Moving Tips & Tricks - Packing - TheNavagePatch.com

Packing Tips & Tricks

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Our packing tips & trips will help ease the burden of a very stressful event. Moving isn’t fun, but these tips will help take the sting out.

Unless you’re wealthy enough to hire a company to oversee and execute your entire move, from packing to move-out to transport to move-in to unpacking, you’re going to go through some unpleasant times when moving from house to house or apartment to apartment. The stress of moving has been likened to the stress of divorce or losing a loved one, and as we’re currently in the middle of our fourth US move, we can attest to the stress! Physically and mentally, it’s one of the toughest jobs out there, especially when DIYing it, like we’ve done for this move and the one prior.

But along the way we’ve learned a thing or two, and I’m here to share our hard-won knowledge in the hopes that it may make your next DIY move a little easier and little less stressful.

I’ve broken the process into three main categories: Packing, Move-out & Moving, and Selling & Buying a House. I will address each of these in separate posts, starting with packing in this post.

As I previously mentioned, it is possible to pay someone to do every single bit of the move for you. But this will cost a small fortune, and most of us wouldn’t be willing or able to pay that kind of money. To put actual numbers to my point, our 4162-square-foot Georgia home (over 6000 square feet if you include the unfinished-but-full basement) would have cost us over $30,000 to have partially packed, moved, stored for three months and then unloaded (but not unpacked) at the new house. (And if $30,000 sounds steep for a 400-mile move, Handan and I listened in horror to the story of two bloggers on Instagram who ended up shelling out over $80,000 for a cross-country move after falling victim to unsavory movers who held their belongings hostage.) On top of realtor commissions and closing costs, it was just too much of a financial burden. Handan did receive a relocation allowance, but it wasn’t even close to being enough to cover a full-service move by professional movers.

When Allied Van Lines and their ilk are ruled out, you’re left with various flavors of DIY moving. Between this move and our last, we’ve become pretty well-versed in moving with PODS, PackRat, and U-Haul, as well as short-term (a few months) storage using PODS, PackRat and self-storage.

Let’s dive in and unpack the process of packing.

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Packing Tips & Tricks

Before all else (and during the packing phase) – Declutter!

Moving is the perfect time to lighten the load, and it’ll save you on shipping and storage down the road. As soon as you know you’ll be moving, start selling what you no longer need or want. If you can’t sell it, donate it to Goodwill and claim the donation on your taxes. If you can’t donate it, then throw it away.

Boxes

To pack effectively, you’re going to need boxes, and lots of ’em. There are three main suppliers that most of us are familiar with: U-Haul, Lowe’s and Home Depot. Let me be crystal clear about moving boxes – they are most assuredly not all created equal!

The hands-down winner in this category is Lowe’s. They’ve redesigned their boxes (those medium size and above) to be easier to carry by offsetting the handles. They were inspired to do this by watching how people carry boxes without handles – one arm stretched out and one in close.

U-Haul comes in second. Their boxes are just as good as Lowe’s in terms of quality, but in addition to the offset handles, Lowe’s also offers a line of heavy-duty boxes for heavier items.

The absolute worst is Home Depot. No matter what, do not buy moving boxes from them. The build quality is fine, but aside from the fact that they’ve shrunk the large size (but not the price), Home Depot moving boxes suffer from one unforgivable and fatal flaw: packing tape will not stick to them.

Weird, isn’t it? A box that won’t hold tape.

I don’t know if there is an oily film that’s deposited during the manufacturing process, but we’ve noticed this with our past two moves, two years apart with boxes from several Home Depots in three different states. I’ve tried every type of clear packing tape and the brown paper tape that U-Haul sells, and nothing will properly stick to a Home Depot moving box. And if you’re packing in cold weather, you may as well drive down the highway and throw your stuff out the window. It’ll save you the frustration of having the bottom fall out of your box later on.

I would recommend buying more boxes than you think you’ll need. You can always return the unused ones at the end. Even so, you may need to make several supply trips. Even if I knew how many boxes we were going to need at the beginning of the move, the flattened boxes would not have fit in one trip.

You’ll see a lot of box kits, especially at U-Haul. These may or may not make sense, depending on how much you’ll need to pack. There are also all sorts of specialty boxes. We find most of them – especially the kitchen-specific ones – to be a waste of money, but that’s just our opinion. If you have flat-screen TVs, you’ll want to get a flat-screen shipping box. All three places carry them, but we recommend Lowe’s. Home Depot has a good box, but it also suffers from the same tape-sticking issue as its smaller brethren. We don’t recommend U-Haul for flat-screen boxes, as we’re not fans of the corner padding system they come with. We much prefer the corner pads in the Lowe’s flat-screen packing kit.

Tape

I used everything from Scotch’s top-of-the-line heavy duty packing tape to Dollar tree packing tape for this most recent move. They all have their pros and cons.

For the bottoms of boxes that will be carrying heavy items, I like to use Scotch heavy duty packing/shipping tape. It’s the most expensive, but it holds like gangbusters (as long as the box isn’t from Home Depot), and as an added bonus, it’s silent coming off the dispenser! Yep, none of that horrifying banshee-shrieking that other tapes do when unrolled.

For the less-important tops, I use the noisy-but-cheaper Duck brand. When you pack as many boxes as we did, prices matter!

I even bought a few rolls of Dollar Tree tape. The verdict: not worth it. The tape itself is perfectly fine (at least for the tops of boxes), but it is a bit thinner than the other brands, and when you lose the leading edge (which will happen, trust), you may never find it again on the roll. Packing is stressful enough at the best of times. Hunting around and around a roll of tape for the leading edge while under a time constraint is just unnecessary frustration.

Tape Dispenser

Don’t waste your time with the big and fancy-looking dispenser guns. They end up costing more time than they’re worth, at least in my opinion. Or maybe I’m just using them wrong, I don’t know. IMHO, you’re better off with a couple of little red plastic tape dispensers.

How to tape up a box

Though it uses more tape, and thus costs more money, we like four strips on the bottom and either two or four up top, depending on weight. Check out the picture below. It shows one box taped with four strips on bottom and top and one box with four strips on the bottom and two on top.

Moving boxes in a storage container

It’s probably overkill, but we don’t ever have to worry about our boxes breaking open.

Padding

Bubble Wrap

Bubble wrap is the most versatile of the paddings, and it’s the one we used the most. We used several rolls each of the 12 inch x 250 feet small-bubble wrap and 24 inch x 100 feet small-bubble wrap. They sell a large-bubble wrap, but we prefer the smaller-bubble wrap. It’s useful for wrapping furniture legs and even full pieces of small furniture. Folded over on itself and taped in place, it makes excellent corner and edge protection for tables.

Cushion Foam

For dishes and other flat breakables, we like cushion foam in both the 12 inch and 24 inch widths.

Packing Paper

For glassware and other smaller breakables, you can’t beat good old-fashioned packing paper. If you have old newspapers, you’re in luck – use those. If not, you’ll have to spend money on packing paper sheets, but it’s money well spent. Of the three stores, we found U-Haul to be the best bang for the buck for packing paper.

Stretch Film

One of the most versatile packing materials is stretch film. It comes in three sizes, but we’ve had luck with just the small and medium. This stuff is incredible. We use it on everything from organizing small kitchen utensils to holding moving blankets on large pieces of furniture. Stretch film also excels at keeping carpets and rugs neatly and tightly rolled.

man holding a dining room table wrapped with moving blankets
Don’t be fooled by the smile – packing and moving is still a pain in the butt!

Unlike with the boxes, padding materials (with the exception of moving blankets which I will cover next) can be bought at Lowe’s, U-Haul or Home Depot. We found Lowe’s and Home Depot to have the best selection, and their prices are close enough not to matter. At least in our area, U-Haul didn’t have the wide selection of the other two.

Moving Blankets/Furniture Pads

But when it comes to moving blankets, U-Haul is king. Every store offers a premium blanket, and both U-Haul and Home Depot offer a cheaper alternative. Not only is U-Haul’s premium blanket the cheapest of the three ($15 vs $18 at Home Depot and Lowe’s), but their cheap blanket (furniture pad, as they call it) is only $8, while Home Depot’s is about $11.50. Home Depot does have an oversized blanket for about $40 that, while pricey, could come in handy for a really big piece you may want to protect.

If you have a lot of bath towels, blankets and comforters, you can press them into service as makeshift furniture pads to save money on buying them. We used all the spare blankets and towels we had (and pillows) but still used about 15 moving blankets (mostly the cheap U-Haul variety).

If you don’t mind shopping online for moving supplies, Amazon has some great deals on bulk moving blankets.

Miscellaneous

Ziploc Storage Bags

We live in the age of build-it-yourself furniture, and when breaking down those pieces for a move, you may find yourself with a handful of bolts or a pocketful of screws. I find the best way to keep everything together is to throw the small stuff and miscellaneous hardware into a Ziploc bag, roll it up, seal it, and then tape it onto or inside the piece of furniture. I can’t tell you how many minor panic attacks I’ve had in prior years when I separated furniture from its hardware and then forgot where I put the hardware when it came time to re-assemble in the new house. Save yourself the drama with baggies!

Permanent Marker

It may seem obvious, but you’ll need one (or more for a big move) good pen to write on your boxes. Want something even more reliable and longer-lasting than a Sharpie? Then get your hands on a couple of these little wizards from Milwaukee tools. The best workshop (and moving) marker you’ll ever use!

Utility Knife

While a good utility knife and a supply of extra blades is a must on the far end of the move, it’ll come in handy when you inevitably have to get back inside one of the boxes you just taped up. Don’t take the rip-off route – you’ll just weaken the box and make a mess. Take the time to slice the tape.

Washing Machine Shipping Bolts

Got a front-load washing machine? Plan on moving it? Don’t even think about it until you buy a set of four shipping bolts sized to fit your machine. If you have a top-load washer, you can skip this step, but the spinning arm that carries the clothing drum on front-load machines is not strong enough to handle the stresses of moving. Shipping bolts lock the drum in place, so It won’t bounce around and over-stress the spin arm. Search Amazon and Google for shipping bolts for your specific machine.

Contractor Bags

They’re great for holding pillows and bedding, but we also used them to protect our dining room chairs for this move and the previous one.

Dining Room Chair Packing Tip

I first wrapped the wood legs with bubble wrap.

man wrapping dining room chair legs with bubble wrap

Then I placed a contractor bag over the chair back.

man placing a contractor bag over the back of a dining room chair

I used scissors to cut the bag in the middle of the back near the bottom.

man cutting a contractor bag on a dining room chair

Cutting the bag allowed me to pull it over the seat.

man pulling a contractor bag over a dining room chair

I then pulled the flaps over all the sides, gathered them underneath the seat, and taped them in place.

man taping a contractor bag onto a dining room chair

As a final step, I taped the contractor bag to the bubble wrap to keep the wrap from sliding off the legs.

man taping a contractor bag to the bubble wrap on a chair leg

The chair was now well-protected and ready to move, and we didn’t have to waste money on a moving blanket or furniture bag (about $9 each).

man sitting on a wrapped dining room chair
Smiling on the outside, quaking on the inside thinking about all that still needs to be packed!

I’ll have more moving tips and tricks coming up soon!

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44 Comments

    1. Oh, man, do I ever! The lucky bugger managed to miss the Jacksonville move-out by a week, and he’s missing this move-in by a week!

  1. Hi Greg!
    We’re getting ready to move (again) too – ugh! One thing we do too is to burnish the tape so it sticks really well – can use the plastic tape dispenser thingy and just rub over it, or an old credit card works good too. We always use Lowe’s boxes too lol
    Thanks for all the great tips!
    Robin

    1. Hi Sharon, her relocation package would have covered it in Jacksonville, but it was slightly different for Destin. It is a good sum of money, and it will cover our DIY, PackRat/Uhaul/Self-storage move, but it wasn’t enough for a full-service with packing, etc. Besides, we would have done it this way even if they offered more money. We’re very particular about the way our things are packed, loaded and stored, and we couldn’t trust another company to do it right. And by using PODS and self storage, we can bring our belongings back into the home in stages. This makes it feel less overwhelming, and it gives us the opportunity to live in the house while still having the space to work on any rooms that may need remodeling or renovation.

  2. The last time I moved I took the approach of putting a circled number on each box along with it’s destination, “Kitchen”, “Master Bedroom”, “Living Room”, etc. As things got packed I generated a separate list of the general contents of each box on my laptop which I could print out later. Since we had a few people helping move boxes, fragile things, etc, it made it easier to make sure things ended up in the right room, what was most important to unpack first, and that things actually got to the new location at all. I did put Fragile on boxes of breakable things which the friends helping me payed attention to, but I don’t know if actual movers really pay attention to it.

    1. I’ve done this too. And if your boxes will be in storage longer than your memory bank can retain the info, adding more detail (kitchen utensils, kitchen glassware, kitchen serving dishes….) is very helpful on the receiving end.

      Also wanted to say that Harbor Freight stores have provided me with fairly inexpensive moving blankets in the past too, though I know they’re not located everywhere.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful information. We just sold our house and will be moving cross country. Your tips were just what we needed to see right now.

  4. These are some wonderful tips.. We have only used professional movers 2x in the past – Hubs work required that they move us. I had a hard time letting someone else pack and move our things – you never know what box has what. I was horrified when I had packed a few things from the kitchen – spices and seasonings, to keep them all together – the movers – just dumped all the containers into one big box with a bunch of other kitchen items. They just don’t really care to much about your items at times…
    For the other times that we moved ourselves – we have learned a few tips/techniques. For the boxes – save money by getting them from the grocery stores (clean broken down boxes), ABC wine stores (boxes for the glassware). Walmart. Costco/ Sams Club – even if not a member – has boxes {Money spent – $0, just a little time}.
    When we buy a product – glassware, printer, paper shredder. Etc. basically anything – we save the box the products come in and repackage that item in the original box – you know what is in the box and stacks nicely.
    When dealing with the furniture – tables, chairs . etc. – break them down if you can – wrap each piece with bubble wrap, then all pieces together if you can, place in original box – if you have them. We are OCD, when it comes to packing the house and the truck.
    I am glad you made it safe. Now the fun part begins — unpacking and arranging the house.. Good Luck ..

    1. Hi AJ, those are great tips about the boxes! Moving supplies can be costly, so anywhere to save is surely welcome! We’re looking forward to the work ahead!

  5. God bless! I have only moved 15 times or so in my lifetime and each move was its own nightmare no matter how carefully planned and executed! One move (from Florida to New York) I took three different colors of duck tape and put a square on each box. One color signified stuff we would need immediately. The second color was for things we might need soon, and the third color was for things to be stored until we found a new permanent home. As the boxes were going to two separate locations this was very helpful. In our case it took 15 months to find a lot and build a new house while staying with family. The colored tape was an absolute blessing!

    1. Yep, either tape or writing is a definite must for the boxes. We have the same situation – immediate needs on down to cold storage, lol!

  6. Wonderful tips that I sincerely hope I never have to use – we’ve done a bit of moving ourselves over the years. Another tip is to check with your realtor to see if anyone they’ve worked with recently has moving boxes to get rid of (this was a local move). We were able to get a bunch of free moving boxes and of course paid it forward after we got moved in.

  7. You are in my thoughts! I packed…and unpacked…my two-bedroom townhouse by myself when I retired. I did hire a moving company to move everything to two storage units in between, but when I look back on it now…that was in 2010 and I had a month to accomplish the task…I’m not sure how I did it. You are correct, not only about the number of boxes and amount of bubble wrap required, but about the tape not sticking to the Home Depot boxes. Best of luck!

  8. Bless your hearts. No really. You have my greatest respect. I hope never to move again, too old now (probably just jinxed myself) but I have moved maybe 9 or 10 times and most as a single parent.
    Last move was almost 7 years ago and I drove a 26′ moving truck 600 miles all in one day. Not what I planned for my 66th birthday but hubs was recovering from a long stay in hospital (he’s okay now).
    I just wanted to add to your favorites, these places were cheaper.
    Sam’s Club for the Scotch Heavy Duty Packing Tape and for the Scotch Bubble Wrap. They even have other moving stuff now, too. Just plan ahead to have it shipped to you if not In the store.
    Harbor Freight for Moving Blankets, $5 for 40×72 and $9 for 72×80. Go online and get the coupons if you don’t receive a mailer. Usually a limit to quantity, take friends. Also good source for little wheeled dollies, bungee cords, tie downs, etc.
    And best for last, at least for me. Boxcycle.com. It’s a website marketplace for buying and selling boxes from people in your area. Save money, help save trees, win win.
    You have all my best wishes for your move to your new home.

    1. Oh wow, you’ve been through it, too, Suzi! We just joined Sam’s Club here, so looking forward to some of those savings! Here’s to you never having to look at another moving box ever again!

  9. Great tips Greg! We had a professional mover in the 80’s because we were just an “add-on” load for $1000. Handy for sure, but our things had almost unremovable stickers and were badly banged up (but only the good stuff of course). We’ve done our own moving since. Probably not again at this point but I’ll send people to your blog if they’re moving!

  10. Hospital receiving departments are also a good source for heavy duty boxes, if you have a connection at one – they get oodles of packing boxes every day and are usually happy to get rid of them.

    And the standard boxes for 10 reams of paper are simply the BEST for packing books – they stack well and the size keeps you from packing too much in each, making them impossible for anyone but professional weight lifters to carry.

  11. Wishing you both the best! I loved this house and all you did to it! Lots of great tips in this post! Thanks!

  12. You are such a good sport! I’d be crying and whining about moving, especially leaving that fantastic garage behind! It took so much work and was so practical. Good for you to keep smiling!

  13. I’m going to have to die in my house, because I have moving PTSD. I never want to move again! Your smile does indeed belt the undercurrent of terror, Greg. I’ve been reading your blog for a very long time, and enjoy it very much. Thanks for your excellent writing skills and explanations and tutorials!!

  14. Great tips! I just observed a team of professionals the other day as they packed up our entire home in a day and a half. I am so glad that I did not have to do the packing. Now we just have to wait 4 more weeks until the container arrives. We’ll rent for a year first, and then we will have to move once we buy a house, so I’ll probably refer back to your post then.

  15. Very detailed post, thank you! I haven’t moved in 20+ yrs; I’m saving this to Pinterest in case I need it someday. Safe travels!!

  16. Is there a way to print your post, without all the unnecessary add-ins? I love the content but don’t want to print excessive pages or have to refer to the internet each time I need to read.
    Love your posts! Thank you.