Organizing to De-Stress a Move

Moving boxesCongratulations! You’re moving! Whether you’re upsizing or downsizing, moving for a change of scenery, a change in family, or a change in career, this is an exciting, scary, fun, stressful time!

Congratulations! You're moving! The more organized you are, the less stressful it will be. Share on X

The more organized you are, the less stressful it will be. Here are some ways to be more organized during a move:

Start Early

Most people do not learn so suddenly about their move that they must throw everything into boxes the next day. Usually there are weeks, if not months, to prepare. There’s no reason to wait until the last minute; why not start now? There are lots of things you won’t need between now and then –seasonal decor and clothing, for starters. You need to pack them up anyway, right? Doing a little at a time will take some of the stress out of the process.

Don’t Pack Things You Don’t Want!

If you already weren’t using it, or didn’t like it, why on earth would you want to pack it up and schlep it to your next house? I know it sounds silly, but people do it all the time. Moving isn’t cheap, either; do you really want to pay extra to move stuff you don’t even want? Don’t delude yourself by telling yourself you’ll deal with it at your next destination. No, you won’t.

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Pack Pure Categories

People think they are saving on packing paper by wrapping the glass vase in a bath towel, or making good use of space by filling up the half-full box of holiday decor with shoes. Here’s what else happens when you don’t pack what I call pure categories: You pack. You move. 5 years later you call me to help you declutter your garage. We open a box labeled “Ski Clothes” (you don’t ski anymore, so the box sat there unopened for five years) and there, nestled safely among the ski clothes, is your grandma’s antique china set! You are beside yourself with joy, having thought the movers lost it forever, and the organizing session is declared a success. But…it didn’t have to happen…and it wouldn’t have if you’d packed pure categories.

“Misc” is not a category; it’s a lost china set in the making.

Create a Moving Binder

Moving is stressful enough without a way to organize the flood of information coming your way. I recommend a 3-ring binder with A-Z tabs. While you’re at it, get some binder accessories such as a pouch for holding pens and sticky notes, pockets (or plastic page protectors) for holding brochures, and business card holder pages. You don’t have to know your categories in advance, just file things when you get them according to where you would look for them later. U = Utilities, R = Realtor, S = the kids’ new school, C = clubs in your new area you might consider joining, etc.

If you are digitally inclined, use Evernote to capture, gather, and organize websites, photos, and notes about your move.

Occupied Staging

Will you be selling your current house? Staging makes it appeal to the largest number of potential buyers, but it can be a little tricky when you are still living there (occupied staging). Aside from making sure the house is in good repair, utterly clean, and well-lit, the main things are to declutter and depersonalize it. It’s OK if you leave your clothes in the closet, but if it looks crowded, de-load it by half. Start with seasonal items you won’t need until later (pack them up), or items you don’t want to keep any more (donate them). Your decor might be lovely, but if there is too much of it, or if it’s too personal (family photos everywhere, religious icon collections, etc.) people won’t be able to envision themselves living there. It will feel to them like they’re just visiting YOUR home.

Keep in mind that you still need to live there while the house is on the market. That means clearing out drawers and cupboards to make room to stash personal items when potential buyers are on their way over. Don’t leave your toothbrush out!

Rental Storage

One of the few times I actually recommend renting a storage unit is before a move, particularly if you are trying to sell your home while living in it. You can stack boxes in the garage, but not if it’s already too full to park cars in! The cost of temporary (I repeat: temporary) rental storage pales in comparison to the sales price of your home, and potential buyers want to see that the garage is big enough to park their car(s) in!

Temporary rental storage is also handy when you are between homes. You’ve vacated the old one, but not yet ready to move into a new one. Depending on how long you will need your rental unit, you might want to install some shelving so you can access what you want when you want it. Chances are you already had some shelving you can use. Or, chances are if you buy new you will need it at your destination.

Create a Box Inventory

There are lots of ideas about how to label boxes (label on top and two sides; if not using pre-printed labels, write with a bold Sharpie, not a thin, scrawly pen; assign a color to each room and color code the corresponding boxes that go in them, etc.). I dislike labeling boxes with their contents. What?!?! Well, whose business is it besides yours what’s inside? Not the movers. And not future visitors to your garage, where some of them will likely end up. I prefer to number them and make a searchable spreadsheet of the contents. But you don’t have to do it my way. Whether or not YOU do this depends on how paranoid you are about advertising the contents of your boxes, how much you want to know where the china set is (if you, against my wishes, packed it in a box full of ski clothes), and how likely you are to be able to find your spreadsheet if you do make one. Example: Box 1 — Ski Clothes and China Set. Later if you want to know which box the china set is in, you just consult your inventory spreadsheet. Handwritten is OK, but it’s easier to search if you create an electronic document. Keep a paper copy in your Moving Binder.

The “Unpack First” Box

The only “Misc” box I recommend is an “Unpack First” box. This could include one set of bedding per bed, a few basic kitchen items, and a few changes of clothing…household basics like toilet paper, trash bags, lightbulbs and a couple of towels… any important personal items like toiletries, medications, laptop computers, current paperwork, and your Moving Binder. Pretend you will be camping out in your new home for a few days… because you might be if the moving truck is delayed. This will also de-stress your unpacking because you will be able to take your time and not be scrambling through half-unpacked boxes to find things you need right now!

Think Before You Unpack

What’s the rush? One reason people unpack in a hurry is that they don’t really know what’s in the boxes until they are unpacked. Well, you don’t have to do that because you’ve packed pure categories – remember? And you’ve either numbered (and listed contents on your Box Inventory) or labeled the contents on your boxes. Why unpack the ski clothes if it’s not yet winter? Maybe you don’t know where you want to store them yet, so why not stack them in the garage (labels facing out), or along one wall of another room? Focus on unpacking the things you need now, and finding appropriate homes for them, rather than stashing them willy-nilly. You can unpack the ski clothes later, or (if it’s a pure category) donate the whole box if you find you are no longer making use of them.

It’s pretty easy to find good homes for most things: Toilet paper goes in the bathroom. Clothes go in the closet and dresser drawers. Kitchens can be mind-boggling, though, so I’ve written a separate post about that called 3 Tricks to Organizing a New Kitchen.

When’s the last time you moved? What did you do (or wish you’d done) to de-stress your move?

Please share in the comments below!

Copyright 2016 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Janet Barclay on April 8, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    My dad stopped labelling his boxes after losing some valuables to some shady movers, but then the movers didn’t know what went where, so all the boxes got dumped in one room. Now he has the perfect system, where he writes the room on the box as well as the number. Yes, he has moved quite a few times, but he has developed a good system along the way!

    • Hazel Thornton on April 10, 2016 at 11:20 am

      Yes. See my reply to Seana.

      • Janet Barclay on April 11, 2016 at 6:58 am

        I just remembered Maria White’s Move-N-Order system which I saw at NAPO 2014. I think it would be a very useful tool for this!

        • Hazel Thornton on April 24, 2016 at 9:40 am

          Yes. It would!

  2. Seana Turner on April 9, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Agreed Hazel, that this is one of the few times when a storage unit might make sense. But pack items in clearly-labeled boxes that can go right on the truck! I also agree with your point about not mixing items together… I’ve run across those boxes myself, and sometimes the contents traveled poorly, but it has been too long since the move to seek compensation.

    • Hazel Thornton on April 10, 2016 at 11:18 am

      Yes, a combination of methods is called for if one wants to protect the privacy of the box contents, such as a numbered spreadsheet AND color coding or labels for which rooms they are destined for. Good point about contents traveling poorly and waiting too long to seek compensation!

  3. Maristella Bertram on April 9, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Bravo! It was about time someone spoke about the pure categories! I was starting to think that movers play a game in which they go room by room packing a box with random items and the winner is the one the fills the box first with the most unrelated items!!

    • Hazel Thornton on April 10, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Well, it’s true that movers just pack what they find. If you have not already sorted and purged they certainly won’t be doing it for you!

  4. Linda Samuels on April 10, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Hazel- Moving is one of the top 10 most stressful things that happens in life (right up there with death and divorce.) You’ve given a wonderfully comprehensive list of going about moving in the LEAST stressful way possible.

    I remember when my husband moved into our house 30 years ago, it was so stressful (and I was less flexible then) I said that I’d never move again. Of course that might not be true, but it was so stressful that I wasn’t anxious to do it again any time soon. I’m sure your list will help many as they venture forth to new locations.

    • Hazel Thornton on April 24, 2016 at 10:10 am

      Thanks, Linda! There are many moving topics not covered in this blog post — what kind of boxes and where to get them, how to choose a good moving company, etc., etc. — just wanted to take the edge off a few stressed out folks!

  5. Sarah Soboleski on April 10, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Don’t they say you never truly know how much stuff you have until you have to fit it all in a box?! I love your point about not packing the things you don’t want – duh! We all need to be reminded of this during a move.

    • Hazel Thornton on April 24, 2016 at 9:39 am

      It would seem to be obvious — the part about not packing things you don’t want to keep — but I’ve seen it happen too many times to leave it unsaid!

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