How to Move (and Survive Intact)


First, you need to understand that moving is the third most stressful event that will occur in your life.  According to stress-test rankings, the worst thing is death of a loved one and the second-worst is divorce.  After that:  MOVING.

            In your daily life, you may be in control, well-organized, sensible and balanced.  Therefore, when you start to deal with moving and begin to come unglued you may chastise yourself.  You think you are an incompetent loser who is severely in need of psychiatric help and quite possibly hospitalization.  No, you are just MOVING.

            Going nuts when you are moving is normal; if you don’t go nuts then there’s something wrong with you.  Relax.  It’ll pass and you’ll go back to feeling like your usual capable self.

You should plan to move on or around Wednesday.  That gives you days before and days after to connect with all those necessary people who do not work on weekends, like plumbers, electricians, building superintendents, the bank and the Post Office.  Things will go wrong and you will need to talk to people to fix them.  Assume that from the start and plan for it.  On my last move, I plugged in the refrigerator and discovered the outlet didn’t work.   Better to find that out at two o’clock Tuesday afternoon than six o’clock Saturday night.

            The first thing you need to do is call your power, cable and phone companies to schedule your new service.  Those guys are the biggest pain in the butt and you will or will not move at their convenience.  Is that right?  No.  Is that real?  Yes.  Accept it and move on.  After you get all that turn-off/turn-on stuff scheduled, then call and schedule the mover.  He’s the easier part.

            Then go out and get all the cartons you need.  Then go get some more; you will need them.  A carton is a cardboard box; a box is a rigid rectangular container.  Go to your friendly local liquor store to get the best cartons.  Liquor cartons, as my father explained to me, are strong, and not so big that you can fill them too heavy to lift.  They also give your new neighbors something to talk about.  Call your local grocery store and fast food place and ask for cartons.  Most places now break down cartons on the day of delivery and recycle them, so you need to request cartons in advance.  Ask the fast food place for the big cartons their drink cups come in.  Ask the grocery store for anything they’ve got.

            Then buy Hefty trash bags—the big black ones.  I went to the grocery store, read every label on every box of plastic bags, and learned that Hefty trash bags are the thickest ones.  The drawstrings may break but that’s easier to deal with than having the bag break and spill its contents on the street in front of your new home.

            Then buy a big roll of good packaging tape, a role of masking tape and a big black marking pen, and find your kitchen scissors.  You will need the packaging tape because, inevitably, some of your cartons are going to need reconstruction or sealing.  The masking tape is to label cartons and bags.  Get lots of newspapers.  If you don’t subscribe to a newspaper then keep an eye out and grab several copies of the local free papers every time you see them.  Put the packaging tape, masking tape, pen, scissors and newspapers in a small carton and keep them together.  Otherwise, you will go nuts hunting for them.

            Then start packing.  Now!  Right away! Immediately!  You will never have enough time to pack everything so start at once.  The sooner you start, the sooner your stress level will go down. 

Take everything off the walls—curtains, mirrors, pictures, doodads.  Tape the fixings to the back of the object so that when you go to re-hang it, you won’t go nuts trying to figure out and find the right size nails and hooks.  The reason you got big drink cup cartons from the fast food place is so that you can pack all your pictures in them, standing on end.  Wrap the stuff off your walls in the stuff from your linen closet.  Light blankets are good for large pictures and mirrors; towels go around smaller pictures.

Then pack all the stuff you aren’t using and won’t need for the next month.    Bookshelves.  Linen closets.  Go around every room, gather up all your knickknacks and pack them together, wrapping them in wash cloths, and dish towels and cloths.

When labeling, keep in mind that the mover will be carrying in several cartons at once and cannot see what you’ve written on the top.  Label it on the side and the top.  Also, keep in mind that the mover won’t bother to look; he’ll just pile things in stacks, with your essential kitchen objects in the carton at the back and on the bottom of the pile, so you need to be able to read the sides of boxes.  When labeling, name the room where the carton should go, and use one word to identify the most important thing in the carton, e.g., liquor, coffee maker.

Speaking of essentials, here is the second most important tip for surviving your move intact:  A week before you move, get out a big suitcase for each member of the family.  As the week goes on, and you use things for the last time, put them into your suitcase.  The contents should include—

Enough clean underwear for three days

Two changes of outer clothes

Personal toiletries

A roll of toilet paper

A light bulb

The current good book you are reading for comfort

Your checkbook, extra cash, and important papers

A set of clean sheets

Towel and washcloth

Soap

Favorite comfort CD

A mug, glass, bowl, plate, and set of silverware

Bedside clock/radio/alarm

            In short, put into the suitcase everything you will need in order to survive the first twenty-four hours in your new home.  You will need to make the bed at night, get up in the morning, get dressed and have breakfast.  You will have food because it is the last thing out of the refrigerator and the first thing unpacked, but you will need the service-ware.  (I once had the cereal, fruit, milk and bowl, but no spoon!)  You will be a lot happier and healthier if you don’t have to dig through a solid wall of cartons until after you’ve gotten some sleep and had breakfast.  (I moved in January and it took me a week to find my socks—but I had three pairs in my suitcase!)

            The suitcase is not to be trusted to the movers and you do not let it go on the moving vanThe suitcase goes in your car, and you do not let it out of your sight.

            So, now, back to packing.  Pack fragile things inside solid things.  That means your hand-painted eggshells go inside the crock-pot, and the dried rose from your last lover goes in the turkey roaster.  Never transport an empty container—fill it.  A large plastic container can be used for all the stuff on the front of the refrigerator and the top of the microwave.

            When packing cartons, big things go in first.  Sometimes people get confused and start packing by categories—all the cans of fruit, for example—but no, not this time.  Pack the vinegar and oil bottles first, then drop the spice bottles in around them.  Always pack large-to-small.  Do not waste time or paper on wrapping metal or plastic; only wrap glass and other breakables.

            Everything soft goes in a trash bag.  That means everything out of the coat closet, linen closet, clothes closet and dresser.  Pillows, quilts and blankets.  Stuffed animals.  One bag for shoes and boots, another for hats, scarves and gloves.  Take clothes off hangers and pack the hangers in a carton.  Don’t overfill the bags.  Use the masking tape to label the bags.  As you unpack, you can use the plastic bags to gather all the newspapers and trash.

            As you pack, try to return the bags and cartons to the place where the contents came from.  Bags of clothes can be stacked on the closet floor.  Cartons of canned goods can be put back in kitchen closets.  Cartons of books can be stacked in front of the bookshelves.  You want to keep things out of the way and give yourself as little appearance of clutter as possible.  Do what you can to keep from feeling overwhelmed.

            Previously, I told you the second most important tip for surviving a move intact:  pack a suitcase.  Here’s the first most important tip:  go to bed two hours early the night before the move.

            Moving day is going to be horrendous; that’s just the way it is.  But the most important thing you can do is be emotionally prepared to deal with it.  Absolutely horrible things can happen but if you are well-rested then you will be calm and you can manage.  You can even laugh about it!  Really.  Truly.  Honestly.  I had three people in my kitchen working on the problem of the refrigerator electrical outlet that wouldn’t work and we were laughing and joking.

            The ugly alternative is that you will be exhausted, stressed out, and snapping and snarling at the people whose help you need.  Or worse.  My mom was of the sort who believed everything had to be done just so and so she worked very hard and slept very little.  After the moving van had left the house, she continued to wrap, pack and clean.  Then she set out at two o’clock in the morning to drive across the state to her new home.  She fell asleep, ran off the NYS Thruway and crashed the car.

            You can do it the hard way or you can do it the easy way.  Get a good night’s sleep.  It’s like having two extra people to help you.  Wake up rested and ready to tackle anything, because things are going to come at you fast and furious.

            I was moving into a one-bedroom apartment.  The cable man, the telephone man and three movers were all going in and out when a new nurse from the case management agency showed up just because she was in the neighborhood.  As she stood in the front hallway, blocking everybody else, I politely explained to her that she should leave.  Oblivious to everything going on around us, she asked how I was doing.  Was I experiencing stress?

            “No,” I said.  “I’m fine—and if you don’t leave, I’ll call the police to remove you.”  I said it politely.  I said it cheerfully.  I said it without stress.  I was just making an appropriate business decision.

            I am multiply disabled, travel by power wheelchair, and have used these tips in four moves in the past decade.  If it works for me, it’ll work for you.

            Have a good move, and remember that once you’ve moved in, you don’t have to unpack!  You can live out of your suitcase, do the laundry frequently, and sit there and stare at your still-packed cartons for days or weeks.  I have a friend who moved two years ago and still hasn’t unpacked.  That may be pushing it a little, but it’s an option.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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One Response to How to Move (and Survive Intact)

  1. Jean says:

    Great to know you have an elevated packing gene! These are wise, practical instructions that anyone can and should follow. I’ll definitely think of you the next time I have to move. Cheers!

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