The Start-to-Finish Guide for Moving to a New Place
Moving sucks. There’s really no way around that, but it can be a lot more tolerable and a lot less stressful. Here’s a look at our best recommendations for an easier and more efficient move.
A lot of moving generally takes place over the next few months, and while everyone’s experience and needs vary a little, a lot of the work involved in moving is the same no matter who you are. There’s a lot to go over, so feel free to skip around:
Labeling and Managing Your Inventory
There is so much to do in preparation for your move: set up mail forwarding, change over your utilities, acquire packing supplies, and so on. The move, itself, is really the easy part as you’ll spend most of your time packing and unpacking. If you want everything else to go as smoothly as possible, you’ll need to prepare well. It’s a time-consuming and detailed process, but it’ll ultimately make your move significantly more simple and less stressful.
Transferring Your Information
Before you move, be sure you know all the utilities you’re responsible for and make the transfers. The further in advance you can make the call the better, as sometimes certain utility companies will not be able to come out the next day to make the switch. Another switch you can make in advance is filling out a change of address form, which you can do online. If you change your address online, be sure you have a credit card that uses your current address as the billing address, since that’s how the postal service verifies the request.
Finding Packing Supplies On the Cheap
There are a lot of places to buy packing supplies, but boxes and tape can add up to quite a bit of money. You can avoid this additional cost by hitting up one of quite a few places handing out free boxes. Most retailers receive a lot of shipments, but your best bet is to contact furniture stores. While your average retailer may be able to provide you with some used boxes, you’ll be able to find a greater range of sizes from furniture stores. Be sure to call them up at least a week in advance of when you want to start packing, however, as box disposal isn’t necessarily a daily task. If your friends are moving before you, another way to get used boxes is to ask them to give them to you when they’re finished. You may also be able to find boxes in the office you work in, or ask a friend to bring home any boxes they can find at the office. For more ideas, check out these tips on scoring free moving boxes.
The downside to reusing boxes is that they’re not always in the best condition. If you want brand new boxes (and other packing supplies), you can get a pretty good deal through ULine. They offer moving kits and will deliver to your door. Generally I don’t like to plug a single place, but I’ve used ULine for my last four moves and they’ve been consistently helpful and inexpensive. One recommendation, however, is to avoid their cheap tape. When packing, good tape is surprisingly important, and the tape you get in ULine’s moving kits is far from good enough.
In addition to packing supplies, you’re going to want some tools for the actual move. It’s fairly inexpensive to rent a hand truck and furniture dolly—both of which you’ll want to have—from a truck rental company, but if you’ve got room to store them in your new place, it’s not much more expensive to buy them. You can generally find these items for around twice the cost of rental at online retailers, hardware stores and discount clubs like Costco. When purchasing, just be sure to get a hand truck that can handle at least 150 lbs. and has a pretty solid build construction. Thick, solid wheels are also a plus, as you won’t have to worry about deflation during the move. When the move is complete, a good box cutter is also helpful. It’s an inexpensive tool and makes things a bit easier than a pair of scissors or a regular knife.
This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.
Everything you own may fit wonderfully in your current home, but it may not in your new one. It can be easy to make assumptions and forget to measure, so be sure to set aside some time to do it. Make an appointment at the new place, if necessary, to be absolutely certain your furniture will fit the way you want it. All you need to bring is a tape measure and the measurements of your furniture. If you really want to prepare, consider templating your furniture.
Also, if you’re planning on applying wallpaper (or hiring someone to do it), you’re going to need to know the measurements of your walls. The same goes for hanging various items on the walls. What looks nice in one space may look awkward in another. You’ll never be completely sure until you’ve moved and tried it out, but you can measure and estimate in advance to get a pretty clear picture.
If you want to go all out, AutoDesk HomeStyler is a great, free webapp that helps with the layout of your new home. If you want a complete plan, this is the way to go. Here’s how it works:
Getting a Truck
Maybe you prefer to have a moving company help you out, but I’ve always found that my moves go faster without one. If you’re taking the DIY approach, you’re obviously going to need a truck. UHaul tends to be the commonly recognized brand for local moves, but you should be sure to look at your options. There are a few things you’re going to want to consider when renting a truck:
Your mileage may vary from move to move, so figure out approximately how far you’ll be driving and how much you pay per mile. All truck rental companies will charge you around $1 per mile, but some include a certain number of miles in the rental price. If you’re not going too far, you may save some money by going with a cheaper rental rate that charges for every mile you drive. If you’re going a longer distance, you may find that included miles and a pricier rental rate will actually save you money. Additionally, if you’re moving between cities and there are rental locations in both, you may be able to pick up the truck in one city and drop it off in the other. This will prevent accruing additional miles and the nuisance of driving back just to drop off the truck.
The cost of the rental is one thing, but you also have to consider the cost of the truck should you find yourself in an accident. Rental companies offer insurance at different levels that often exceed the cost of the rental itself. Be sure to check how much insurance is going to cost you and what it actually covers. In most cases the insurance you’ll receive from the rental company will come along with a high deductible and only cover certain kinds of damage. For example, roof damage is frequently left out and is unfortunately common. A low-hanging tree can open the truck’s roof like a sardine can, so be aware of what you are and aren’t liable for and choose the insurance that’s best for you before you go in to pick up the truck.
Shop online and browse deal sites. Often times there are online specials available you won’t get via phone reservation. Keep your eyes peeled and you can sometimes save as much as 50%.
If you’re a student, several truck rental companies offer student discounts. If they don’t specifically, you can sometimes negotiate a deal anyway. If you can come up with a good reason—say you’re a film student who will need a truck for numerous student film projects—you can often get a better price. Just be sure to refer your friends if you can’t repay the rental company with frequent business of your own.
Reserve your truck as far in advance as you can or you may not get one. The day you move is also relevant to truck availability. Most people move in the Summer and on the weekends, so if you’re one of those people you’ll want to book as far in advance as you can.
Moving is not something you should do alone—it’s not impossible, but it can be a miserable experience. Moving with friends is a lot more fun, and it makes everything go much faster. This isn’t news, but if you’ve tried to coerce your friends to help you move, you may have found it’s not the easiest thing to do. While you can win over some with the promise of free food and help with a future move, many people do not want to commit to a full day of physical labor. Instead of asking for the full day, make it easy on them and schedule your friends in shifts. For a one or two bedroom apartment, you won’t really benefit from more than four or five people helping you. If you have enough friends, ask some to come in the morning and some to come in the afternoon. With less of a commitment you’re more likely to find the help you need.
More than anything, I hate packing boxes because of how long it takes to do it well and how many things there are to consider. On top of that, you have to think about what you can’t pack and actually need on a day-to-day basis. When you’re surrounded by everything you can’t yet pack, it gets a little stressful, so let’s take a look on how to break up this enormous undertaking.
Pack Like You’re Going on Vacation
We’ll get into the big stuff next, but first things first: set aside the essentials. You’re going to need mainly clothing and toiletries which should fit pretty easily into any standard carry-on suitcase. While you may want to wait until the week before you move to do this, put everything you need in that suitcase and live out of it. This isn’t as comforting as having everything in its usual place, but you’ll know where your necessities are and you won’t accidentally pack any of them. When all your other packing is complete, you can just zip up your suitcase and drive it over to your new home.
Packing by room is an ideal worth pursuing, but it’s not necessarily realistic. Some of the time you’ll have electronics from the living room fraternizing with the soft pillows and sheets from the bedroom in order to save on packing materials. At times you may want to wedge a book from another room into a box that has just a little extra space left. There are all sorts of situations in which you may want to mix contents from room to room, but it makes keeping track of what’s where a lot harder. If sorting by room does work for you, stick to it. If you want more flexibility, there are other options.
If you have a lot of extra sheets, pillows, blankets, and soft items, you should put them all in one place. Assume you’ll be using one for each box, so as you unpack you’ll know the first thing you’ll need to do is take that soft item to its appropriate place. Be sure to set aside bedsheets and the minimal number of pillows for their own box so you have them ready to go as soon as you move in. If you have room, include these items in your essentials suitcase.
You’ll also find that you have a lot of miscellaneous items that don’t belong to any particular room but just happen to be wherever they are. Find all of these items first, set them aside, and use them as filler for any box. Packing these items in a particular way (such as placing them in a plastic bag with a specific marking on it, such as a star) will help you keep track of what’s miscellaneous filler and what isn’t.
Overall, however, you’ll want to keep boxes as room-specific as possible. Even if you’re moving to a small apartment and not a multi-floor home, having everything in its correct place when it’s time to unpack will prevent unnecessary stress. You’ll be in a new environment and won’t know where you put every single thing you’ve moved. Staying very organized while packing will save you a lot more time and effort in the long run. Know your system and stick to it.
Labeling and Managing Your Inventory
Unmarked boxes are no fun when unpacking, but there are so many ways to keep track of your stuff—and label it informatively—that it can be hard to find the best system. The most common method involves a black marker and room names on your boxes. I find this method really annoying, however, because you generally have to bend yourself in an awkward position to write on the box. Space to write is also a concern, especially when it comes to smaller boxes. Searching the list for what you’re looking for can also be more difficult since 1) you have a lot of items on the box and 2) you can’t search hand-written text. I think inventory and labeling is one of those things best handled on a computer—or at least electronically in some way. With my most recent move, I explored some new options.
Mobile Inventory Software
Back in April we looked at the Five Best Home Inventory Tools and, as you can see, they’re all over the map. In fact, only two of the five are actually designed for home inventory, and Delicious Library specializes in media rather than handling everything. While there are some specific options for keeping a detailed database of your stuff, not much handles moves. After looking around for awhile I almost opted to write a web app to handle everything, since there wasn’t anything simple, easy and cheap/free. While I still feel there’s a bit of a void, I found an option for the iPhone that works pretty well.
Moving Van costs $1.99 and attempts to take you through the entire packing, moving, and unpacking process. You can photograph your stuff, add that stuff to specific boxes, assign those boxes to specific rooms and ultimately email your inventory to your computer. While the app feels rough at times and wasn’t always the paragon of stability, it got the job done pretty well. I was concerned about entering a large amount of data on a smartphone, but it wasn’t as time consuming as I’d expected. You’re really only typing a couple of words for each item, and if you consider the time it would take to walk over to your laptop and type in the item you’ll find it really isn’t any slower. Adding photos is considerably faster, of course, because you can use your iPhone’s built-in camera. Even with its faults, Moving Van was my favorite tool this time around. When you’re all over the apartment and you still don’t know where to find something, being able to look it up on your phone is an enormous help.
While I haven’t come across a comparable or better app for Android, please share options in the comments if you’ve found anything good.
If you prefer to handle your move via webapp, previously mentioned MoveIdiot is a feature-rich option that’ll help you organize your move and stay on track.
Labeling by Weight (and Other Information)
Labeling by room (i.e. Living Room, Kitchen, Bedroom, etc.) is a given (even some nifty tape can help), and labeling boxes with their contents can also be helpful. What most people don’t consider when moving a box is actually moving it. A box is a very basic-looking object that doesn’t tell you too much about itself just by its form. Relevant to moving, you don’t know know which side ought to be upright and how much it weighs. When physically moving the boxes from one place to another, weight and orientation are important. For example, you don’t want to place a heavy box on top of a light one. Labeling your boxes with relative weight (light, medium and heavy) will make each trip to and from the truck a lot easier.
Encoded Labeling with QR Codes
A few years ago I tracked my box inventory in a text file. In some ways it was great: I could print it, view it on mobile devices, search it and easily move an item from one box to another if I entered it in prematurely. On the other hand, when it came to labeling, I found it difficult to fit the entire inventory on a label. Additionally, there are certain circumstances where you might not want the contents of your box exposed to the world—for example, if there’s something expensive in the box and you can’t watch the moving truck every single second of the move or if you just have a few things you don’t want your friends to know about (like your ultimate Justin Bieber collection).
While they introduce their own inconveniences, I found QR codes to be a decent solution. What you can do is manage your inventory in a text file and then copy the contents of the boxes to a QR code generator like this one. A single QR code can handle 250 characters and that’s often enough for the contents of a single box. If not, fitting 2-3 on a standard size shipping label is no problem either. Using the QR codes keeps the contents of your box relatively hidden and provides a way to fit the contents of the box into a much smaller space. You can then read the codes easily with one of many mobile phone apps, such as QR App (iPhone, free) and Barcode Scanner (Android, free — browse to Google Shopping on your phone, choose “More” and then “Scan Barcode” to install). While this solution is pretty geeky and certainly not for everyone, it’s a fun way to label your boxes that actually solves some issues as well.
If you’ve taken the time to prepare, unpacking shouldn’t be too difficult. Nonetheless, you’ll still have a number of tasks ahead of you. Here are some things to consider when moving in to help everything go smoothly.
Hopefully your couch made it over in one piece, but some furniture—like your bed—is probably best when transferred in disassembled form. If you find that you don’t remember how to put things back together again and the manual isn’t available online, you can often have instructions sent to you from the manufacturer by just making a quick call. If email isn’t an option for them and snail mail will take too long for you, often times you can convince the company to fax the instructions. A quick Google search will turn up several 30-day free trials for fax services that you can use to get your instructions and then cancel as soon as you have what you need.
Clean and Dust First
If your furniture wasn’t dusty or dirty when you loaded it into the truck, it probably is now. Before you bring it into your home it’s best to wipe it down just a little bit. You can dust more thoroughly once inside, but definitely be sure to do it before you put the furniture to use.
Use Your Closets
It’s easy to clutter up your home when unpacking because you’ll have stuff everywhere. It can become a little intimidating when you have to move it all around. If you can manage, fill your closets first—even if it’s only temporary. This will help keep clutter out of the way and leave you more room to unpack the important stuff.
Trash Disposal and Recycling
When you’re all done, you’ll have papers, boxes, and other items left over. Getting rid of boxes can be as easy a a quick post on Craigslist. You can’t pass everything along, however, and will need to dispose of it properly. If you’re moving into an apartment, it’s best to check with your building’s management before seeking out trash and recycling. The building may have un-posted policies you’re not aware of.