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Why Moving Boxes Are Never Unpacked

Pack to Unpack

In the 9 years that I’ve been running a professional organizing business, I’ve realized it is very common to find unopened boxes left over from the last move as we prepare for an upcoming move.  Clients tell me how stressful it is to have boxes hanging around in basements and guest rooms and garages.  They share how upsetting it is when they can’t find treasured items since the last move and have no idea if those items were lost or are still in unpacked boxes.  Most upsetting of all, as we finally open those boxes, is finding the contents of those boxes have been damaged by rodents or mold. Cardboard moving boxes are designed to protect goods in transit and to efficiently use the space in a moving truck. Cardboard boxes are not designed for long term storage and they do not do well with ANY exposure to humidity.


Adult moves are hard and exhausting, not like in college when you and a group of friends could throw everything in a small truck, and you are done in half a day. I like to tell my clients my favorite analogy – an adult move is more like hiking the Grand Canyon.  You are so caught up in the challenge and excitement of the first half of the hike that you don’t realize the second half is uphill.  The second half of a move – the unpack – is where decisions will need to be made about where every single thing in those boxes is going to go in the new home.  It’s no wonder people stall on unpacking as ‘decision fatigue’ sets in.


When I support a client in the process of a move, I make sure we start with a well-defined goal of what move day and living in the new space will look, work and feel like.  Here are my top tips to make any move less stressful from beginning to unpacking the last box:


Edit Before the Move

The more things that can be eliminated before the move the better. Be realistic about categories like books and clothing.  Even a 10% – 20% reduction of the major categories of stuff in your home will make a huge difference in the effort and the cost of the move. I recently worked with a client who is moving out of state and she admitted that she dreaded going through her closet. We talked about the different climate she was moving to and the activities she would be engaged in daily. Since they were moving to a second home, we mapped the storage capacity in her current closet to the closet in the new home and discussed what items were already in her new closet. Then, I pre-sorted all items in her closet by category, for example, purses were sorted by evening purses, day purses, vacation purses.  Starting with 5 evening purses, she eliminated her least favorite and then realized that 2 others were ‘too much’ for the new location and let those go, as well. We followed the same process for shoes and accessories. We were able to pre-sort into categories and eliminate the bottom 20% in three hours. We succeeded in going through all the items in her closet she had been dreading. I took 4 large bags of items to a charity she supported, and she was visibly relieved to see the items leave!  She will be even more relieved at the new destination when she is unpacking the best, having the left the rest behind her.


Beware of Over-owning

Try not to shop for the new house before the move.  I understand how hard this is; it’s exciting to want to decorate and purchase all the fun things for a new house. But those items will only add to the total volume being moved and complicate the unpack. This is not the time to ‘over-own’. Instead, focus on editing and getting essential home systems up and running. Try to focus on consuming, recycling, and donating pantry and freezer items and save the Costco runs for later.


Map the Current Home to the New Home

Chances are the new home is different in substantial ways. Different layouts in the kitchen, bathrooms, mudrooms and closets can especially hamper the unpacking process. What happens when the old house had a kitchen desk where the mail and basic office supplies lived but the new house does not? It’s not like you can live without mail or office supplies! When I work with a client, I map functional spaces from the current home to new home even if I’m working off floor plans or photos for an out-of-state residence. That ‘map’ will determine how we pack and how to label boxes in a way to support the unpack process. It also helps us identify potential storage issues and plan for solutions BEFORE moving day.


Labeling Done Right

In order to prioritize unpacking, it is critical that you label boxes to identify what is in the box, which room it came from and where it’s going!  There is a world of difference in a box labeled ‘Dining Room’ versus:

Dining Room

‘Table Cloths and Large Platters in Buffet’

Move to Butler’s Pantry

In the case of large moves, multi-step moves or moves to storage, we create a complete inventory so homeowners can scan an app or document versus shifting 30 boxes around searching for the coffee pot.


Unpack by Priority

Most of us know to keep essential medications on us and have the sheets ready to go on the beds first thing. What’s the next priority? And the next? And the next? It’s so very important to have an unpacking plan to detail priority and resources needed. Without this plan, it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed or run out of energy before the really important items of the household are unpacked.


Delay, to a Point

It’s really hard to decide exactly how many years of Christmas and birthday cards to keep! Memorabilia decisions are almost always the hardest categories for clients to go through. In the time crunch of a move, it’s okay to put those decisions off – to a point. I’ll work with clients to pack and label all memorabilia, identify where the memorabilia boxes will be placed on moving day (a room that is dry, climate controlled and out of the way) and MOST IMPORTANTLY we identify WHEN we will unpack those boxes and make those decisions after the initial move tasks are completed.


Edit on the Unpack

The moving process often gifts us with the clarity and drive to make decisions that were difficult in the old home. As you are unpacking, it’s very common to realize that decor which worked in the old home just doesn’t work as well in the new home. Have a place to collect donations as you unpack – I often repurpose some of those moving boxes to collect these donations as we make decisions. Capturing these ‘decisions’ keeps them out of the way until we have time to get them out of the house.


Live in a Happy, Unpacked and Organized New Home

During a move, my role as a professional organizer is to make sure what needs to be moved is moved with intent. There should be no major surprises of timeline or budget. It’s my goal to ensure that the whole process is as stress-free as possible and my client is left with a new home that is more organized than the home they moved out of!