The Best Way to Pack for Moving: A Systematic Room-By-Room Approach

Are you gearing up for a move? Whether it’s across the country or across town, moving can feel like a daunting task! You have years of memories tucked away in every corner of your home. From artwork to electronics to kitchen gadgets (so many kitchen gadgets!) you need to safely pack a vast array of belongings and transport them to your new home. But how? While there are many handy lists out there about packing for moving, we’re digging in deep to provide you with a systematic room-by-room approach.

We consulted with experts and we’re here to help you keep the stress levels at a minimum as you’re preparing for your move. Consider this your one-stop shop to get you ready to rock and roll on over to your new home!

Ready? Let the packing extravaganza begin!

A decluttered room that is ready to pack up for moving.
Source: (Collov Home Design / Unsplash)

Step 1: Declutter and purge

It may seem like the most obvious place to begin, but getting rid of what you don’t want to move is key before you actually start packing. You don’t want to bother putting things into boxes if in a few weeks or months after your move you’ll wish you would have just taken it over to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. It’s just plain, good ol’ common sense!

“Going through the sale process, there’s no better time than before you list to actually start making donations, so that once you go under contract, you don’t have to worry about that 45-day squeeze to get things out of the house,” says top real estate agent Megan Toll, of Toll Realty Group in the greater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area.

So how to start decluttering? Work room by room, starting with the big items first. Any side tables, lamps, desks, or anything heavy and large that won’t fit into your new home or won’t match the new decor will have to go. Tag these items with sticky notes or move them all into one room or one area of the house.

Next, go from room to room, but this time with clothes, appliances, books, and other items in mind. If you haven’t used an item in months, if it doesn’t fit, or if it doesn’t “spark joy” as Marie Kondo says, then put it into a donation box.

Tackle the attic, the basement, and storage closets last. These areas are usually filled with nostalgic items and can be the hardest area of the house to go through to get rid of things.

Last on the list is arranging for a donation pickup. Many charities or nonprofit organizations will pick up your donations for free, so check with them before hauling boxes or bookshelves all over town. Simply schedule a pick-up and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Or, if you’re feeling extra proactive and have a strong case of the can-do attitude, plan a garage sale and use that extra moolah to put toward your moving fund!

Step 2: Get prepped

Now that we’ve skimmed the foam off of top with your declutter-a-thon, it’s time to get prepped. The best way to pack for moving for every room of your house starts with an inventory list.

Here, you’ll want to itemize every item you’ll be moving so you can get a handle on what kind of packing supplies you’ll need, including quality boxes, bubble wrap, tape, a tape gun, packing paper, markers, blankets, a dolly, and other moving tools.

As Toll conveys, “Packing supplies can be expensive. Use what you have on hand to help protect your valuables and to buffer some of the more delicate items that you’re trying to pack.” If you’re on the hunt for some inexpensive boxes, Toll recommends searching “buy nothing” sites like Facebook groups or FreeCycle. She also advises “using food delivery boxes for packing because they are sturdy and are a great size!”

Step 3: Pack your suitcase

You might be surprised that this step comes before organizing and packing. You and any family members will want to make sure you have your valuables with you, as well as a few days’ worth of clothes and necessities to get you settled in your house quickly. You won’t want to go hunting for your toothbrush in boxes!

Packing important items can also be helpful if your closing or moving process doesn’t run on schedule. ”What if the settlement is delayed for a couple of days and all of your belongings are stuck in a truck?” Toll notes. “You’ve packed your entire life into boxes, forgetting that all you have are the clothes on your back.”

Also, you’ll want to make sure that you get your own important documents, sensitive paperwork, and essentials out of the way before you begin putting things in boxes. “Take your passport out and put it as far away as possible from everything you’re packing” to make sure it doesn’t unintentionally end up in one of the boxes, says Sayra Rafi at Imperial Movers in New York. Consider purchasing a portable filing tote or at least a document folder to store all your important documents and keeping them with you and your suitcase before tackling packing your home.

Step 4: Get organized

Now that your essentials are in place and you’re the proud owner of a lot of cardboard and tape, it’s time to get organized. Wait. Did we just hear you groan? Did you just utter organized-schmorganized? Well, we are here to keep things fun so you can stay on top of the game.

Here are our top quick tips for getting organized:

  • Group like items together
  • Designate a “don’t pack” zone
  • Number your boxes and make a corresponding spreadsheet with the contents of each box
  • Color code boxes per room
  • Listen to music to keep you pumped up

Step 5: Go room by room

Experts agree that the best way to pack your house involves a room-by-room approach. The order you approach those rooms, however, is up for debate.

Packing companies often recommend that you start in one corner of the house, and work your way to the other corner of the house systematically.

Toll favors a different approach and recommends packing up the “catch-all room first, whether that’s a basement space or maybe an extra bedroom,” as that is the room mainly used for storage and likely contains the things you use least often. “First pack the items that you’re not using every day, last are the items that you’re using every day like your main kitchen items,” Toll says.

With that in mind, you’re welcome to take the approach that works best for you, decide which room to start with, and go in any order you please. While we’re listing the kitchen first, you can go bananas and start with the living room. The choice is yours!

How to pack the kitchen

Ah, the kitchen! Where cookies are made and lemons are zested. Keep in mind that the kitchen is usually the most difficult room to pack and, therefore, takes the longest. Most items here are fragile, sharp, or come in odd shapes and sizes — we’re looking at you, fruit juicer!

Dishware: Wrap dishes and pack them vertically, and use padding under dishes and to fill extra space on top to keep things from breaking. Pack bowls inside of each other and put paper or paper towels in between. Stack cups with paper in between them; or use a box with cardboard dividers — wine boxes work very well for this!

Small kitchen appliances: Pack like items together and approach your boxes as if you are putting together a puzzle. Try to fit things into them in such a way that they are secure, and that box weights are balanced as well. Experts recommend that boxes don’t exceed 50 pounds, so putting your entire cast-iron skillet collection into the same box might not be the best plan. When it comes to packing small kitchen appliances, make sure you tape down any moving parts, remove any accessories, and add lots of packing paper or padding around them to prevent damage during transportation.

Large kitchen appliances: Make sure to defrost your refrigerator at least 48 hours prior to moving out and to disconnect your oven from the gas line at least 48 hours prior. Everything should be disconnected and unplugged before moving day.

Food: Moving companies cannot move perishable foods. However, when it comes to canned goods, spices, non-perishable foods, or wine bottles, it is recommended that you pack them and put them in your own car.

Speaking of putting things in your car, remember to pack your box of kitchen essentials last and to label it clearly. It’s recommended to bring it with you in the car, rather than putting it in the moving truck so you have quick and easy access to it when you first arrive at your new home!

A dining room that is the next room to pack for moving.
Source: (NeONBRAND / Unsplash)

How to pack the dining room

Everyone’s dining room is a little different. Maybe it’s an extension of the kitchen and only includes a table and chairs, or maybe it’s a formal banquet hall with candelabras and hutches filled with china and crystal. Depending on what your dining room looks like, instructions will vary.

Fine china: If you have a more lavish dining room, then our instructions will be similar to aforementioned advice in the kitchen area: put similar items together, wrap dishes vertically, and use dividers in between boxes as necessary. Use extra bubble wrap or packing paper to make sure that your fine china and crystal are protected!

Dining room table and chairs: When moving a dining room table, it’s helpful to remove the table legs first by unbolting or unscrewing them. Then put the hardware in a resealable plastic bag and tape it under the table. Wrap the legs in bubble wrap for added protection. When it comes to the chairs, the best way to pack them for moving is to wrap them in table cloths or blankets and then wrap the table around the base and legs of the chairs so they are secured. If it is possible to remove their legs and you opt to do so, tape them to the bottom or back of the chairs (and don’t forget to attach the hardware)!

Hutch or cabinet: These are heavy duty pieces of furniture! After removing all items from the interior, then determine if your cabinet itself can be disassembled. Sometimes glass shelving can be removed, and this can be done cautiously with the use of protective cut-resistant gloves. If you decide not to disassemble, make sure you tape all drawers and doors closed to prevent them from opening accidentally in transport.

How to pack the den and/or living room

The den or living room is likely your area of relaxation — a room for a true reprieve. Yet, packing it can feel a bit daunting. Getting all the items in your den and living room ready for a move can feel tricky, as there are usually a lot of electronics, artwork, or fragile lamps. Let’s outline how best to pack common items.

Electronics: What is more frustrating than reassembling electronics? We feel you. Make sure to snap some photos on your phone of the back of your television, the back of your modem or router, and any other electronics that use cables, cords, and wizardry to put together.

Lamps: When moving lamps, disassemble them before packing them. This includes taking the light bulbs out! Light bulbs can break in a snap and that fragile glass is a pain to clean up. We recommend putting them in plastic storage containers wrapped in kitchen towels if you don’t have the original boxes handy. If you’re in a pinch, you can store them in empty (cleaned) Pringles cans with padding around them. Genius idea? We think so.

Rugs: Make sure your rugs are rolled nice and tightly like burritos. You know what they say about snug as a bug in a rug, right? Make sure you vacuum up your rugs before packing so that all your (Pringles!) crumbs aren’t moving with you.

Artwork: Whether we are talking about painted canvas or framed family photos, you’ll want to treat your artwork like gold to avoid damage. Good advice is to match the artwork to appropriately sized boxes, mark glass with an “X” using painters tape, wrap the piece in paper or bubble wrap, and test the box for any shifting inside. Lastly, you’re going to want to make sure to reinforce the bottom of the box, and don’t forget to protect the artwork or frame’s corners by purchase or make protective cardboard corners.

TV: See below!

A home office is easy to pack if you know the best way to pack for moving.
Source: (Collov Home Design / Unsplash)

How to pack the home office

Staring at your office and wondering what’s the best way to pack for moving? We get it. The home office is usually a place of organized chaos, bursting with documents, meaningful mementos, and decor.

Books, rugs, and miscellaneous: Start by packing the easiest items first, such as books, rugs, and miscellaneous things on your desk and on your shelves.

Electronics: When it comes to packing electronics, remember to take photos of how all the cords are connected. Given the price of electronics, you may want to consider investing in boxes that were specifically created to hold computers or TVs if you don’t have the original packaging. For example, U-Haul offers kits that are specifically designed to pack computer monitors or TVs and have an eight-point protection system in place as well as built-in cushions.

File cabinets: Good news! File cabinets can be moved exactly as is. Just add a little tape to the drawers so they don’t open in transport, or lock them with keys. As we mentioned earlier, we do recommend taking all sensitive documents with you in your car to prevent any loss, damage, or theft.

How to pack the bedroom

Do you take one look at your closet and cringe when you think about folding all those clothes? There’s usually more in our bedrooms than we think there is — whether tucked under the bed or pushed to the back of our closets. Let’s cover how to pack the bedroom.

Clothing: The good thing about dressers is that you get to leave your clothing in the drawers. No need to unpack them, just tape them up so nothing falls out during transit. When it comes to your closet, for the simplest moving experience we recommend leaving your clothing on hangers. Consider getting wardrobe boxes. Alternatively, Toll recommends using garbage bags. “Cardboard has a distinct smell to it that can sometimes permeate clothing,” she says. “Keep your clothes on the hangers and wrap a garbage bag over them, as if you’re getting dry cleaning back. This helps make it easier to go from in-the-box to in-the-closet without having to re-wash everything.”

Jewelry: Pack your jewelry in your suitcase or carry-on bag. Take it with you, whether you are driving or flying. It’s always better safe than sorry! If you don’t have soft-cloth jewelry bags, you can wrap jewelry in tissue paper and keep it in small, individual plastic bags to prevent scratching.

Linens: When it comes to bedding itself, it can be a good idea to use it as extra packing material. Extra blankets can help pad boxes or can be wrapped around some more delicate items, like lamps, to provide soft cushioning.

Bed: Strip the bed and disassemble the frame or headboard, if possible. Seal the hardware in a plastic bag and tape it to the frame so you don’t lose it.

How to pack the bathrooms

It’s quite possible that packing up the bathroom is the easiest room in the house. Moving companies will not move the majority of your cleaning supplies or even cosmetic chemicals like nail polish remover.

Bathroom supplies: If you want to keep your bathroom supplies, then pack them upright in a sturdy plastic tub and use packing paper or wrap to make sure they don’t shift when transporting them in your personal vehicle. Use masking tape to secure the caps to prevent leakage. This includes shampoos, conditioners, and other liquid-based products. Keep in mind that moving companies will not move aerosols either.

Cosmetics: Your makeup bag? Your shaving kit? They’re coming with you!

How to pack the laundry room

Does your laundry room have that fresh laundry scent? Wonderful! It’ll make packing everything up a soothing experience with lavender and vanilla bean scents wafting around.

Cleaning chemicals: The movers won’t take them. (See above.)

Washing machine: Clean your washer with a washer cleaning tablet and leave the door open for at least 24 hours to let it dry out completely. Next, turn off the power and water supply to the washer and disconnect the power cord and hoses. (Note: You may want to leave this to a professional as a matter of safety.) Let the hoses drain into a bucket, then put them in a sealed bag and attach it to your washer so you don’t lose it. Tape the cord to the washing machine so no one trips on it while moving. Finally, you’ll want to secure the washer drum and door and wrap the machine with blankets. Consult your owner’s manual for more information.

Dryer: Clean out the lint trap, filters, and dryer vents. Turn off the power to the dryer before unplugging it to help avoid injury. If you have a gas dryer you’ll need to shut off the gas valve on the dryer and disconnect the gas line. If this isn’t something you’ve done before, get help from a qualified professional. In fact, many moving companies won’t disconnect or hook up your appliances.

How to pack the home gym

Give yourself a high-five if you have a home gym and you actually use the spiffy equipment in there! When looking at your home gym, you might be thinking that the best way to pack it for moving is disassembling everything. Hold your horses! As Rafi asserts, “We generally advise not to disassemble anything. Don’t take your treadmill or gym equipment apart. Wrap it in moving blankets, so nothing gets scratched or damaged. Any tech items, like screens, you can remove and take with you.”

Large gym equipment: When it comes to moving a treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical or other large gym equipment, all you need to do is unplug and remove any technology, such as screens. With stationary bikes you’ll want to wrap a blanket around it to protect it.

Handbells or dumbweights: The best way to pack handbells or dumbweights is to place them in sturdy plastic tubs that can handle their weight. Include some yoga mats, cushions, or blankets in the tubs to keep the weights from knocking around against each other.

How to pack the attic/basement/garage

Packing the attic, garage, basement, or external storage unit comes last. Rafi recommends that you work with larger items first to “make sure you have a clear playing field, and then target the smaller things. It’s easier with things not blocking your vision.” She suggests placing the furniture and other large items in the corner closest to the door, so everything bulky and big is completely out of your way.

Lawnmower, chainsaw, weed whacker: Any items that operate using gasoline and oil must be drained of all flammable liquids prior to packing and moving.

Indoor plants getting ready to go into the homeseller's car because hired movers won't pack them for moving.
Source: (Leonardo Iheme / Unsplash)

Step 6: Know what not to pack

There are quite a few things that movers will not move. The list can differ slightly based on the moving company you hire, but here are some common items.

Hazardous materials: Fertilizer, paints, pesticides, aerosols, propane tanks, pool chemicals, charcoal, oil, nail polish, nail polish remover, batteries, acids, and more. Basically, anything that is flammable or potentially explosive.

Perishables: Moving companies will not move your milk, yogurts, or perishable food items.

Scuba gear: Sorry avid divers, moving companies will not move your oxygen tanks or other scuba gear. You’ll have to make other arrangements.

Family heirlooms: Many moving companies prefer not to move family heirlooms, including jewelry, collections, keys, and photo albums for fear that something could be lost or damaged.

Sensitive documents: While movers will take these, you’ll want to keep your important documents with you. Period.

Plants: Many moving companies won’t transport your plants, especially on interstate moves. Get a tarp for the back seat of your car, and make sure all plants are potted and secured so they don’t tip over during the move.

Bonus Tips

We did promise bonus tips, didn’t we? We have five additional hacks for you:

  • Use small boxes for heavy items and large boxes for lightweight items
  • Use the boxes your electronics came in — if you’ve saved them!
  • Tape each box well, this includes reinforcing the bottom of the boxes
  • Fill suitcases, laundry baskets, hampers, etc.
  • Load boxes from the same rooms together on the truck

Ok! Ready to use our systematic room-by-room approach for the best way to pack up every room of your house? Ready to cut some stress out of your move? Moving isn’t a breeze, but when you have a plan and you feel prepared, you’ll be ready to roll up your sleeves and make moving magic happen!

Header Image Source: (Tyler Farmer / Unsplash)

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