6 moving tips from folks who moved four times a year!

Guest post by Lindsey Heimbach

Ah moving… ain’t it a bitch? We’ve got tips upon tips for you, but here are six more from a couple of frequent movers.

Find out how investing in an expensive air mattress can help you move!
Find out how investing in an expensive air mattress can help you move!
For most of my four-year relationship, my partner Derek and I have lived together in some way. Our relationship progressed into keeping a home together. The transition felt natural, except for one thing: as college students, school necessitates us to move much more often than most homemakers do.

Last year, we lived with family in New England for six weeks during Christmas, and we lived in China for a month for school. The last two years, we moved out of our school housing to rent an apartment for just four months until school housing would open at the end of August.

We are thankful for the opportunities that school brings us, but we agree that a stable home will be the first thing we look for when we finish school. Moving every few months is exhausting, especially when we know that every move will be just as short-term as the last, at least in the near future.

Here are the six things I’ve learned to do, to make our constant moves a lot easier…

1. Orchestrate your moves well ahead of time

There’s nothing more stressful than coming down to the last week of April and realizing you have to move in the first week of May. Plan your moves weeks or months ahead of time if you can. Figure out who is going to help you, where you’re moving to, and when you need to move the utilities and internet to the new address. You don’t want to get home and start unpacking only to realize at sundown that you never turned the electricity on.

2. Maintain a spacious storage area

Chances are that every move will be different. Some spaces will be completely furnished, and some will come with nothing but a toilet. Know where to rent a storage space if you need to keep some furniture there for a few months. If you have a friend or a family member with an empty garage who offers to help, compensate them for the space. Space is precious and your furniture is expensive — you don’t want to throw it out just to replace it in a few months.

3. Cultivate relationships and connections that will help you in future moves.

If you’ll be moving frequently in the same area, treat your landlords well because you’ll probably rent from them in the future. If not, still treat your landlords well because you’ll need a recommendation for future rentals. Or because you want to be a good tenant!

4. Thank the people that help you

If your mom or a friend helps you every few months when moving time rolls around, make sure he or she knows how much you appreciate the help. Small gestures go a long way. Bake your helpers some treats once you’re settled in, or buy them lunch if you aren’t the baking type. Give hugs and high fives. If you can, return the favor sometime. Remember to say “thank you.”

5. Learn to improvise and save space

Our biggest space-saver has been forfeiting a real bed in favor of an airbed. We splurged and spent $300 because we know that we’ll be sleeping on it every night for parts of the year and it needs to be comfortable. Use collapsible comfy chairs, stackable drawers, and those awesome airless storage bags — whatever gets the job done and takes up less room.

6. Figure out what makes your space “home”

For me, it’s a clean kitchen. For Derek, it’s his video games and TV. For both of us, it’s our bed set up and ready for sleep, with the blankets and pillows in just the right configuration. Every time you move, unpack these things first so that if you don’t get through everything, you can still go to sleep feeling like you’re home on the first night. Moving is hugely stressful and you don’t want to spend your first night feeling on edge.

Luckily, there are some benefits to moving so often…

Because we don’t have the time to get attached to a space, we are flexible and can find something to love about every new home we move into.

We know how to keep our belongings sparse when it matters: no qualms about getting rid of junk that takes up space.

Most importantly, moving so often strengthened our relationship and we discovered that no matter where we are, we are happy because we are together. Our communication is great because it takes so much communication to set up a single move, let alone four of them per year. (This might be different for you: everyone deals with stress differently, and not everyone who moves a lot is in a relationship or living with a partner.)

Of course, it will be thrilling to move into our first long-term apartment together after graduation. Settling down will feel amazing after dealing with the stress of constant moves for years. In the meantime, we will take the stress with the blessings and remember that home is where you make it.

Any other frequent movers out there? What’s YOUR sage moving advice?

Comments on 6 moving tips from folks who moved four times a year!

  1. Just as a note, that $300 airbed self-destructed early this month before this post was published, so… maybe splurge a little more? It was nice while it lasted! 😉

    • Cots. Cotty cots cots. I will never sleep on an air mattress ever again.

      My husband and I got super tired of disappointing air mattresses (we camp a lot) so we splurged on nice cots from LL Bean. They were $80-100 each, but are far more comfortable, much easier to store, and so very sturdy. Plus, since LL Bean offers that awesome lifetime warranty on their products, we never have to worry about shelling out for a replacement if it craps out on us.

      • Do they sell a cot that’s big enough to sleep two people? I’d definitely consider picking one up instead of replacing the air mattress. We’re sleeping on the floor in a blanket fortress now!

    • As someone who has moved a lot, look into getting a thin-ish foam mattress. I got mine from Ikea and I can still roll it up enough to fit it into my dodge caliber. I also got the cheapest bedframe they offer and I’m so glad I decided to get all of these things (cost about $170 for a twin, and it would be about $210 for a full bed – a bit more if you want a thicker matress).

      • My sister and her girlfriend bought a nice memory-foam mattress topper (really nice, to the tune of $400). Basically it goes everywhere with them. They have used it on their regular bed, spread it in the back of their SUV on roadtrips, taken it into hotels to supplement the hotel bedding, and spread it on the floor in a temporary living situation. They have a relatively cheap Ikea mattress that goes under it normally, but you’d never know because the cover makes it feel like a cloud, no joke.

  2. Yes, yes, and YES to the above. My husband and I are currently finishing the packing to move this coming weekend, and I cannot stress enough that it makes things a lot easier if you don’t wait until the last minute to pack. You would be amazed how much stuff you have that you didn’t even REALIZE you had until you start trying to fit it in boxes. (And it’s that much worse if you are book lovers like we are. Only looks like a few books on a shelf, but once you try to get it in boxes, you realize you have a lot more books than you thought.)

    My plan, even though we don’t intend to move again any time soon after next week’s move, is to hold on to as many of our boxes as possible (collapsed, of course, and stuck in an extra closet/storage space), just in case we do decide to move again in a year or so. I’m also superstitious, I think, so I feel as though if we have the boxes, we won’t need them.

    • I understand the books problem. I learned hard way not to pile all the books into box and then try to pick it up. Oops.
      And its hard cause I love love love my books, so when I have to weed through them before a move, it breaks my heart.

      • Oh, I know…those things are insanely heavy–take it from someone with a lot of art books (you know, the ones they call “coffee table”–I think they mean “heavy-as-a-coffee-table).

        When I finished grad school and moved, it was heartbreaking, but I sold/gave away a TON of beautiful art history books because if they weren’t in my specific areas of interest, I just couldn’t keep lugging them around. It was hard, but it made that move a lot easier. Some of the books I was able to give/sell to other grad students, so at least I knew they would go to a good home. Others, though, they went to Half-Price Books, so I can only hope they were adopted by kind bibliophiles. (Yes, I know that sounds creepy and weird.)

        I will probably go through my books again after we move, as I haven’t seen most of my books for about 2 years (in storage, as my husband and I thought our move to my parents’ house was going to be much shorter term than it turned out to be), and probably there are some more that could be weeded.

        • Clearly, coffee table books are meant to be used as actual coffee tables. 😉

          My SO and I gave up on keeping books until we graduate and have a year-round place to live (next May!), so we have very few books to move. We have the Harry Potter series in hardback and a handful of textbooks we deemed necessary to keep as references, mostly math books. I’m actually tempted to get a Kindle and start building my ebook collection.

          • I have moved a ton and I am in purge mode, preparing for a big move after a while settled. In the interest of not accumulating more stuff, I bought a used Nook.
            Very happy with that decision! Especially since I find kindle books for .99 or free! (Convert with calibre) Also friends can email you a book! I was a very reluctant convert but I’m glad I did. My bookcase thanks me 🙂

          • That’s the reason why I got a Kindle! Moving across the country after college meant most of my books lived with my parents for a while. I knew it wasn’t practical to ship them all, so I weeded them down to ones where the physical book itself was special (signed by an author, inscribed by friends or family, had lots of pictures, or wasn’t available in eBook form). The rest could be “replaced” either electronically or by getting them from the library whenever I wanted. It was painful while I was letting go of 90% of my books, but it helps that I love my local library and I can now keep track of what I’ve read using Goodreads instead of my own bookshelf.

          • Well, the problem for me is that a lot of the heavy books aren’t the type that get turned into eBooks, or that you need the larger format to really see (again, art books…). Aaaand, that’s most of our books…

            For things I would normally have in paperback, like fiction, I’m just as happy to borrow from the library, as realistically, I’ll probably only read once, maybe twice if I liked it enough. Those would be the types of books I would use an eReader for, if I got one…

    • This may not work for you, depending on how far you are moving and how many of these you have, but I use reusable shopping bags for my books (especially the plastic woven kind)! They can fit between 15-20 books in them and I find the handles make them easier to carry than boxes. They are more forgiving for shape and size of things as well! I also have what is legally called a boat-load of them, making them readily available.

  3. I’ve only had airbeds in the $100 range, but I wouldn’t want to sleep on them for months. Do more expensive ones really hold air well enough to work as a primary bed for months at a time? I think airbeds are a great solution for the days (or weeks) that you often have to wait for your stuff to arrive from a longer distance move, but wouldn’t want to use one as my main bed.

    I’d rather save space by getting storage containers to fit under the bed.; as long as you are using a basic bed frame without a headboard and footboard, I think that you would actually save more space than using an airbed. With an airbed there is no under the bed space, so the space it takes up can only be used for one purpose.

    • It would save space once it’s set up, but bed frames and mattresses are a bitch to move. An air mattress just deflates, and easily fits in the back of a car, vs a pickup truck for the other stuff. The air mattress I slept on for two years had a controller for the inflater (technical term, that one) and if I laid down on it and it was too low or too high I could just plump it up a bit. It was fine, and awesome for moves! I love my king-sized “real” bed now, but I am a bit nostalgic
      for that air mattress every time I move!

    • It’s a gamble. Make sure that you keep the warranty info just in case you need to replace it.

      Also, weight is an issue. Our most recent bed sprung 5-6 holes and just kept going (this was between submitting the OP and having it published, or I would have cautioned the reader). It had been in storage for a year before we used it, because our last apartment was fully furnished and came with a real bed, so the warranty was no good and we had to throw it out.

      I think it might have lasted longer if it was taking on less weight — my SO is tall and broad, so together, we weigh around 400 lbs.

      It was my first bad experience with an airbed, but it sucked enough to make me reconsider replacing it.

  4. Getting rid of everything extraneous and becoming a bit of a minimalist helps a lot! 🙂

    I also always pack one or two boxes that have everything you need in it on Day One. So, one set of sheets and 2 pillows. A towel. soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, other toiletries. Toilet paper! You might decide you need your coffee maker and two cups (and coffee and whatever you put in it!). Pet food and a bowl. Etc. Whatever you will absolutely need in those first hours. Last time i moved we had all this stuff in two boxes, i put a strip of bright yellow duct tape around those two boxes. It was fantastic, they were easy to find and we didn’t have to hunt around through 20 boxes to just make the bed and brush our teeth.

  5. My advise (from a frequent mover): Label EVERYTHING! On each box or bin, write a basic description of the items and the location you want it to end up in. (Ex: “text books, office”, or “christmas decorations, basement storage”). Masking or painters tape and sharpies are great for this! People laugh, but it is a huge help when you want to find something in the weeks or months after the move. Its is also good when you have others helping you move because they don’t have to ask you where every box or bin goes; they can just check the label and put it in that area!

    • YES, exactly! I used to be very half-assed about my labeling (leading to the “gee, I wonder what’s in this box? Kitchen? Bathroom? Oh, nope, those are pants. I wonder where I put my toothpaste…”), but this move, I’ve been very careful to label at minimum what room things go to, that is, unless it’s decor stuff or books. The problem is, I still tend to toss random items into these boxes that would otherwise only go into the room by which the box is labeled. (Also because things like scarves also work as excellent packing material for decorative or breakable items.)

    • Yes! We had an unexpected move due to a fire last year, and the cleaning company that helped us pack labeled everything. It was great to be able to just put boxes in the rooms they needed to be in, rather than in one giant pile in the living room to be sorted later. I will totally be doing this when we move next year!

      Also, I’m totally stealing the “day one” box with yellow tape idea!

    • On our last move we knew that a lot of our boxes would stay packed a long time (the new house is smaller than the old one). My mother came to help us (she’s a frequent mover and good at it) and she started an inventory notebook. Each box was numbered and its contents recorded in the notebook. Three years later some of those boxes are still packed but when I need something I can look in the notebook to pinpoint the right box to open!

  6. I move country 2-4 times a year, and the best advice I can give is to not own a lot of stuff! Makes moving so much easier. I’ve had last-minute packing meltdowns where I wonder how I’m going to fit all my possessions into a couple suitcases but reminding myself of why I’m moving and all the wonderful things I’m going to do there tends to make the panic of maybe not being able to fit everything less important.
    Also, look into how to recycle the things you won’t be taking with you in advance, so you can drop off clothes, furniture, books, whatever in time not be stressed and wanting to just dump it all on the curb!

  7. Oh man. The hubs and I are going through this very. same. thing. We are at this very second in the process of moving from a semi-spacious (for two people) apartment in Kentucky to a super tiny studio in downtown Seattle. When we figured out that renting a trailer to transport across the country would cost more than everything we owned was worth, we made the decision to live with less. We got rid of almost everything, sent the very few pieces of furniture we wanted to keep (i.e. our bed, dresser, and handmade bookshelf) with my mother-in-law ( who was kind enough to store it at her house for a few months), and will be heading out in a few days with just the bare essentials and our dog in our tiny car. We plan to move again in a few months when we have jobs out there, and the fact that when we move again we will not have hardly anything to move is so comforting. All these tips are so helpful and so true. Since we will be living in the aforementioned tiny studio, we plan to get a cheap couch with a fold-out bed once we get there. I don’t think I would want to sleep on one long term, but it’s a nice space saver. Moving just sucks, but it leads to such adventures!

  8. All of these things are fantastic advice. The stuff from the comments too. As another frequent mover, and also a pack rat/disorganized crazy artist, it is difficult for me to pare down. I have done it, but I still feel like I have too much stuff. I usually spend the day before we have to be out freaking out and tossing whatever random stuff into whatever box it will fit in! It’s terrible. We are about to move again in a couple of weeks, and I’m determined to be better prepared. These tips are great! I’m also going to try packing non essentials now, 2 weeks before (with everything labeled!), and keeping the essential stuff accessible and easy to pack the day before we go. Thanks for all the tips!

    • My husband and I are also pack rat/disorganized crazy artists. I have been trying to get rid of stuff, fighting the habit to keep everything and then I’ll turn around and find my husband digging out of the donate pile. He teaches art at a public school, I told him anything I deemed trash/donate that he wanted to keep has to go to school with him and never show up in our place again. It has worked so far. We still have too much stuff and we move in a month and a half. Gotta get to work!

  9. There are a few things that we do to make a move as smooth as possible.
    If you’re moving locally and can access the new place before moving day, try to clean and/or decorate before you move your stuff in.
    We always make sure we have a kettle and tea and coffee making supplies unpacked nice and early.
    Next priority is getting the bed constructed and made – anything else can wait!
    The final thing I always do is pack an overnight bag that I move with me – phone, charger, book/kindle, pyjamas, toothbrush, keys and screwdrivers for putting furniture back together all go in there.
    Finally, make sure you have simple food lined up – we usually go with a packed lunch and takeaway for dinner!

    I’ve moved a fair few times in recent years – I’ve basically found the trick to be to work out what you need to be comfortable for the first night and make sure you can get to it.

  10. The best thing we did when moving was start packing everything at the backs of the cupboards first. We just asked ourselves if we would need it in the next couple weeks, and if we didnt, into a box it went, mostly things like extra sheets, xmas decor, the rice cooker and cake pans, but that stuff adds up and as the days passed and we didnt need something any more we would keep boxing it up. By moving day all we needed to pack was the bedding we were using, the coffee maker and our shampoo. It helps too to plan your meals to use up what is in the fridge and to be simpler and simpler getting closer to moving day.

  11. As someone who has moved 12 times in four and a half years (yup, I’m so sick of it) and I’d say half of these are without any help at all, I’d disagree with just one thing.

    I really discourage the use of an airbed. They suck, no matter how pricey they are. Instead, get a cheapish foam mattress – if you do it right, you can roll those up and while you’ll never get them back to the way it was, you’ll get small enough to pack up!

    Additionally, I find it very useful to pack up a suitcase like you’re going on vacation about a week before your move. Live out of this suitcase only while you pack everything else up.

    Always have duct tape and string on hand. It’s amazing how useful these are when it comes to packing

    If you’re going to be moving often, and by yourself, I don’t suggest using your standard boxes. Instead, get some rubbermaid totes for the lighter things (and these can double as a laundry basket when you unpack them) and something like banker’s boxes for heavier things. Handles are such a godsend.

  12. Husband and I moved across the country last fall and have spent the last 8 months or so moving around from city to city on contract work (which I’ve blogged about). Next week we’re off to Texas. While the majority of our stuff (including our bed) is in storage, here are 5 things that hold true with each leg of our journey.

    1) PORTABLE KITCHEN! I pack all my favorite kitchen supplies (spices,best knives, cutting board, apron, cookbook, favorite pot, pan, and 1 lid) into a plastic box so that I can cook as soon as we are moved in.

    2) BEDDING! We use an air mattress since we rent furnished places or stay in hotels, but nothing beats having your own special pillow or a favorite sheet set. If you are single and smallish, you might do what I did in my 20s and get one of those big, round cushions from a papasan chair. Throw one of those in the back of an SUV or jeep, or roll it up and put it in a car. They are great to sleep on for awhile, or at least till you can get a real bed. If that doesn’t work for you, camping pads and sleeping bags can be an ok, space-saving alternative.

    3) PET CRATES! If you have furry friends, get a crate for each pet. It helps them to feel safe in a new environment and prevents accidents until a routine can be established. I find that crated pets are easier to drive with.

    4) MILK CRATES, STURDY TUPPERWARE, OR LAUNDRY BASKETS are great for moving smaller amounts of stuff, since they have handles, and you can see everything in them more easily than boxes (since with 2 or more peeps labeling boxes and packing, things get mislabeled easily). These containers can also double as furniture or clothing storage. For linens,clothes, and towels, clear space bags or trash bags travel well in the car because you can smoosh them any way you need to… just label trash bags with masking tape and a sharpie so you know what’s inside.

    5) MINE YOUR NETWORK. Every time we move, I do a post on Facebook and realize that, hey, I actually know a few people either en route or in our destination city. Dinner, drinks, or even crashing with friends is a nice perk to look forward to, especially since moving can be tiring, frustrating, and, well, not that much fun 😉 You never know….these connections can also lead to apartments, jobs, or furniture.

  13. This couldn’t come at a better time for me. Husband and I are planning a move up the East Coast to Boston and are just starting the daunting task of packing. We’ve both moved a lot through college but it was usually small local moves, nothing as large as this.

    One of the things that has helped us most is deciding what we really need to bring vs what we are able to acquire once we get up there. That Craigslist table with the broken chair that lasted through college? Not something we need to move 1300 miles. So if there is anything that you are able to replace once you get there, I highly recommend it.

    Also, has anyone had any experience with PODS? We are considering using them as we have kind of a fuzzy move in date but don’t know if it is worth it.

  14. I’ve found that moving so much has strengthened my relationship with my husband as well; we’ve moved 5 times in the last 2 years, and we’re apart right now because of work and moves (for the third time). It makes me appreciate him more when we get together, and I appreciate his ability to do the heavy lifting!

  15. Thanks for sharing these tips! I definitely agree with number 1. We have to plan ahead and stay organized. It not only makes your life easier but it also helps the movers you hire. Labeling and making lists will be very important in the process.

  16. Hi’ I also own a removals company and would like to provise another quick tip. If you are dismantling furniture then use 1 box as a bits box. Place all screws and fittings, fixtures in this box for safe keeping. Dont forget to label what screws go with what. Leave this box for loading last so it’s the 1st off. Nothing more frustrating than dismantling items and not beeing able to find all the fittings to put it back together.

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