Learn from someone who's moved 8 times: How to move like a mutha' effing pro

November 26 | Guest post by Ange
My cat Gibson is also a professional mover at this point.
Since 2006 I've:

  • Moved house eight times
  • Lived in five different towns including two different towns at the same time
  • Flown across the country with two grumpy cats once (and NEVER again!)
  • Driven between towns with one grumpy cat once (and NEVER again!)
  • Unpacked approximately a gazillion boxes

Here's how to take your entire life, put it into many boxes and successfully move the whole lot somewhere else. And why you should never do it eight times in six years…

Start with a cull

Grab some post-it flags in different colours and start labelling the furniture — one colour for keep, one for sell, one for donate. Tackle smaller items (the "stuff") one room at a time using an objective friend to help you decide if you really do need 36 serving platters.

Get giving

You could waste several hours listing two dozen things on eBay for $1 or you could make it your donation for the year and give your goods to many worthy causes…

  • Clothing and furniture can go to thrift stores.
  • Try local hospitals and medical centres for magazines and books.
  • Women's refuges collect new, unused toiletries.
  • Play centers and youth groups will be happy for more stationery, paper, shiny things, sports gear, and board games.
  • Local churches and schools will take bric-a-brac for fundraising fairs and garage sales.

And as a last resort you can pile everything on the front lawn with a FREE sign and take bets on how long it takes for it all to disappear (the record is three minutes… including the sign itself).

Have a packing party

Invite your friends around for the evening and ask each "guest" to bring a couple boxes and some old newspapers or the contents of their paper shredder. Send them off to a room to pack their boxes then get them to rifle through your "cull" pile and giveaway some of that stuff you don't use to a good home.

Pack one room at a time

Assume all your boxes will be handled by drunk elephants at a rave and pack accordingly. Keep like items together — e.g. pack your computer and all its cables in the same box. Tips:

  • Tape remote controls to their units to save you finding the TV remote six months later in a wok.
  • Use sheets, pillowcases, towels, and clothing to wrap your valuables instead of wasting bubble wrap and tissue.
  • Make a canvas roll with your artworks; Lay a sheet or blanket on the floor, add a canvas fold over on the sheet, add the next canvas (put them picture sides in) and keep rolling. Secure with masking tape and label.

If you're moving often, a long way or keeping your art in storage consider getting an under bed storage container to keep the canvases safe. Hoard the little "moisture" packets that come in shoe boxes and tacos and throw them in the container too.

Label heavily

Depending on how far you move, a moving company can use several trucks/ships and may bulk your items together with someone else's. In our last move we had several boxes for someone else that were meant to be delivered to a town 500 kilometres away. I had no address, no name and no number and the company couldn't remember which house in that town they belonged to. D'oh.

Label every box with:

  1. the room it belongs in
  2. the contents
  3. your cell number
  4. the address you're moving to.

Set up some "last minute boxes"

I have one half-packed box in each room (bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom) and on the morning we move I can chuck in the coffee pot, toothbrushes, etc. I label them with "Unpack First" so we know they have all the things we'll need as soon as we arrive.

Reassess your insurance

Even if you're flatting/renting insurance is vital. When we lived in an apartment building we had to get liability insurance for the ENTIRE building (a couple million dollars worth!) in case we burnt the whole place down. Get your heirlooms and valuables appraised and added to the policy to save any sticky moments when you claim insurance on a $40,000 painting when the rest of your stuff is worth $2,000.

Double check to see if you have an "at value" replacement policy or new-for-old. "At value" may mean you only get $5 for your 10-year old laptop but new-for-old will cover actually buying a new one to replace it.

Most insurance companies will insure you at the new house and the old house but not in "transit." For example, when my friend's cousin dropped her laptop on the concrete steps outside the new house (ouch!) the insurance company wouldn't pay up as the laptop was "in transit." Moving companies will give you the option of insuring your goods while they are moving them. Considering most moving people see a "This way Up" label as a personal challenge to smash the contents, transit insurance may be a good idea. Remember if you're buying a home you need to insure the new house from possession date (heck, make it the day before), not the moving date.

Using a moving company

Moving companies work by the rule that items are sent "at your own risk," and they like to increase the "risk" as much as possible. If they've obviously damaged something (like a piece of furniture) because of their bad packing DON'T sign the form to say your goods arrived intact. Sign your name and add STI which stands for subject to inspection (not the other meaning!), and means you haven't checked the goods yet. You can also use this when signing for parcels that arrive with an ominous rattle.

Finally if something is REALLY valuable to you (grandma's jewellery, your sister's first painting) then move it yourself in your own suitcase, hand luggage or vehicle — it's not worth taking the risk and losing something irreplaceable.

Moving in!

Make a list of all the places you need to send out change of address details to and get mail redirection — the new people may or may not pass on your mail but you will absolutely forget to change at least one vital address — like your bank.

Check the house thoroughly before you leave, take it one room at a time and as you check each room close the door. Remember to look in every cupboard, the attic, and any under floor storage spaces.

Add an extra day onto the phone, power and water and arrange an overlap of services in case you want to go back to the old house and clean or move into the new house early.

Remember to turn the hot water cylinder on the minute you arrive — not at midnight when you NEED a hot shower.

Have the following handy in a well-labelled box:

  • 6-10 light bulbs (bayonet and screw cap)
  • cleaning products and cloths including your preferred toilet cleaner
  • several rolls of toilet paper
  • assorted screwdrivers
  • extra curtain hooks
  • 4-5 box cutting knives
  • pliers
  • fuse wire
  • more cat treats
  • a torch (flashlight)
  • band aids
  • chocolate and wine
  • picture hooks and nails
  • a hammer
  • a cordless drill
  • and more wine

Grab some sheets of paper and label each room to match your box labels — this is especially important if you have several bedrooms or his 'n hers offices to sort out.

Check the lights are working before it gets dark and you realise the previous owners took all the bulbs with them

DON'T unpack everything. Unpack what you use as you use it, then in a year's time have a look at the boxes still packed and ask yourself why you still have this stuff.

Ring the city council or visit their website and check out your rubbish/recycling collection day (even if you're moving within the same town the day may change).

Check where your nearest supermarket is and when it closes — chances are you'll need 16 light bulbs fifteen minutes after the store shuts.

Plug in the fridge and freezer as soon as they arrive — if they're older they may "sulk" and take a while to get started.

Assemble and make the bed ASAP. Don't leave it until 1AM to realise the moving company has left the mattress at the other end of the country and you have to sleep on the floor (for the next two weeks as it turned out).

Allow for your first grocery bill to double. The pantry is empty, you're out of light bulbs and toilet cleaner, there are ants in every cupboard, you need picture hooks, curtain hooks, string, rubbish bags, potting mix… It's like you have nothing left except the 36 serving platters you refused to get rid of and packed in 36 separate boxes.

Unpack the wine.

  1. Such good suggestions! After 10 moves in 8 years, I've learned all of these lessons the hard way. To the handy, well-labeled box, I would suggest adding a shower curtain (with hooks) if needed and a couple bath towels for the first night's shower. Also paper plates and plastic utensils for the first couple days and plenty of plastic cups, you know, for the wine.

    15 agree
    • I was thinking about the shower curtain, too! Maybe also pack your basic hygiene toiletries in here. It might also be a good idea to have some clean clothes really accessible, so you're not hunting through your entire wardrobe just to find some clean underwear.

      Thanks for all of the great advice!

      4 agree
    • Shower curtain and hooks completely took me by surprise when I moved into my new place. It wasn't pleasant after a 10 hour overnight drive, and then several hours of bumming around town with my friend and my cat in the car because I needed to get my hands on the last bit of cash for the deposit (darn ATM limits and not having a debit card for a money order) before they would give me the keys.

  2. This is awesome. I won't be moving for a few years, at least, but up until last year, I'd moved 7 times in 6 years. I never did get a good a system going, but there were a few things I did:

    – If you can afford it, hire a moving company. They'll have you in the truck and in your new place within a few hours, assuming you're just moving across town. That's way better than spending a whole weekend trying to keep a couch from sliding out of your boyfriend's truck. For me, the cost was totally worth not having to deal with the massive stress that comes from trying to pack up everything in a UHaul and get it all loaded/unloaded before you have to return it. Also, if you do rent a truck, make sure it's big enough to hold all your stuff so you don't have to do multiple trips, and bribe your friends to help you with pizza and beer.

    – If you're having someone help you move (moving company, friends, etc), label each box with the room it goes in, and put up signs in each room in your new place. Like, if your books are going in a room with blue carpet, label the box "blue room" and tape a sign to the wall that says "blue room". If the new place is empty, just writing "guest room" on a box won't help, because nobody will know what the new "guest room" will be, so the signs will stop them from asking every few minutes.

    – Definitely agree about having a well-labeled box of urgent supplies. Keep it with you and make sure that it goes in your car and not in with all the other moving boxes, cause it'll somehow wind up underneath everything and you'll spend hours trying to find it when all you want to do is pee and get some water.

    – Plan to eat out or order in the first couple of days/nights. No need to stress trying to get to the grocery store when you haven't even unpacked the kitchen yet.

    5 agree
    • On your last note–perhaps prepare in advance with the phone number or directions to the local take-out places? And have snacks and stuff handy, too. During big projects like moving it's easy to forget to eat (or feed your helpers) until you're SO hungry that you have to eat RIGHT NOW.

      6 agree
      • Definitely agree! I didn't even think about that. If your internet hasn't been set up at the new place yet, finding places quickly that night once you've finished won't be easy, and having that info ready would be great.

        2 agree
          • I don't think I've ever had a phone book available when moving into a new place. They show up within a couple weeks, but not typically right away.

            Smart phones are an option too, but the last thing I want to do when hungry and tired is try to figure out which local pizza joint has the best options. I'm glad I took the time to look that up before we moved. Because I'd planned ahead, it meant my mister could place the pizza order while we were still in transit, instead of trying to do that while directing people how to unload the truck.

            1 agrees
      • This is the first moving list (and comment) I've seen that suggests packing chocolate / wine / snacks – for yourself or helpers. I imagine I would break down in happy tears if I opened my toiletries box and discovered a bag of candy or potato chips. "Yes! I so need comfort food right now! Nom!!!"

        8 agree
      • I find there's always a friend or family member who wants to help but can't do heavy lifting – volunteering them to grab some quiches, salads and bread rolls from the supermarket means they can literally save your life (well, stomach) for very little effort on their side

        8 agree
        • I am totally that person. I am also amazing at holding doors that auto-lock, finding ways to prop them open when there are multiple auto-locking doors (tape on the latch is my go-to), and being the stationary person that can direct people and keep track of who is inside/outside/upstairs/downstairs/looking for a parking spot. When I do this for other people, I mostly just point and hold tape, but when I did it for my own move I had a marker and double checked that each box had both a contents and a destination written on the box. We only ended up with TWO boxes marked MISC, and one unmarked, I was so proud.

          My mister and I figured out who was helping on our moving day (lots of people came out of the woodwork because it was a super-last-minute stressful move), we paired people up into strength-lifters and rollers with the hand dollies, we had two people playing tetris in the truck and two people staging boxes outside the truck. Unfortunately at some point communication failed, and they just played tetris instead of focusing on keeping things organized, and we ended up having to unpack the truck TWICE–once at the storage unit, and once at the house. I'd been trying really hard to get the house stuff in first, but people straggled in instead of showing up on time and the communication lapsed. Next time, I'll take the time to either be the person staging boxes, or sit down with the person who is going to be doing that and make sure they know what all the labels mean and how they need to be packed into the truck.

          • maybe a really obvious system for mutiple locations could help. For example, all boxes labled with a blue maker and cercled go to the storage locker, all boxes labled in red and with a star goes home. The less information needs to be passed on, the better it works. You could also make a list of things to do pin it on a wall and like that when people finished their main role (like carrying boxes or holding doors) they can see what else needs to be done a make a sing on the sheet so everyone knows it is taken care of. The more helpers you have, the more organised on chores you need to be. They say a crowd behaves like a five year old.

        • My 73 year old uncle (with a bad back/foot issues) want so help us- and I am planning on him installing my new deadbolt lock- essential and yet not heavy lifting. I will come up with other essentials as we unload, like running for the pizza:)

          1 agrees
  3. my friend has moved 21 times in her 26 year life and she still doesn't know how to move…

    your premise that you've moved 8 times and know what you're doing is faulty

    3 agree
    • The scary thing is that's only the last 6 years of my adult life – I wasn't counting childhood moves 😛

      2 agree
  4. I'm moving tomorrow halfway across the country. I'm sitting on a box in an empty room, true story. (Please send wine and/or chocolate.)

    Please make sure you take medications with you, especially those you will/may need immediately. Nothing sucks worse then trying to find your packed inhaler while you're having an attack. Also, make sure to have a small first aid kit handy, complete with Advil/Tylenol, band aids and tweezers. It's also helpful to know where the nearest ER or instant care clinic is too. Someone is going to hurt themselves at some point in the move, so you might as well be prepared.

    As far as moving with pets go, make sure you have copies of immunization records with you, so if you leave them in a motel room in the middle of freaking nowhere, you still have a copy. Also, talk to your vet on whether or not to sedate your pets and if you should, what you can use and what dosage.

    We also put together a small survival kit for the car with a few blankets, a lantern, some granola bars, jumper cables and a small shovel, just in case.

    4 agree
  5. Never underestimate the power of having great music playing when you get to the new place.

    11 agree
  6. THIS IS THE MOST TIMELY THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED. My boyfriend and I are getting the boot from our current place – so we signed a lease two days ago and are moving on Saturday. We also have to paint, because the two smaller bedrooms were previously inhabited by princesses, and are at present pink and lavender. I own almost nothing and have never had to pack for a real move, and whereas he has four years of accumulated stuff in the current place and has always relied on girls who DID know how to pack. Lord save us all.

    2 agree
  7. I have moved ten times in the last fourteen years, including one international and one interstate move. By far the worst was the move I did with my roomies around the corner from our old place. Being broke-ass students without a car between us we decided to carry all our stuff the two blocks between our old place and our new place rather than hire a U-Haul. Various generous friends (who remain friends to this day, somehow) joined in our crazy parade through the streets carrying beds, boxes and kitchen paraphenalia while the neighbors watched from their porches and laughed at us.

    So there's my handy tip for moving, which most likely no-one will need to be told because no-one can possibly be as dumb as I was at 22. Don't move your stuff by hand. Not even if your new place is right around the corner.

    5 agree
    • Having carried a big-ass desk around the corner, in the rain: I concur.
      All of your stuff is heavier than it seems and it will triple as you start to move it!

    • Seconding this, as if it needs seconding. I moved out of my mom's place when I was eighteen, into a basement apartment down the street, and back home a year later. Both accomplished by me and usually one friend hauling everything down the street like a couple of fools. For a teenager, I had stockpiled a LOT of furniture and household items in preparation for moving out, so this took a loooong time with two people.

  8. Just thought i should say, apparently fridges and freezers have to be left for at least a hour after moving before being switched on. Something to do with the gases inside needing to settle. Dont know if this only applies to old or certain ones but worth looking into…. Good list though, im super organised and that is basicly my list too! Xx

    5 agree
    • Yes, you need to let them cool down at least an hour before plugging them in. Otherwise it might break. Bad juju!

  9. This is great! I last moved 4 years ago, when I had very little in the way of furniture and "stuff". Now that my husband and I are buying a house and looking to move soon, I've started to realize how much more of a massive job it's going to be. Accepting the fact that we are beyond the days of simply cramming all of our possessions into ours and a friends car and then shoving off, we've come to the realization that we actually will have to hire a moving company for the first time ever, and that it might take multiple days. The enormity of the project is daunting… and it already seemed huge 4 years ago when we had a fraction of the stuff to move!

  10. Ah ha! I think I always win the most moves in a time period. In December, I will be moving for the 12th (yes 12th) time since August 2008. So that averages a move every 4.25 months…

    And all of those moves were in my car, all but two a distance greater than 400 miles. I keep meaning to write a little "tips for moving in your car" article, but each time I mean to take pictures I've accidentally already packed the camera!

    1 agrees
    • i stopped counting my moves after 31. seriously, i must be up to 40 now b/c that was almost a decade ago.

      1 agrees
    • Please, could you write that article?? I'd love to see it because there's precious little about small household moves.

      2 agree
    • I have done 12 moves since March of 2007, not including helping my fiance move 3 times this year alone, but you got me beat girl! I have been lucky that none of my moves have been very far, some across town, some across a few counties. I have gotten better at it each time, but there are still snafus every time. Here's hoping we can buy a house soon and settle down for a few years!

  11. I have to whole-heartedly support renters insurance with a replacement value rider. It's TOTALLY WORTH $10 A MONTH. Seriously. Suck it up and pay it. So far, our insurance has paid us $1,200 for stolen mountain bikes (including my husband's super fancy custom built ride) and $700 for the camera stolen out of the back of my car (and this is after the $500 deductible). The camera was a Canon AE-1 circa 1970-something, but because of the way the policy is written, they replaced it at new value, so basically for the cost of a midline DLSR. It was pretty awesome.

    We pay roughly $50 every three months, which includes the replacement value rider and a special rider on my wedding ring. Worth every penny.

    3 agree
    • Yes! We're now finding out the hard way the benefits of renters insurance. My husband was hit by a car while cycling last week (he's fine by some crazy miracle, thank God!) and it looks like we'll end up having to take the driver's insurance company to small claims court to pay up. This'd be so much easier if we just had renters insurance to pay for the new bike. Totally worth the $10-$20 a month.

      1 agrees
  12. I second the recommendation about a shower curtain. Just buy a cheap plastic one in your first run to the store, you want to be able to take a shower without soaking your new bathroom.

    Start packing as early as you can. I have a studio, so I don't have a lot of stuff, but I still have mountains of things (particularly clothes). All the things that are out-of-season, or my two full bookshelves, or the kitchen things that I only use when I'm baking—they will be the first into labeled boxes. Also, don't be afraid of having boxes full of random things; just write everything in there on the box.

    If you can & you are cheap (and/or poor, like me), I recommend getting a truck (moving truck, UHaul, someone's pickup) & moving things yourself. I did this when I moved for a job, & it worked out to be much cheaper and less panic-inducing for me since I knew where everything was exactly. A family member helped me pack the truck (30 minutes), a friend helped me unload (60 minutes up 3 flights of stairs). Hopefully I'll have my significant other to help me move in the summer! We're going to borrow someone's truck for my furniture, but with two people the actual moving & the bulk of unpacking should be done in a day.

    1 agrees
  13. Something we have always done while packing is to get a package of multicolored index cards or sticky notes. Assign each room in the new place a color, and then tape a colored card to each box/piece of furniture (use good packing tape, the sticky notes are not going to stay on by themselves while you're carrying boxes around).

    When you get to the new place, tape a card in the doorway of each room. (If your new place is big or full of twisty hallways, maybe put up extra cards with arrows on them.). Then as you are moving stuff in, you can just glance at the color and easily tell where to put what without trying to read labels.

    5 agree
  14. If your supermarket does online ordering combined with home delivery, place an order before you move to be delivered the day after you move in. A friend of mine just moved across the country and she did this. The major supermarkets here in Australia have online shopping set up so you can order up to two weeks in advance of a delivery date.

    4 agree
  15. Yup, I've moved 10 times in the last 10 years. I also had the bedframe turn up on moving day, and the mattress was delivered two weeks afterwards. The movers even mentioned "Oh we thought it was funny that there was a bed but no mattress."
    The spare random boxes are useful, there's always heaps of stuff that you can't pack until the day you are actually moving – your bed linen, personal toiletries, breakfast things etc.
    The most recent place I have moved into (our very own house that I own with my brand new husband!) we had to make an emergency trip to a home improvement store on moving day to buy a toilet seat!

  16. Ahem. If you are renting a truck (or borrowing a smaller one, for less massive moves), make sure 1) someone is comfortable driving the truck, 2) that person will be available and happy to help with at least the driving for the whole move, and 3) that the truck is available for the whole distance. I had to rent a Uhaul for my move into a different state, but had only had my driver's license for a week – no way I was driving it. I got one friend who felt fine driving it out, but had to ask someone else to drive it to the return center and the latter was *super uncomfortable* with it. I've also had people volunteer to lend their truck and help with across town moves who got exceedingly grumpy when things took longer than they expected (but didn't say "Hey, I need to go," just got passive aggressive with it). With my Uhaul, there was a glitch in the system that allowed me to sign up to take a van out of state, but the center denied me. Instead, they gave me a proper truck at the same rate, which was exactly what I needed. I imagine not all places would be so cooperative, though – I could have ended up in a *bad* spot.

  17. A few years ago when I was recently widowed/living by myself, I called my church & asked if the men's group would consider helping me move for a donation$. They showed up on moving day with 8 SUV's, a few vans, etc- and they moved me in a few hours(inlcuding setting up my washer & dryer, their kids even made my bed & played with my dogs to distract them). I couldn't have asked for a better experience, and the $ that I gave them went to their charity to help our troops overseas.
    Another tip- ask your grocery store to save some boxes that gallon jugs of bottled water come in- super sturdy & free:)

    5 agree
  18. I have moved at least every 2 years all my adult life, and many of those moves have been international. I have a moving box that is basically my camping gear – inflatable mattress, sleeping bag, camping stove and basic kitchen supplies – like that I can be (reasonably) comfortable while I wait for my possessions to be shipped to my new home – even if it takes 3 months!

  19. Things I have never wasted when moving, and have organised in the weeks before "the day".
    1/ those covered fruit or tomato boxes from the grocers, they are tough, have handles, stack well and are still easy to lift full of books.
    2/a rough floor plan for furniture placement stuck to the front door so your helpers have a clue.
    3/plenty of newspaper for the breakables.
    4/ cling wrap, use it to wrap easily marked upholstery, it sticks to itself, is cheap and easy to use. Similarly completely cover mattresses in fitted sheets. Sheets wash, mattresses dont!
    5/ appoint a designated runner for beverages, food and the stuff you left in the car.
    6/Once I had a sofa recovered while I moved, the upholsterer picked up from the old place and delivered to the new after it was done, nice!

    5 agree
  20. I so appreciate all the great ideas! I have moved too many times to count as a child or as a single college student. Now I am moving a household of 2 across the country. We are in the big leagues now! We will be moving to a new town where we do not know a soul (for my new job), and will be using a moving company. Thanks for sharing all of your ideas 🙂

  21. another option for books is your local library. at mine, we take donations, add them to the collection when able (to replace old copies or just add new items in), and put the rest in an ongoing book sale where the money goes toward items the library needs (new computers, repairs, etc). AND you can use the book donation as a tax write off.

    1 agrees
  22. I'm about to embark on my 18th move. Grew up in a family of nomads, but my husband and I have stuck to the same house for 8 years. 😉 I am pretty good at moving. Go through to throw out trash, separate the donations, pack unused things first, etc. I have never thought to have a "handy box." That's so smart! I am definitely doing that this go. It would make things so much easier.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.