How to Move without Losing Your Sanity

I’m sorry I’ve been missing in action lately.  The past few weeks I have been consumed with getting our house ready to sell and then moving out.  I’ll have more details soon for you about our new location, but for now let’s talk about moving.  It’s a drag.  From beginning to end, moving just plain stinks.  How do I know?  Because I’ve lived in 7 homes in the past 10 years.  If you count going back and forth between college and home, I’ve probably moved the majority of my stuff at least 15 times since I graduated high school.  Ugh.  Over the past two moves, though, I’ve developed and honed a moving process that is top notch.  It won’t do away with the inconvenience of it all, but it will keep you organized, keep you aware of where all of your stuff is at all times, and make the moving in process a dream.

For starters, you have too much stuff.  Start purging it now.  Oh, you aren’t moving for another six months?  Doesn’t matter.  Start getting rid of stuff yesterday.  When you’re in a time crunch, it’s fairly impossible to try and sell any of your things.  If you start early enough, you might be able to make enough money to pay for movers. (More on that later.)  I listed things on 5 miles, Offer Up, Varage Sale, Craigslist, and Next Door.  I also sold some books and CDs on Decluttr.  To be clear, this is only worth doing if you have some extra time.  I did a lot of this as we got our house ready to list for sale.  I would take anything we wanted to get rid of and toss it in a box, then I could list it while watching tv or taking a packing break.  After a week or so, anything that wasn’t sold would be taken to Salvation Army to donate.

Once you are ready to start boxing everything up, you need the right labeling supplies: sharpies, duct tape in different colors, and a spreadsheet.  Designate a different color tape for each area or category you will be boxing up: kitchen, garage, living room, kids stuff, etc.  If you’re extra nerdy, like me, you’ll assign colors by alliteration.  Office = orange.  Gold = garage.  Blue = bedroom.  Or assign to bedrooms by that person’s favorite color.  Whatever helps you remember them easily (although you will definitely know the color code by heart after you’ve finished).

Next, set up your spreadsheet.  Here is what mine looks like:moving spreadsheet

The “box size” column was a new addition for this move, but I think it’ll be helpful when I’m trying to find things on the other end.

Make sure to include a tab with your color code.  You’ll thank me later.

color code


As you pack, keep your spreadsheet handy.  I did mine on a google sheet so I can access it from my phone, laptop, computer at work, etc.  It’s then one less piece of paper to keep up with, and moving my laptop from room to room as I packed made it easier to bring some sweet packing tunes or whatever Netflix show you choose to binge watch to get you through the moving process.  I chose The Good Wife.  (Note: this show rivals Dexter for worst finale ever, but it was an enjoyable watch until then.)

The beauty of this system is that you can pack in any order you want.  Some people (like my mom and husband) are extremely orderly and want to pack one room completely before moving on to another room.  I tend to pack things in order of use, from least to most frequently used.  All the decorative stuff comes down first, then dishes and serving ware that are for special occasions, and then I’ll get down to the things we actually use toward the end.  Whatever order you choose, here is the process:

  1.  Assemble a box.
  2. Pack the box, listing the contents in the spreadsheet.*
  3. Close and seal the box.
  4. Put a small square of the duct tape that corresponds to that room in one of the top corners on every** side of the box (excluding top and bottom).
  5. Label the duct tape squares with the corresponding number of the box.


That’s it!  Notes:

* Your description of the contents is for you – it can be as detailed or vague as you choose.  Based on experience, you will become more and more general as you go.  There is one box in our spreadsheet for this move that missed the inventory process from the last move as well.  It is listed as “mystery box.”  The others are more helpful though.

** It may seem excessive, but labeling every side means it’s really easy to tell where it goes, no matter how it’s packed or shoved into a room.  It’s worth the extra duct tape and 35 seconds of labeling.

Here are what some of my box piles looked like as we went:

moving boxes

moving boxes(If you move a table or a piece of furniture that was underneath a low-hanging light fixture, it’s helpful to stack boxes underneath it so you don’t run into it over.and.over.again.)

moving boxes

The best part of this system comes into play when it’s time to move in.  If you’re moving directly from Point A to Point B, then it might not be as helpful.  If, like me, you had to spend a few weeks or months in moving purgatory with your stuff somewhere else, you will give yourself a tremendous pat on the back for all the work you did on the front end.  I guarantee you, you will not remember what stuff is where after hauling things hither and yon.

If at all possible, hire movers.  Your friends and family may be willing to help you in exchange for pizza and beer, but honestly, they will be even more delighted to help you celebrate (and may even pay for a celebratory housewarming meal!) if they don’t have to contribute manual labor.  Seriously.  Budget for it.  Use the cash you made selling your stuff pre-move.

When you reach your final destination, place a master copy of the color code at the entrance where movers (professional, or relationally-obligated) will see it.  If you still have any of the duct tape remaining, put a strip of each color on the entry to its corresponding room.  Then, as movers bring in each box, they know exactly where it goes, without having to be told.  When I moved into my last house, the majority of my stuff had been in a POD for four months.  I was teaching, and my mom generously offered to meet movers at my house for me so I didn’t have to take another day off of work.  She just wrote out the color code, and let them go from there.  I WASN’T EVEN PRESENT.  and each box was in exactly the right place when I came home.  Unless you have people who will unpack your stuff and put it away for you, it doesn’t get any easier.

You may be wondering why I listed every item that went in a box.  No matter how efficient you are in the beginning move-in stages, there will always be a few stragglers that get shoved into the garage or a packed closet for you to get to “eventually.”  When you inevitably need envelopes, or gift bags, or something else random that wasn’t an unpacking priority, you can look through all of the unopened boxes until you find what you need OR you can consult the spreadsheet to figure out exactly which box it’s in.  Since your boxes are still neatly numbered, it’ll be a breeze to locate. and since your spreadsheet is online, you don’t have to find a piece of paper first.  You can just pull it up wherever you are.

One last note on movers – if you are able to hire some, ask around.  Get as many references as possible, and be willing to hire a company that charges more per hour.  When I left the Austin area, I hired a company to load my POD for me.  Two very well-meaning, but not very experienced in the game of packing Tetris, teenaged boys showed up and took over four hours to fit everything in.  Moving out of my last house, I hired a highly-recommended company, and two guys were able to pack the same amount of stuff into the same sized POD in under two hours.  Even though they charged more per hour, it ended up being cheaper in the long run because they worked so efficiently.

That’s it!  Stay tuned to see how everything unfolds at the new house in a few weeks!

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