The Ultimate Moving Guide for a Less Stressed Change of Address
The average American moves about 12 times in their lifetime, making the U.S. one of the most mobile countries in the world. As one of the more can’t-stay-put Americans, I’ve lived in spaces large and small in places near and far. I once moved apartments in Tokyo by taking multiple trips on the subway with suitcases. (Not recommended, btw—at least as a complete moving strategy.)
Most recently, I lived in Brooklyn, but then moved my stuff into storage and biked across America in search of a new city to put down roots. (Found! I’m currently packing up to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma.)
No matter how many times you change your address, it’s always a pain. (How do we end up with so much stuff?) These strategies for packing, transporting, and storing your precious possessions will keep you more prepared and less stressed when the big day hits.
FREE BOXES, WHERE ART THOU?
Before you figure out how to roll away, you’ll need to pack. And to pack, you’ll need boxes. Get twice as many as you think you’ll need, especially small boxes, which are easier to lift and are useful for heavy items like books. Lifehack: stack ’em up and wheel them in suitcases.
Paying for boxes seems like a waste of money, but contrary to other moving advice on the interwebs, we strongly suggest you avoid grocery stores for freebies. That is, unless you want to play host to peek-a-boo pests. Fruit boxes may look fine, but larvae, mites, and roaches can be hiding in the cardboard. The savings from free boxes will be wiped out by an exterminator fee.
Trust the kindness of strangers, except offers of candy on the street or boxes they’re giving away on Craigslist. This is another risky move as there’s no telling what shape (or smell) boxes are in until you get them.
Play it safe by hitting up liquor stores, bookstores, and copy services like FedEx Office and Staples. Boxes designed for bottles, books, and reams of paper are durable and have tops. You can also ask big box stores (stores shaped like big boxes, not ones that sell big boxes), clothing retailers, and dollar stores where deliveries are unpacked almost daily. For framed art and diplomas, long narrow boxes may be available from a friendly bike shop. Cushion generously with balled up newspaper. Lastly, consult online resources like U-Haul’s box exchange and Freecycle.
Most boxes don’t come with handles, so to make lifting easier, create your own. With a boxcutter, slice three edges of a rectangle on opposite sides and fold the flaps up.
As a cardboard alternative, invest in stackable plastic bins that can be reused for storage post-move. If you’ve just graduated from college, you probably already have some as part of your dorm decor.
DORM LIFE TO REAL LIFE: MOVING OUT, MOVING UP
When it comes to paring down, colleges often have “trash to treasure” events to recycle unwanted things for incoming freshman or sell to other students. Nope, you new graduates won’t need a mini fridge in the real world, even if you have a small kitchen.
That said, graduating to grown-up furniture may sometimes take all of adulthood. But you can still upgrade from the futon “guest bed” and the milk crate nightstand, so these mini moves may also take some planning.
PACK LIKE A PRO
Where to start? Pack the kitchen first. (You can always treat yourself to eating out the first few nights, if necessary.) Odd-sized accessories occupy the most boxes. Fragile tableware and stemware require the most preparation. Save on bubble wrap by using towels, linens, and t-shirts to buffer kitchenware. Place coffee filters in between bowls and insert disposable Styrofoam plates in between dishes, which should be boxed like records (straight up and down, not lying flat) in case your move hits any big bumps.
Stemware requires extra care, but stuffing socks into glasses is kinda gross…just saying. Packing paper in 2’x 2’ sheets is inexpensive, versatile, and worth having on hand to roll around and cushion fragile items of any shape.
When labeling boxes, do so on at least two sides, not just the top (cause whatcha gonna do when something else is stacked on top?). Also, be specific about what’s inside. Writing “Kitchen Stuff 5” seems like a timesaver, until you’re wondering which box has that trusty can opener or corkscrew. Apps can help with inventorying, too.
TURNING STATIONARY WARDROBES INTO ROAD WARRIORS
We’re not sure who came up with it, but this closet packing trick is an internet hit: Open a garbage bag around a bundle of hanging garments and then pull the bag up. Use the bag’s plastic handles to tie the hangers together. Saves time and all-important closet order.
More durable and visible are Ziploc’s giant bags with handles and flexible storage totes. You’ll get that satisfying snap shut and won’t risk a garbage bag full of shoes accidentally ending up in the trash. Plus, Ziploc bags are reusable and won’t rip. I relied on them to guard against moisture and bugs when I was putting clothing in storage for months. I worried about sprinkler heads going off (didn’t happen) or moths having a buffet with my sweaters. Pantry moths did invade my unit, but didn’t eat exposed fabrics.
If your clothing is in a dresser, leave it there. Seal the drawers in place with plastic wrap around the furniture. If it’s too heavy to move with drawers in, remove each drawer and wrap it individually over the top. Glad Press’n Seal also works for drawers and jewelry displays to prevent tangling.
When tidying your old place, here’s a big tip for a small fix: Contrary to popular advice, do not use soap or toothpaste to cover wall blemishes. New paint won’t stick to it. DAP DryDex spackling paste fills holes and cracks cheaply and correctly. Once dry, wipe away excess material with a wet washcloth. Your landlord will thank you.
Take photos of your cleaned out space (and perhaps the utility meters) as evidence if trouble arises when trying to get your security deposit back. Photos can also document pre-existing damage in your new place. I was the first person to inhabit a brand new apartment in Brooklyn, yet careless construction workers had punched a hole in the back of a cupboard, dented the fridge door, and chipped the countertop. Not my fault!
You can bribe friends with pizza or go the professional route and hire movers. Compare rates and reviews on Unpakt. When deciding between companies, inquire about restrictions. For example, some movers won’t transport garbage bags because they easily rip. Especially when you fill them full of books. (Go back and read our tip about small boxes!)
Movers insure by weight and not cost. And while they may be professionals, accidents can happen. Check with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance company for temporary moving coverage as items aren’t necessarily protected while between homes.
WHEELING AND DEALING
If you’re driving a truck long distance, be ready with GPS and entertainment. (And don’t forget to check your Budget discount, if you’re a Zipcar member.) Don’t wanna get behind the wheel? Door-to-door moving pods can be dropped off at your address for you to pack at your leisure and then have picked up for delivery to your destination.
For in-city trips, Zipvans work seamlessly with a Zipcar membership and have no hidden fees. Reserve them by the hour—gas, insurance, and all the fixins are included. No Zipvans nearby? SUVs and hatchbacks can fit a surprising number of boxes, too.
If your old stuff won’t fit in your new place, then you’ve got another move to make. If your building doesn’t have on-site storage, call nearby self-storage centers for rates and promotions that change frequently. Just be sure to read the fine print to see how long your rate is guaranteed. Rents can go up 15% or 20% each year—yikes!
If you’re just lacking sufficient closet space, New York City-based RedBin’s on-demand storage charges you per bin with free delivery. There’s also peer-to-peer storage with Roost where you rent storage or parking space from a neighbor.
DON’T FORGET A TONIGHT BAG
Moving is a trip, so pack a bag of essentials as if you won’t be home for a while. Include changes of clothing, toothbrush, toiletries, and charging cords. Don’t forget bare necessities you’ll need right off the bat like toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, and disinfecting wipes.
As for keeping clean, take a towel and shower curtain, plus hooks, so you can rinse off your moving day sweat. Paper plates and plastic utensils come in handy since kitchen boxes aren’t a priority to unpack. Oh, and keep a corkscrew handy for that celebratory bottle of wine, as well as bed sheets and pillowcases for a (much deserved) restful first night’s sleep.
No matter how much you prep, moving is a stressful life event and statistics say this won’t be your last time. Good luck!
Jeffrey Tanenhaus is a writer, tour guide, and enthusiastic bicycle commuter. His New York City Essential Guide app is a hit with tourists. Most recently, he crossed America on a NYC Citi Bike and called it Countri Bike.