This post was updated on September 27, 2022.
According to U.S. Census data, the average person moves over 11 times in their lifetime. Me? I’m over double that, with around 25 moves under my belt. While some people may dread the idea of moving, I love it. It’s a great way to take stock of what you own and get rid of what no longer serves a purpose. Turns out, I’ve developed a sort of fine-tuned system for all my moves.
When I packed up my things for a cross-country move from NYC to LA (just one of the millions of individuals who moved during the pandemic), my roommate took note. “I feel like you’ve been giving the rest of us a masterclass in packing over the last week,” she said. 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, I want to share them with you. So whether you’re moving out of state for the first time or you’re just looking to pick up some pointers, I’m here to help you master how to efficiently pack for a move.
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
I’ve been using the Russian doll technique for years and have found it’s hands-down one of the best ways to pack for moving. 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 is one of the easiest ways to pack and move and 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 CUSHIONING ROLL AND USE YOUR CLOTHES AND LINENS INSTEAD
Bubble cushioning roll… who needs it? I’ve been wrapping my fragile items in my own clothes, linens, and towels for years. It knocks out three birds with one stone — it’s a convenient way to protect your stuff and pack your clothes, and it’s one of many ways to make your move more sustainable. 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 things just by looking at the box. And on that note, be sure to write down the contents on the top and at least two different sides of the box, as well, 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. DOCUMENT FURNITURE DISASSEMBLY AND KEEP HARDWARE TOGETHER
If you’re moving furniture, chances are you’ll probably have something that needs to be disassembled — and then reassembled. Your future-self will thank you greatly if you follow this hack, trust me. During the disassembly process, you’re going to want to take photos (or better yet, video!) of the key parts of the process, making sure to focus on things like which hardware goes where and any important notes on the order in which reassembly must be done. As you remove the hardware, immediately put it in a bag marked with the name of the furniture item.
For extra points, jot down how many of each piece of hardware you put in and tag it with where it is used. It may seem like a hassle, but I know from way too much experience that even if you think you’ll remember what goes where or how to put something back together, it may not seem so obvious later when you’re actually trying to do it.
5. 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. For example, 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 colored markers.
|Short on time? Get moving supplies delivered right to your door with fast, free shipping.|
6. 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? After you’re done packing clothes for a move, grab the leftover hangers and use them 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. Trust me, this is the best way to pack hangers.
7. 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 mainly have 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.
8. REPURPOSE HOUSEHOLD ITEMS TO HELP PACK JEWELRY
Need to pack jewelry? There’s a hack for that. You’re going to want to avoid just dumping your jewelry into a shoebox or bag, unless you’re looking forward to the high levels of concentration and patience required to fish out all the matching earrings and untangle necklaces. Instead, you can repurpose regular household items to easily pack and organize your jewelry. For example, those weekly pill organizers are perfect for packing rings, post earrings, cufflinks, and necklace pendants. Thin necklace chains can be threaded through straws and clasped together so they don’t get tangled, while chunkier necklaces or thicker chains can be threaded through toilet paper or paper towel cores. Carabiner clips are great for looping bracelets.
Once you’ve got everything packed, you can place it inside of a Tupperware holder, cloth bag, or smaller box to keep it together. Anything you’re worried about scratching, you can put inside of a sock or wrap in tea towels.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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 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.
13. 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. This hack is especially good for long-distance moves (which, according to an independent report by HireAHelper, are increasing for the first time since the early 2000s) when there will be a longer gap of time between when you packed to when you unpack.
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.
14. 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 have 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 have an odd-shaped item, you can make a custom box by cutting up boxes and taping them back together.
15. HANDLE PLANTS WITH CARE
Plants are often forgotten when it comes to packing, until the last minute, that is. If you’re doing an in-town move, it’s best to move your plants yourself in your car, if you can. Load up larger plants directly into your car and strap them in, when possible. Small and medium potted plants are usually good to go if you place them in an open box (feel free to stuff some towels in the empty space between the planters to give the plants a little cushion in case of any bumps). As an extra tip, don’t water your plants right before you move them, that way the soil is lighter and there isn’t a chance of dampness getting on the bottom of the boxes or in your car. Any tall and large potted plants can be moved in a wardrobe box using the method shown in the video above.
|Need packing tips for moving a long distance? Check out my killer list of tips for moving out of state, moving across the country, and just general packing and loading tips to avoid damage.|
These are just a handful of examples of the creative 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.
16. MOVING TIPS Q&A
Q: What should be moved first when moving?
A: Any non-essential items like bulky furniture (bookcases, coffee tables), holiday decor, seasonal clothes, and fine dishes should be moved first. By moving these nice-to-haves before your need-to-haves, you give yourself some flexibility if you end up needing more time.
Q: What should you not do when moving?
A: The last thing you want to do when moving is procrastinate. Instead, give yourself as much time as possible to plan and prepare for your move. Research moving companies (and get quotes!), start decluttering, collect moving supplies, and set target dates to complete each step of your move so you don’t get blind-sided with an impossible to-do list on moving day. For more tips, check out our post on Moving Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make.
Q: How can I pack my house up fast?
A: The best way to pack your house up fast is to start with a decluttered and organized home. If you only have what you truly need and want and everything is already in its place, it’s simply a matter of moving from room to room with your moving supplies, boxing related items up, labeling the box, and loading it on your truck or moving container. It’s also useful to have a bunch of willing friends to help with a packing blitz! Check out our post on How to Move in a Hurry for more tips.
Q: How can I make moving less stressful?
A: Once again . . . give yourself time! Everything becomes stressful when you’re in a rush. Get started on the moving process as soon as you decide to move. If you won’t be moving for a couple of months (or more), start decluttering right away! One great way to do this is to place a box in the corner of every room in the house. As you go about your day-to-day routine and you come across things you don’t really need or want (that sweater you never wear, the unmatched coffee cups that just take up space, etc.), pop them in the box. Once it’s full, just take it to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. See our post on How to Avoid Moving Stress for more helpful tips.
Containing the moving chaos doesn’t happen alone — we’ve got to work together and spread the love. And by love, I mean moving hacks and other moving house tips and tricks. Go ahead and share this blog via your favorite social site or email. Got go-to packing and moving hacks that you don’t see on this list? We’d love to see it! Just use the comments section below to share your wisdom.
Alex Keight is a writer who has lived — and moved — all over the country and the world. She is an expert at packing, whether it’s for a long-distance move or a short weekend trip. When she’s not writing or on the move, Alex spends her time giving her cat booty pats, cooking up dishes in the kitchen, and buying way more books than she knows she’ll ever actually get to reading.
(Source for image featured at top: Karolina Grabowsk via Pexels)