have uncovered the secrets of moving nirvana, my recent move went about as smoothly as I could have hoped, all things considered. So, I’m here to share the strategies I implemented to help you optimize your own next move, along with a few tips and clever hacks shared by other frequent movers.

We’ll take the practical approach and outline the moving process phase by phase … but first, let’s make a plan.

Some moving advice is to create a timeline for your move.
Source: (Eliza Diamond / Unsplash)

How to plan your upcoming move: Creating a timeline

For better or worse, moving always comes with a deadline. Whether you’re renting or selling your current dwelling, there’s going to be a firm date by which you need to be completely out and ready to hand over the keys, so use this as your starting point.

Once you’ve determined the soonest that you can have access to your new home, you can figure out a moving date. Whether you’re planning to hire professional movers or simply bribe a few friends to help (pizza and beer tend to be useful tools of persuasion), now is the time to reach out and schedule a day.

In our case, my husband and I had to be out of our rental by June 30, but we took the keys to our new place on the 15th, leaving us with a cushy two weeks to transition. Our move was scheduled for the 26th.

Now, for a few things to keep in mind:

If you’re hiring movers…

This was the first move I’ve made with the help of professionals, and wow, what a difference!

Seek quotes in advance

Don’t wait until you’re ready to schedule your move to start asking around for pricing. We found a wide variance in the level of detail required from different companies just to give a rough estimate, and many took several days to respond.

Lock in a date ASAP

This may sound obvious, but moving companies rarely have a wide-open schedule. As soon as you know when you have to be out of your current house, get a moving date on the calendar based on the availability of your chosen company.

Opt for mid-week and/or mid-month for best value

If you have flexibility with your dates, moving in the middle of the week or month can save cash over moving on a weekend at the start or end of the month, when everyone else is scrambling to do the same.

Start the day early

If you’re given an option for a start time, get things going as early as possible. This ensures that you’re the team’s priority for the day and allows enough hours to get the job done.

If you’re going at it on your own…

Book a van or moving truck right away

Don’t rely on last-minute availability, especially if you’re shopping around for the best price.

Confirm the moving date with your helpers

If any friends or neighbors have agreed to help with your move, make sure to double-check their availability on your intended moving day.

In either case…

Consider vehicle access

This won’t be an issue if you have a driveway for the moving truck to back into, but if your home has street parking or other restrictions, be sure to have a plan to allow access on moving day. If you’ll need to block off parking, this may require a permit or other permissions from the city in order to avoid fines.

Allow time for move-out cleaning

If at all possible, try to avoid scheduling your moving day for the very last day you’ll have access to your current place. Leaving two or three days as a buffer for cleaning and minor cosmetic repairs can go a long way toward minimizing stress.

Schedule utility transfers

Coordinate electricity, internet, water, and any other services that you’ll need to have transferred between homes.

Consider the moving advice of decluttering before packing
Source: (Jason Leung / Unsplash)

Moving advice: Phase 1 (preparation)

With your pertinent dates now in place, it’s time to (gently) get to work. In fact, you can even begin these tasks as soon as you know you’re moving; no deadlines necessary.

Gather your supplies

While, yes, you can round up boxes by way of scouting empties at your office and asking grocery stores if they have any you can take off their hands, I found it easiest to simply order moving boxes online. It was convenient for most of our boxes to be the same size (easy stacking), they assembled and closed securely through folding (no tape required), and they were easy to break down and recycle after use (environmentally friendly).

Don’t forget packing paper for dishes and other fragile items, a permanent marker to label your boxes, and a roll or two of packing tape — which is useful to have on hand even if your boxes don’t require adhesive.

Before you pack, purge

This may feel mildly repetitive since the act of packing already provides an opportunity to decide whether to keep or discard items, but this isn’t meant to be a whole-house activity; just a way to make things easier on yourself by doing a bit of paring down here and there in advance. Key opportunities include:

  • Wardrobes. Now is a great time to go through your clothes and get rid of anything you don’t wear anymore. Whether items are worn out, ill-fitting, or have simply fallen out of favor, there’s no need to move with that pile of old jeans you haven’t worn in eight years but have been hanging on to “just in case.”
  • Desks. Maybe your at-home desk doesn’t have a stack of papers you’ve “been meaning to go through,” or at least one drawer serving no discernable purpose other than to collect random cables and blank notebooks, but assuming we’re on the same page, use this time to organize your workspace.
  • Kitchen cabinets. Pre-packing is a great time to assess your dry goods, condiment stash, surplus of utensils, and so on. Consider tossing those flimsy spatulas and stained food storage containers lurking at the back of your pantry.

I used this “I’m not packing yet, I’m just cleaning!” technique to trick myself into getting started before the clock really began ticking. Not only was it useful for building momentum, when I revisited my closet and desk a few weeks later to pack things up, it was a relief to remember that I’d already sorted through these areas and knew that whatever was still there was meant to come with us.

List any saleable items

If you have furniture, electronics, kitchen appliances, or anything else you know you’re going to sell prior to moving, get those items cleaned up, photographed, and listed for sale early. If you’re going the garage sale route, now is the time to pull everything together, hang some signs in the neighborhood, and welcome those passersby.

(Or, you can be like me and end up selling your patio furniture less than 24 hours before handover, narrowly avoiding having to drag the set to your new home, where it definitely would not fit.)

Take photos

Sentimentality aside, if you have an elaborate electronics setup, a meticulously organized catch-all drawer, or an artfully displayed gallery wall for which a design reminder may be helpful, snap a quick photo before dismantling to refer to later when setting up your new home.

Of course, Phase 1 will look a little different for everyone, but the key takeaway here is preparation. The most resounding feedback I received when soliciting moving advice from other frequent relocators was to start early and use the opportunity to declutter.

Marc Lagrois, a top real estate agent based in Rochester, Michigan, advises his clients to do the same.

“A lot of times sellers think, ‘I’m not really going to think about organizing my things or starting to declutter; I’ll worry about that once I get the home sold,’ but I really encourage them to start that process even before they put the house on the market.”

Decluttering early carries the obvious benefit of allowing yourself more time to prepare for your move, but if you’re selling, it also allows your home to present to its best potential.

“A home is just much more marketable when it’s organized and cleaned up,” notes Lagrois.

Bonus moving prep tips

“Buy twice as many boxes as you think you need.” – Susan

“Buy triple the amount of packing tape you think you need, because there is nothing worse than running out at 2 AM.” – Erin

“Hoard bubble wrap.” – Rebecca

“Purge regularly. I go by season.” – Courtney

“Invest in a good mattress bag; it’s worth it to keep your mattress fresh.” – MC

“As soon as you know you’ll be moving, begin to make lists (even if mentally) of things you know you want to take with you, things to sell, things you can pass along to someone else.” – Kelly

Packing is an important part of moving advice.
Source: (Michal Balog / Unsplash)

Moving advice: Phase 2 (packing)

You’ve scheduled; you’ve prepped; now it’s time to actually put things into boxes.

Stay organized

There’s no need for an itemized list of contents, but do consider labeling your boxes with more detail than just “KITCHEN” or “LIVING ROOM,” lest you later find yourself rooting through seven different kitchen boxes just to find the coffee filters. Something along the lines of, “KITCHEN – pots & pans” and “MAIN BEDROOM – iron & bedsheets” can go a long way toward maintaining sanity in the shuffle.

Don’t forget to indicate boxes containing fragile items, and try to find a safe corner to stash them until moving day, where they won’t be jostled or stacked haphazardly. The same goes for any potentially dangerous or messy items, like sharp tools, chemicals, paints and varnishes, fire extinguishers, automotive parts, and so on. Be sure these items are safely packed and clearly labeled.

Keep essentials accessible

This becomes increasingly important the closer you are to moving day, but be mindful of toiletries, medications, undergarments, and other personal effects you need on a daily basis. It may be helpful to pack yourself an overnight bag to ensure that must-haves remain at hand.

Don’t pack the cleaning supplies

Unless you’re hiring a professional cleaning crew to tend to the place after you’ve moved out, do yourself a favor and leave behind your vacuum, broom, sponges, cleaning sprays, paper towels, toilet brushes — anything helpful for a deep clean.

The same goes for basic tools and touch-up paint or spackle if you have holes to patch or fixtures to remove.

Start with the low-hanging fruit

In other words, begin your packing with an area that feels easy to tackle. For me, clearing our bookshelves was a quick way to make visible progress and drive home the fact that we were officially in moving mode.

Knick-knacks and decorative items, off-season clothing, and servingware can be great momentum-boosters with minimal impact on everyday convenience.

Monitor your grocery situation

If you’re moving swiftly from one kitchen to the next, you’ll likely be fine to take any lingering fresh produce and refrigerated goods with you, but consider avoiding a last-minute fridge cleanout and try not to buy any groceries for the week or two leading up to your move. Get creative with ingredients you have on hand, then use the excuse to enjoy a few days of takeout.

Spot-clean as you pack

Picture frames, candle holders, bookends, lampshades … No matter how spotless you keep your home, dust is bound to settle on exposed and infrequently handled surfaces. Clean items as you’re packing, and thank yourself later for not bringing old dust into your new home.

Don’t forget about storage spaces

Yes, you’ll also need to tackle the attic, basement, cellar, detached shed, crawl space, or any other out-of-the-way area you’ve been using for storage.

Bonus packing tips

“Buying at least one wardrobe box is a game-changer. It has a rail for hanging your clothes, so you can just hang them in the box and lift them out in your new home.” – Erin

“Start with easy stuff you won’t need, don’t pack boxes too heavy, wrap valuables in clothes/towels, pack heavy stuff into suitcases you can drag.” – Riana

“I accept my diet is garbage around the move and just try to get calories to keep going.” – Kathryn

“Work backwards from departure to the start-packing date and stick to the agenda. Have a few ‘vacation days’ in the middle to refresh. Plan to be fully packed and finished BEFORE the final day.” – John 

Moving day is a big one, follow this moving advice
Source: (Monkey Business Images / ShutterStock)

Moving advice: Phase 3 (the actual move)

This is it! The big day is soon to arrive and you’re (hopefully) all packed and ready to go. What’s next?

In the final days leading up to the move…

Dump and donate

Anything you’ve set aside to donate, recycle, or trash needs to go — preferably before moving day. Take a couple of hours and make any necessary drop-offs at charity shops, recycling centers, or the local dump.

Gather water and snacks

Bonus points if you can still brew a pot of coffee on the morning of your move, but everyone involved will appreciate a case of water and high-energy snacks to replenish throughout the day.

All hands on deck? Maybe not.

Have a plan for young children and pets on moving day. All the better if they can be safely elsewhere.

Prepare the new space

Now is the time to visit your new home and make sure it’s ready for move-in day. Take care of any necessary pre-cleaning, stock the bathrooms with soap and toilet paper, drop off your bag of overnight essentials, and maybe stash an easy meal option or two in the fridge.

On moving day…

Last-minute preparations

Wake up early and get yourself situated. Check to make sure the parking area is clear, pack up everything you used during the last night in your soon-to-be-former home, and maybe locate a door stopper.


When the movers arrive, discuss the game plan. They may ask you where they should start, or they may have a preferred strategy for loading furniture and other large items first. Be sure everyone is on the same page for the timeframe and intended break schedule for the day.

Sort while unloading

Whether you’re carrying boxes yourself or directing movers, when it’s time to off-load the truck at your new home, be sure to send boxes and furniture to their respective rooms. Avoid the temptation to stack boxes in a collective pile nearest the front door to “deal with later.”

Bonus moving tips:

“If moving with pets, set up their stuff before introducing them to their new place. For my cat, having his litter box, food/water dishes, and places to hide set up made moving easier.” – Kathryn

“Make sure to buy things ahead of time that you’ll need for the new place — shower curtain, toilet paper, etc.” – Susan

“Never, and I can’t stress this enough, hire a large van/truck and do it yourself. It’s just so exhausting.” – Nic

The final phase of moving advice is to unpack.
Source: (HiveBoxx / Unsplash)

Moving advice: Phase 4 (wrapping up and settling in)

Congrats! You’ve moved! Moving day is over, and the worst is behind you.

Now comes the unpacking and settling in; the good news here is that there are generally no deadlines for this part.

In the meantime…

Clean and hand over the old place

Now that it’s empty, put those left-behind cleaning supplies to good use and go scrub down your previous home.

While you’re there, double-check all drawers, cabinets, closets, and storage spaces to ensure you’re not leaving anything behind. Then say your goodbyes and turn over the keys to your landlord, real estate agent, or whoever is responsible for the next steps.

Discard boxes as you empty them

Unless you know you’ll be moving again in the very near future (in which case, my condolences), there’s little need to keep empty moving boxes. As you’re unpacking in your new home, break down or flatten moving boxes as they’re emptied and recycle them right away.

Keep a running list of things you need

I only moved 400 meters away to an apartment of the same size, but in many ways it feels like we’re starting from scratch to get our new home in order. Between replacing worn items and organizing a new layout, it was inevitable that we’d need to make a few purchases, and you’ll likely find that the same is true for your space.

Whether it’s a note on your phone or a piece of paper on the counter, have a readily accessible list to add to whenever someone has an ah-ha moment of, “oh right, we need [insert item here].” A list will help optimize those weekend trips to furniture stores and home improvement centers.

Finally, just remember that moving is a process, and it’s completely normal if it takes a few months to feel settled. Even if you’re riding high on the momentum of productivity, consider granting yourself the kindness of a day or two to take it easy once you’re fully finished with your former home, then unpack at your leisure.

A word of parting advice…

Still dreading your next big move? No longer concerned with practicalities?

“Hire someone to do the whole thing.” – Colin

Header Image Source: (Jon Tyson / Unsplash)