10 Tips for Packing

Moving day!
Be sure to label your boxes.
©iStockphoto.com/Sean Locke

If you're starring in a 1980s sitcom, then the scene where you pick up a moving box full of stuff and the bottom falls out is hilarious. But in real life, there's no laugh track when eight of your best china dishes crash to the floor. So, it's a good idea to learn some packing skills basics before you start filling cardboard boxes with 80 pounds of precious -- and pricey -- dinnerware.

Is there an art to packing a box? Yes. Is there a strategy for labeling and organizing those boxes? Yes. Is there a good reason you should pack two months in advance? Yes. Find out more on the next 10 pages.


10: Pack the Boxes Right

For a super secure box, you should tape the seam on the bottom, and you should run a piece of tape perpendicular to that seam. Pad the bottom of the box with newspaper and stuff the sides with extra paper to really make the bottom solid. Depending on what you're packing, you should wrap each item with paper. When you've filled the box to capacity, tape it shut and label it with its contents and your name. And be sure that you label the sides of the box, not the top of the box.


9: Pack Boxes by the Room

Pack similar items together. For example, if you're packing up the contents of your medicine cabinet, don't add kitchen utensils to the box. That will confuse matters when you're unpacking the box. Instead, add more bathroom items to that box. And while we're talking bathroom items, washcloths and towels make excellent stuffing. They can be used to prevent items from moving around inside a box. It's best that boxes are filled to the brim to keep them from collapsing. After you've filled a box, label it with your name, what it contains and an arrow indicating which side is up. And of course, if it's fragile, write that on the box as well.


8: Leave Stuff in Drawers

If you want to save boxes and the trouble of moving items from a drawer to a box, then simply take the drawers out of chests and desks. As long as the drawers are full and don't contain anything breakable, you can stretch tape across the top of the drawer to hold the components in place. Be sure to use masking tape -- it won't take the paint off of the furniture. That said, don't leave the masking tape on the furniture for too long. Take it off as soon as you move the drawers into your new place.


7: Pack Your Plates on Edge

You may think that the most logical way to pack your plates is to place them bottoms-down into the box. But actually, plates are less likely to break if they're standing on edge inside the box. Of course you also need to wrap each plate in newspaper and include plenty of stuffing on the bottoms, sides and in the corners of the box. Put so much stuffing inside the box that the plates don't have any room to shift around at all. Generally speaking, when you're packing glass items, you should pack the largest glass items on the bottom of the box and the smaller, more delicate glass items on the top of the box. Movers aren't always delicate with boxes and if they plop one down on the floor or the ground, the glass on the bottom of the box is going to take a beating, so those items should be stronger.

If you're using professional movers, consider having them pack your fragile items. Companies are usually only liable for the things they pack themselves. So if they pack it, you're essentially insuring it.


6: Pack Clothes in Wardrobe Boxes

If you don't know what a wardrobe box is, it's basically a big box with a rack inside where you can hang your clothes on hangers. It's an excellent invention for clothes packing because it saves you so much time. You don't have to take your clothes off the hangers, fold them and throw them in the box. You leave them on the hangers and just move them right from your closet to the rack in the box. You can even organize your clothes by season or color, stripes and solids - whatever you like. When you arrive at your new home, you can easily unload the clothes from the box, and your closet is quickly organized.


5: Tape String to the Box

Here's a cool trick: When you tape a box closed, put string underneath the tape and leave a bit of the string hanging out. When you arrive at your new place and you want to unload the box, you simply yank the string and it will rip through the tape -- and voila, the box opens. It's a little bit more time consuming on the front end to cut the string and tape it to the box, but it will save you time on the back end. You won't need to get out your keys or a box cutter to slice through the box tape. You can just pull on the little string.


4: Label Your Boxes

If you don't label your boxes to indicate what's inside, then when you arrive at your new home, you and your movers will have no idea where each box goes. Imagine how tedious it will be to go through every single brown box, trying to figure out what's inside and which room to place it in. So, be smart and label each box. You can label it by the room and with a general description of the contents it contains. If you include the room, then the movers will know where it goes. If you just label it by the contents, then only you will know where it goes. The label should be on the sides of the box, not on the top of the box.


3: Keep Up with Furniture Casters and Picture Hangers

Furniture casters are likely to separate from furniture during the move. So just go ahead and remove them before transport. You can tie them together with heavy twine and tag them with the name of the furniture piece they belong to. The same thing goes for framed pictures and mirrors. Some framed items come with special screws and hanging devices that you don't want to get lost in the shuffle during the move. Save those devices in a plastic bag and either tape the bag to the mirror or frame or store the bag separately with tags that indicate which hanging devices go with which frame.


2: Start Packing Well Ahead of Time

Don't wait until the week before you move to start packing your things. If you're like most people, then there are some items you can pack even a couple of months before a move and not miss them. For example, pack up out-of-season clothes, holiday wares, your good china, stemware, and books you've already read and don't plan opening again in the next two months. It might be annoying to have a pile of boxes in your house for eight weeks, but it will relieve a lot of stress during those last couple of weeks before the move.


1: Pack Small Items in Large Boxes and Large Items in Small Boxes

When you're packing boxes, pack the small items in the large boxes and the large items in the small boxes. It's a matter of physics. Heavy items are likely to come crashing through the middle of a large box. While this makes sense for most things, books are an exception. If you fill a big box with a bunch of small books, the weight is going to add up and the box is going to be too heavy to carry. Also, pack heavier items at the bottom of the box and lighter items toward the top of the box. And remember: If you're straining to pick up a box, it probably contains too many heavy items, and it could wind up breaking.

Home Packing Tips FAQ

When should I start packing for a move?
You should start packing for a move about eight weeks prior to your anticipated move date. While you may not be able to pack up your whole kitchen that far ahead, pack things like books, holiday decorations, and seasonal items that aren't in use. This will relieve some stress as you get closer to the big day.
What is the cheapest way to move locally?
Renting a moving truck from a company such as a U-Haul or Penske and moving yourself is the cheapest way to move locally. Start collecting free cardboard boxes months in advance and enlist the help of friends and family on move day, if possible, to keep costs down.
Is it worth paying for packing when moving?
Paying for professional packing can add thousands of dollars to your moving budget, so for many people, it's not worth it. However, if you'll need to take time off of work in order to pack, it may make sense. It may also be worth it if you're moving cross-country, as there is an art to packing that will keep your belongings safe and secure as they're driven to your final destination along bumpy roads for miles and miles.
How do you pack efficiently?
The tips in this article — like labeling boxes, packing boxes by room, and packing heavy items in smaller boxes — should help you pack efficiently.
How do I pack and move on very short notice?
Packing and moving on short notice is difficult, but it can be done. Consider the following tips: Book a DIY moving truck; gather what materials you can and use trash bags where you can; pack breakables in clothing and other soft materials; ask for help from friends and family; deprioritize organization and labeling; and donate or throw out items you don't need.