Packing is more than just shoving everything you own onto a truck and hitting the road. While I don't believe you HAVE to hire a professional for a successful move, you do need to know what you are doing before you start loading up all of your belongings. Without some preparation, you could find yourself sorting through dozens of unlabeled boxes, desperately searching for a lost frying pan -- or worse yet, filling out damage claims, instead of enjoying your new home!
I once helped a friend pack, and was shocked to watch her put food and dishes and medicine and gardening supplies all in the same box. I asked why on earth she did this, and her response was, "That's just how I picked things up." Sure, she packed quickly -- but once she got to her new home, unpacking was a chaotic mess. My friend spent the next week hiking all over the house to put things where they belonged.
If you take the time to pack your treasures systematically by room -- storing all of the bedroom items in one set of boxes, those that will go in the bathroom in another, stuff for the kitchen in a third -- both packing and unpacking will go by twice as fast. Label each box with both the room it belongs to and its contents ("books," "cookware," "towels," etc.) Then create a master inventory list of all your boxes and their contents, according to room -- this will help you make sure nothing gets left behind in the move.
When packing your boxes, also think about how that container is going to function in transit. People often get in such a rush to move (or are so sick of packing) that they just throw things in boxes, without giving any thought to how that container will travel. Of course, the same people are the first to complain when they find their treasures broken and mutilated on the other end of the journey! Try not to exceed 50 pounds in each packed container -- otherwise they will be impossible to carry, and your boxes may collapse or burst open from the weight. As you pack, place heavier items on the bottom and lighter items on top. Your containers will be more stable and less likely to tip over as the truck bounces and jiggles around. Pack your boxes tightly to avoid shifting, the number one cause of damage during moves. And be sure to use strong twine or threaded packing tape to thoroughly seal your containers -- don't just fold the flaps in over themselves, unless you want everything spilling out as the truck is unloaded.
Packing Fragile Items
Many people are afraid to pack their own valuables, choosing instead the expense and risk of hiring a mover. But it's easy to keep breakables from being damaged in transit. If you still have the item's original packaging, use that during your move -- especially electronic equipment and knicknacks that came with specially-molded styrofoam. Clean crumpled paper, bubble wrap, and peanuts are great for cushioning breakables -- don't be afraid to use too much padding, especially for items that might get chipped or bent. Compartmentalized boxes (like those used for transporting stemware) will also keep fragile objects from bumping together. Try to sit items flat on one side or another -- storing breakable items at strange angles is inviting damage.
Moving furniture can often pose a problem -- more because of an item's size and bulkiness than its fragility. With many pieces, you must also take steps to protect finished surfaces from mars and scratches -- which are easily avoided by covering each piece of furniture with a sheet, blanket, or paper. Be sure to pad corners with extra foam or blankets (these always seem attracted to door frames and sharp corners!) It's a tempting and efficient use of space to store clothing and linens inside of chests and dressers as you move them. Just make sure you aren't overloading the drawers, which can cause furniture joints to separate and collapse. To protect mirrors, pictures, and glass shelves, wrap each piece in a blanket, tape securely, and mark with a note not to sit anything on top of that package. And use only blank newsprint to avoid ink smudges on your belongings, especially lampshades and fabric-covered items.
Some items are difficult or dangerous to transport, unless you prepare them carefully ahead of time. Start by draining all fluids (oil, gas, etc.) from your power and yard tools so they won't leak, then dispose of corrosive and volatile chemicals such as oil, antifreeze, paint, and gasoline -- these should not travel with you. You can do serious damage to your appliances if they aren't properly stabilized for travel -- so block your washer agitator to keep it from shifting and secure all mechanical parts and power cords. Once you have cleaned out your refrigerator and freezer, leave the doors open to decrease the humidity. And before putting any "damp" appliances on the truck, place a piece of charcoal or layer of baking soda in the bottom to prevent mildew and musty smells. If you plan to transport a piano, have a trained piano mover prepare your instrument for travel. Talk to your local nursery about transporting any plants, and your vet about traveling with your pet.
Packing Doesn't Stop With The Boxes
So, you've successfully packed all of your stuff into containers -- don't take a break yet! Whether you are hiring movers or getting a U-Haul, you still need to make sure that your belongings are put on the truck the right way. Many people load their furniture on first, but this is actually counter-intuitive. Think about it -- when you are ready to unpack and get settled in, what should go into each room first? Boxes, or the furniture that will hold the contents of those boxes?
Start by packing items you won't need right away -- holiday dishes, off-season clothes, memorabilia, boxes of books -- on the front of the truck (nearest the cab). Make sure to leave room for those things you will want to set up immediately -- the beds, the coffee pot, towels, sheets -- near the back or on top of other items. Don't be afraid to load your truck to the ceiling or tie items down -- a tightly-packed load is less likely to shift during transit, meaning less chance of damage.
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