How to Pack For a Move (Without Losing Your Mind)


If you’re reading this right now, there’s a good chance you’re feeling a little stressed out about packing for your upcoming move. And it makes sense. Moving is commonly listed as one of the top five most stressful life events, right up there with divorce, job loss, and the death of a loved one. Yikes. And, as you well know, “moving” doesn’t just happen the day that movers (or the bellhops, if you’re smart) show up to your house and load up the truck. Often, the most stressful part of the whole ordeal is the packing. Which brings us to our subject here: how to pack for a move without losing your mind.

First of all, a word of comfort: yes, it can be done! We know it’s stressful, we know it’s hard to figure out where to start packing, and we know that sometimes it feels like the process will never end. Keep reading, and we will help you lay out a plan for your packing process. We’ll discuss where to start this whole process, how to think through packing all your stuff and formulate a plan, and even some advice how to pack individual boxes. The most important part of reducing the stress of packing is coming up with a plan and writing it down, even if it’s incredibly basic. And that’s really what this article is about.

But you didn’t come here to read intros. You’re here because you want some help. So let’s get to it.

moving utilities

Packing For a Move: Where to Start?

The better you prepare for your upcoming move, the easier it will be. Many people dive right into the packing process without planning beforehand. While this is tempting, it almost always ends in a tornado of disorder and frustration.

So, before you start packing, there are three things that we recommend you do.

  • Transfer Your Utilities.
    Call your utility companies and pay off any outstanding balances. If you are moving to a new destination in your city, just have your utilities transferred to this new location—things like garbage, electricity, gas, water, etc.
  • Change Your Address.
    Changing your address is easy and we have made it even easier for you—simply follow this link and the site’s directions to change your address. The United States Postal Service oversees all address changes. Or, if you want one service that can handle all of your address change needs in one place, check out Updater.
  • Get enough boxes and moving supplies. Seriously. We cannot stress this one enough. Having enough boxes and moving supplies is an absolute game changer. Skimping on supplies and then jamming your DVDs, plates, and pillows into one box will only make you more stressed, especially when it comes time to unpack. Invest in plenty of boxes, quality packing tape, bubble wrap, packing paper, and maybe even some of those specialty boxes for your dishes. You’ll thank us when you start packing and you have a place for everything.

Once you have changed your address, transferred your utilities, and bought your boxes and moving supplies, it’s time to face the dragon: packing.

How to Pack: Forming Your Plan

Like we said at the beginning, coming up with a plan is going to make the packing process much easier. In this next section, we are going to show you how to go about packing for your move in, basically, 7 steps (and after that we’ll get into detail about where to start packing). We recommend you read these 7 steps, then take some notes on how you can create a plan for packing for your move.

Please keep in mind, while we recommend this process, there is no “perfect” way to pack, as everyone’s situation is unique. So do what is most comfortable for you.

packing for a move

Packing Isn’t just Shoving Things in Boxes: 7 Steps to an Easier Move

  1. Sell everything you haven’t used in the past year.
    For most people, this can be the hardest part of the entire moving process—parting with their belongings. But, if you haven’t worn a pair of shoes in the past 365 days, are you ever going to wear them? Many Americans struggle with holding on to possessions they haven’t used in years and it costs them both space and money. A big move is a perfect opportunity to get rid of those things you never use while putting some extra cash in your pocket. Check out Craigslist or LetGo to sell some of your used belongings online. Or, visit your local consignment store.
  2. Donate everything you can’t sell or don’t want to sell.
    When you choose to let go of your old belongings, you are not only making it easier for yourself, you are making it easier for someone else, too. A pair of shoes that you never wear could become someone else’s favorite belonging. If you don’t want to sell the things you don’t use anymore, why not just give them away to someone who is less fortunate?
  3. Break down your packing room by room, category by category, and pack accordingly.
    This is a relatively simple step, but it can be remarkably helpful. Don’t try to wrap your head around everything in your house. That will probably cause a panic attack. Instead, think about packing one room at a time, and, in each room, one category at a time (we’ll get into this in detail more below). Kitchen supplies should be packed with kitchen supplies. Cleaning supplies should be packed with cleaning supplies. Books should be packed with books. So on and so forth. When you start mixing and matching your belongings you’re going to run into some trouble. While right up front, throwing everything you own into a box may be easier, it makes it more difficult to unpack. Your future self will thank your past self if you take the time to pack thoughtfully.
  4. Label your boxes descriptively and concisely.
    Invest in a fat Sharpie and label each and every box you pack. It might be tempting to leave this step out, but we promise it’s worth your time. We recommend that you label each box by both the room that it belongs in and by the contents of the box. For example, let’s say you have three boxes full of kitchen supplies, label them–– Kitchen #1: Pots & Pans, Kitchen #2: Cutlery and Silverware, Kitchen #3: [fill in the blank]. When you are moving into your new place, this will make it easier for your movers to take your boxes to exactly where they need to be.
  5. Take care of all the little things—there are more than you think.
    There are a lot of little things that people tend to overlook when they are in the midst of packing for a big move. For example—don’t purchase any groceries for a week or so leading up to the big move. If so, you are going to be throwing away a lot of food that won’t survive the trip. Also, if you’re moving your fridge, remember to defrost it a few days before skipping town. Otherwise, you will have a wet watery mess to clean up on your ride over. Remember to put all of your toiletries in Ziplocs or bags—you don’t want to unpack your boxes and be surprised with cleaning up a gooey shampoo explosion.
  6. Book a moving company—perhaps Bellhops? 🙂
    If you haven’t gathered yet, this post is brought to you by your friends here at Bellhops, and we are a modern alternative to traditional moving companies. Obviously we are a little biased in our recommendation, but the point here is really this: packing is difficult enough. It really is worth it to hire professionals. You don’t want to heap on top of that the stress of renting a truck, driving that truck, begging your friends to give up their Saturday, and then spending all your Saturday breaking your back lifting heavy items and trying not to break them in the process of transportation. Come moving day, we guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
  7. Start packing early.
    Earlier we discussed how we as humans tend to be horrible procrastinators. We push off what we don’t want to do until the very last second. Most moving stress stems from individuals not being prepared for a move. We recommend you start packing at least 3 weeks prior to your move. Just force yourself to do 30 minutes of packing a night, that way you can slowly chip away at it.

What to Pack First When Moving

Okay, you might be saying. That’s great. You gave me a nice seven step list. But where do I start? I have a whole house full of stuff here! And believe us, we get it (we are in the moving business, after all). Standing there, looking around at your books, your TV, your clothes, your pots and pans—it’s overwhelming. So when you’re packing to move, where to start?

Here, we’re a big fan of the “lowest hanging fruit” principle. The lowest hanging fruit principle states that, essentially, when you have a long, complicated course of action in front of you (like packing up everything you own), start with the easy, straightforward stuff first. This is a simple way to avoid getting overwhelmed.

But how do you identify which tasks are the easiest? This is where the whole packing by room and category thing we mentioned earlier comes in. First, make a list of each room in your house. Think about packing your house room by room. If you think about packing everything in the whole house at once, we guarantee you’ll get stressed out and then probably procrastinate. Instead, think about each room, and then break down the stuff that’s in each room into smaller categories. For example, the categories in your living room might include the following: books, entertainment equipment and accessories, decorations, and furniture.

Once you have your list of rooms and the categories of stuff in each room, find the smallest, simplest category. Begin there. When you’re working on this task, it may be tempting to try to work on other tasks at the same time. Or, maybe you’ll get stressed out and start thinking about everything else you have to do. If that’s the case, we have a motto for you: task at hand. Repeat it to yourself over and over. You can only pack your whole house by working on one task at a time, and that task will get done a lot faster if you focus all your energy on it. One thing at a time. Task at hand. Task at hand. 

How to Pack Moving Boxes

So now that you have your list We wanted to dedicate an entire section to packing moving boxes because it’s important for a stress-free move. The first piece of advice we will give when it comes to packing moving boxes is this: pack heavy belongings in smaller boxes (ideally boxes that have handles). It is much easier to pick up a small 50-pound box than a large one. Large boxes tend to be awkward to carry and difficult to pack in a moving truck.

Our next piece of advice when it comes to packing moving boxes is this: never risk it. If you have a valuable item that you are worried about damaging, don’t give it a second thought—protect it. Put bubble wrap, blankets or packing paper around it to protect it from the hustle and bustle. And, quick side note: pack your dishes vertically, it reduces the risk of them breaking.

Lastly, don’t try to over-stuff moving boxes. Cramming and overloading boxes with belongings can lead to damaged items and increase the risk of the box ripping. 25 items in a box are much easier to move than 25 items scrambled all over the grass.

You Have (Basically) Everything You Need to Start Packing

Awesome. Now you should have a good idea of how to pack for a move. You’ll be ready to move before you know it!

We are going to leave you with two final piece of advice that we mentioned once earlier—get enough boxes. Seriously, it may sound simplistic, but we promise that having more than enough boxes is a massive stress reliever. The last thing you need on top of the stress of moving is the stress of figuring out how to transport your dishes in your backpack because you were to cheap to buy that extra medium sized box. (Spoiler alert: there is no good way to pack dishes in your backpack—but hopefully you weren’t really considering that).

As long as you have your boxes packed and ready, the toughest part of your move is over. Unpacking is the easy and exciting part—setting up your new life in a brand new home.

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