Home > Make Your Move > Moving Lessons: 11 Tips I’ve Learned from 5 Moves to 5 Different States

Moving Lessons: 11 Tips I’ve Learned from 5 Moves to 5 Different States

Packing up and heading to a new place is both exciting and terrifying – here’s how to make your move go a little more smoothly.

By Kristen Gough on March 18, 2019

East coast. West Coast. Midwest. Big cities. Suburbs. Small towns.

During the 15+ years since graduating college and joining the workforce, our family has moved five times to five different states, encompassing nearly every region of the country and all kinds of living situations.

We’ve also done it all when it comes to how we moved: we’ve been professionally moved, had part of our moving expenses covered by our jobs, and we’ve done it completely on our own a few times. Truth be told, during our first move to New York we accidentally took out part of a building in the Bronx with our rental truck (thankfully, we’d opted for the insurance coverage).

There’s no way around it – moving is stressful. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got months to plan, or weeks (as we did with our most recent move in August). On the other hand, moving is also undeniably exciting – you’ve got a chance to start fresh in a new place, have new experiences and make new friends.

Before you start packing up boxes, here are a few tips I’ve learned from (lots of) experience that might help your next move go a little smoother. 

1. Come up with a plan – and accept that it won’t work perfectly.

I start my planning timeline with moving day and work backwards to list out everything that needs to be done by that date. I also keep a running list of other odds and ends that need to happen – like calling on the utilities, getting our mail forwarded and when to return the Wi-Fi router box (answer: last thing to go).

I have found it’s easiest for me to keep track on a printed monthly calendar so I can see everything at a glance – I put this in an obnoxiously red binder, along with all the various moving paperwork that comes my way during the process.

But even though I’ve always had a plan, it doesn’t always work – unexpected obstacles have always come my way, like temporary housing falling through or needing to take the dog to the vet. And other days, I just ran out of energy. My advice? Try to stick to your plan, but go easy on yourself when things inevitably don’t go as planned.

2. When in doubt, throw it out.

Moving is the perfect time to get rid of all that extra stuff you’re not using. That old crockpot you replaced years ago, but still kept? Donate it. The flannel bedding that looked cozy but got scratchy after two washes? That needs to go too.

Even if you’re being professionally moved, it’ll be so much better once you get to the new digs if you don’t have to unpack extra stuff you don’t use.

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3. Pack up least-used rooms first.

I’ve made the mistake of packing up my kitchen first when I was just anxious to get started. And then when it was dinnertime, I was out of luck. Whoops.

Start with the rooms or spaces you use the least first – like your linen closet, storage areas, dining room and basement. Save your most-used rooms for last. Common sense? Yes. But easy to forget in the midst of a chaotic move!

4. When friends offer to help, say, “Yes!”

It can be hard to accept help from others. And it’s doubly hard because you’re saying goodbye, too. But your friends want to help, and it’ll make packing up so much easier if you have a support network to rally around you. When they offer to help, say, “Yes, please.”

And then buy them pizza.

5. Have a moving soundtrack – or several.

Music makes moving go by faster. I had a few playlists at the ready depending on my mood – for regular days, I had one heavy with Coldplay and Imagine Dragons. And for days I was behind, Macklemore was my go-to. When I found out I had to paint a room last minute and only had a night to do it, I listened to a book from Audible to keep me company.

6. Get color coded with your boxes.

I noticed our professional movers had boxes with pre-printed options to select the room they were going into. Check this box for kitchen, this box for master bedroom, etc. When we moved ourselves, I had a simple system that worked no matter the box – colored dot stickers. I chose a different color depending on the room. As soon as I packed a box, I added the corresponding colored dot, along with a quick description of the box contents. I was very diligent with writing what was inside on the first few boxes, but as the moving date drew closer, I relied pretty much entirely on the dots.

Once we arrived at our new place, we knew exactly where to put the various boxes. While this low-tech approach worked for me, there are also apps available for you to use to scan and track your boxes.  

7. Designate a ‘Do Not Touch’ area.

Save your essentials in a corner of your house or apartment and block it off. As you start packing up and your friends and/or movers pitch in, it will be hard to keep track of everything. Keeping these items in a designated area will make sure no one accidentally packs away your deodorant (and after a sweaty day of moving, you’ll definitely need it). Remember to put all the things you’ll need here – a towel, toilet paper, extra clothes, brushes, toothpaste and toothbrush, etc.

8. Create a magic box.

I kept a plastic bin filled with moving essentials – decent scissors, a utility knife, packing tape, a box of permanent markers, measuring tape, a hammer, a screwdriver, paper, pencils and sticky notes. Whenever I used any of these items I returned them to the box so I knew exactly where they were and didn’t have to spend time looking for them. Your magic box may include other items, but these were my basics (I also had a stash of candy in mine).

9. Outsource your headaches.

Some moving tasks are worth paying someone else to tackle. While I had friends help me with the first round of cleaning, for the deep clean I hired a service that spent two hours doing something that would have taken me a whole day (or longer!). They even brought their own supplies and equipment so I didn’t need to worry about buying heavy-duty cleaning supplies that would sit in a box at the new home. I wrote out a list of what needed to be done and they ticked off each one.

So. Easy.

After moving our antique piano a few times on our own, we decided to have it professionally moved. It cost more, but I justified the expense figuring we’d pay less in health bills later from bad backs. Enlisting professionals to handle some of the more difficult and potentially time-consuming tasks saved us in frustration, which for me was money well spent.

10. Take breaks. Good ones.

Besides those occasional 15-minute breaks from packing, take time out for real breaks where you can get away from the ever-expanding moving list. Go out to dinner with a friend. Tick off a few items on your list of always-meant-to-go-there-but-haven’t-yet places in your area: The pop culture museum. The corner karaoke bar. The pro hockey game. Yes, it takes time away from your moving plans, but you’ll feel more energized to keep going.

11. Dream away stress.

I don’t mean through sleeping (although you should try to get plenty of rest). I mean make time for daydreaming. Start thinking about all the new opportunities that come with moving to a new place. Post about your move to friends on social media so you can start connecting with people you may know in your new area. Search online for what to expect in your new town – from the demographics to the sports teams to fun things to do. For me, that meant starting a mental list of all the places in our new city, Portland, OR, I wanted to explore – from a food trucks to hiking spots not far from our neighborhood.

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