Advertiser Disclosure

Learn How to Pack for a Move

How to pack for a move is one of the most common concerns people have when preparing for moving day. You don’t want your belongings to break, but wouldn’t you rather save money on packing materials if you could? You may even be short on time and tempted to just throw everything wherever it will fit. While that might seem like a feasible short-term solution, you’ll end up with broken and misplaced belongings in the long run.

Packing is all about using the right sizes and types of boxes and being smart about the space in each. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to pack for a move.

Tips on how to pack for a move

1. Use the right type of boxes.

It can be tempting to pick up some free boxes from the liquor store or office mailroom, but you’ll want to give that a second thought. Used boxes are more likely to collapse, since they’ve likely already gotten beaten up in shipping.

Moving boxes are made to be sturdier and make lifting and carrying easier, which you’ll want if you plan to rent a truck for a day. Note that most professional moving companies won’t move items that aren’t packed in approved moving boxes.

2. Use the right size boxes.

This is one of the best packing tips for moving. Books and other heavy items should be placed in small boxes that will be easy to lift, or spread out in the bottoms of larger boxes. Don’t make the classic mistake of packing your entire bookshelf into one box and then discovering that the box (or you) won’t hold up to the weight.

Light, bulky items such as towels and bedding should go in larger boxes or can fill on top of heavy items.

3. Pack heavy to light.

Heavy items go in the bottom of boxes for the reasons we described above. This is better for weight distribution and will reduce your chances of boxes breaking.

When it comes to how to pack a moving truck, heavy items go in first, on the bottom of the stack. Packing heavier items on top of lighter ones can cause things inside to break or make the boxes top-heavy. This may seem like common sense, but when you’re in a rush trying to load up, it is an easy mistake to make. 

4. Fill boxes completely.

Don’t leave empty space in boxes. If your belongings have room to rattle around, they’re much more likely to shift during the move, and something will inevitably break. Knowing how to pack for a move can help prevent this. Use packing peanuts, sealed air pockets, newspaper, or even towels and blankets to keep box contents tight.

5. Wrap fragile items carefully.

If possible, use separators when packing dishes, glassware, china, and other fragile items. And again, don’t pack them all in one box.

Wrap each item individually (don’t get tempted to wrap two plates in one sheet of newspaper; one of them will end up shattered on the floor when unpacking.)

6. Use detailed labels.

Clearly label each box on all sides with the designated room, a brief list of contents, and indication of fragile items. Consider making a detailed inventory or spreadsheet with numbered boxes, so when it comes time to unpack, you don’t have to dig through several boxes to find what you need.

If you’re a color-coding type of person, you can use this approach as well and assign each room a color.

This approach will also help you to keep track of things during the move. There is nothing enjoyable about needing something and being faced with a room full of unidentifiable boxes.

7. Disassemble with care.

You’re going to have to put back together everything you take apart, so take careful note of how furniture fits together. Put screws and other hardware in a plastic bag and tape it securely to the furniture. Label the bags in case they fall off during the move.

When you’re packing electronics for a move, use labels on every plug and take pictures to detail where to attach each cord.

8. Don’t skimp on the tape.

Professional movers tend to use at least three strips of high-quality moving tape for the bottom of moving boxes. Which packing tape to buy is one of the most important factors in your move, and easy to cheap out on by using too little or buying low-cost supplies. You’ll wish you’d splurged on the good stuff when you’re gluing that heirloom china back together.

9. Get organized.

If you wait until the last minute to pack, you’ll be disorganized and throw unrelated items in boxes just to get them out of the house. Start early and create a detailed plan. Take it one room at a time, and pack like items together.

10. Keep rooms together.

Pack items together that belong in the same room. When you’re trying to save money on moving, it can be tempting to throw unlike items in boxes to fill space, but you’ll end up with a mess to sort through when you get to your new home. Save yourself some stress and frustration by keeping boxes sorted by room.

Bonus: Use our printable room-by-room packing checklist.

11. Secure doors and drawers.

Use rope, straps, or tape to secure the doors and other movable parts on items such as wardrobes and refrigerators. Remove all contents from dressers, and then remove the drawers and stack separately. This will make the dresser much lighter and easier to carry. It’s no fun getting smacked in the face with a drawer gone rogue.

12. Unplug the fridge two days before.

You’ll want to unplug refrigerators and deep freezers at least 48 hours before your move to give them time to defrost. That also means you’ll need to start emptying those items and eating up perishable foods a week or two ahead of time.

13. Discard items that are not movable.

Things such as fire extinguishers, motor oils and fuels, paint, and cleaning fluids such as bleach or ammonia are not allowed in moving trucks, generally because of the potential to damage the rest of your stuff. You’ll have to throw these items away before your move.

14. Pack an overnight bag.

Your first night in the new home will be so much easier if you have a day’s worth of clothes, toiletries, medicines, and other necessities packed separately for everyone in the family. No one wants to dig through boxes the next morning to find a toothbrush or coffee filters.

15. Keep tools handy.

Along with the living necessities, you’ll want to keep a maintenance kit and some basic cleaning supplies (broom, vacuum, trash bags) within easy reach during the move. You don’t want to start digging through boxes to find a specific drill bit to put your bed back together on the first night.

16. Don’t move everything.

If you are like most people, you’ve hung on to a lot of things over the years that you no longer use or need. Use your move as an opportunity to downsize and clear out clutter.

Have clothing you haven’t worn in more than a year? Consign or donate it. Those free weights covered in spider webs in the garage? Craigslist. Don’t pay someone to move the junk you don’t need anymore.

The bottom line

There are so many things to remember when moving. Moving can be stressful, but it definitely doesn’t have to be. Make a plan, stick to it and put it into action early so you’ll have plenty of time to get everything done. Procrastinating preparation for a move will not pay off.

Knowing how to pack for a move will give you a solid start on your relocation. And once you’re done packing, check out this moving day checklist for more tips.

Related Articles

Moving Trends: What the Data Says About How Americans Are Moving

How many Americans move every year? About 43.6 million Americans move each year, according to recently released Census Bureau data from 2015 to 2019. That comes out to about 16% of the country.  Most of those movers didn’t go far. 59% stayed in the same county, 24% moved to a different county in the same […]

Read More
10 Tips for Handling Stress During a Move

Moving is stressful. No matter how many times you do it, it’s still a huge undertaking to get your life boxed up and loaded onto a truck. One survey even found that moving was more stressful than a breakup or switching careers. To help make the transition a little easier, try out some of these […]

Read More
What to Do if You Have Trouble Sleeping in Your New Home

The average person spends about 37% of their day sleeping, but about 70 million Americans still suffer from chronic sleep problems. And in the chaos of moving, good sleep is often one of the first things to go. In this guide, we’ll walk you through some of the most common sleep issues affecting movers, along […]

Read More