The Buyers are Coming! 23 Packing Tips for Moving When the Pressure's On
There are a million things you’d rather be doing than packing right now. Basically, anything else. But when you sell your home, moving is no longer a matter of if but when, so it’s time to face the music.
According to the National Association of Realtors, homes only stayed on the market an average of 3 weeks in 2017. A deal can close in as quickly as 2 weeks if you get an offer from a cash buyer. And if you price your home right, it will sell fast, says Carrie Buckett, a military relocation specialist and top agent in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.
If that doesn’t curb your procrastination, consider these real-life moving horror stories. Buckett’s seen contracts fall through because the buyers came to take possession, but the sellers couldn’t get their stuff out in time. She’s also had seller clients who showed up at closing half-asleep because they were up all night moving.
“Don’t wait until the last minute,” she says. “If you think it will take one day, it’s going to take two.”
Before you look around the house and panic, take a deep breath. We’ve talked to expert real estate agents, plus organization and packing pros to gather the top packing tips to speed up and smooth out your move day.
Line up the help you’ll need
1. Start by assembling a dream team
If you find yourself on a tight timeline, the first thing you can do is call in the troops.
Many hands make light work, and you’ll need all the help you can get! Pitch it to your relatives and buddies as an excuse to get together. Make it fun by hosting a purge and packing day where you supply the pizza and beer.
Put on a “packing playlist” (you can find one on Spotify) to create a light atmosphere.
Before your helpers arrive, get organized by planning out who will do what, or you’ll waste everyone’s time. Find out how many hours each person can dedicate and divvy up tasks accordingly.
Do enough prep so that you can put Sally on assembling boxes, Joe on spackling the nail holes, Sam on bubble wrapping your glassware, and on down the line.
They’ll be glad to help if they aren’t standing around waiting for instructions.
2. Find out what your moving company will do for you on the packing front
Hiring professional movers?
Ask if their service package includes wrapping all of your furniture in plastic, including dressers, nightstands, and end tables.
That allows you to keep your clothing and personal items tucked away in furniture drawers and move it all together as is, reducing your box count and packing burden.
Many moving companies will also provide and use their own furniture blankets to protect your big bulky items, meaning you can cross expensive padding off your supplies list.
3. Hire a senior move manager to help you organize and declutter
Senior Move Managers are like the fairy godmothers of downsizing who can swoop in, whip your home into shape, and help you tackle daunting moves faster than you can say “bippity boppity boo.”
While your real estate agent handles marketing your home and the specifics of the transaction, Senior Move Managers are your friends in sorting, organizing, packing, decluttering and more.
Purge before you pack to lighten your moving load
4. Sort items into 3 distinct piles: sell, donate, and toss
If you’re in a rush, you might be tempted to start throwing miscellaneous items into boxes. But you can actually save time with a focus on simplifying and paring down before you pack.
“Don’t do your donating, purging and downsizing on the day of the move,” says Terri Albert, who owns The Chicago Organizer and assists with general organizing, paper management and clutter-free living. “It’s too chaotic. It’s very costly to move. Don’t pay to move something that all you’re going to do is get rid of it on the other end.”
Buckett and Albert agree that it’s never too early to start planning for a move. Wise sellers realize less is more when it comes to showing a home and start decluttering months in advance.
If your home is on the market, it makes sense to pack what you can and rent a storage shed.
So where to start? Do a quick scan of every room and look for obvious items to purge.
Closets, countertops, cabinets, bookshelves and garages can easily become catch-alls, so go through these spaces with a discerning eye and be honest—is this item important enough to pack and haul it to your new place? Even if your move is still weeks away, a mindset shift toward early preparation will save you from wasting time down the line.
Albert suggests asking three questions during the purge process for each item:
- Do I need it?
- Do I use it?
- Do I love it?
If the answer is no to all three, then it’s time to put it in one of your piles: sell, donate, or toss.
Items you should try to sell
- You can make money on clothes and accessories in good condition (especially anything designer) by posting them on apps like Poshmark or eBay.
- Furniture that won’t fit into your new place. Post your La-Z-Boys and platform bed frames for sale on Craigslist, click on “post to classifieds” in the upper lefthand corner of your city’s homepage (start here to find your local Craigslist site).
Worthy items for the donation pile
- Through your real estate agent, communicate with the buyers of your home about any items you’d rather leave behind and see if they’d have any use for them. If you’re moving from a house to an apartment where maintenance will be handled for you, you’ll no longer need your wheelbarrow, gardening tools or hedge trimmer. Remember, you can’t leave a single item behind when you move unless the buyers have confirmed they’d like to keep it.
- Got a stockpile of travel size shampoos, lotions and soaps from various trips? Find a local men’s or women’s shelter and take extra toiletry items there.
Toss these things! And never look back
- Expired food! If your refrigerator door filled with half-used bottles of condiments or your deep freezer overflowing with frozen veggies and bread? Pitch anything that’s almost gone, looks old, freezer burned or close to expiring: ketchup, mayo, jellies, pickles, soy sauce, and salad dressings.
- Same goes for clutter—old magazines, junk mail, cards and coupons, old magnets, chipped dishes and glasses, ripped linens or towels, expired cosmetics, old medications and lotions, clothes and shoes in poor condition, and excess holiday decorations.
5. Host a pre-move party for family and friends
As the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Before you send perfectly good items to the landfill, Albert recommends hosting a pre-move party and invite friends, family and neighbors over to go through your unwanted goods.
Remember your dream team—the ones helping you pack?
Repay the favor and give them your half-used liquor bottles, cleaning supplies and perishable fridge items.
As Albert notes, it’s much cheaper and easier to restock once you’re settled into your new home than hassle with moving those items.
It’s also a great time to send your grown children home with any lingering momentos from high school or college.
Who knows what’s hiding in the garage, attic or basement—Barbies, hockey skates, an antique Radio Flyer wagon? Give them first dibs to grab anything sentimental from childhood—or anything they might want to pass on to their own children.
If you’re ready to downsize, consider giving away family photos, heirlooms, furniture or other personal belongings to the people you want to have them.
As estate lawyers will tell you, this avoids hurt feelings and family feuds, or the possibility of it ending up in the wrong hands or an estate sale, in the event of an unexpected illness or death.
“Why not have your family members enjoy your china and all your other items so you can see them in action?” Albert says.
6. Hold a quick weekend sale for the final purge
Live on a busy street? Have lots of large or valuable items to off-load? People still enjoy stopping at good old-fashioned garage sales. Some of the top sellers include:
- Larger, quality items such as furniture and appliances
- Power tools and sporting equipment
- Lawn care and gardening items, home building supplies
- Electronics, office equipment
- Good used toys and bicycles
- Items for kids, toddlers and babies
- Kitchenware, CDs/DVDs, household goods
- Used clothes priced cheap tools (typically under $1)
If there’s no time for that, post unwanted items on Craigslist, letgo, local Facebook garage sale groups and Facebook marketplace.
ThredUP, the world’s largest online secondhand shopping resource, is also a great place to sell quality used clothes and accessories.
Stock up on all your essential supplies in one fell swoop
7. Create a moving timeline and take a home inventory
Whether you write one out by hand or download one from the internet, a simple home inventory checklist can help keep you on track in the weeks leading up to your move.
Another option is a digital home inventory app like Allstate’s Digital Locker.
8. Calculate how many boxes you’ll need ahead of time
Boxes, boxes, boxes—they are a necessity when planning for any big move. But there are so many variables when it comes to how many boxes you will need: how much stuff you have, how many containers you already own, and how much you plan to purge or pitch.
Save yourself from extra trips while you’re in a smooth packing rhythm by estimating your box needs up front.
Home Depot offers this handy moving calculator to help estimate how many boxes you need per room.
9. Do a quick scavenger hunt for free boxes
Luckily, there are a variety of ways to collect boxes for free that won’t add much time to your packing process.
- Someone in your neighborhood may have recently moved. Post an ad on Craigslist or Nextdoor asking for free boxes.
- Visit grocery, liquor, office-supply and discount stores and ask for boxes. Make sure boxes have lids and are clean, dry and still in good shape.
- If you’re doing a DIY move and renting a moving truck, check with the company about special box programs. U-Haul offers Take a Box, Leave a Box, a 100% buyback guarantee and a Box Exchange program for customers.
You can always buy boxes from your moving company, a shipping-supply store and even retailers such as The Home Depot and Walmart. If you want to skip the store, and buy them at a discount, order them online through sites such as cheapcheapmovingboxes.com, Uline.com, Uboxes.com, and Amazon.com.
Check with your moving company on any box requirements or restrictions before you collect a bunch of boxes you can’t use.
10. Get creative with other “boxes” at your fingertips
Using storage items—plastic totes, recyclable grocery bags, storage containers, sturdy baskets—around your house can cut down on your box expenses.
Make use of hampers and laundry baskets by filling them with:
Use your suitcases and overnight bags for:
- Belts and accessories
Empty and clean out your trash cans and use them to move:
- Bathroom and kitchen cleaning supplies
- Garbage bags
- Rubber gloves
- Toilet paper
- Paper towels
11. Use boxes that are the right size, strength and material for what you’re packing
Use small, sturdy boxes—think copy paper boxes—or those with built-in handles for heavier items such as books and dishes. They hold up and are easy to lift, stack and move.
Here are some other good rules of thumb:
- Wardrobe boxes work best for hanging garments. Measure the number of linear feet of hanging clothing to calculate the quantity you’ll need.
- Use boxes with preassembled partitions to protect glassware.
- For books and dishware, boxes larger than 12 inches square can be difficult to lift when full.
- You can purchase specialty boxes for large items such as flat-screen TVS, mirrors, artwork, instruments, mattresses and lamps.
Save larger boxes for light items, and use medium boxes for everything in between. Heavier items should be placed at the bottom, lighter ones on top. Same goes for stacking them when it’s time to move.
If you’re doing the move yourself, you want to be realistic about what you can lift and carry, Albert says. Most moving companies won’t move heavy items in large boxes or those without covers. There are different grades of box strength, so don’t risk packing breakables, dishes or small appliances in the least expensive boxes.
12. Stock up on all your essential moving supplies in one fell swoop
Get everything you need with a moving supplies checklist:
- Bubble wrap for wrapping breakable items. It’s more affordable to buy it in large rolls and cut sheets as you need them.
- Brown packing paper, available from packing-supply companies, to stuff boxes and wrap fragile items before packing them. Avoid newsprint because it can leave ink stains and all your dishes will need rewashed.
- Labels for identifying boxes. You can buy blank self-adhesive labels at most office supply or shipping stores, or find printable packing labels online. Or use permanent marker to write directly on the boxes.
- Large trash bags—get extra!
- Pens and a notepad for making notes; brightly colored sticky notes for leaving notes to yourself or the moving crew on what stays and goes (curtain rods, special light fixtures, appliances included in the sale), any special instructions or getting organized early in the packing process.
- Small sealable plastic bags for keeping small items, screws and brackets together.
- Stretch wrap for securing doors and drawers. It sticks to itself, leaving no residue behind.
- Standard packing tape, strapping tape for reinforcing the bottoms of heavy boxes, and clear plastic mailing tape to affix labels (it also makes them waterproof).
- Box cutters and scissors
13. Protect valuable items even when you’re in a rush
You should always pack and carefully handle valuables like jewelry, coins, special china, family heirlooms, and important paperwork, even when you’re on a tight timeline.
Bubble wrap works well for protecting breakable or fragile items.
If there is a particular item you’re worried about, and you have room in your vehicle, it’s wise to transport it yourself.
Let the real packing begin
14. Stay organized with a consistent labeling system
Label each box and what room it goes in and stack them near the door or an empty wall, but out of the way until move day.
- Use a marker, typed labels or a color-coded labeling system—whatever is easiest for you and the movers to see and remember.
- Label each box with your name, its general contents, “Fragile” if contents are breakable, and which room each box belongs in.
- Assigning color codes to label and corresponding rooms or family members can make unpacking quicker.
- Refer to your inventory checklist and keep track of how many boxes you have for each room.
Briefly list the contents of each box on the box or make an inventory list. This reduces confusion for movers and simplifies the unloading/unpacking process.
“The more organized you are to pack, the more organized you will be on the unpack and you’ll save yourself so much on the back end,” Albert says.
15. Create a packing station to combat the chaos
Designate one room in your house for packing—the guest room or an empty corner of your living room, for example.
Collect boxes in various sizes, packing tape, markers, and supplies like newspaper and bubble wrap, and keep these items contained to your packing station.
Label and stack full boxes in this space as you go. This way, you won’t be tripping over boxes all over your house, and you’ll always know where to find those Sharpies.
16. Pack non-essential items first
Begin by packing nonessentials, seasonal items, or anything you don’t regularly use or need for a few weeks:
- Art on the walls
- Clothes and shoes that are out of season
- Holiday decorations
- Dishes for special occasions
17. Break up your packing into manageable chunks
Pack one room at a time if possible. Albert says to pack like items from the same room in the same box. Don’t gather items from various rooms and put them in the same box; it’s too confusing and wastes time on the unpack.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you look around and see everything that needs packed. Start with a closet, the bathroom or living room knick-knacks and books. You’ll feel excited when you see an empty wall or closet.
“It’s time-consuming and it’s a stressful time in anyone’s life so do it in smaller chunks, a couple of boxes a night,” she says.
18. Don’t lose track of the little things
When disassembling furniture, put the screws and hardware in a plastic bag. Label each bag and designate one box for hardware for curtains, furniture, special light fixtures and wall decor.
To keep loose items organized, wrap the entire container or storage bin in plastic wrap and place it in a box.
- Mini blinds
- Bathroom toiletries
- Desk supplies
Pro packing tip: Martha Stewart’s moving checklist recommends having area rugs, and drapery if you plan to take it, professionally cleaned before your move. Rugs will return from the cleaners rolled, wrapped, and ready for transport.
19. Snap a picture of the back of your TV and electronic setups
You’ll want to know how (and where!) to plug everything in, and it will save set-up time at your new home.
If you saved the boxes for TVs, office equipment, even counter appliances such as coffeemakers and stand mixers, good job. Pack these items back in their original packaging.
20. Plan for the first few days in your new place
Just as it takes several weeks of preparation for a move, it’s going to take the same amount of time to settle into your new home—unless you want to hire a professional to come in and help put things away. They can bring in a team and have your home put together in a day or two.
It helps to have necessities and essentials ready and easy to find-your pillows, your laptop, your favorite yoga pants and snacks.
Typically, these are the items you packed up last, and either loaded last or hauled with you. Label these boxes and totes so they’ll be the first off the truck and put them in a spot that’s out of the way but easy to access.
21. Assemble an overnight bag for moving day essentials
Gather important electronics, toiletries, clothes and medication.
Designate a special box or tote for things you’ll need first at your new home and transport that in your vehicle:
- Soap/hand sanitizer
- Change of clothes for every person
- Bed sheets and pillows/air mattress
- Phone, charger, cable cords
- Paper towels
- Toilet paper
- Cleaning supplies, trash bags
- Basic household tool kit
- Disposable plates, glasses and cutlery
- Flashlight, batteries and lightbulbs
- Toys for children and pets
- Pet items—food, food dishes, leash, treats, crate, and other essentials
Take Care of Business Even in The Chaos
22. Use a binder to keep track of important documents
Make a special file for critical personal documents or put them in your safe/fireproof box and keep that with you during the move:
- Birth certificates
- Medical records
- Vet records
- School records
- Credit cards not in your wallet
- Banking and insurance information
23. Spread the word about your new address
Notify all utility companies of your move several weeks in advance and schedule shut off and start dates at your old and new residence. Change your address on important accounts and subscriptions.
- Employer and children’s school
- Banks, credit cards, loan holders
- Magazine and newspaper
- Insurance companies
- Doctor’s offices
- Gas, electric and water companies
- TV/internet and phone companies
Packing doesn’t have to be dreadful, but it’s usually a hectic and stressful time for most people. If you’re too tired, busy or physically not able to move, Albert suggests outsourcing what you can. And planning in advance as much as possible.
All the headaches will be worth it. You’ll be enjoying your new home in no time.