23 Steps to Help Organize Your Next Move

Moving boxes and potted plants at new apartment

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Moving boxes and potted plants at new apartment
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Have an Exit Plan

Moving can be one of the most stressful life events. Even if it's a happy occasion, like heading to an exciting new city, upending your life to get everything you own from one place to another is some people's nightmare. It doesn't have to be. With a little organization, a bit of time management, and the right materials, moving might not be a dream, but it can be a smooth process. (Do you have your own favorite tips? Please share them in the comments.)

Related: Mistakes to Avoid When Downsizing Your Home

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Figure Out a Time Frame

Houses or condos that you own have a longer lead time in moving than rentals do, where there might be just two weeks from the lease signing to moving day. Try to schedule a move in the middle of the week, and if possible, in the middle of the month to save money. Find out if there are restrictions if you're going into an apartment. Some don't allow moving on the weekends. Once a date is set, lay out a plan for getting the move done. If it seems impossible, think about having the movers do some of the packing.

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Moving company worker packing cardboard boxes, quality delivery services

Hire Movers

For anything more than a one-bedroom apartment, hire professionals to do the moving. It may be more expensive than tapping friends and using a U-Haul, but professional movers are fast, efficient, and come with tools, dollies, shrink wrap, and packing blankets. Plus, they usually show up on time. Get three estimates. They can figure out how many boxes you'll need, and what type. Discuss how much you want them to pack, if anything, and it's okay to say: "Pack anything I haven't gotten to." 

Related: What to Buy (And What to Skip) Right After Moving

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Start Taking Notes

There are so many things to be done before a move that it's hard to keep track of it all. Make a page in the "notes" app on your phone to jot down anything you think of the minute you think of it, or use a moving checklist app such as MoveAdvisor, available for iOS and Android. If you are moving for work, keep track of expenses for reimbursement purposes.

Clear It Out
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Clear It Out

Moving is a great opportunity to get rid of unneeded stuff. Anything that hasn't been used in so long that it's a surprise it popped up should be unloaded. Outgrown kids' clothes and toys (this should be the parents' decision, not the kids') can be donated. If there's time, have a sale to get rid of unwanted items, and put the money toward moving expenses. The sorting process for what to discard should follow the basic rule of "touch everything only once." In other words, don't linger over a decision and don't have a "maybe" pile. 

Related: How Moving Can Actually Make You Money

Moving boxes and potted plants at new apartment
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Calculate How Many Boxes You Need

Start collecting boxes as soon as the lease or contract is signed. The number of boxes you need is almost always more than you expect. Small boxes are good for books, kitchen tools, toys, and so on. Heavy items also go in small boxes. Medium boxes are for dishes, bowls, and other kitchen supplies, and big boxes are good for towels, blankets, and pillows. Many moving-company estimates suggest the number of boxes based on the square footage of the home, but this does not take lifestyle into account. Book lovers or kids with lots of small toys will need many more small boxes. Home Depot has a fairly good calculator.

Package of parcels.
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Where to Get Packing Supplies

It's almost a given that the best place to get boxes is a liquor store. But large boxes are not going to be found there. Sometimes U-Haul locations have free recycled boxes available, and sometimes you can get somebody else's moving leftovers from Craigslist or Freecycle. If not, order them from U-Line, which is cheaper than many stores, and delivers. Bubble wrap and foam for packing fragile items can be hard to come by for free. And don't forget markers for labeling as well as a lot of packing tape. Start collecting newspapers for packing purposes well ahead of the move.

Things You'll Need to Transfer
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Things You'll Need to Transfer

A move to another city or state usually involves finding new professionals, such as doctors, dentists, and veterinarians. So health records and other information will need to be gathered and transferred, such as:

  • Prescriptions
  • Auto insurance
  • School records
Young woman talking on smart phone at home office

Change Your Address

Change-of-address information should be put in about a week before the move. Places to notify include:

  • Post office (This can be done online. The U.S. Postal Service will forward mail for about a year.)
  • Department of motor vehicles
  • Banks, brokers, and credit card companies
  • Your employer's human resources department; tell them immediately if you change banks so your direct deposit doesn't go astray.
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    Disconnect and Connect

    Utility companies — such as electric, gas, and water — need to be contacted several weeks before the move to disconnect service. If you are moving within the same municipality, you can schedule connections at the same time. Many people who work from home will want to have internet service disconnected as late as possible, but may still need to spend a day or two using Wi-Fi at a library or coffee shop. The new cable and internet services should be put in a day before moving, but this requires that somebody be there to meet the installation people. If that's not possible, schedule it for the day after the move.

    Dejan Marjanovic/istockphoto

    Create a System

    It's a good idea to keep a record of everything that gets packed as it's being packed, so you can find things easily when you're in your new home. Use a notebook or clipboard, rather than a phone, so that everyone will be able to access the list when they need to find something. It's unrealistic to expect that you'll be unpacked in a day or two. As items get packed, they should be put in numbered boxes for specific rooms, such as K-1, K-2, and so on for kitchen things.

    Minimize Clutter

    Minimize Clutter

    To minimize the chaos that comes with moving, designate one room or area as a loading zone and start piling boxes there. Of course, the closer it gets to moving day, the more that space is going to fill with boxes. But the longer the chaos can be kept out of the way of daily living, the better.

    Couple packing things into cardboard boxes

    Start Packing

    Pack least-used items first. This is the stuff that can be gotten out of the way and won't be missed for a month or two — collections, Christmas dishes, out-of-season clothes, and sports equipment, for example. Items should be packed according to where they're going, rather than where they've come from. So, if there used to be one kid's room, and now there are two, pack and label items for Kid1 or Kid2.

    Pack Clothing
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    Pack Clothing

    If you can put clothes and shoes in your car and move them yourself, you'll save a lot of money on wardrobe boxes. Fill up every suitcase and duffel bag with clothing before you start filling boxes with it. Use blankets or down coats to wrap mirrors. Pack hangers in a clear plastic bin so they can be found easily.

    Professional movers moving up on staircase and carrying large box with furniture on first floor of house
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    Let Movers Pack Difficult Items

    There are some things movers should pack because they can do it faster and possibly better than you will. These include paintings and other artwork. Any furniture that comes apart, such as beds, is done more easily by movers, and they will put them back together in the new place. Some items that you could pack yourself — dishes, lamps, and electronics — might be done more efficiently by professionals. But that is a personal choice and involves weighing time vs. money.

    Close up Elderly hand plugging into electrical outlet

    Pack Electronics

    Before starting to pack electronics, back up everything. Hard drives holding backed-up data should be taken with you to ensure their safety. Before dismantling equipment, take pictures of the wires and cables so they can be put back the same way. Or put matching colored stickies on the cords and the places where they connect. Then disconnect them and put them in a labeled ziplock bag that can be taped to the device. Boxes for TVs and computers can come from a mover or a box supply company, but they should be sized appropriately for the equipment. Surround these items with foam padding.

    Pack Dishes
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    Pack Dishes

    Each dish needs to be wrapped in paper, taped bubble wrap, or a foam sleeve. Put several layers of crumpled packing paper in the bottom of a box. Don't stack plates on top of each other — pack them sideways. Stuff paper into glasses and cups before wrapping them. Use a lot of boxes and a lot of paper. Make sure there is no room between items. They should be immobilized, so stuff the empty spaces with paper.

    Young beautiful cheerful woman packing a lamp in a box ready to move to a new place looking very happy

    Pack Lamps

    While lamps themselves don't need to be packed in boxes, their shades and bulbs do. Put the shade for each lamp in a separate box, and in the same box, put the well-wrapped light bulb. If you had to remove the finial to get the shade off, put it back on the lamp. Make sure the box is labeled so the proper shade is found easily for each lamp.

    A Man Takes or Places Glass Jars Filled With Legumes From A Shelf In The Pantry

    Eat Up

    Having a lot of food around near moving day is not a good thing. Empty pantry shelves and pack up dried foods such as beans and pasta long before the move. Start eating through the contents of the fridge a week before. If you are bringing your refrigerator with you, make sure it's empty and turned off for at least a day before moving to give it time to get to room temperature. 

    Related: How to Use Up the Bulk Food You Overbought at Costco

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    Things to Move Yourself

    Some items are best handled by yourself instead of the movers, such as:

    • Tools you will need right away: screwdrivers, wrenches, a utility knife, and a measuring tape
    • Important documents such as insurance policies and bank papers
    • Hard drives containing important computer data
    • Plants
    • Jewelry and other valuables
    Man moving into a new house
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    Things To Pack Last and Take Out First

    Some household items will be needed immediately upon arrival at the new place, including:

    • Coffee, coffee pot, and mugs
    • Bedding and other linens
    • Pet food and pet food bowls, litter boxes, and so on
    • Shower curtains
    • Towels
    • Paper plates, disposable spoons forks, knives, and cups, even if your first dinner is pizza
    • Toilet paper
    • A corkscrew; you'll need it.
    Close-up of woman organizing her luggage at hotel room
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    Pack a Go Bag

    Each person in the family should have a backpack or other bag packed with essentials they will be need right away, such as:

    • Toiletries
    • Clothes for the next day, at least
    • School stuff, if kids are staying in the same school and it's not summer vacation
    • Laptops and personal electronics, including chargers
    Hands taking  us dollars  out from wallet on the street

    Things to Keep With You

    Have cash on hand to tip the movers. You should have enough cash to give the foreman to distribute among the crew, and it doesn't hurt to give a bit extra if they did something special. Here are some additional tipping pointers. It's also nice to provide them with cold water, especially if you're moving in the summer. Don't forget keys to both places, and of course, remember the notebook or pad that holds the lists of the contents of packed boxes.

    Barefoot girl doing house cleaning using microfiber wet mop pad

    Clean Out the Old Place Before You Get to the New One

    If you're a renter and the landlord requires nail holes to be filled, keep a small container of spackling paste. It can be smoothed on with a finger if the holes are small enough. Most leases require that the house be "broom clean." That means it doesn't need to be vacuumed spotless, but those dust bunnies that have gathered under the couch must be gone. Keep a broom, a dustpan, and garbage bags handy for this purpose, and after the movers leave, clean up.