Tips for Packing

If you are moving yourself, these tips for packing will make the experience easier.  Save your stuff and your sanity from damage by utilizing the wisdom of experienced movers.   

Personally, I've moved 16 times in 25 years, but I’m not just drawing on my own experience.  I've collected treasures of moving wisdom from around the web.  I hope you find them useful on your next move.


Before you pack it's important to purge.  We purge both before and after every move.  That’s not necessarily our intent, but it always works out that way.  No matter how thorough we think we've been, some stuff always slips through the cracks. 

Purging can be achieved naturally as part of the packing process.  As you sort through things to put them in boxes, consider each item carefully.  Do you like it?  Do you use it?  Do you want it?  Do you need it?  If the answer is no, then the item should go (away, that is). 

Purging as you pack will help to lighten your load and preserve precious space in your truck.  

Recommended Reading

Click on the images below for more information on what and how to purge your stuff as well as what to do with the stuff you don't want.

Gather Supplies

If you are moving, you are obviously going to need boxes.  Just any old box will not do if you are going farther than across the street.  You need good, sturdy boxes with tops that close.  If you are purchasing boxes, you'll find a good selection of the preferred sizes here.

Source: Hip2Save

Good places to obtain boxes (and possibly other packing materials) include the following:

  • Your own mail – If you have plans to move in the next 3-6 months, start saving any boxes you receive as packages. Also save any packing material that comes in those boxes as well as newspapers, weekly store advertisements and other junk mail which can be used to fill 'holes' in your boxes so that everything fits snugly.
  • Neighbors, friends and family – Ask everyone to save their boxes (and packing material) for you.
  • New arrivals – Watch for moving trucks in your area.  Check with people who are just moving in; ask them if they’d be willing to save their boxes for you.  Chances are they’ll be glad for you to take them off their hands.
  • Recycle day in your neighborhood – I know when we put out large quantities of boxes for the recycle truck they almost always disappear long before the truck comes by to claim them. 
  • Local recycling center – It’s worth checking at the local recycling center.  If anyone has empty boxes, they do.  They may be happy to let you have some.  Just be sure to ask.
  • Office supply stores and print centers – copy paper boxes are excellent for moving.  They’re sturdy, they have removable lids, and many have handles cut into the sides. 
  • Bookstores – Bookstores are the perfect place for finding boxes specifically designed to ship books (but also good for other stuff).
  • Offices, banks and schools –These are also a potential source of copy paper boxes.  These businesses also receive large quantities of packages (all of which come in sealable boxes…).  When asking at a school, be sure to check with the cafeteria staff as well as the office staff.
  • Grocery stores and restaurants –Produce boxes are particularly desirable. 
  • Bars and Liquor stores – The great thing about liquor boxes is that they often include dividers which work well for transporting glassware. 
  • Craigslist – Check out the free section to see if anyone in your area has boxes to give away.  If not, you may be able to buy them from someone nearby for less than it would cost you to get them from a retailer.  Also keep this in mind when your move is over - post your boxes on Craigslist for a little extra cash.
  • Freecycle – Put out a plea on Freecycle for empty boxes and other packing materials.
  • Social media – Post a request for moving supplies on Facebook or your social media of choice. 
  • U-Haul – Yes, U-Haul sells boxes, but they also offer a message board where customers can exchange supplies.  Just type in your town to see if anyone in your area has materials you can claim.

Operation Get Boxes

When seeking boxes from a business, it’s a good idea to call ahead.  Ask if they have empty boxes (most do) and if they are willing to give them to you (most are).  Find out what day they receive deliveries.  The best time to get boxes will be late in the day on delivery day after they’ve had time to unpack everything. 

Empty boxes take up a lot of room, so businesses are quick to tear them down and recycle them in order to free up space.  If they know you are coming to pick up boxes, they may leave them intact, thus saving you from having to tape them back together again. 

Other packing materials to stock up on include:

  • Bubble wrap – I always keep the bubble wrap that comes in packages we receive in the mail for reuse.  Just stash it under a bed somewhere or on a closet shelf until you need it.  If your supply of bubble wrap is limited, you can find an assortment of sizes here.
  • Packing paper – In addition to the paper you purchase, look for these alternatives for wrapping and cushioning items for transport:


  • Newspaper can work but the ink may transfer.  At the very least, it will transfer to your hands making it messy to work with.  Something newspaper is good for is as filler in boxes which aren’t quite full or as cushion on the bottom of a box in which fragile items are packed.
  • Old phone books – the pages of a full-size phone book (which you will not need if you are leaving the area) are just the right size for wrapping individual glasses and other small breakables.
  • Large pads of children’s art paper
  • Blank rolls of newsprint
  • Unwanted gift wrap
  • Industrial rolls of paper towels
  • Tissue paper
  • Plastic grocery bags
  • Paper bags – recommended by Lilly at Listotic (see image at right)

More Boxes = Better

The more boxes you can amass for your move, the better.  I guarantee it will take more boxes than you think to move your stuff, especially if you are well established with a couple of kids.  The estimated number of boxes needed to pack a 2000 square foot home with 8 rooms occupied by 2 adults and 2 kids is somewhere in the neighborhood of 90-100.  That may seem like a lot, but it takes 6-8 dish pack cartons (typically 18” x 18” x 28”) just to pack the contents of my china cabinet.  If you’re collecting your boxes from free sources, you’ll be hard pressed to find many boxes that big. 

My point: Error on the side of excess. Better to have too many than too few.  You can always recycle or give away what you don’t need.

Get Organized

Here are some of my favorite tips for packing:

Color Code Boxes: The folks at Hire a Helper suggest color coding boxes according to room using Washi Tape – a different color tape for each room and creating a packing key to keep track of which room is represented by which color. Others suggest colored duct tape, but I prefer this pre-labeled tape designed specifically for moving. Each roll is a different color and bears the name of a different room of the house. You can even purchase sets for 2, 3 or 4 bedroom homes.

Source: HireAHelper

Label: Another great tip comes from Anna at who uses brightly colored printed labels on her boxes (try these florescent color coded moving labels).  In addition to making labels for different rooms in the house, you can create or purchase instructional labels such as ‘fragile’ or content labels such as ‘books’, ‘toys’, and ‘décor’.  This saves time having to write the same information over and over again on multiple boxes.

Put Together a Supply Basket:  Chelsea at Pink Lips & Teaching Tips recommends creating a packing supply basket.  Fill a plastic tote with all the items you need to pack boxes: Sharpies, labels, scissors, tape for boxes, a screw driver, zippered baggies, a utility knife, etc.  Carry your tote with you from room to room as you pack and you’ll have everything you need at your fingertips. 

Source: Pink Lips & Teaching Tips

Pack a First Night Box:  Pack a box or two with all the essentials for your first night in a new home.  This particular tip has been emphasized by numerous tip-givers around the internet, but I particularly like this list provided by AAA Movers because you can check off items as you pack them.  I would add a basic tool set to the list they provide for putting together beds, etc.  Label your first night box with a bold, bright color so that it’s easily identifiable among the sea of boxes, or use a clear bin to house those items so that it will stand out amongst the cardboard.

Packing Books, CDs, DVDs and Video Games

Check out these brief instructional videos which demonstrate the safest way to pack books, CDs, DVDs, and video games. 

How to Pack CDs, DVDs and Video Games

How to Pack Books

Get Started

Once you've gathered supplies and established a system for organizing your move, it’s time to start packing.   Here are some resourceful tips for making sure your stuff arrives unharmed and is (relatively) easy to put away. 

Use Soft Stuff for Padding and Wrapping

Sheets, towels, tablecloths, cloth napkins, dish towels, pot holders, blankets, pillows and clothing can all serve as cushion for your breakables. 

Got a little hole in a box that’s too small for anything?  Fill it with a pair of socks or a rolled up dish towel.  Stuff kitchen knives inside mitten-style pot holders for protection.  Wrap cookie sheets and muffin tins in pillow cases.  Stuff boots with socks to help them hold their shape.  Using what you have to cushion the contents of your boxes saves not only space but also money. 

Stuffed Animals as Stuffing

Have your kids got a ton of stuffed animals?  Instead of filling a box with stuffed animals, use the stuffed animals as filler in a variety of boxes.  They are delightfully malleable, they weigh practically nothing, and they provide excellent cushioning for breakables.

Pack Your Luggage

Lilly from Listotic recommends packing heavy items like books in rolling suitcases.  Instead of lifting the heavy items you can just roll them onto the truck! 

While I like this idea, I do feel the need to add a note of caution.  The contents of a suitcase shift dramatically between lying flat and being rolled around in an upright position.  Books are delicate. Bindings can easily be broken or pages damaged as they float around inside a suitcase. If you plan to pack your books in a suitcase, be sure to pack clothing around and between them to prevent damage.  Or use the suitcase to transport other, more durable or malleable items and pack the books in small boxes to keep the weight down.

Utilize Empty Space

Save space and protect small stuff by packing it inside bigger stuff.  Fill your crockpot with spices.  Fill your laundry hamper with pillows.  Use buckets, laundry baskets, trash cans, and other containers to transport smaller items.  Look for items or combinations of items that fit snuggly and don’t rattle around inside the container.  Movement equals damage in a move.  

Cover Your Clothes

Instead of removing hanging clothes from their hangers and packing them in boxes, wrap a large plastic trash bag around several hanging items as Tiffany Lo of Buzz Feed recommends.  Not only will this protect your clothes from dust and damage, it will also save space in your boxes, and save you tons of time.  Just don’t overstuff the trash bags.  Clothes should fit comfortably inside in order to prevent the bag from tearing. 

Try laying trash bags of hanging clothes inside empty dresser drawers, cedar chests or other case goods on the moving truck to further protect them during transport.     

Everything You See Here and More - Available in an eBook

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Bag the Small Stuff

A great way to save time and effort when moving is to ship the contents of drawers in zippered plastic bags.  This keeps items together that belong together making unpacking easy.  It also prevents small stuff from getting lost amid the jumble of crumpled paper.  Do this with kitchen, bathroom and desk drawers.

Wrap it Up

Another good trick is to wrap certain items in stretch wrap or plastic wrap to hold them in place.  Leave silverware in its tray and wrap the whole tray.  Wrap plastic drawers and other small containers to seal them up so their contents don’t spill out in transport. 

Fill the Voids

Make sure all your boxes are completely full.  Partially full boxes crush easily (along with their contents).  Stuff wadded up paper or linens in to fill the empty spaces and help your boxes hold their form.

Wrap Your Mattress

If you don’t have access to the gigantic mattress boxes that movers use, a good alternative from Lilly at Listotic is to wrap fitted sheets around both sides of your mattress (top and bottom) to protect it from dust, dirt, and potential damage.

Source: Listotic

Snap a Picture

Photograph electronic hook ups so that you can easily remember how to recreate them at your new home.  This tip was particularly helpful for us when my husband (the one normally in charge of setting up electronics) was in Iraq.

Pack Like a Pro

The work doesn't stop when all the boxes are full.  Arranging items on a moving truck is an art form.  By imitating the practices of professional movers, you can increase the likelihood that your things will arrive undamaged at your new home. For a great resource on loading a moving truck visit U-Pack’s Loading Tips.

Put these tips for packing to good use on your next move and make it your best move ever.

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