Call me crazy, but I’ve moved over 20 times in my life, and at this point, the way I approach moving and packing has become second nature.
As I recently packed up my things for a cross-country move from NYC to L.A., my roommate took note. “I feel like you’ve been giving the rest of us a masterclass in packing over the last week,” she observed. Until then, I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I’ve curated a long list of useful packing and moving tips over the years.
Some hacks are borrowed from the pros and some I figured out on my own after my many, many moves — not to mention, lots of trial and error. Either way, now some of them are yours. So, whether you’re a newbie to moving and packing, or someone with a little experience who just wants to pick up some pointers, I’m here for you.
Here are some of my best go-to packing and moving hacks to try out for your next move. (Dealing with a tight deadline? You’ll probably want to check out my tips for last-minute moves too.)
1. Master the Russian doll technique
This is one of my favorite packing and moving tips, and I’ve been using it for years. Similar to the setup of a Russian doll, you just put small packed boxes inside larger moving boxes. I like to use this method when packing items like pens and random things I’ve accumulated in my desk, all the different cooking utensils and gadgets in the kitchen, and any miscellaneous items like shelf decor or knick knacks. This technique will help all your smaller items stay organized while also saving space — and every inch counts when you’re moving.
Pro Tip: Once you know you’re moving, start saving all of your delivery boxes and product boxes — these smaller boxes are great to use with the Russian doll technique.
2. Forget the bubble wrap and use your clothes and linens instead
Bubble wrap….who needs it? I’ve been wrapping my fragile items in my own clothes, linens, and towels for years. It knocks out two birds with one stone — it’s a convenient way to protect your stuff and pack your clothes. Consider wrapping framed artwork in layers of sheets and towels and stuffing delicate trinkets inside socks. You can then stuff those socks inside your sneakers for extra protection. Roll lamps with dresses, wrap mugs and drinking glasses in T-shirts, use blankets and duvets to protect small furniture, and commission random clothes to fill and secure otherwise empty space in boxes.
3. Label your moving boxes in detail, on several sides
Details make all the difference, especially if you’re keeping things in storage for a while. No matter how annoying or unnecessary it seems at the time, I always make sure to be extremely detailed when I’m labeling my moving boxes.
List out everything inside, particularly items that you know you’ll want to unpack ASAP. This makes it easier when it comes time to unpack — you’ll know exactly where to find what just by looking at the box. On that note, be sure to write down the contents on the top and at least two different sides of the box so that you can easily see what’s in the box — even if it’s stacked or lost in a pile of moving boxes.
Security Tip: If you’re using full-service movers, it’s best not to explicitly label valuables inside boxes. Instead, I like to use codes, like “J.B.” for my jewelry box or “snaps” for my camera equipment, which still help me — and only me — identify what’s in the box.
4. Mark moving boxes with shorthand or symbols
This hack saves time on both ends of your move — packing and unpacking. If you haven’t figured it out, I love to mark up my boxes. However, it can get monotonous to write the same things over and over, so I streamline the process by using symbols and shorthand. For example, instead of writing “fragile” on every box with breakables, I’ll mark several sides with a big “F” with a circle around it. I also use shorthand for locations, e.g., if I’m packing a box of living room stuff, I’ll just write “LR.” Other easy-to-identify options include using color-coded stickers or different color markers.
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5. Use hangers to fill space and make sturdier boxes
Hangers are one of those things that you don’t think much about until it’s time to pack them. They just seem to take up so much space, but at the same time you don’t want to just leave them behind because you’ll need them as soon as you unpack your clothes. My solution? Use them while you pack to help give extra support to your boxes.
No matter how well I think I’m packing, inevitably there are always a few boxes (or a lot of boxes) with a bit of space to spare at the top. Leaving extra space in your box will leave the box less structurally sound and more likely to collapse if other moving boxes are placed on top. This is where the hangers come in — toss a few on top and you’ll help add some solid support.
6. Tight squeeze? Mock up your moving space
If you’re working with a small space, creating a mock version of the moving or storage space you’re working with is a great way to find out if everything will fit. This hack works best for car cargo and smaller storage spaces. There are three ways to go about it:
- Mark the dimensions of the space on your floor and wall with painter’s or masking tape (best for smaller spaces and if you’ve mainly got boxes).
- Create a scale version of the space and your larger items on graph paper.
- Use an online moving and storage calculator to double check what will fit in your truck, moving container, or storage unit.
I used the mark-up method most recently as I tried to work out how best to pack the cargo area of my used SUV for my move across the country. It was imperative that I fit everything perfectly since we’d be leaving after the rest of our things were being picked up by movers. If something didn’t fit, it would have to be left behind.
7. Check if your homeowners or renters insurance policy covers your stuff when moving
Just before my move out of NYC, I found out that my new renters insurance policy covered my items during my move. That’s right, before I even got my stuff to my new place, it was covered against damage and theft. This was an unexpected gift, especially considering the moving company had a very minimal — but also very standard — level of coverage for my items. Basic renters insurance plans can cost as little as $10 a month, so it’s worth looking into a plan — and double-checking to see if coverage also extends to your move — even if you just cancel it afterwards. If you want to save bucks on moving insurance, It’s a great, simple hack for making sure your stuff is protected.
8. Use wooden beam stabilizers for furniture legs
I picked up this simple hack after watching the pros. When packing and moving furniture with legs (like chairs or tables), use wood beams to help keep them stable. After wrapping your table or chair, criss-cross a pair of beams in the center of the legs, securing them in place with several rounds of packing tape — at both the crux and again at every point where the end of the beam meets the leg. This will help the legs from becoming loose during the move, especially as things may shift around in the moving vehicle or storage container.
9. Stock up on painter’s tape
When it comes to packing supplies, a hefty roll of painter’s tape is a must for any move. Besides marking up the floor when I’m working with tight spaces, I also use it throughout the packing process — in fact, it’s never out of my reach. Use it to easily mark and identify moving boxes, tape together loose items like cutlery or pens, or to secure loose fixtures on furniture or decor, like a loose mirror inside its frame. I’m also a big fan of using a strip or two of painter’s tape to make sure pesky drawers stay shut or to tape a few loose screws and washers together (and on their main pieces) after disassembling furniture or electronics. The best part? It’s sticky but not crazy-adhesive so it doesn’t damage most materials and surfaces.
10. Give a moving container a go — especially if you need storage time
Utilizing a portable container service like PODS for moving cuts down on time, labor, and stress. Instead of all the back and forth (and back breaking) that comes with moving in and out of a storage unit, portable containers allow you to load directly on your property and on your schedule. For instance, PODS simply just drops off and then picks up your personal container at your convenience, so you can take your time loading and there’s no need to worry about driving. Plus, keeping your things in your own secure container significantly reduces the risk of damage that can occur during multiple moves in and out of trucks and storage units. Even if your move doesn’t require storage, portable containers are a convenient moving solution if you need some scheduling flexibility or if you want to skip the driving but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for a full-service mover.
11. Create an inventory list
We’re all pretty familiar with a moving checklist, but have you ever created a packing inventory list? This extra step can seem like a hassle as you begin your move, but trust me, you’ll be singing its praises as soon as you start unloading boxes in your new place. While you’re packing, assign each packed box and prepped individual item a number. I like to use a thick piece of painter’s tape for this so the number is easy to locate later, plus it won’t damage non-boxed items. On your list, write down the corresponding number and a brief but solid description of the item or what’s inside the box. When it comes time to unload, you can check against your list to make sure nothing went missing during the move, and, if it did, you’ll know what it was right away. I recommend creating a list whether you’re doing a DIY self-move or a full-service move.
12. Get creative with your moving boxes
This one has gotten me out of a jam — and plenty of last-minute packing supply runs. There is no rule that says a box must be used as a box. If you’ve got any kind of box hanging around, you can transform it into anything from a furniture protector to a box reinforcer, space filler, or even … a new box.
For example, I like to help reinforce the tops and bottoms of “soft boxes” (i.e., boxes packed full of soft materials like clothes or pillows) to make them sturdier and even somewhat load-bearing. You can also slice up a large box and wrap it around flat-edged furniture for some extra protection, or if you run out of moving blankets. Or, if you’ve got an odd-shaped item, you can make a custom box by cutting up boxes and taping them back together.
These are just a handful of examples of the moving and packing hacks I’ve accumulated over the years. Do with them what you will, but I hope you’ll at least give them a shot next time you or someone you know moves.
Containing the chaos doesn’t happen alone — we’ve got to work together and spread the love. And by love, I mean moving hacks. Go ahead and share this blog via your favorite social site or email. Got a go-to packing and moving hack that you don’t see on this list? We’d love to see it! Just use the comments section below to share your wisdom.
(Credit for image featured at top: Karolina Grabowsk via Pexels)
Katherine Alex Beaven is a frequent contributor to the PODS blog who has moved 20+ times because she loves to experience new places.