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Simplifying the Big Move

Martha Stewart Living, April 2008

Moving, and all its attendant chores, may be inevitable. But the accompanying sense of chaos, while common, isn't necessary. This schedule outlines essential tasks, both large and small, that need to be addressed and allows several weeks for you to tend to the details (although everything can be accomplished in far less time). As you prepare, don't overlook the simplest way to ease your burden: Consider which belongings you really need to keep. A lighter load means not only an easier move, but less to unpack.

Moving Essentials
Moving Checklist
Moving Box Labels

6 Weeks Before
Hire a Mover
Ask friends for recommendations, and get quotes from three licensed companies. On-site estimates tend to be more accurate, whether pricing is by weight and distance or a flat or hourly rate. Decide if the movers or you will pack (regardless, you may want to wrap fragile or costly items yourself). Ask if the quote is binding or nonbinding, what charges could arise, and what insurance is included. If necessary, contact your insurance company for additional coverage. Request a copy of the signed contract.

Stay Organized
Dedicate a three-ring binder to move-related paperwork, such as to-do lists, contracts, receipts, checklists, and phone numbers.

5 Weeks Before
Organize Your Belongings
Conduct a room-by-room survey to determine what you plan to keep, sell, and donate.

Document Valuables
Have items such as artwork and antiques appraised in case they get damaged. Photograph or videotape them, and upload the images to your computer. Also save them to a CD, and store it with your small valuables (see "1 Week Before," below).

4 Weeks Before
Gather Materials
Stock up on moving supplies, including boxes, box cutters, tape (packing, masking, and blue painters), tape dispensers, wrapping material (bubble, plastic, and tissue paper), and labels (see Packing Strategies below). If in doubt, purchase extra; you can return any unused products. Wardrobe boxes, with built-in bars for hangers, can transport clothing as well as light fixtures. Used boxes from bookstores, which are built to carry compact but heavy loads, are excellent for most other items.

3 Weeks Before
Start Packing
Box infrequently used items, including the contents of the garage, the attic, and other storage areas, as well as out-of-season clothing, holiday decorations, books, and special-occasion dishware. Number the boxes, and keep track of the contents on a master inventory list. Try to limit each box's weight to enable easy lifting. Fill large boxes with pillows and other light things, and reserve smaller boxes for your heavier possessions. Always reinforce the bottoms with packing tape. Secure fragile objects with cushioned packaging material and painters' tape, which releases easily. Pack electronics and small appliances in their original packaging or in snugly fitting boxes.

Color-Code Rooms
Assign a color to each room, and mark boxes and furniture (be mindful of delicate surfaces) with coordinating stickers to ensure the movers will know at a glance where everything should go.

Notify Utility Services 
Request that your utilities and phone and Internet service be disconnected the day after you leave and installed in your new home the day before you arrive.

Call a Locksmith 
Arrange to have the locks in your new home changed on moving day, or earlier if convenient.

Hire a Cleaning Company
Consider having housekeepers scrub both of the spaces -- so you don't have to -- preparing the new house in the morning before you arrive and tidying up the old one after you have left.

2 Weeks Before
Continue Packing
Before you pack the bulk of your belongings, think about whether you'd like to do so by room, by category (such as sports equipment and formal dinnerware), or by another system that works for you.

Change Your Address
To have your mail forwarded, complete a change-of-address form online or at the post office. Update newspaper and magazine subscriptions, and notify banks and credit card companies.

1 Week Before
Prepare Your Moving Papers
Print an information sheet for the movers with the old and new addresses, directions, and your cell phone number. Have a cashier's check or a credit card (if accepted) on hand, plus cash for a tip.

Finish Packing
Box your remaining items, setting aside sufficient clothing for the week ahead, as well as a suitcase or two to transport it.

Create a Last-Out, First-In Box
Pack your day-to-day necessities so that they're together in one place, including bedding, towels, toiletries, toilet paper, basic tools, cleaning supplies, medications, a camera (to document anything broken in transit), snacks, a few dishes and utensils, and a coffeepot -- plus coffee and mugs. Take the box with you in your car.

Stash Small Valuables
Keep jewelry and important paperwork together. Have a friend hold on to them until you get settled, or lock them in the trunk of your car on moving day.

Moving Day
Take One Last Look
Do a walk-through before movers arrive to verify everything is packed and afterward to make sure nothing was left. Give your keys to the real estate agent or landlord.

Direct Traffic
Arrange for someone to be at your new home when the movers arrive to oversee them and answer questions. Check items off the inventory list as they're unloaded.

Inspect for Damages
Photograph relevant objects before signing the release, also known as the bill of lading.

Start to Settle In
Test faucets, toilets, utilities, phones, smoke detectors, and security systems. Turn on the water heater, if necessary. Begin to unpack, discarding anything that no longer serves you. Flatten boxes to recycle, or store them for next time.

Packing Strategies
A few tricks can help make your move more manageable, ensuring your belongings will travel safely and easily from one home to the next.

Add Handles
If your moving boxes don't have pre-punched grips, make a set of your own. Using a box cutter, create inverted triangles on opposite sides of an empty box. The top edge of each triangle should be wide enough to accommodate all hand sizes. Take care not to overpack your boxes, as they'll be more difficult to maneuver, with or without handles.

Label Boxes
Download our moving-labels, and print it onto self-adhesive paper. Write your name and the box's contents on each label. Assign a color to every room, and mark the boxes with coordinating stickers so you and the movers will know where each one should go. When coding furniture, be mindful where you affix stickers.


Protect Glass
Make a masking-tape X across mirrors and framed artwork. While this technique won't prevent shattering, it will help absorb shock and hold the glass in the frame should the item be dropped. Pack objects in a tightly fitting box clearly marked "fragile" on all sides. Make sure the corners are well-padded, so the objects won't slide around.


Wrap Furniture
When transporting anything with doors or drawers, such as bureaus, cabinets, or large appliances, wind a few layers of plastic wrap around the item to secure it. This eliminates the need for tape, which can damage delicate surfaces, and helps safeguard against scratches. Plastic wrap can also protect upholstered furniture against dirt.

Comments (4)

  • jeremyolm 30 Aug, 2013

    This is a well-researched and very informative check list, thanks for taking the time to put it together. The main problem with most people is that although they often have good intentions to start packing up early and keep to this kind of timetable, it’s often the case that everything is done at the last minute! Estate agents should be giving out information sheets on this kind of thing to make help those moving.

  • jeremyolm 30 Aug, 2013

    Being organised will make life a lot easier on your moving day and cause a lot less stress, take this advice from someone who knows!

  • Gigigill 17 Sep, 2010

    This article is great! I was so confused, wasn't sure where to start. I have saved the checklist and will get started :-)

  • mlnwatch 15 Sep, 2010

    Moving Targets moving labels have worked well for us in the past. It's a color coded labeling system that really simplified the move.

    http://www.moving-targets.net