10 tips to make moving house less stressful

We’re not.

Moving, that is. We need to really – we’re a bedroom short meaning that every time we have family to stay, we shunt the cot into our room and have a noisy night of disturbed sleep where I worry that the toddler is waking the guests, I worry that I’m waking the toddler, etc etc…. Of course the toddler is the only one worrying about nothing.

Our apartment is a lovely place and its only shortcoming is this lack of a third bedroom. My lovely wife is so emphatic about NOT moving house that she suggested asking Lovely Landlord if we could knock a (partition) wall down and turn the utility room and walk in wardrobe into one room that could also be an occasional bedroom. I can’t see her agreeing readily to this but I’m not getting involved.

The reason I’m talking about moving / not moving is because I’ve been chatting with a neighbour this week about their upcoming move. I thought it might be good to share some ideas to make this event, recognised as one of the most stressful things one can do in one’s lifetime, a little less panic inducing*.


1. Declutter before you move. Move with less and pay for less.

In my less organised days I fell victim to the clutter trap. I taught geology for a short time and so had built up a collection of textbooks and background reading. When I relocated to London to live with my new partner (now wife – it went well!) I decided to take some of these textbooks with me….just in case. My new teaching job was in a totally different school where geology had never entered the curriculum, and most of the books could be easily sourced, but still – I felt a strange aversion to letting go of them. As a result they followed me to our little London flat where they occupied a lot of loft space. They were then packed up and moved across London to our new house and placed proudly on the shelves in my study. But I still didn’t teach geology. I was keeping them as a reminder that I COULD teach that subject. When I finally let them go I felt a lot of relief to not be responsible for that little library of geological knowledge anymore!

I dread to think how much those books cost me in moving and storage fees, and in time spent boxing and unboxing them. What else could I have done with that time and money?


2. Check the dimensions of your new home carefully.

Grandma’s antique wardrobe may be beautiful but if it won’t physically fit in your new bedroom, it might be time to find it a new home where it won’t overwhelm the surroundings. It’s a good idea to keep a printout of the floorplan in your diary or a screenshot in the photo folder on your phone. This makes ordering furniture and buying items on impulse much less of a guessing game.


3. Identify which things will be packed last, and allocate boxes for them first.

We’re talking about a kettle, clean pyjamas, bedding, key for meter cupboard (in UK), cleaning materials etc. Add these things to the boxes in the weeks before you move. Some can only be added at the last minute, e.g. kettle and tea bags, but this is fine as this box will go in your car and will be the first box you unpack. When you arrive in your new place, allocate a responsible adult to unpack these boxes and make up the beds so if all else fails you’ll have somewhere comfortable to sleep on your first night.


4. Pack by category, not by location.

Your new home will have a different layout and you might not want to keep items in the same rooms they currently occupy. Use this as a chance to experiment – perhaps the rug that’s always occupied your living room floor will look better in your new hallway? Packing all similar items together by category instead of packing a room as one entity allows for a refreshing change of perspective.


5. Pay for help if you can afford it.

You might choose to pay for packing, or the actual removal process, or  both. When getting quotes, confirm that the movers will only work with one client per day. There’s nothing worse than being the afternoon client and sitting in a packed house surrounded by your boxes and waiting…..for hours.

I’ve moved everything by myself in a little red Renault Clio (I managed to fit a double mattress in it, in the snow, though it did have an interesting bend in it after that). I’ve paid for ‘two men and a van’ who did a great job of upsetting my landlord by taking chunks out of the wall. They also broke my favourite lampshade. The cheapest quote is not always the cheapest. The last time we moved, we used TaskRabbit to find a person to come and help us pack. Mihail was spectacular. He brought his own packing tools, was proactive, and very sensitive to the fact he was coming into a house with a small child, dogs etc. For us at that point, it would have been impractical to do the packing ourselves. A 5 month old baby would not have had the patience needed to endure that marathon!

If you can’t afford to pay for help, ask family and friends. They’re not obliged to spend their weekend moving boxes and furniture, so try to provide ample refreshments and clear instructions.


6. Label every box (and keep a list of the boxes).

I can’t believe I only started doing this the last time we moved. Prior to this I would just label boxes with ‘bathroom stuff’ or ‘miscellaneous’ (is there a better way of ensuring a box will never be unpacked?!).

Because we were shipping 42 boxes or packages (this was after decluttering – in my defence it included a cot, bicycle, and TV among other things) and wanted to insure them, I had to do an inventory. My inventory was really little more than a scrawled list of numbers and items e.g. 1. Bicycle, 2. Winter clothes – Julia, 3. Baby clothes, 4. Activewear. But when it came to facing the barrage of boxes in our hallway, having that list and clearly numbered boxes definitely helped the process to feel a) more organised and b) like there was an end in sight.

Aside from my wife realising she’d left two halves of pairs of shoes in London (i.e. she had brought two odd shoes) and the TV not travelling particularly well, using very specific labelling was definitely a win.


7. If you’re packing your own possessions, buy more tape and bubble wrap than you think you’ll need.

The same applies for marker pens. It’s a false economy to think ‘one roll will do’, only to have to get in the car and drive to the shop, wasting up to an hour each time.


8. Pack hung clothes with their hangers.

It’s a waste of time and energy to de-hang everything. Plus, does ANYBODY know how to store hangers neatly and in a way that doesn’t give you a headache when it comes to untangling them? Just fold them into the box around the hanger, or try one of the cardboard ‘hanging wardrobes’ you can buy if you have lots of hung items to move.

Of course if you’ve already organised your clothing using the KonMari method, it may be that most items are folded and in boxes already. Easy! These can just be stacked in a larger box.


9. If you’ve ordered new furniture, record delivery dates in your diary

(if you receive email confirmation and use Google Mail, the dates will automatically add to your calendar (brilliant!). Phone to check these a few days before you move, to save you waiting for a bed that was never going to make it on time.


10. Phone the movers a few days before to confirm arrangements.

Phone them again on the morning of the move. Good movers will phone you too.


11. (I know, I said 10….). Embrace it.

Honestly. It will be unnerving at times, it will be stressful to have to instruct people on where to put your most valued objects, but hopefully you won’t need to do it again for a Very Long Time. Strong words may be had with family members, you may snipe about who dropped the box of wine glasses in the driveway….. let it go. As my wife and I remind each other in times of stress, ‘if we can’t be nice to each other, who’s going to be nice to us?’.

It’s one day, and in the morning you’ll wake up in your new home, ready to start a new adventure.


* I feel quite well qualified to write this as I’ve moved no fewer than EIGHT TIMES in the last ten years, and two of these moves involved changing country.

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