Recently, a reader of this blog wrote to ask if I have any tips on how to make a move less stressful and more organized. Boy, do I, and I’m surprised I haven’t shared them before now. Between moving around in search of a better rental rate in my single days, and life as a military wife, I’ve moved over twenty times as an adult!
My first few moves could best be described as “dump and go,” since I didn’t own much, and certainly nothing of actual value. Broke the TV? No worries, my roommate had one. Forgot which box I’d thrown the dishes into? Fine, I’ll eat Cup o’ Noodles until I find them. Several moves were made easier because I hadn’t gotten around to unpacking boxes from the last time.
Then I got married, and my husband’s stuff joined mine. As newlyweds, we began purchasing better quality furniture, more formal dishware, and wall decor that couldn’t simply be rolled up and wrapped with a rubber band. Kid stuff joined the mix, adding more furniture, toys, and gadgets. Rather than moving across town for cheaper rent we were faced with buying and selling homes for moves across the country, and once overseas. Even though the military paid for most of our moves, since we always lived off-post the only things that we were spared were packing and carrying boxes ourselves. To keep from going insane whenever we got orders I got very organized and learned to double-check everything.
Now I’m looking at moving again, though hopefully to my “forever home” — or at least one I’ll stay in for the next twenty or so years. My husband has passed away, my oldest child is looking to buy her first home, and my youngest is just two years shy of graduating from high school. This house, which we bought because it was perfect for raising our kids, is too big for two people and will certainly be way too much for me to handle on my own once my son goes to college.
I’m pretty excited at the thought of picking out a house based solely on what I want, without regard to which school district it’s in, whether there are other kids in the neighborhood, if there’s a two-car garage plus enough space for a workshop, and the like. But the thought of actually moving makes my palms sweat and my pulse race; I’ll be looking to move into a home less than half the size of where we live now, and that’s going to mean a lot of work ahead of time. So much work that, even though I don’t plan to move for a couple of years, I’m already starting now!
If you’ve got a move planned for your future, here’s my advice about how to make a move less stressful. I’ll be following it again myself, though at a much slower pace.
How To Make A Move Less Stressful
1. Start a binder
Moving involves a lot of information. If you’re just starting the process, you’ll want a place to create a wish list of what you’re looking for in your new home. Maybe you’d like a place at the end of a cul de sac, on a treed lot, with a fence so Fido doesn’t run off. Perhaps you’re moving to an area known for its brutal summers, in which case you want to pick out a home that doesn’t have a lot of windows on the south-facing side (north-facing in the southern hemisphere), so it stays cooler. Use your binder to take notes about each home for sale that you visit so you can compare them to your wish list.
Since looking at three or four homes in one day can get overwhelming, I like to take photos of all the rooms in new homes that I look at, plus shots of the front- and backyards. This lets me compare them to each other as well as to my wish list, and also gives me a head-start on planning new paint colors or other redecorating projects.
2. Gather information
Even if you’ve already picked out your new home, you’ll still want a binder to keep track of information related to your move. Start a section where you can track the phone numbers and account numbers for old and new utilities, along with any information about deposits to be refunded or paid. You’ll also want to list information about your old schools and doctors’ offices, along with new ones, and the dates on which you contacted them to have records transferred.
When I’m thinking about moving to a new place I like to talk to my potential new neighbors. Not only does this give me a feel for whether we’d get along, I often pick up information about the house I’m thinking about buying that the homeowners hadn’t brought up. One revealed that the sellers had been burglarized twice in the previous year, something I know would make me a likely target for future burglaries were I to buy that home. At another home, a potential neighbor was so creepy and rude that I realized I’d never feel comfortable seeing them every day.
3. Ruthlessly purge clutter
The time to get serious about getting rid of clutter is the day you first realize you’ll be moving. Sure, it may be a year or two in the future, but the earlier you start, the more effective you’ll be at parting with your junk. Whether you’re hiring movers or doing it yourself, it makes no sense to pack broken electronics, expired magazines, or other things you neither want nor need.
If the thought of decluttering overwhelms you, there are plenty of books on the topic that can guide you through the process. Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up wins high praise from many readers for helping them change their relationship to “stuff” so they can let go of clutter. If you prefer a more structured, room-by-room plan to weed out clutter and get your current home ready to show, my own book 30 Days to a Clean and Organized House will walk you through the steps.
4. Measure your new place
Once you’ve decided on your new residence, be sure to measure everything. If you’re moving long-distance, your Realtor will probably be willing to do this for you. Knowing room dimensions will help you decide if there’s room in your new place for that piano you inherited from your grandmother, or if your farmhouse table will take up so much space in the kitchen that you won’t be able to open the fridge. It’s also a good idea to measure door widths so you know if your sofa or other large furnishings can fit.
I measure bedroom windows, so I know if our curtains fit or if I should buy some before moving day. We learned this lesson the hard way on one move when the previous homeowner took the bedroom blinds with them, and our curtains only covered the top half of the windows. Rather than giving our new neighbors a show, we fumbled around getting ready for bed in the dark (not easy in new surroundings) then woke up at dawn as the sun poured right through the windows onto our bed.
5. Plan how you’ll move-in and -out
You need to give some thought to how you’ll be moving furniture in and out, especially if there are stairs or elevators involved. The movers will be happy to carry that awesome entertainment center you bought from Ikea, but if you’re moving into an apartment building that doesn’t have freight elevators, it might not fit. If that’s the case, you’ll want to disassemble it before the movers arrive.
Likewise, you’ll want to decide if the movers should use the front door or go through the garage as they carry things into your new home. While some movers are very considerate and put down plastic sheeting to protect your floors, not all of them do. We had to sand and refinish the hardwood floor in our entryway because one set of movers dropped an end of a sofa and left a huge scratch on the floor. Had I thought to tell them to go through the garage that wouldn’t have happened.
6. Research and choose your moving company
There’s a lot to be said for renting a truck and moving yourself, but not everyone has the muscle-power or stamina for it. I certainly don’t! If you must hire a moving company, be sure to do a lot of research and get bids from several different companies before choosing one. You’ll want to know, for instance, whether the Better Business Bureau has received any complaints about them, but should also check them out on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. Once you’ve narrowed your list to four or five candidates, set up times for them to give estimates.
Make a point to clarify what services are included in their bids, too. Will they pack and wrap your belongings, so you don’t have to? Do they expect you to empty drawers, or will they tape them shut and move something like your dresser with all of the clothes in it? Do they charge extra if they have to use the stairs to move items rather than an elevator? Ask for and expect a detailed list of their policies and add that to your moving binder.
You definitely want to declutter before you get those estimates. That includes selling or donating any pieces of furniture you don’t intend to take to your new home because otherwise the estimate will include them. It’s a rare company that will charge you less than the original estimate.
7. Get your supplies ready
If you’ll be packing your own things you’ll need plenty of boxes, far more than you think you’ll need. You can buy brand new boxes in bulk from most self-storage companies or order them on Amazon. You can get used boxes for the asking from grocery or liquor stores. In addition to boxes, you’ll need rolls and rolls of packing tape to reinforce them plus labels and pens to indicate their contents.
Be sure to pick up plenty of bubble wrap to protect fragile items and brown craft paper or tissue to keep the contents of boxes safe during transport. In a pinch, you can use newspaper, but it does have a tendency to leave ink smudges on things.
8. Take inventory and photos as you pack
A detailed inventory with photographic evidence will help if you need to file a claim for items lost or damaged during the move. Most moving companies require such proof. The easiest way to make an inventory is by making a list in your binder of the contents of each box and taking photos as you pack. Don’t toss the list or photos after you’ve moved, though; keep them with your homeowners’ or renters’ insurance paperwork should you need to file a claim in the future.
9. Plan your essentials and pack them separately
It’s unlikely that you’ll completely unpack and settle into your new place on moving day, but you can still have the comforts of home by packing a separate box (or two or three) of essential items. This would include plates, cups, utensils, and towels for each family member; sheets for each bed; a lamp or two; the coffee maker or tea pot (and coffee or tea!); pet bowls and food; toiletries; medications; changes of clothing; maybe even a few games to keep the kids entertained. Be sure to label your boxes of essentials clearly and point them out to the moving company so they’re first off the truck.
When we move, I also add to our essentials boxes a few handtools (flathead and Philips screwdrivers, a hammer, a handful of small nails) along with a couple of lightbulbs, toilet paper, window coverings for the bedrooms, dish soap, hand soap, and a bottle of champagne. We’ve used all of those things on just about every move, though there was one time when we skipped the champagne because we were just flat-out too tired from unpacking to drink it.
10. Pack and move valuables yourself
Even if the moving company offers insurance, it’s a good idea to pack your small valuables yourself. Items like jewelry, small heirlooms, and sentimental objects are safest in your care. Although the moving company’s insurance won’t cover items you transport yourself, a check for $100 won’t cover the sentimental loss of grandma’s handmade lace doilies anyway.
Larger valuable items like paintings, antique furnishings and the like are best left to the movers, though. They have special padded boxes and the know-how to transport such items. Let them, but be sure you have good photographs of each item from all sides so you can file a claim if they’re damaged during transport.
11. Schedule transfers of services
Using your binder, contact all of the utility and service companies at your old and new place to schedule the transfer of service. You’ll want the utilities on before you move so you have lights and heat or air-conditioning when you’re getting the new place ready and moving in. As for shutting off utilities, it’s a good idea to wait a day or two after your scheduled moving day, again so you have lights and heat or air-conditioning while you clean your old place.
12. Clean the new place BEFORE you move
The rule, when selling your home or leaving an apartment, is that it must be “broom clean” for the next residents. That means the place must be completely emptied; if you think the new residents might like the washing machine you’ve decided not to take then ask your realtor or landlord. Leaving items behind for the new homeowners to deal with can disrupt the closing process and delay the sale. For apartment dwellers, it can lead to the loss of your security deposit.
But as you’ll find when inspecting your new place before moving in, “broom clean” doesn’t mean spotless. The bathrooms and kitchen don’t have to be scrubbed, just tidy. The windows may be streaky, the refrigerator full of food residue, and the oven a crusty mess. Since it’s infinitely easier to clean an empty dwelling, you should schedule your move to allow a day or two of cleaning first.
13. Use or give away perishables
If you’re just moving across town, there’s no reason to throw away food that could be easily transported in a cooler, but it’s not worth taking that half-empty bottle of ketchup or stick of butter across the country. While it’s tempting to leave them in the refrigerator for the next resident, remember the bit about “broom clean” we discussed above. Rather than irritating your landlord or the new homeowners, plan to give your perishables to a neighbor before you move.
14. Unpack your essentials first
Since it may take you several days or even weeks to fully settle into your new home, those boxes of essentials will help make the first day or two more comfortable. Unpack them as soon as the movers leave so you can make the beds, feed your pets, shower, and eat meals in your new place.
Don’t tear up those empty boxes, though: you’ll probably need to use them as trash cans until you’ve unpacked yours. Oh, and if you stashed a bottle of champagne with your essentials you’ll want to chill it for a few hours!
15. Clean the old place
For local moves, it can be less expensive to clean your old place yourself. If you’re moving out of a home, you just need to meet the “broom clean” standard: wipe counters, vanities, and toilets; make sure all of the appliances and closets are emptied and that you’ve left nothing behind, then sweep or quickly vacuum the floors.
In rentals, your landlord may be more particular, in which case you’ll want to clean the bathrooms and kitchen, vacuum the carpets, and possibly shampoo them. (Military moves have an entirely different standard. You’ll be provided with a move-out checklist and must pass an inspection. I recommend hiring a company to handle the cleaning for you.)
If you’re moving long-distance, or can afford it for a local move, it’s easiest to arrange for a service to clean your home once you’ve moved out. Your realtor will most likely know of a reliable company to handle this and will probably be willing to meet them at your old place to let them in and inspect their work when they’re done.
16. Inspect moved items for damage
Even if your moving company offers an unpacking service, you should consider doing this task yourself. The DIY approach allows you to unpack at your own pace so you can consciously choose where items should go rather than scrambling to stash them out of the way. Another benefit of unpacking things yourself is that you can inspect each item for damage.
If you do find damaged items take photographs and match them to photos you took before the move, then set the item aside in a safe place pending the result of your insurance claim. Keep a running list of damaged items in your binder along with the photographic evidence. To get the most out of your claim, it’s a good idea to look for items similar to your damaged possessions on places like eBay and Amazon, so you know the amount to claim.
NOTE: Be sure to check how many days you have to file the claim and plan to get everything unpacked and inspected during that timeframe.
17. Notify others of your move
You will have already notified utilities of your change of address when scheduling the transfer of service, but there are still other contacts who need to be notified as well. File a change of address with the post office two days before your move for seamless mail delivery, then plan to contact government offices (the IRS, DMV, and voter registration) shortly after your move.
Other places to notify include banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, magazine subscriptions, friends, and family. Since the post office will continue to forward your regular mail for a full year and periodicals or magazines for six months after your move, there’s no need to let this process overwhelm you. Send out two or three change of address cards every week as you receive forwarded mail and you’ll be done in a month or two.
Got tips on how to make a move less stressful? I’d love if you’d share your advice and experiences in the comments and will be happy to join in the conversation!
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