the moving truck

A few weeks ago, T and I went to help one of his coworkers move.  The coworker, J, mainly asked because T’s truck was big enough to help move the bed, washer, dryer, and their son’s crib.  We have asked plenty of people to help us move over the years, so I felt like we needed to pay back a little moving karma, and came along even though I wasn’t requested.  Since the guys were busy with the heavy lifting, I hung out with J’s wife, K, and helped her pack the last odds and ends into their family car.  And I immediately realized that these crazy kids (ok, adults in their early 20s) were totally novice movers who, IMHO, had no idea what they were doing.

Since returning from the Peace Corps in 2000, I have moved 10 times and lived in three different states.  And in the process of making all of those moves, I think I have come up with some really good tips for moving efficiently:

1) Move it all at once.  I know that this sounds daunting, and you think that if you spread the move out over several days, you’ll be doing yourself a favor, but it really isn’t true.  You can start packing in advance, but actually moving everything from Point A to Point B should happen during a single weekend.  Trying to split your time between two locations guarantees that you’ll always have something you need that’s at the other place.  Plus, you’ll lose track of what is packed where, which makes unpacking a much more daunting process.  Bite the bullet, rent a moving truck, shove everything in at once, and unload it all at one time.  When you consider the amount you’ll spend on gas for 15 trips to and from the new place, the moving truck probably isn’t as expensive as you think.  Which leads into tip #2.

2) Label your boxes, and stick to your labels.  Pack thematically, and be specific about what is in the box.  Don’t just list “Kitchen”  or “Bathroom” on the box, label things like “Plates”, “Glasses and Mugs”, “Pots and Pans” separately.  You will inevitably end up with a few boxes of “Kitchen misc.”, but that’s okay.  When you need to find the whisk for your first scrambled egg breakfast, you won’t have to search through each and every “Kitchen” box to locate it.  And make sure to label both the top and the sides of your box — when everything is stacked up, it will make finding things a LOT simpler.  And that leads to tip #3.

3) Actually buy some shipping boxes.  If you’re frugal like me, this seems like a terrible idea.  I moved several times by harvesting boxes from local stores or scavenging them from the recycling center.  But what I discovered the hard way is A) it’s difficult to find good-sized boxes this way, B) they’re often worn-out and damaged, and C) all the odd sizes are really hard to pack into a truck well.  When you buy boxes, they’re sturdy, they are all the same size, and you can use them for several moves!  Just break them down and store them, and you have pre-labelled boxes ready for your next move.  Just be sure to follow Tip #2 when you reuse them!  I recommend buying a slew of small book boxes.  They’re among the least expensive sizes, are big enough to get a lot into, but still small enough that it’s unlikely you’ll pack them so full with heavy stuff that you can’t lift them when you’re done.  And many places now offer to buy back boxes you don’t use, so feel free to buy a lot!

4) Buy a tape gun and quality tape.  A tape gun is just a tape dispenser with a big grip handle, but it will make taping up all those boxes so much easier.  You won’t constantly be searching for the loose end, because the tape gun keeps the end ready at all times.  Just slap the tape against one side of the box, pull up and over the top, and then a flick of the wrist cuts the tape on the other side. And making sure to get a good brand of tape will keep you from constantly cursing your tape for tearing, tangling, and refusing to stick. And always tape your boxes, don’t just fold the ends together!  I promise you, it will be worth it.  Boxes will stack better without toppling over, and you’ll never have the bottom fall out while you’re carrying a heavy box.  When you’re ready to break down the box for storage, just slit the tape (don’t try to pull it off) and all you’ll need is a second layer of tape to reconstruct and seal the box the next time you move.

5) Pack your boxes well.  I worked at my college bookstore when I was a student, and this was one of the best skills I learned from that job.  When a box is packed well, you should be able to close the lid and have it lie flush, and when you shake the box up-and-down and side-to-side you won’t be able to hear anything shifting.  If you have breakables, like glassware and dishes, wrap them in paper and make sure that they are packed right up against one another.  Newspaper is easy to come by, even if you have to ask the neighbors or visit a local recycling center, but it does get smudgy and messy.  In a pinch, I’ve used paper towels, or even plastic shopping bags, to wrap my dishes.  The benefit of paper towels is, you can still use them after you unpack, if you’re a paper towel user in the first place.  Personally, I think bubble wrap is overkill, but I don’t have any precious heirloom dishes to protect.  When you are packing a box of odd-shaped objects, glasses or otherwise, you will inevitably end up with space that allows things to shift around.  You can use packing peanuts or more crumpled paper to stuff these spaces, but why not use other things that you need to pack anyway?  Dishtowels, potholders, washcloths and handtowels — anything that’s soft, really — make great packing materials.  Roll them up or just stuff them in around the corners until nothing moves when you give the box a quick shake.  That way you know your belongings are safe, and unless you drop a box full of glassware on the floor, it’s unlikely to break.

6) Essential moving supplies: straps, blankets, a dolly, mattress covers and Forearm Forklifts.  Whether you are using a moving truck or a friend’s pickup, adjustable straps are essential for keeping large pieces of furniture in place.  You can use the side rails in a rented moving van to keep tall bookshelves or mattresses from toppling over, and strapping down your belongings is the only safe way to move them in an open truck bed.  Blankets are another way of making sure your furniture doesn’t get dinged or scratched.  You can usually rent them from moving companies, but why not use your own blankets instead of packing them?  As long as it’s not your grandmother’s heirloom quilt, a quick wash after the move is all they’ll need.  Just make sure they’re between your furniture and any straps, boxes, or other furniture that is sitting on or against it.  A dolly is essential if you have a lot of boxes (assuming you’re not moving your things up or down a lot of stairs).  Instead of carrying each box separately, you’ll save trips by being able to carry 4-5 at the same time, even if they’re heavy.  You can buy one, but you can also rent these cheaply from moving companies.  Mattress covers are disposable plastic so they don’t cost much, they keep your mattress clean, and many of them have handles built into the sides, which actually makes it easier to maneuver those cumbersome, floppy mattresses.  And finally, the Forearm Forklifts are the best moving investment we ever made (and I promise they’re not paying me to say this!)  They make it possible to carry a lot more weight than you can with your hands, especially if you’re like me and you don’t have a lot of upper body strength.  T and I carried a washer and dryer down from the second floor, out the front door, and down and around the side of the house to the under-house root cellar by ourselves, and I NEVER would have been able to do it without those babies!  Just follow the directions, choose the right hole in the straps to make sure that your palms are flat against the piece of furniture when the straps are tight, and make sure to bend at the knees and lift with your legs.

7) Keep your receipts.  This is the tip I always forget, but hopefully you won’t.  In many cases, moving expenses are tax deductible, so keep the receipts and you’ll save money at the end of the year!