How to Plan, Purge, and Pack for Your Next Move


This article is the fourth part in a series about moving:
Part 1 |
14 Tips for Finding the Best Neighborhood
Part 2 |
How to Find a Quality House to Rent
Part 3 |
Find a Low-Cost Mover without Getting Scammed
Part 5 |
The Ultimate Moving Checklist for Families

Here are some essential elements of getting ready for moving house, so that you feel organized, ready, and excited for a new beginning.

Grand Central:  Your Moving Folder

Keep everything related to the move in one file.  I love those two-pocket school folders.  You can slip things in when you’re in a rush, or place them in the pockets when you have more time.  Staple on business cards, jot down important numbers, and stuff in brochures.

Keep a digital folder of move-related files on your computer and in your email program.

Organize Your Furniture Needs with a Floor Plan

Identifying furniture gaps and surpluses ahead of time can help you redirect some of that moving anxiety, as well as lighten your load on the other end.

If you can’t find an official floor plan of your new place (often available online if you are moving into an apartment building), take photos and measurements of all the rooms, including windows and ceiling heights, and draw up your own blueprint.

You may find this totally obsessive-compulsive, but when we moved to New York, I had the apartment’s floor plan blown up as large as possible at an office supply store. After gluing it to foam board, I measured all the furniture in our house and made cut-outs with colored paper.   The furniture cut-outs were of course in scale with my floor plan (for example, 1 foot real life = 3/4 inch floor plan).


My mother (who suggested this kind of pre-planning) and I had fun moving stuff around without breaking a sweat.  Before we even set foot in the apartment, we were able to figure out:

  1. What I could take
  2. What I had to give away or sell
  3. What I needed to buy and the approximate size
  4. Where to tell the movers to put stuff on moving-in day

Knowing we would have no car for picking up new or donating old furniture, this kind of anal planning prevented a lot of headaches (and backaches).

While I find old-fashioned pen and paper to ultimately be easier, I recommend Homestyler if you want to do it on the computer.  Here is the floor plan I created for our Syracuse rental house, with advice from How to Draw a Floor Plan to Scale.

Purge, Purge, Purge

Now is the perfect time to go through your stuff and ask those often excruciating questions: do I really need this?

I was especially motivated when we moved to an apartment in New York City, but I did go through every room and closet in our house and mercilessly donated, sold on Craigslist, freecycled and chucked.

Moving provides a great incentive to clean house and, even if you’ll be going to a place with more space, streamlining can make a fresh start.

Pare down first, as a separate process from packing boxes. You’ll be able to find better homes for your stuff if you are not rushed with the stress of boxes piling up everywhere.

Once all these difficult decisions are made and extraneous stuff is farmed out, packing will be faster and easier.

Use What You Have

Several months before the move, you can start going on a shopping diet, which will help your wallet as well as your peace of mind.  If you’re like me, you have stockpiled a lot of personal care products, household staples, and pantry items.

Now is the perfect time to figure out how to use that can of black-eyed peas, the lotion your mother-in-law gave you, or the tubes of strawberry toothpaste you bought on sale.

Find out your mover’s policy on plants, food, and cleaning products. If you can’t use up all your food and laundry detergent, make arrangements to donate them to a friend who can.

If You Are Packing Your Own Boxes


Pack first the things you use the least, such as knick-knacks, paintings, books, and out-of-season clothing.  As the time gets closer, work up to the most used things. See also my article at Parentables: 11 Best Places to Find Free Moving Boxes.

Label boxes with a number (on every side of the box) and the room they will be going into.

Keep a running list of the box numbers and contents. That way if you need a certain item, you know which box to look for, instead of having to read over the contents of every box.  Plus, it will help you to make sure nothing is missing (and if so, to know what went missing).

To make things quick for you and the movers, consider color coding each box according to the room it will go to, with paint, markers or colored dot stickers.

Create a Last-On, First-Off Box

There are some essentials that you’ll either want to bring with you in the car or have the movers load last and unload first.

In Simplifying the Big Move, Martha Stewart recommends these day-to-day essentials:

  • bedding
  • bath and hand towels
  • toiletries, including soap
  • toilet paper
  • basic tools
  • cleaning supplies
  • medications
  • camera and charger
  • snacks
  • a few dishes and utensils, and
  • a coffeepot — plus coffee and mugs

Simple Mom also has a detailed list of essentials for Day 1 of moving, which reminded me of:

  • curtains for the kids room (if you have light sleepers), and
  • lightbulbs

I would also add:

  • your moving folder
  • cell phone charger and/or a phone you can hook up the first day
  • laptop, cord, and carrying case
  • checkbook
  • favorite toys and storybooks
  • paper towels
  • garbage bags, and
  • a shower liner and rings

If Movers are Packing Your Stuff


Admittedly not the most frugal option but — since moving always seems to coincide with having a baby — we have done it before and I have to tell you, it was the best money I’ve ever spent.

The first time we tried it, from Italy to Cincinnati, they only charged us $200.  I couldn’t sign on the dotted line fast enough!  For our move from New York City to Syracuse when I was almost 9 months pregnant, we paid about $1000 for packing, one fifth of our total move cost.  For the same price, the movers also disassembled and reassembled all of our fine Swedish furniture.

I rarely pay someone to do things I can do myself, but sometimes in life, it’s just makes sense. If you go with this option, here are my tips:

1.  Purging ahead of time is essential.

Try to get rid of the most expensive unneeded items first. You’ll have more time and energy to deal with selling or finding good homes for them.

2.  Organize your things according to your new house.

Movers will just throw stuff in boxes and mark it with the name of the room (if you’re lucky, they’ll also scribble one word about contents).  So if you have fall clothes in the basement, the attic, and your child’s room, that’s where they will end up in your new house and you might not find what you need for months.  Group like items together in your current house to increase the likelihood you’ll find them sooner in your new house.

3.  Agree on a no-pack zone.

Designate a spot — like the bathtub — where you put anything you want with you, not on the moving truck.  This could include suitcases packed with your overnight essentials, diversions for the car trip, your first-out-last-in box, pet supplies, and your move folder.

My husband and I still laugh about our move to New York City, when he was driving our rental (we had sold both our cars) in flip-flops. It was Sunday and he was to start his new job on Monday morning. Half-way to New York, he looks at me and says, “Where are my shoes?” We realized they were on the moving van, and since our apartment wouldn’t be ready for days, they would soon be in a storage warehouse somewhere in Queens.

He had set them aside and thought he would tell the movers not to pack them, but things got busy and boxed up they went.  (We stopped at an outlet mall on the highway so he didn’t have to show up his first day on the job in a suit and flip-flops.)

4. What do you need the most?

Don’t be shy to ask the movers for things like a crib or a box of toys to be loaded last, and unloaded first.

And finally, see my Ultimate Moving Checklist for Families for more on arranging move-out cleans and travel accommodations, plus all sorts of other stuff you won’t want to forget.

This article is the fourth part in a series about moving:
Part 1 |
14 Tips for Finding the Best Neighborhood
Part 2 |
How to Find a Quality House to Rent
Part 3 |
Find a Low-Cost Mover without Getting Scammed
Part 5 |
The Ultimate Moving Checklist for Families

Share this post:


  • Danni Black December 7, 2016, 12:30 pm

    I really like your tip about labeling the boxes with a number and the room that they will be going into. My husband and I are going to be moving in the next few months so we will have to keep these tips in mind. We really want to stay organized when we put things in a storage unit and make sure that we know where everything is going. Thanks for the information!

  • Nathan Johnson May 10, 2016, 10:58 am

    My wife and I are only about a month away from moving, so we are getting started cleaning and packing. One of the hardest things to getting rid of things that we just don’t need anymore. I like your section about purging and getting rid of old unnecessary items. One thing that has helped us is taking pictures of sentimental things before throwing them away. Thanks for the info!

  • Breight May 1, 2016, 4:52 pm

    This is a wonderful list. Thank you so much!

  • Judy Wilson April 12, 2016, 2:57 pm

    I’ve been trying to think of a good plan to make moving easier, so I should follow a few of these packing tips. Organizing my belongings based on where they’ll be located in the new house seems like a great tip. Having all of my belongings in a box that will be put in my bedroom and the Christmas decorations put in another box that will be put in the basement in my new house would make things easier, so I’ll try doing that when I move in. Thanks for the tips!

  • Robert J September 25, 2015, 8:29 am

    This is exactly what I need. We moved not long ago but unfortunately we have to do it again. The budget is tight and your post really helps me cut some costs. Thank you for sharing. This post is one more reason to love the internet.

  • Susan June 19, 2015, 12:57 pm

    I am right there with you on these suggestions! Last year, I cleaned out my late mother’s home of 50 years (not a hoarder, but had lots of storage space)–purging, donating, and giving away things to family and friends. In the same year, I moved from one apartment to another and also created a room planner to figure out what to take. As a result of all this, periodic purging will become a lifelong process!

  • Carry June 10, 2015, 8:48 am

    Very nice tips! I am going to need them really soon, as I am moving to California because of my new job. Btw a little advice from me when you move and travel always take dry shampoo with you, one never knows if there is warm water on the new place or just to fix your hair after the flight.

  • Harriet May 26, 2015, 10:48 am

    This is such a fantastic moving plan! Well organized move is a smooth move! Thank you for the wonderful tips and ideas! Greets, London Removals Ltd.

  • Laila Keirstead May 15, 2015, 8:28 am

    That is a very smart idea to have everything down in a folder so you know what you have packed just in case you feel like something is missing. I think moving is an excellent time to get rid of things and by keeping track of your stuff, you will know if it was thrown out or not. I wish I would have done that because It has been about a month since I moved and I still feel like there are some things that are missing. The moving van and everything was empty so we couldn’t have missed anything.

  • RG Quality Moving & Storage LLC May 8, 2015, 6:16 am

    I am very impressed with this ultimate moving checklist. This information is very helpful to make the moving process simple, fast and easy.

  • Camille Guerrier January 16, 2015, 1:08 pm

    This information has been very helpful. My family and I are moving next month so we are in the process of preparing to get everything moved out and into our new house. We are excited to move into a bigger home, but packing is so time consuming! I really like the idea of agreeing on a “no-pack zone.” Things can get lost so easily in a move so you have to be careful on what you want to keep with you. Thanks again.
    -Camille |

    • Amy January 17, 2015, 9:05 pm

      Hi Camille,

      I’m so glad the information has been helpful. Moving can be exciting but stressful, and getting important stuff lost is very frustrating, I know.

      Wishing you the best in your new adventure,

  • Man and Van Services Fulham October 6, 2014, 8:14 am

    The furniture cut-outs and the no-pack zone are genius ideas. I’d also like to add that you should contact your utility companies some time before the move and tell them an exact day you want your utility supply shut off. Another good packing tip which comes to my mind is to defrost your freezer at least two days before you move out. This electronic appliance needs to be completely dry before the move starts.

  • movers Nebraska May 23, 2013, 2:32 am

    I have always heard that moving out is not at all easy so I have always hoped that I will not get into such situation. However, here I am packing up all out stuff to move out to the city. Indeed, this is not easy but I found something positive about this process. I get to purge out all unnecessary items that should have been disposed or given away years ago. We are still in the packing process and I am thrilled to know that we are to transfer fewer items because several things are to be sent out for donation. It is always great to find positive things in situations that seem to be all negative.

  • Redman Van May 14, 2013, 7:45 pm

    Oh my goodness! This is a very comprehensive checklist! I will definitely be using this the next time I move! I inevitably end up unorganized and stressed when I move and this will be a huge help!

  • Nadia February 18, 2013, 10:06 am

    Very useful tips!)

  • Mike @ Removals January 16, 2012, 9:17 pm

    This is a very informative and practical read. Great tips. It’s making “moving-out” simple, fast and easy.