Moving? These Tips from Serial Movers Can Help Make Packing Up Your Home Easier
When you've moved 85 times, you're officially a packing expert. Here, super movers share how they saved thousands on fees, and a near-perfect box labeling technique. (You'll thank us when you unpack.)
When you've moved 17 times in 18 years like Doug Levy, an emergency communications consultant in Corte Madera, California, you learn a few things about the practical and unexpected side of moving. First, there are the technical details, says Levy. "Finding and scheduling a reliable mover and getting just the right size and number of boxes to pack. Those are the obvious things."
Then there are the emotional details. "Going through everything you own churns up memories." It's easy to get sidetracked by family photo albums and long-forgotten keepsakes, or by alphabetizing your CDs instead of shredding 15-year-old tax returns.
No matter how organized, Levy says having friends around while he packed during his last cross-country move helped him stay focused. "Some friends actively helped pack boxes, but mostly they helped me stay on task, packing instead of wallowing in the memories."
Here, Levy and other frequent movers—both homeowners and professional packers—break down month-to-month steps they recommend for planning a big move, from vetting potential moving companies to packing your most valuable possessions.
6 Months Before Your Move Date
- The movers will be handling everything you own. Find out everything you can about the moving company.
As you research options for movers, conduct a basic background check—the same way you would a contractor, roofer or other professional handling your property, says Pamela Mueller, co-owner of NouvelleView, a moving planning company in New York City. Is the company fully insured? Does it have a good reputation with its customers? "Get at least two references and actually speak to the customers—call and talk to them."
Questions to ask:
- Did the movers pack and move any high-value items, such as artwork, jewelry or vehicles?
- Were the movers professional and careful with your belongings?
- Did the movers show up on time, with the equipment and any other extras required for the move?
- Was anything damaged in the move? If yes, how did the moving company handle the claim?
- Take inventory of high-value possessions, like artwork, antique cars and jewelry.
If you have a few items valued at $5,000 or more, and they're one-of-a-kind or fragile, talk to professional movers who specialize in moving fine art. "It's not worth it to take the chance of someone damaging it," says Mueller. "And once something is damaged, it loses its value."
All moving companies are liable for the value of the goods they move, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Administration , but this "valuation" coverage is not insurance. Movers are required to offer two options in valuation coverage:
Full value protection: The mover is responsible for repairing, replacing or paying for the entire value of a damaged item. Movers will charge an additional fee for this option.
Released value: The mover is responsible for no more than 60 cents per pound per item. (If a high-end 250-pound, $3,000 refrigerator is dropped and damaged beyond repair, the mover is only required to pay $150.) This option is available at no additional cost or fee, and you must sign a waiver on your bill of lading before the move.
- Ask about hidden moving fees.
There's a long list of additional fees a mover may charge on top of the estimate you receive. After you've reviewed a quote, ask if the following charges may be added and ask for an explanation of each.
- Accessorial charges
- Advanced charges
- Appliance service
- Auxiliary service
- Customs clearance
- Elevator carry
- Expedited service
- Flight charge
- Line-haul charges
- Long carry
- Shuttle service
- Specialty movers
- Storage in transit
- Storage extension coverage
- Warehouse handling
- Book 3 to 6 months before your move date.
The earlier the better, says Mueller. You're more likely to get your preferred date when you reserve early, and you may also get a break on the rate if the moving company offers discounts for early booking.
When discussing your move date, ask if rates change based on the time of year or days of the week. Because home sales are highest in summer months and kids are on summer break, May through September is prime time (and the most expensive time) for moving.
When Levy relocated from New York to California in 2016 (move no. 17), he learned that flexibility in scheduling can significantly affect rates. "By delaying my last cross-country move from September until December, I probably saved 30 percent on the long-haul moving expense."
- Buy four big boxes.
Mark them "Keep," "Donate," "?" (for items you're unsure about) and "New Owner" (for things you might leave for the new homeowner). Mueller says this broad, gradual sorting starts the decluttering process early, and little by little, you will whittle down the items you'll need to pack and move.
Moving rates are also based on the weight of the shipment. When you're considering what to keep and what to donate, Levy says it pays to think about which items are worth their weight.
"If you have inexpensive furniture, it may be cheaper to discard, or sell it and buy new on the other end."
3 Months Before Your Move Date
- Categorize your possessions.
The general idea: Divide your household into daily, essential items and items you can live without for weeks (or even months). California resident Paula Katzenburg, whose husband works for a major airline company, has moved 20 times in as many years. She's perfected what she calls the 3-2-1 technique of prioritizing her household items.
3 - "As soon as I know we'll be moving, I pack anything I don't use on a monthly basis: books, knickknacks, tchotchkes and out-of-current-season clothing." She boxes them up and labels them with the room name and the number 3.
2 - "A month before the move date, I look at what's left. Anything that isn't used daily is packed, labeled with the room name and the number 2."
1 - Day-to-day essentials get boxed a day or two before the move and labeled with the number 1.
On move-in day, unpack the no. 1 boxes first. You've lived without the no. 3 and no. 2 boxes for more than a month, which means they can wait a little longer to be unpacked, says Katzenberg.
- Buy small and midsize boxes in bulk.
"Movers typically charge a premium for single boxes," says Levy, who recommends buying boxes from a wholesale warehouse chain or a big home supply store.
"I used to collect boxes from liquor stores, but in New York City, it's too difficult to drag boxes on trains," says Annette Tomei, a chef who has moved 48 times, crisscrossing the country for her job. Tomei buys fresh boxes online by the dozen and has stockpiled clear plastic stackable bins, which are worth the extra expense. "They're more durable and I can see into them to grab what I need when I need it."
"Small or midsize boxes are best," says Carol Gee, an author, retired Air Force veteran and educator. She's lost track of the number of moves (somewhere around 20), but as an avid reader and collector of books, she cautions against buying large boxes, which are too heavy to lift when they're packed full. Standard book boxes measure 16 by 12 by 12 inches; medium boxes are 18 by 18 by 16 inches.
- Think long and hard before you rent a storage unit.
Mueller calls them the black hole of forgotten items. "It's where you put things before you give them away," she says. "You pay rent every month, then five years later you have no idea what's in there. I encourage people to deal with what they have when they move."
If you're moving out but don't know where you're moving in, consider storing everything with your movers, says Tomei. "It's so much easier to build it into the original contract and have your stuff a phone call away when you're ready to have it delivered."
1 Month Before Your Move Date
- Plan meals around what's in your pantry.
Take an inventory of your pantry and freezer, then group items into possible meals you can cook before you move, says Julia Simens, a school counselor whose job has taken her family to five continents. "It is costly and sad to have to throw away food."
- Consider a yard or estate sale.
"My husband calls it the Halfway to the Curb sale—nothing comes back into the house," says Crissy Perham, whose husband's position in the Air Force requires her family to pick up move frequently (10 moves and counting). A yard or estate sale can help you reduce the load of what you pack and pay to move, and it can put money back in your pocket to off-set moving costs.
2 Weeks Before Your Move Date
- Find organizations that truly need and can use household donations.
Instead of dropping off a pile of giveaways at a shelter or charity thrift store, call around to find organizations in need of those items. "Unwanted textiles can go to your local animal shelter. Donate books to a retirement home or school," says Perham, who makes drop-offs to several locations after her yard sale.
- Pack all but the most necessary clothes.
Katzenberg picked up this tip for moving clothes: insert all hanging clothes and coats into large garbage bags and pull the plastic drawstring closed around the neck of the hangers. It's an inexpensive way to protect clothing and keep it organized and labeled for easy unpacking.
- Let kids pack their own essentials bag.
If they're old enough to pack, let your kids fill it with whatever they want. The only rule? "Give everyone a maximum size for the carry-on bag," says Simens. Even if you're only moving across town, having those familiar and favorite comforts at hand helps when you can't find anything else.
- Gather necessities and important documents that will travel with you.
"I always carried my marriage license, medical records, insurance papers, passports and things I couldn't afford to lose," says Gee. "I also pack a set of sheets, blankets, towels, a couple of pots and pans, and clothing items for the family. Little things, like paper plates, cups, plastic utensils and toilet paper, also come in handy in a move."
- Create a private family space that's off-limits to movers.
"This is where you put the travel suitcases and other necessities you want within easy reach during the move," says Simens. "Remember to include your electronics cords and chargers too."