How to Move without Going Crazy or Broke

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In the past three years, Life as MOM contributor Janel has moved house three times and just completed move #4. Today she shares some tips on how to make the moving process a bit easier.

How to Move without Going Crazy - This is the definitive post for moving house without losing your mind. All kinds of tips and tricks for moving with kids.

Moving can be the start of a great adventure. Or it can make you feel as if you’re going crazy. Since our family embarked on a law school experience for my husband three years ago, we’ve moved many times, from home to rental to temporary housing with friends to rental and now back home to California. It’s been a whirlwind!

I hope I never have to move ever again. However, since we’re in a rental home, the chances of that happening are slim to none.

That said, I hope I’ll be better prepared the next time around. I’ve got a lot of practice under my belt! Here’s what I’ve learned through it all.

Collect your moving supplies as early as possible.

There are a tremendous number of moving supplies for sale to help you protect your worldly possessions. You can drop some serious coin if you were to purchase them all.

Do you need them all? Not really. But there are several that can make the moving process easier and (in my opinion) are worth the expense. Of course, try to collect these for free whenever possible.

How to find moving supplies for free:

  • Use the internet and social media. Check Craigslist and post a notice on your social media page and any local group pages to which you belong. During our move last summer, a gal from my local Mothers of Preschoolers group was just finishing off a move. I posted my plea on Facebook and she responded that she had TONS of supplies — boxes, packing paper, and bubble wrap for me. It was a win-win for us both — she got it out of her house and I got free moving supplies.
  • Go to local stores. This move, we had the best success with getting boxes from liquor stores and a bike shop. Liquor boxes are small and sturdy — perfect for books and breakables. We snagged some bike boxes that large and slender — just right for large and unwieldy items like large frames and mirrors. Of course, check the usual grocery stores, photocopy stores, and malls. Talk to the store ahead of time and find out what days they stock their shelves. If they know you’re coming, they just might keep the boxes intact for you.

How to Move without Going Crazy - This is the definitive post for moving house without losing your mind. All kinds of tips and tricks for moving with kids.

Moving supplies that you need:

  • Boxes: If I’ve learned anything in all my moves, I’ve learned that you can never have too many boxes. Collect, collect, collect. You’ll want a vast array of sizes to make the packing process easier. If you have extra at the end (which has NEVER happened to me), you can recycle them or pass them onto someone else.
  • Tape: Don’t use the dollar store stuff…it really doesn’t work that well. You don’t have to buy the most expensive stuff, but don’t go for the cheapest either. It will just cause frustration when it refuses to stick to boxes. A tape gun is a handy thing to have too. If you don’t have one, buy one or borrow one from a friend.
  • Markers and/or Labels: Labeling boxes is essential. You can either use sharpie markers or print off labels on your computer.
  • Packing Paper: I love using this for my dishes — then I don’t have to wash them when you unpack them. You can also use towels as well.
  • Bubble Wrap: You won’t need much of this but if you’ve got some important breakables, it is nice to have. Save any that you get from packages. If you need to buy some, I found it cheaper at Wal-Mart ($5 for 30 ft roll) than at Home Depot ($7 for 36 foot roll).
  • Mattress Bags: When I helped Fishmama pack up for her move from their studio to their first home, the first little FishBoy had great fun climbing around in the empty moving truck. Oh my, did he get filthy!!!! The truck may not seem that dirty, but trust me it is. It is so worth it to shell out that $5 for a mattress bag to protect your mattress. The added bonus is that it will keep it dry in the event it rains during your move — which happened to me in Southern California of all places!
  • Plastic Wrap: You can buy a huge roll of plastic wrap at home improvement stores. We like to use it to protect large furniture pieces. Also, if you disassemble furniture for the move, you can wrap the pieces up together with plastic wrap so they’re easier to handle. My husband has done with with our outdoor wooden table set as well as our girls’ bunkbed pieces.
How to Move without Going Crazy - This is the definitive post for moving house without losing your mind. All kinds of tips and tricks for moving with kids.


Have an organizational plan.

  • Use labels. I’m a believer in using labels. On each label, I print the name of the room and the box number (for example, Kitchen 12) and then slap a label on each side of the box so that I don’t have to flip the box every which way to find out what’s in it.
  • Keep track of what’s in each box. Last year, I had a binder in which I recorded the box name and the contents so that I could use it for reference during the unpacking stage. This year I went high-tech and bought an app for my iphone — Moving Van. As I packed my boxes, I entered the box name, the room, and the contents. As we’ve unpacked boxes, I’ve used the search feature numerous times to locate an item quickly and easily. When my daughter wanted to know where her CD player was, I was able to tell her within seconds that she’d find it in the box labeled Girls Room 12.
  • Prep essential boxes. Think through what you’ll need immediately upon arrival and prep those boxes before the last-minute craziness ensues. You’ll want to have items like bedding, towels, hand soap, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and coffee (or wine?) all easily accessible.
  • Use colored duct tape to mark important boxes. For the stuff you’ll need immediately on arrival at your new home, slap a piece of colored duct tape on them to make them easily identifiable so they can be loaded near the back of your moving truck for easy access.
  • Communicate your organization plan to your helpers. All the organization in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t communicate it to others who are helping you. Last year, I marked the boxes that were NOT for temporary garage storage with pink duct tape. I knew what it meant. My husband knew what it meant. But one of our helpers did NOT. So, guess who ended up climbing over piles of boxes in the garage looking for the pink labeled boxes that I needed? This girl. Not fun…especially in Virginia humidity.

Pack it up.

  • Start packing as early as possible. Really. I’m the queen of underestimation when it comes to how long it takes to pack a box…or how many boxes there are to be packed. My kitchen alone took about 45 boxes this go around. Granted, many of them were smaller liquor boxes, but that is a lot of boxes! Set the essentials aside and pack up the rest as soon as you can.
  • Analyze what you put in each box. Do you really need it? Is it something you really want to find a place for a the other end of the move? If not, sell it, give it to a friend, or donate it to charity.
  • Put (nearly) everything in a box. This was my husband’s edict this time around. It’s much easier to load a moving truck when you’re dealing with boxes rather than an assortment of oddly shaped items. If you can fit it in a box, do it.
  • Fill each box completely. If your contents aren’t full to the top, your boxes might get crushed during the move. You can use packing paper and newspaper to do this, but odds-and-ends that you have to move anyway work too. Blankets, throw pillows, towels, and even stuffed animals all make great fillers for boxes.

The tips above helped me stay (mostly) sane through this last move. No matter how much you plan, moving is hard. Just remember that it won’t last forever. If you’ve got a move coming up, good luck!

Other Random Take-aways

  1. Don’t pack all the toilet paper, paper towels, and soap that you bought for pennies so that you have to pay through the nose ($1 for a bar of soap?!) to buy those necessities while you wait for the moving truck to arrive.
  2. If you have laundry baskets that you want to keep, (which you do) pack stuff in them early and load them on the truck, rather than leaving them empty at the end with no room on the truck to transport them.
  3. Never pack your coffee aparatus – cart it with you. In this way you don’t have to pay for Starbucks every morning until the truck arrives. (OK, I didn’t mind this one so much, but I felt guilty doing it.)
  4. Likewise, don’t pack up every pot, pan, and utensil. Instead keep out a few basics so that you can do rudimentary food prep before the truck arrives — and thus save yourself many trips through the dollar menu at El Pollo Loco.
  5. No matter how much more efficient and economical it is to have the stuff shipped by a freight company, try to truck it yourself. Inconvenience has its costs.

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  1. Ahh, the joys of moving! We sold our home earlier this year, it sold very quickly and we had about 3 weeks to get everything out since the buyers wanted a quick close. We had started the process on building our next home, but it wouldn’t be ready until later this year. So, we are doing TWO moves this year!! In the interim, we moved into an apartment temporarily while the new house is finished, placing about 60% of our life in a storage unit. We have moved many times in the fifteen years we have been together, but I also moved a lot growing up. We have a system down to make the process go smoother.
    This go round, my husband has been getting boxes from the cafeteria at his work. Free boxes are a godsend. So while a lot is already packed and waiting in storage, the remaining of our stuff that is at the apartment is starting to get boxed up now. I work by boxing whatever non-essential things we can go without or find a creative solution around in the meantime. I leave out only things we must have. Everything is being stored in the front bedroom for the movers. I mark each box with a big sharpie marker, labeled with the room’s name and what specifically is in it. I have also printed out half sheet neon labels that I am taping to the front of the boxes so that the movers can easily identify what I want in each room.
    I have found it the cheapest to purchase both bubble wrap (about $13 for a huge box 240 sq ft!) and the packing tape rolls (about $19 for 6 rolls of heavy duty tape) at Sam’s Club. Huge savings over going to places like Walmart of Staples. When we first get into the home, the first things we do is set up the beds and get the bathrooms stocked for restroom use and showers. Then from there it is eating time (dinner most likely) and then the unpacking begins. We always have everything in order and all boxes unpacked that first to second day.
    We are SO ready for our house to be done and we can move in. Our close is late Sept, we have some finishing touches and projects we want to do to it before we move in, so our big day will be the end of Oct. I am awaiting the perfect moment where the movers have just left and we are standing in our new home with everything, and we are finally IN! That very moment is going to be the moment that makes these 2 moves all worth it for me.

  2. this was awesome. I know eventually my family will have to move. we are out growing our house. Just kind of scary after living in a home for 13 yrs. you collect a lot of stuff. I have been purging now. We have 7 kids and with 5 of them being boys they need a place to roam, burn off energy… we are waiting til our oldest graduates since she only has one more year to go. Life has been terrible enough with having to move your senior year of high school. so I told her she could graduate with her friends.

    1. It’s great to purge your stuff regularly…it will make the moving process so much easier. Keep it up! Personally, I don’t feel as if we buy many things since our family lives on a tight budget, but it is amazing to see the stuff we accumulate anyway.

  3. The thing that has helped me most with packing is to do as much organizing, sorting and getting rid of things ahead of time. The less you have to move the better, and if you can do that before you start packing, you have less to do at the end. Also if you have plastic boxes/bins to store things, such as out of season clothes, holiday items, you can move those boxes from place to place without packing and unpacking.

    1. I totally agree. For me, that’s easier said than done. It was definitely eye-opening to use the app and see how many boxes I packed! Granted, many were small liquor boxes…but there were A LOT of boxes.

  4. Another thing that I found to help us in all our moves (12 in the last 13 years) is to get end rolls of paper from your local newspaper. They usually sell super cheap. I bought mine for $0.75 and it was a huge roll and great for packing breakables. Since it’s so cheap you don’t mind using so much to secure your items. Bonus, if there’s any left over, pack it in the back of the moving truck and keep crayons on hand so the kiddos have something to play with once you arrive at your new home and you need them to stay out of the way to unload the truck. 🙂 Who doesn’t love drawing on a giant pieces of paper.

    1. That’s a great tip! I really love using packing paper, but it is kinda pricy at the store.