Man laying on the floor under a pile of boxes. All you can see are the stack of boxes and his legs.

Moving Tips & Checklist: Things to know before you start packing and moving

June 20, 2023

Author: Josie Sivigny

Moving is overwhelming.

From the second you sign the paperwork, a million questions start running through your head, popping up on your phone (Mom! For the last time, I don’t know how many boxes I need yet!), and coming out of your partner’s mouth. There’s lists to make, calls to place, and about a thousand rogue socks you’re about to find hidden under every piece of furniture you own.

Breathe—if you break things out into small, manageable steps, you’re going to get through this just fine.

What do you need to do before moving?

There’s a lot that goes into moving, even if it’s just down the street, but the best thing you can do beforehand is to make the big decisions now, so that you aren’t scrambling without a plan later.

What’s your ideal budget for moving? Are you shipping a vehicle? Will you be hiring movers or renting a moving truck yourself? The more “Big Deal” decisions you can make now the easier things will be later. If you’re moving across the country or between states, start looking into information you’ll need at your new place—local places to eat while you get setup for example.

Getting all your big picture plans together as early as possible will free you up later so you won’t be stuck trying to make last minute arrangements.

How to prepare for a move.

Creating a “home base” of sorts can help you prep before moving and stay as organized as possible.

Be it a binder, a folder on your desktop, or a well-organized memo in your phone, something needs to be the Source of Truth for your move. Lease copies, contracts for movers, and insurance information if you’re shipping anything major like a vehicle should all be quickly and easily accessible to save yourself the headache. Print off this moving checklist (courtesy of Hello Little Home) and add it to the folder so you and your family can reference it.

Moving with kids? How to prep kids for a big move.

If you have young kids, as soon as you finalize plans to move you should start talking to them about it. Transitioning to a new home can be hard, so the earlier you start preparing, the easier it will be. Experts recommend that instead of solely focusing on what will be different about their new place, explain what’s staying the same. Get them excited about their new room, but remind them that their favorite stuffed animals and toys will be coming with you. If you live close by your new home, take them on frequent visits to parks and other local spots you’ll be frequenting so they have time to adjust.

If you’re making a big move, and potentially leaving behind some people that your kiddos depend on (a favorite babysitter, grandma and grandpa, their teachers, etc.) start preparing them as soon as possible. Nothing will make losing access to those people totally painless for them, but planning Skype dates, writing letters, and marking visits on calendars with your little ones can help them start to understand that it isn’t goodbye forever—just see you later. Make moving into an adventure, not a chore, and try to maintain excitement when packing up their things.

When should you start packing to move?

There’s no perfect recipe for when you should pack, but here’s a general timeline of how to space out packing projects.

3 Months Before Your Move
Packing isn’t quite a need at this point, but get organized now. Create your packing lists, start a central location for important info and paperwork, and start getting familiar with your new area. Will you have to look for a new doctor or schools? Figure out what paperwork you’ll need to do and get as much of it done ahead of time as possible.

2 Months Before Your Move
Start decluttering your space. Get rid of things that won’t be going with you, and finalize any moving plans you need to shore up. Sign contracts with movers or get a group text going with your friends and family who will be helping up to get key dates and times on the record. Having everyone on the same page will help when the big day rolls around.

1 Month Before Your Move
If you need storage space, rent it now. That way you won’t be caught last minute without a place to keep things that may not be coming with you just yet. Now is also a great time to start packing the things you won’t need anytime soon, as mentioned in the next few sections. You also want to start sourcing moving boxes, check out the tips below to find free boxes.

2 Weeks Before Your Move
Time to start kicking packing into high gear. Don’t box up any important toiletries or things you use on a daily basis, but just about everything else can go at this point. Now is also a great time to transfer any medical or school records you’ll need at your next stop! You may also want to get any vehicles tuned up and ready to go, especially if you’re moving a long distance. No one wants any surprise break downs on the way!

1 Week Before Your Move
Start packing up those last little bits that you’ve been using for the last week. Wrap up any other details you’ve been putting off, and confirm any movers or donations you’ve scheduled. You’re almost there!

How do I pack my house to move?

There are a lot of ways you can go about it, but when it really comes down to it—you just have to get started. These pro moving tips can help you get going and feel better about the process as a whole.

  • Clothing doesn’t have to be a pain. Slip garbage bags over already hung clothing and add a rubber band around the hangers’ necks to keep your clothes in order so you can easily hang them back up in your new place. Wardrobe boxes are also super handy if you want to splurge!
  • Take the time to learn how to pack dishes properly —you won’t regret it if the truck takes a sharp turn!
  • Last boxes in, first boxes out. Keep that in mind as you line up boxes to be transferred into the truck.
  • Keep boxes under 50 pounds. You’ll find yourself tempted to stuff every box to capacity, but do your back a favor and keep things lighter.
  • Tape off anything that can spill—toiletries, cleaning supplies, spices. Save yourself the headache of cleaning shampoo off everything you own.
  • Get a mattress bag from your local home improvement store to protect it while moving, trucks are dirty and dusty—you don’t want to bring that home with you!

What should I pack first when moving?

It can be tempting to just start shoving everything into boxes to get it done, but packing the things you use the least first can help clear some items out of the way and get you in the right zone.

Start with art, photographs, and knick knacks that you have on display. These things won’t be missed for a few weeks and can typically be kept stored in boxes without any issues. Clearing books and magazines from shelves can also be a quick win. Holiday decor, items in storage, out-of-season clothes, and seldom-used dishes or china can go, too.

Remember to purge as you pack, keeping a donation pile and a dump pile so that you can easily make some headway on nights and weekends while you prepare for the big day.

What shouldn’t I pack when moving?

Keeping these items off the moving truck can save you a headache if the truck disappears, gets distracted for a few days, or has any other problems finding your new place. If you’re moving long distances, this is especially important.

  • Important documents (e.g., passports, marriage license, birth certificates, any paperwork that might have bank or Social Security information on it)
  • Credit cards, cash, or check books
  • Phones, laptops, tablets, and chargers
  • At least one change of clothes for every family member
  • Snacks and water
  • Sentimental toys or blankets for the kiddos
  • Jewelry
  • Flashlight, tape measure, and small toolkit
  • Trash bags, paper towels, toilet paper
  • Any other valuables or items that you cannot bear to lose track of

How do you declutter before moving house?

Two months or so out from a move is the perfect time to start purging the things you won’t be taking with you. You still need most of your stuff, so packing isn’t an option, but you can be productive in the meantime! Tackle it room by room instead of all at once. That spare bedroom closet that hasn’t seen the light of day since you moved the last time? Start there.

Next tackle your clothing and garage storage, your linen closets, and anything in shared spaces that you no longer wish to lug from place to place. Leave your kitchen and bathrooms for last—most of your everyday essentials live between those two places, so waiting until you no longer can will save you from getting rid of something you actually do need or holding on to too much—you know, just in case.

How do I get rid of something before I move?

Moving is the perfect time to have a garage sale and make some cash off unwanted items—put it toward the move or maybe a massage after getting everything in to the new place.

  • Crowdsource removal
    If your items are still in decent shape, apps like OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace are great, quick ways to get rid of big items like couches and mattresses. Just snap a photo and upload it, but be careful about meeting people with no one else home. Good, old-fashioned Craigslist works, too.
  • Get a group text going
    Your friends and family undoubtedly make great resources for getting rid of things you no longer need. This is especially the case with gently used kids’ stuff! Ask around and see who might know someone in need of that loveseat or second crockpot you never needed.
  • Schedule a donation
    There’s undoubtedly a lot of stuff you unearthed while packing that doesn’t really need to come to the new place. Schedule a donation pick-up with Salvation Army or a local charity for good quality furniture, clothing, and household goods that someone could benefit from. This keeps your trash load low and you can leave your community better off!
  • 1-800-GOTJUNK
    When something just isn’t in donation shape, you can call services like 1-800-GOTJUNK to help you out. For a small fee, they can make any outstanding items disappear and you won’t have to run to the dump on your way out of town.

How do I stay organized when I move?

Labels, sharpies, and spreadsheets are your best friends. There are a few things you can do to make the unpacking process nice and easy.

  • Pack room by room
    This may seem obvious, but don’t focus on storing like items in boxes just for consistency sake. If it goes in the kitchen—keep it in the kitchen boxes. Label everything with the room, and number boxes so you can be sure nothing gets lost. Keep a spreadsheet with how many boxes go with each room and what box major items/appliances are in so you aren’t caught searching for a blender that never made it. The spreadsheet should live in whatever you’re using as your Home Base so that you can cross reference once the move is over and ensure that nothing stayed behind if you hired movers.
  • Pack an essentials kit
    Anything your family will need in the first week or so after moving should go in your essentials kit. These boxes should get packed in your car so that you know exactly where the things you use most are when you arrive. All the holiday decor, next season’s clothes, and that panini press you bought and totally use all the time can wait, but your everyday items can’t.
  • Store your important items carefully
    Birth certificates, jewelry, and any valuables that you can’t afford to lose in a move should be stored in a safe, discreet place that you can move yourself so you don’t have to fear movers losing them by accident.

How do you organize after moving?

This is where all that labeling comes in handy. You should have a pretty good idea of which box goes where, and the sooner you unpack the easier it will be to keep things neat and organized. Start with the kitchen and bathrooms, those are the rooms you’ll use right away. Letting boxes linger for weeks at a time is the quickest way to never actually unpack, so try and tackle at least a few boxes a day.

Starting with the biggest items can help rooms come together and set a better foundation for your smaller items. Once a room has furniture in it, you should be able to quickly tell where the rest of your things belong or what a room is still missing.

Focus on function over decorating first, that way as you burn out you aren’t scrambling for the blender or your toothbrush.

Where can I get boxes to move?

If you’re moving far, you may want to purchase new boxes so you aren’t worried about compromised cardboard giving out on the trip. A close move, or a move from a small space, probably only needs your friend’s leftover Costco boxes. Facebook Marketplace is another great source to find cheap or free moving boxes, or reach out to someone who just recently moved and probably has a garage full of boxes they’re looking to re-home.

Where can I get free boxes?
There are a few ways to snag free moving boxes, and it’s only getting easier with online communities like Craisglist, Facebook, and Freecycle. You can also ask your local grocery or liquor store if they’ve got any extra boxes hanging around—you may be surprised at how many they need to find a good home for.

U-Haul also created an online box exchange for customers to swap boxes once they’ve settled into their new spaces.

What to do with moving boxes?
Once you’re done moving, it can be a pain to stack your garage with boxes for weeks until you finally figure out a game plan. Instead, post them online and have someone else move them for you. If you aren’t able to find someone to take them off your hands, or the boxes got a little roughed up in commute, make sure to break all of them down to make it easier for your city recycling program to grab them.

What documents do you need when you move?

There are a few documents you want to have on hand when moving just in case—the last thing you need is to tear open packed boxes searching for that car title.

Grab a filofax and keep the following items close:

  • Social Security cards
  • Birth certificates
  • Car titles, registrations
  • Copies of your lease/Homeowner’s insurance
  • Vet records for pets
  • Medical records for small kids
  • Identification—driver’s licenses, passports, etc.
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