Packing and unpacking may be the most time-consuming moving tasks—especially if you choose to handle them yourself. The idea of sorting through and packing everything you own can feel overwhelming, not to mention the decluttering and disassembling you’ll have to do in the process.

We at the This Old House Reviews Team have spent hours researching the best moving companies, and we’ve learned a thing or two about packing along the way. In this article, we rounded up our best packing tips, plus general recommendations to make your move easier.

Packing Tips for Moving

The thought and care you put into packing will pay off later in the moving process. Below are 10 packing tips to keep your belongings safe, simplify the move-in process, and save money on your move.

Gather Free Packing Supplies

If you’re looking to cut moving costs, ask around for free moving boxes and supplies. Large retailers and local businesses often have empty boxes they’re willing to give away. Check stores that receive frequent deliveries and large shipments, such as bookstores, pharmacies, groceries stores, and restaurants. Then, ask friends, family, and coworkers if they have any boxes, packing tape, bubble wrap, mattress bags, or other materials lying around.

U-Haul’s Customer Connect makes it easy to find people who are selling or giving away used boxes and moving supplies. You can also check Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.

Use What You Already Have

Scour your home for items that can double as packing materials. For instance, you could use your kid’s stuffed animals to fill empty spaces when you pack boxes with fragile items. Blankets, linens, and towels can be used in place of bubble wrap.

If you rent a moving truck instead of hiring professional movers, you can get even more creative. Use hampers, laundry baskets, dresser drawers, duffle bags, and even garbage bags to move clothes and other lightweight, nonbreakable items. Hardshell suitcases provide an extra layer of protection for breakable items, while the suitcase wheels make heavy items easier to move.

Invest in Specialty Equipment and Services

You typically won’t find specialty boxes for free, but some packing supplies and equipment are worth the investment. This is especially true for mirrors, TVs, glassware, and other fragile items. Companies such as U-Haul sell boxes designed to preserve these items, including ones with built-in dividers for drink glasses. Alternatively, you can pay movers to pack only your most fragile items for extra assurance.

If you plan to rent a moving truck, consider renting equipment that will make it easier to load, secure, and unload your belongings. Examples include hand trucks, furniture dollies, ratchet straps, furniture pads, and lifting straps. Vacuum-sealed bags will help winter gear and bedding take up less room. You should also keep a box cutter on hand to help you open boxes when it’s time to unpack.

Have a Plan for Hazardous and Perishable Items

Did you know there are some things moving companies won’t move? Common examples include flammable liquids, aerosol cans, and perishable foods. Some companies refuse to move plants and pets, too.

If you hire a moving company, ask for a list of items it will not move. Plan to dispose of these items before moving or transport them yourself. Remember that some items cannot be tossed out with your regular trash. Your local government, landfill, or trash company should be able to answer questions about how to dispose of hazardous materials.

Purge and Pack Storage Areas First

The first items you pack should be the ones you use the least. With that in mind, start the process by sorting through and packing items in storage areas, such as your basement, attic, or garage. The items in your closets and other storage areas may already be boxed up, which will save you some time and money.

Remember that long-distance moving companies typically factor the size and weight of your belongings into their rates. Because of that, it’s worth taking time to comb through and purge rarely-used items instead of packing and moving them.

Pack the Kitchen Early

With cabinets full of breakable dishes and glassware, your kitchen will be one of the most difficult rooms to pack. You also likely use many of the items in it every day. Those two facts make it tempting to hold off on packing your kitchen until the last minute. However, it’s best to pack the kitchen several days before your move so that you have plenty of time to pack things properly.

Start with serving dishes and small appliances that don’t see daily use. Then, free up your remaining cookware by committing to takeout or buying simple, microwavable meals. Pack all of your dishware and utensils except a single place setting for each family member, or purchase paper plates, disposable cups, and plastic utensils for the last week in your old home.

Set Aside Valuables and Essentials

Think about what you’ll need easy access to on moving day. If you are moving cross-country, consider what you’ll need during the trip. These items should be packed in a suitcase that will stay with you during the move. For instance, you might pack one or more changes of clothes along with your prescriptions, toiletries, important documents, and any valuable or sentimental items.

You may also want to pack a box of things you’ll need as soon as you move into your new house. You can call this your “open-first box” and fill it with items such as paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, paper plates, trash bags, and batteries.

Inventory and Label as You Pack

As you pack, create a moving inventory. You can do this in a spreadsheet or notebook, or you can simply take pictures of each box as you pack it. This will make it easier to file an insurance claim with your moving company if anything gets lost or broken in transit.

Further, create a system for labeling boxes so that you know which room each box belongs in and what it contains. You can use stickers or a color-code system to stay organized, or you can spell everything out on the box. It might also help to number the boxes that belong in each room. For example, if there are five living room boxes, label the first one “Living Room 1/5″ and so on.

Keep Furniture Parts and Assembly Tools Together

Some pieces of furniture, such as bookshelves and bed frames, might need to be disassembled before moving. For these items, keep track of any hardware and tools you will need to reassemble them. One option is to put screws and other small pieces into a resealable plastic bag, then attach the bag to a larger piece of the furniture with masking tape. 

Alternatively, you can label the bag with a permanent marker and pack it into a dedicated box. With this method, you’ll store the hardware and tools for every piece of furniture in the same box.

Think Beyond Packing

Unless you hire a full-service moving company, you’ll need to carry the boxes you pack. That means you should account for the size and weight of each box. Putting heavier items, such as books and dishes, into smaller boxes will help you avoid overfilling them. Even when filled with relatively light items, larger boxes are harder to carry than small boxes with built-in handles.

Also, think ahead to the unpacking process. Transporting your clothes in plastic bags might save you money on the front end, but wardrobe boxes will be more convenient on the back end. These boxes have built-in metal bars that allow you to keep hanging clothes on their hangers,  making packing and unpacking much faster.

Moving Tips and Tricks

Of course, packing is only one part of the moving process. If you really want to streamline your move, you need a full guide to moving that covers everything from choosing a moving company to changing your address. Here are a few tips and tricks to get you started:

Use a Moving Binder

The first thing you should do is create a moving binder. You can purchase a dedicated moving planner online or build your own binder complete with page protectors, pocket folders, and dividers. If you prefer digital planning, look for an app or create a new folder in Dropbox or Google Drive where you can save copies of everything move-related.

The first two items in your binder should be a moving budget and a moving checklist. Research the cost of several moving options and services, from renting a moving truck to hiring a full-service moving company. Use your research to estimate your moving costs. Be sure to factor in moving insurance and tips, as well as any travel arrangements you need to make.

Pick Your Move Date Strategically

As you set the date for your move, account for the law of supply and demand. For local and interstate moving companies, summer is the busiest time of year. As a result, many charge higher prices during the summer months. If you have a tight budget, moving during the off-season of late fall to early spring is a better option. You can also save money by moving in the middle of the week rather than on the weekend.

Take a Hybrid Approach

Hiring a full-service mover and paying for white-glove moving services—complete with packing, unpacking, cleaning, and furniture assembly—is by far the most convenient way to move. However, it’s also the most expensive. Renting a truck and doing everything yourself is much cheaper but takes a considerable amount of time and effort.

Instead of choosing either extreme, consider a hybrid approach. Cut costs where you can but splurge on things that will make your life easier. For instance, you could rent a moving truck and transport everything yourself but hire professional movers to pack for you, or you could hire a full-service company to load and unload but handle your own packing. 

Another middle-of-the-road option is renting a portable moving container from a company such as PODS, which saves you the hassle of driving a moving truck.

Keep a Tape Measure Handy

Before moving, take the time to measure everything—especially if you are downsizing to a smaller home. Write down the dimensions of each room in your new house, paying special attention to areas that are smaller than your current home. Then, measure your furniture, decor, and other large items to make sure everything will fit. That way, you won’t waste time and money moving something you won’t be able to keep.

Create an Unpacking Schedule

Without a good plan, you might wake up a year from now with unpacked boxes still shoved in the back of your closet. Long before you carry the first box into your new home, develop a schedule for unpacking. Your first priority should be unpacking the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen so you can sleep, shower, and eat comfortably.

After that, you can focus on your home office, if you work from home. The living room, dining room, guest room, and lesser-used rooms should come last. Set a deadline for when you’d like to be fully unpacked, as well as a few checkpoints. Help yourself stay motivated by celebrating your progress whenever a room is complete.

Our Conclusion

As you begin packing for your move, put some time and thought into your approach. Is cost or convenience your biggest concern? Your answer will determine which packing hacks make the most sense for you. Sourcing free boxes and repurposing household linens will help you save money on packing supplies, but paying extra for specialty boxes or fragile-only packing assistance might be worth it to save time and hassle.

Develop a system for labeling boxes and create a moving inventory as you go. Take things one room at a time and recruit the help of family and friends if possible. If not, consider hiring professional help. You can find several cheap moving companies that offer various services to make your move easier, from full-service packing and unpacking to cleaning, auto transport, and even pet relocation.

FAQ About Packing for Moving