Packing is one of the scariest things about relocating. The idea of moving all of your belongings from point A to point B might tempt you to set everything on fire and start from scratch rather than dealing with having to pack everything up.
I’ve moved apartments five times – two of them were international moves. The first few times I just threw everything in boxes the day before moving… and then spent ages trying to systematically unpack afterwards, accompanied by hysteria and at least five bottles of white wine. Sounds familiar? Worry not.
Inspired by our team building Teleport Zen and our friend Federico writing an absolutely hilarious (and tragic) moving guide, I decided to zoom in on the one element of moving that scares the crap out of me and share some tips for packing that make the process a little easier*.
*I still hate it. But it’s easier.
Start doing it early (seriously)
The idea of packing all your stuff is intimidating, and you will be tempted to postpone it. Don’t – at least if you want to keep your marbles intact later on. The more you procrastinate, the less time you have to do it properly.
This is the time to think about future you – the poor soul who has to unpack all of it. Packing in a hurry and saving time isn’t worth hating yourself afterwards when you have to unpack the tornado you threw together six hours before the moving truck arrived.
Think of packing your stuff for a move like packing Christmas lights – an additional 20 second effort packing can save you an hour of untangling later. I’d say it’s good to start doing it at least two weeks before your move. That way you can take breaks whenever you get sick of it, and still make it in time with no rushing involved.
Actually, if you’re in the middle of moving now, stop reading this post, go pack one thing, and then come back. Go on. Do it.
Don’t get distracted
Raise your hand if you’ve been there – you start cleaning/packing and then get distracted by stuff you find in the process. Two days before you move is not the right time to learn Wonderwall on that ukulele you bought in college and just found in the back of your wardrobe.
Keep your focus – the only time you should be spending on things is the time it takes you to decide whether to bring it or get rid of it, and ideally, those should be pretty swift decision as well – but we’ll talk about that later.
The other danger besides getting distracted by stuff you come across is getting TOO detailed with packing them. You do not have to alphabetically organize your DVD collection or stack your books according to color – you can do it when you get there, and you’re just wasting time. As long as everything you’re packing is in the right place and more or less organized, you’re fine.
Get rid of as much stuff as possible
If you’re half the hoarder I used to be, you’ll start making excuses for not getting rid of of stuff. There are two main types of dumb thoughts in my experience:
“There’s too much sentimental value.”
Listen, I know memories are important, but you can keep those without keeping an object to go with it.
“It reminds me of my college roommate. We stole it from an aquarium after 26 beers.”
Unless it’s something you really keep close to your heart and would actually be upset about losing, get rid of it. It’s a hard decision, but sometimes it’s better to let go.
“I might need that some day.”
A classic hoarder statement. If you haven’t used this thing in the last three months, get rid of it. “I might need it at some point” is too vague of a reason to keep something. Unless it’s an item so unique you will never find it anywhere else, get rid of it. You can deal with needing it again whenever it actually happens.
In my case, getting rid of things has become a very liberating thing to do. I went back to England last year to get my stuff – and I went with only hand luggage. 1,5 years worth of crap versus one sad little suitcase.
It was terrifying at first, but honestly, it felt so good to get rid of everything besides the absolutely essential stuff – and I haven’t missed any of it since. Most things are just that – things. Let them go.
Pack a “last in-first out box”
This is an awesome idea from Martha Stewart’s Simplifying the Big Move for making sure you have everything you need during packing as well as during the actual move and unpacking.
Basically, before doing anything else, pack your day-to-day necessities so that they’re together in one place. For example:
- Some clothes
- Some bedding
- A towel
- Toilet paper
- Basic tools
- Cleaning supplies
- A few dishes and utensils
- A coffeepot (plus coffee and mugs)
You can add stuff to this list, but make sure they’re absolutely necessary.
All of this stuff should fit in a regular suitcase and you can live out of it until you’re done packing up everything else and ready to go. Then, just just zip up your suitcase and take it to the new place, and voila – you’ll still have all your essential stuff in reach and no immediate rush with unpacking.
Pack the things you use the least first
The “I don’t even know where to start” feeling is a familiar one, but it’s actually pretty simple. In each room, start with the stuff that you currently use the least day-to-day – artwork, decorations, books, clothing for other seasons, etc.
That way you give yourself some extra time for using the items you actually need while you’re still in the (grossly long) process of packing.
Pack by room and objects (and be serious about it)
Have specific boxes for each room as well as for each type of object in that room. So, for example, you would label your boxes “Bedroom – clothes”; “Bedroom – sheets and blankets” etc. And then actually pack only those things in that box.
If you don’t have enough of the same kind of things to have a separate box for them, put objects as similar as possible in one box together – for example “Kitchen – pots, pans and oven plates.”
You might be tempted to half-ass it because it seems like a hassle, but it will make unpacking less of a mess (remember when we talked about thinking about future you?)
When you arrive, you can immediately move the boxes to the right room/area in your new place, and won’t have to shuffle around too much because you keep finding socks and comic books in your kitchen boxes.
Use the right size boxes
This is mostly for making the actual lifting less of a back-breaking experience, but also helps with when you’re still moving stuff around in your old place. Basically, the heavier the items are, the smaller the boxes should be.
So – books, dishes, electronics and other heavy stuff go in smaller boxes, and lighter stuff like clothes, blankets, pillows etc go in larger ones. Makes sense, right? Well, I only realized this when I got chased down a flight of stairs by a 2x2m box full of books a few years ago. It was very Indiana Jones.
The Internet is a wonderful place.
Another good idea is to use stuff that you want to take along as moving containers – for example, pack clothes in your laundry basket, kitchen utensils in bigger pots etc. This way you’re not leaving any empty room unused.
However, keep in mind the “similar items together” rule, or you’ll spend ages looking for your laptop charger before finding it in a blender a year later like I did.
Consider what to bring yourself, send by mail or ship professionally
This depends on how much stuff you actually need to move from home 1 to home 2 and also the distance between the places. Overseas or international moves are obviously more challenging, especially if you have a good amount of things to take with you.
After you’ve figured out what you want to bring and what you want to get rid of/give away, think through your logistics carefully – dragging an extra suitcase can be a pain, but it can also be 10 times cheaper than shipping if you read the airline small print. Same with mailing – if you only have a few boxes that you don’t want to have on you, mailing them to yourself might be the best option. See how expensive the differences are, and don’t leave any options un-snooped.
If there’s no way you’re going to move all your stuff with your own forces, check out the moving/shipping section on Teleport Directory – we’ve listed quite a few shipping and moving companies for both local and international moves.
And that’s it! Question for other frequent or experienced movers out there – what are your go-to tips and advice when it comes to packing up your life? Let us know in the comments!