Monday, 21 January 2013

Moving house guide: the simpler way to pack

So it has been at least 10 days since I have shared anything house-move related with you, mainly because with my bout of illness things have stood still here for a while. Please accept my apologies, but keep reading if you don't fall asleep too soon.

Packing. Yup, there it is. The main source of trauma for any house-movers. How on-earth do you pack up your entire life into itty little boxes and remain sane? You are expected to cram your belongings, your loves, your memories, and everything you need to function, into boxes, perfectly and to a schedule! Then you trust someone (possibly yourself and a few willing friends), to cart this to a new location, whereupon you need to find each beloved item a new home.

And we are supposed to be calm about this?

Well one approach, that if I had more money I might consider, is the service some removal companies now offer of packing for you. Yes it really is that traumatic. OK. I wouldn't, even if I had the money. But only because I don't want some freaky people going through all my stuff! And that's a lot of stuff.

Having moved many (erm seven) times in 10 years you would think I would find this simple. It never is. Yes I have a system, and yes it gets better each time, but it is still stressful. I am always astonished by how much stuff I manage to fit into a small space. Honestly, when I pack up it is like I'm taking the actual walls with me I have so much stuff. OK, lets cut to the chase, its mostly junk crap stuff I don't need. Well, maybe not mostly, just a large part of it.

So round one in the packing is decrapification. I forget where I first heard this word, and I apologise if it offends anyone, but it totally gets the point. Moving house is a great time to decrapify your life. It does require a bit of extra time at the beginning, but it helps you no end, and saves time and money by the end of the move. Seriously, you will pack fewer boxes, consequently moving less stuff (and paying less for the privilege), possibly do some good by donating to charity/friends/in need at the same time, and have less stuff to find a home for at the other end. It also enables you to be clearer about where you pack the items that you are keeping as you go along, leaving you with a clearer idea of where things are.

So here are my top tips for keeping the packing simple and under control.

1. Start early. I can not emphasise this enough. You may be a last minute person, but seriously, there is so much to do in the run up to moving, that you need to start as soon as you know you are moving. If you have very little stuff, firstly congratulations because you are waaaaaay ahead of me on the decrapification front and secondly, you may be able to skip this step because presumably everything you own is used on a daily or weekly basis. Well done. Oh you have Christmas decorations - yup they can be packed now.

2. Get boxes for free. Now we enter the land of little Miss Frugal. Yup that is me, well sometimes. Like when it is convenient.

Now seriously, you DO NOT need to buy lots of expensive packing boxes. Seriously, they can charge you about £5 a box if you get them from a removal company. We reckon we will need 70 boxes for this move - that's £350!!! Even online in bulk they cost £1-£2 each. No way. When you can get them for free? Yup free. Firstly, try your work. If you work in an office, then believe me there will be regular deliveries of office supplies, printers, cartridges, paper, you name it, there will be boxes. Find out who accepts deliveries and make friends with them. If that fails, try your supermarket. Again make friends! They will be sending lots and lots of cardboard for recycling (well we hope recycling rather than landfill) everyday, and certainly won't mind getting rid of a few. You may need to be picky about the type, but 10 minutes sorting through a pack of boxes is worth the money saved surely?

3. Decrapification. You knew I'd get this in the list right? Naturally! As you pack, please please purge. I have a system when I pack. I pick a room and enter with 4 boxes (or 1 packing box and 3 other things such as washing baskets to toss things in). As I pack I purge into the 'packing box', the 'I'm so old/broken you really really need to chuck me away/burn me' bin, the 'gift me because seriously you will never ever use this' bin and the 'recycle' bin.

We are so lucky that we have a great recycling collection scheme round here that means very little needs to go into landfill, but find out if your local recycling depot takes things that you wouldn't be able to have collected for recycling. You will probably need several trips to the recycling depot in the run up to your move anyway (if you decrapify thoroughly), so just store bin bags of stuff in the garage for a day trip out! I have found I am only packing about half of the stuff I have at the moment, with the other half being chucked/donated/recycled. Fair enough I am right at the beginning and packing the things that aren't really used much, so there is likely to be more junk, but it is quite impressive. I've donated 8 boxes of stuff to charity since Christmas and the charity shop drop-off is now on my weekly schedule! The bonus of course is that I feel great about donating to charity as well as sorting through all my stuff. It is even better that they now legally have to send me a letter telling me how much money they make from my donations (ok, waste of paper, but total feel-good boost). £87 for my old junk? Seriously?

4. Label label label. I cannot emphasise this enough. Unless you are Martha Stewart, or possibly my Aunt, you will not unpack for days or weeks. OK, for me it might be months. Accept this, don't try and be the angel that will not emerge in the frenzy of a house move, and be realistic. What this does mean is when you absolutely desperately need that pitcher, that usually only comes out at Christmas, all of sudden in July, it will be on a list in a labelled box and you will know where to find it.

There are of course quite legitimate concerns with labelling every box with a comprehensive list, particularly if you are using a removal company. Now 99% of removal companies will be fabulous, and should of course be insured, but it is just a little too convenient when your box of valuables goes missing but nothing else? So, label the boxes by number only, cataloguing what is in a box somewhere else.

I use a system of coloured sticky paper (such as this), stuck on the box, colour coordinated by room and numbered. So each room gets a colour (for example blue for the kitchen), and each box for that room gets a number. I label the sticky coloured sheet with the room name and box number. I put identical stickies on the top and side of the box (so that they are easy to identify in a stack of boxes). Then on a lovely printable, I write the box number and its contents. This way I know the contents of box 10, but the removal men don't. To make life even better, when I want that pitcher in July I just look through my contents sheets and find the relevant box number, rather than reorganising all the boxes to find the relevant label, let alone opening 20 boxes to find it first!

Empty packing sheet - ready to be filled.

The key thing here is use a different colour for each room and clearly label the boxes top and side, so you can see the box colour/room/number from a distance in a stack.

Get a copy of the packing list sheet to fill in here.

5. Set yourself a target. Figure out how many boxes you think you will be packing, or perhaps rooms to pack up (we went for boxes, because we needed this for removal company quotes, and every room contains something we will need in the last few weeks/days). Divide this by the number of weeks you have until you move, and that is your target for packing per week. For example, we think we will have 70 boxes of stuff. Very approximate, but its a start. We have 11 weeks until the move date from now, but will be away for 1 week, and I want to assume that nothing useful will happen in the last week before moving (actually there will be a packing frenzy I'm sure). So I am giving myself 9 weeks for packing. That means 7 or 8 boxes per week for the next two months. That is a lot less stressful (at least for me), than 70 boxes in one week! It also means I am not bringing 70 boxes into the house in one weekend. Instead I will be picking up 10 boxes or so from work a week for the next few weeks and trying to pack all/most of them straightaway.

So there you are. That is my packing method. Sorry for all the words... but I hope it helps to keep the peace!

To summarise:
1. Start soon (NOW!).
2. Get boxes for free from work or shops.
3. Declutter as you go to minimise how much you move.
4. Label your boxes by room/number and have an associate list of contents somewhere else.
5. Set yourself a weekly target for the number of boxes to pack.

Thanks for stopping by,
Let me know what you think... leave a comment or send an email to passthecaffeine {at} gmail {dot} com


  1. I couldn’t agree more that packing is the perfect time to declutter and get rid of those things you won’t have much use of anymore. Donate those old clothes and toys to charity. You may also opt to sell some of your items in a garage sale.

    Clay Delgado

  2. Moving house is not as difficult as it sounds. Have the right knowledge, apply it, and you would definitely move your things without too much hassle and delay in no time. A proper organization, like your tips here, can make moving from one house to another successful and easier. This information will be a great help to those who are about to move. Thank you for sharing!

    Thelma Bowman @Quality Strapping Systems

  3. WOW Wonderful sharing to move a house in a very easy way,i really appreciate your work thanks for sharing.
    House Removal