Like so many Americans, my husband’s salary was cut in half during the early days of the pandemic. Rather than staying in our Brooklyn apartment with our two young children and much-reduced budget, we decided to move to his hometown of Savannah, Georgia. There, we purchased a house online, sight unseen, for $340,000.
It was May 2020, the entire country was in lockdown mode, and here we were moving our entire life. Packing—stressful even in the best of times—was almost unbearable.
My husband did the packing (using cheap boxes from the bodega in our building) while I watched our kids at my parents’ house because our regular babysitter was in quarantine. After calculating the cost of driving a truck over 900 miles south by ourselves, we determined that hiring a professional mover was comparable in terms of price. To save money, we stayed with a friend in Savannah and waited for our things to arrive.
According to a recent survey by LendingTree, nearly 40% of Americans are considering a move in 2022, citing a desire for more space as the principal reason. The majority plan to stay in the same area, 11% say they’d go elsewhere in the state and 8% are contemplating a move to an entirely new state. And it’ll cost them: According to moving.com, on average, a local move of a two-bedroom home is $1,250, while a long-distance move is $4,890.
No matter if you’re moving down the street or heading cross-country, you’ll start in the same place: packing. So here, we share 15 essential tips to prepare for your move—from professionals and our Millie community—along with some hacks on how you can save money in the process.
1. Start as Early as Possible
Both moving experts and amateurs with experience agree: Give yourself as much time as you possibly can, even if that means packing while you’re still looking for a new place to live. “Pack the items, one room at a time, in spurts so that you don’t get overwhelmed or burned out,” suggests Lesley Thomas, a professional organizer and the owner of Orderology Home Organizing in Savannah, Georgia.
2. Organize the Least Used Rooms First
Do you have a guest bedroom? Or maybe you rarely use your kitchen because you love ordering takeout? Start with the room you occupy least so that you can still live in your favorite spaces while you’re packing, suggests Lesley.
3. Establish a System
It doesn’t need to be complicated. Lesley suggests setting up three piles: one for items to keep, one for items to donate and one for items to trash. At the end of every day, you can throw out what you don’t need to make more room for the other piles. “I try to throw out half of what I own every time I move,” says Gary, a Millie reader on Facebook. And Elonia, another Millie reader, says she starts “downsizing as soon as possible.”
4. Join Your Local Buy Nothing Group on Facebook
Before throwing something away or donating it, try posting it on your local “buy nothing” group on Facebook, suggests Tracy, a Millie reader. “People can pick the stuff up from your house, saving you a trip to donation places.” Meaghan, another reader on social media, notes that people will find use for almost anything. “My neighbor was posting half-used deer spray on Facebook and people were claiming it instantly,” she says.
5. Donate Big Ticket Items
You should also consider donating, rather than selling or throwing away, big-ticket items like dining room tables and couches. The reason? You can deduct these items from up to 50% of your gross income come tax time. (To learn more, check out this guide on tax-deductible donations from Goodwill.)
6. Gather Boxes
You can buy boxes at most large retailers. Or, if you have time, you can gather boxes from local businesses or your neighbors (if they get a lot of packages in the mail). “I get all of my boxes for kitchen glasses, bowls and plates from the liquor stores,” says Stephanie, a reader on social media. “[The boxes] have little dividers, are sturdy and usually free! Sometimes they even come with packaging paper.”
7. Decide on Movers
If you’re moving down the block—and have a lot of strong friends and family members—you might be able to get away with moving without paying for professionals. If you’re moving a significant distance, however, hiring a couple of people who know what they’re doing might end up being less expensive, especially given the current prices for gas.
If you choose the latter, Quint, a user on Facebook, recommends doing your due diligence. “Make sure they’re insured, and check reviews,” he says. “There are just so many horror stories.”
8. Label Your Boxes Well
Lesley recommends boxing like items with like items—for example, clothes in one set of boxes, toys in another. Then further organize boxes by season or by room, trying not to mix a lot of stuff together so that the process of unpacking doesn’t become too overwhelming. And make sure each box is clearly labeled. This also helps movers (and you) know where to put each box in your new home, says Joseph, a Millie reader who used to work as a professional mover. You should also number every single box—that way you can make sure nothing goes missing.
Jackie O’Brien, the owner of Clarity Through Organization, suggests skipping the fancy labels—which can cost a lot of money—and simply using painter’s tape and a Sharpie.
9. Cushion Breakables With Items You Already Own
Use things like towels, bed linens, socks, clothing and blankets to cushion items such as vases, picture frames and glasses. This will save money on bubble wrap and packing materials. And there’s “no shame in checking local dollar stores, too,” Lesley says.
10. Wrap Hanging Clothes in Garbage Bags
Jackie notes that garment boxes can cost $25–$30 each and will only store about 50 or so items. Unless you have a wardrobe full of Gucci, she suggests draping garbage bags over hanging items, poking a hole through the top for the hanger, and then duct taping the bottom. “Who wants to take clothes off a hanger and put them in a box, anyway?” she adds.
11. Pack Liquids Separately
There are many types of liquids that you might need to pack while you’re moving, from perfumes to cleaning supplies. To prevent spillage, Jackie recommends taping the tops on the bottles of liquids vertically (from top to bottom) and around the seam where they open. Add an extra layer of insurance by padding the bottom of the box you pack the liquids in with an old towel or some newspapers and magazines, just to ensure they don’t seep into other boxes during the move.
12. Saran Wrap Drawers to Save Time & Money
If you’ve procrastinated a move—and let’s be honest, who hasn’t—then you can save time and money on boxes by taking drawers out of dressers (with the contents still inside the drawers) and wrapping them tightly in saran wrap, suggests Kemi, a reader of Millie. This method also helps save time when you’re unpacking—just unwrap the drawer and pop it back into the cabinet.
13. Designate a Space in the House for Boxes
While preparing for a move, some people rent moving pods for their driveway to store boxes and other stuff in. But these can be quite a bit of money, notes Jackie. Instead, choose an area in your house that is already cleared—for example, the dining room or garage—and stack all your boxes there, she suggests. This can also be helpful if you’ve hired a professional mover and need to provide a final box count for the estimate.
14. Pack a Suitcase With Essentials
One classic mistake Jackie and Lesley see clients do is pack things they need soon after a move—like toothpaste, pajamas or frying pans. To avoid the hassle of digging through boxes for such items or being forced to buy new ones if the boxes haven’t arrived yet, set aside a suitcase or a few boxes of everyday essentials that will stay with you and be easily accessible.
15. Leave Things That Can’t be Boxed by the Door
“Leave bikes, pet crates, plants and other items by the door,” suggests Lesley. This will help ensure you or the movers don’t accidentally leave them behind. If you are moving within driving distance, consider taking these things over yourself in the days before the official move. If there is a gap in between the time you leave your old place and move into our new place, ask a friend or relative if you can store these items in their garage, hallway or driveway for a few days.
Millie content is licensed from Meredith Corporation, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle and more.
Brienne Walsh is a writer based in Savannah, Georgia. She contributes to Forbes, Rangefinder Magazine and MarketWatch, among other publications.