9 steps for a (nearly) hassle-free move

Jacqueline Leppla | Improvement Center Columnist | October 19, 2015

During a hectic period, our family moved five times in five years. With two inter-state moves and one cross-country transition, we became good at relocating. Our twins were nearly three and our youngest daughter was almost 18 months old when we embarked on our moving frenzy -- it took a long time before they stopped asking us, "Are we moving again?" when a large truck drove by.

While honing our moving skills, we discovered nine steps that make a significant difference in the process.

Trim possessions

Even if you moved only a year ago, you have likely accumulated some clutter and can probably sell, donate, or throw out between 10 to 20 percent of your belongings. Are there toys your children no longer play with? Clothes that are unlikely to be worn again? Paperwork that really doesn't need to be stored? Be ruthless!

Save a few sentimental keepsakes, photograph a few more, and get rid of the rest! As soon as you arrive in your new home, you are sure to begin accumulating things again. Whether you are paying for professional movers, or paying with your own hard labor, lighten your household as much as you can before packing begins.

Choose your mover carefully

If you are moving any significant distance, a professional moving company can be essential. The U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provides a moving checklist to help you contract with a reputable firm.

Ask each company to provide information about how they will supply labor at both ends of your move. Confirm that workers will not be hired off the street at your destination without careful background checks. Contact references who have used the companies that you short-list and inquire about their satisfaction with all aspects of the move. Request a commitment that the moving team be forthright in communications throughout the move. Explain that you want to know when the truck actually leaves on the outbound leg of the trip, receive updates on its progress, and be alerted to any problems (equipment, weather) that could result in an arrival delay.

Secure appropriate insurance, which may be a combination of your homeowner's policy and a policy that your moving company offers while your belongings are in transit. We have been pleased that our mover's insurance covered damage to a dining room table and relieved that a front gate was completely rebuilt when a moving truck accidentally hit a pillar backing into one home.

Plan furniture and box placement

A sideboard and hutch in your current family room may work best in your new sunroom or breakfast nook. Think carefully about existing large furniture pieces and consider whether or not they will end up in the same type of room once you move.

Measure rooms, including alcoves, in your new home and measure your furniture to determine where big items will go. Sketch a plan for the furniture's placement in your new home and once large items are wrapped in shrink wrap or blankets, use stickers (such as mailing address labels) to indicate the room into which each item should be unloaded. Place intended room destination stickers on the wrappers for as many items as you can, such as lamps, side tables, night stands, dressers, and chairs. Minimize the number of times the moving crew has to ask, "Where do you want this, lady?"

Assemble kitchen essentials

During our two "in-town" moves, we were able to gain access to our new homes ahead of the official moving day and set up the kitchen with our "go to" pots and pans, kitchen knives, spatulas, cooking spoons, measuring cups, and spices. We also brought enough silverware, plates, and glasses to handle a few meals. Hot mitts, dish soap, and some pantry and fridge supplies simplified breakfasts and lunches over the first few days.

It isn't always possible to do a mini-move before the "real" move, especially when traveling a great distance to your new home. When that is the case, clearly label kitchen essentials as such and ask your movers to place those boxes in the truck last so they can be among the first off the truck when unloading. Assign a competent family member or friend to unpack the kitchen essential boxes as soon as possible during unloading.

Thoughtful packing/labeling

If you are using a moving company, your items may not be insured during transit if you pack your household yourself. Make sure you understand the potential liability if you try to do the packing on your own.

Take the time to list each box's most important content on the outside. Then, indicate the name and/or color of the room where the box should be placed when it is unloaded. Since we painted our daughters' rooms in distinct colors, it was easy for us to specify: yellow, blue, or pink bedroom on each box. Where necessary, we prepared a sign that indicated a room's purpose (such as "play room") and wrote the intended room's name on appropriate boxes. Labeling simplifies the unloading process because movers can take each item directly to its destination without asking for instruction. Each room should have a sign on the floor to indicate where boxes should be stacked.

While it may take a few days to completely unpack, it is helpful to have easy access to your bedding the first night in your new home. Consider "packing" pillows, sheets, and blankets in a few of each bedroom's dresser drawers. As the dressers come into the house, the beds in each room can be made.

If you collect items, such as coins or other valuables, consider insuring and shipping them separately to a safe location, such as your new office. Alternatively, package them and ask a trusted friend to ship them to you once you have moved into your new home.

Arrange childcare

After a cross-country move where we were up for 23 hours during the course of one day, we met the moving truck at our new home the next morning. We walked around our property and decided it was safe for our six-year-olds to play in the yard while we shepherded everything into the house. One of the twins discovered that a pool gate wasn't completely latched (we should have pulled on the closed gate to make sure it held shut) and before long, a child came into the house soaking wet. While we scrambled to find towels and fresh clothes, the dry twin decided to jump in the pool herself because she felt bad that she had pushed her sister in. Lesson learned: Do not leave children unsupervised during a move; being nearby isn't enough.

Ask if your children can play at a friend's house for specific hours during moving preparations, or hire a babysitter for periods when you are distracted with moving-related chores. Find out if your realtor or employer can connect you with someone who babysits in your new neighborhood or arrange for a relative to meet you at your destination and care for your children.

Make simple home improvements before you arrive

In every move, we wanted to paint many of the new home's rooms and conduct other minor improvements before moving in. Look carefully for our favorite never-enough-of-these culprit: electrical outlets. Are they available where you really need them? Would a floor outlet be helpful in certain rooms? Do you decorate with lights on the stair banister during the holidays? Would an outlet near the top of the staircase be helpful?

If you are new to the area, your realtor may be able to suggest some contractors or handymen, or you can use online resources to locate a qualified home improvement professional. Have a contractor's phone number on hand in case something unexpected happens during move-in, such as your husband's foot going through the attic ceiling while storing items out of the way. Yes, that happened to us.

We have been able to negotiate either a brief rent-back of our old home or stayed in a hotel or with friends while painting, crown molding, and simple electrical upgrades were installed. It is ideal if painting can be completed a few days before moving in so that the smell dissipates before everyone is sleeping in their new rooms.

Arrange to have the painting contractor return after everything has been delivered and unpacked to touch up inevitable spots on the walls.

Bring certain valuables with you

If you are flying to your new home, pack in your carry-on luggage: jewelry, passports, Social Security cards, and birth certificates. In your checked luggage, pack vaccination records and financial documents such as: certificates of deposit, savings bonds, insurance policies and other investment paperwork. Make copies of all important documents that you place in your checked luggage and allow them to be moved in a locked desk drawer or safe.

Dedicate space in a suitcase for on-the-ground essentials: box cutter, scissors, screwdriver, flashlight, sponges and utility cloths. When you are near your destination, pick up a multi-purpose cleaner, disinfectant wipes, hand soap, toilet paper, and paper towels. Although homes are supposed to be left clean by their previous owners, be prepared to buy an extra mop, broom, and dustpan if you discover the house isn't as tidy as you hoped when you turn the key in the lock.

Tackle administrative tasks

USA.gov has assembled instructions on changing your address and setting up utility services. If it will be necessary to change your bank, carefully review a recent statement for automatic withdrawals and contact each party to close any accounts that will no longer be needed or set up a new payment account.

Think about irregular automatic payments, such as annual life insurance and/or long-term care premiums, and make arrangements for those withdrawals to come out of your new checking account.

Contact your health care providers and request copies of your dental and medical records or find out how those records can be transferred to your new providers.

Moving isn't easy, but it can be manageable if the above steps are followed. Flatten boxes as they are emptied and move them to a staging area for recycling. When most boxes in a room are unpacked, reward yourself by hanging some of your favorite artwork on the walls. With everyone pitching in, the new house should feel like a home before too long.

Photo credit to Kevin Irby

About the Author

Jacqueline Leppla has renovated homes from California to Massachusetts. She has remodeled or improved nearly every room in her current home.