Packing Up Again

For those of you who are wondering where I've been, we're currently in the middle of our third family move in the last 25 months. We're starting to get good at it, but it still takes a while. Since I've got a few minutes to spare this morning - and I'm fed up with boxes and tape - I thought I'd share a few of the tips I've picked up.

Given how often academics move, I'd guess that some of you have your own hard-learned moving tips. Feel free to share them in the comments.

  • U-Haul Rocks: Seriously. Yes, sometimes Budget is cheaper, but unless you're getting a 10' truck U-Haul has something that the others don't: a low deck. After the fourth or fifth trip up the ramp, you will really start to notice the difference between a 25" deck and a 48" deck.
  • Books and other heavy items go in new boxes: Recycling boxes is a good idea. Putting 65 pounds of books in a box that's had tape ripped from it four or five times, not so much.
  • 14"x14"x14" Boxes: They're not as easy to find (or as cheap) as the standard moving box sizes, but they're absolutely perfect for paperback novels. You can fit more than 100 in one box, they pack easily, and the box weight will only come in at around 40 pounds.
  • Weigh your stuff before you load the truck: Especially if you're getting reimbursed based on the weight. There are two reasons for this. First, you'll know if you're anywhere near your maximum allowed weight for reimbursement purposes. Second, and possibly more important, you'll know if you're near or over the maximum load weight for the truck. You do not want to spend an hour unloading half a ton worth of boxes from the truck before you get to your destination. Trust me on that.
  • If you're using professional movers, feed them: A moving crew that doesn't have to buy their own lunches or snacks is a happy moving crew. A happy moving crew doesn't break as much.
  • If you're using professional movers, make sure they're hydrated: Provide lots of bottled water and gatorade, especially in the summer. Yes, OSHA says they're supposed to have a water jug for the truck, but it's not as appealing to most of them as the bottled option.
  • The last two points also apply if you've conned friends or family into helping you move.
  • If you're using your friends or family to help you move, hydration should never involve alcohol until the job is finished.
  • That goes for professional movers, too.
  • It's more environmentally sound to wrap fragile things in your linens: But if you use bubble wrap or newsprint you'll almost never have to pick glass splinters out of your ass in the middle of the night.

Let me know if you can think of things I've missed.


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When I moved from Denmark to Finland, the company provided the boxes. Which I still have, >11 years later, because they're strong, the right size, pack down well, and have holes for handles. I wouldn't put just books in them, though.

(and, yes, I should still reply to the Earth Day meme. I haven't forgotten, quite)

If you have many identical boxes: label them, at least the important ones (e.g. the one which contains your coffee maker).

You jest, JLT, until you're looking for the box with the toilet paper...

I should have read this before I put out a couple pitchers of beer :) And I thought we moved a lot! Actually, I've used Uhaul many times with mixed results but for our last move we tried one of those pods companies, because the reality is, I hate driving in the city and I hate having to run around to pick up the truck and drop it off (not to mention the act of driving to a new place.) Did you consider a pods company like Door to Door Moving http://www.doortodoor ? We found the whole experience pretty pleasant, although watch out for hidden fees and keep in mind there is a drop off and pick up charge.

@Bob: Most of the moving boxes usually survive reasonably well - particularly the small (1.5 cubic ft) ones. But we're moving a family of four, two of whom are academicish types. It takes lots of boxes, and not all of them are still viable come time for the next move.

I've found that the ones most likely to be trashed are the ones opened toward the end of the unpacking process, where patience levels are at their nadir.

@Ian: I thought about trying PODS or something similar, but there are a couple of issues. First of all, if I want the military to pay, I've got to provide them with both an empty and a loaded weight ticket, which doesn't seem to be part of the standard service. Second, and more importantly, the military doesn't reimburse, they pay. We give them those two weight tickets, and they pay us 95% of what they would have paid professional movers to pack and haul the same load. So it's very much in my interest to keep costs down.

I go with Bob. Having tried both US packing boxes and the Scandinavian style, the latter win hands (lids?) downâno need for tape, easily carried by the hole-handles and an optimal back-sparing size when reaching into them.

I prefer wrapping fragile items not in the linen but in fluffy sweaters, socks, etc. Easier to pack that way and stuffing socks inside bowls and the like cushions them against shocks even better.

Oh, and don't pack piano wire bent in slightly too small boxes, so it will straighten out with a *spoing* when you open the boxâ¦

When you get to your new place create a map of all the houses (or apartments) on your block. Put your new neighbor's names on the map so you can keep track of all the new names.

Never, and I mean NEVER, ask your new next door neighbor when her baby is due before being absolutely certain that she is actually pregnant rather than somewhat chubby.

Still sore, huh? Actually this is pretty good general life advice.

I went with UHaul once for a cross country move and found out the hard way they don't guarantee the availability of a truck you reserve (at least for out of town moves). A truck was not available until three days after I reserved it and I was still moving out of my apartment after the lease had ended (and the new people were trying to move in). During those three days, UHaul did not tell me what was going on, did not return phone calls, and never even gave me an estimate of when a truck would be available. They did not give me an extra three days on the back end of the reservation, yet still charged me the full amount (over $1000 for an initially 7 day rental). Only after I complained to the Better Business Bureau did UHaul do something about it -- by offering me $50 in coupons towards a future rental. Without a doubt, it was the worst experience I have ever had with a business.

I have gone with Penske ever since (3 more long distance moves) as they guarantee the reservations. The one time a truck was not available on time, they called me repeatedly beforehand and during the delay to keep me apprised and always gave me an estimate of when it would be available. It ended up being 3 hours late (on a 6 day rental) and they immediately knocked 25% off the entire rental without me even saying a word.

Aside from that bad UHaul experience, I find that the people and the experience with LOCAL UHaul moves to be fine. It appears that it is their non-local system that is a mess.

As for boxes, I find the the ones you can get at Office Max, Office Depot, Staples, etc. come in very handy. They all have packs of boxes about 15"x12"x10" that have lids and handholds and do not require tape (they assemble via folding only). Much easier to carry than the regular brown packing boxes when it comes to heavy things like books.

We've moved four times in 30 years, coast to coast twice and something less than coast to coast the other two times. The hassle was the same for each. My employer at the time paid professionals for each move, but that didn't relieve us of responsibility. Before moving I always drew up a floor plan of the new house with each piece of furniture marked, including the orientation. That relieved us of any guessing when the van arrived and enabled us to give the movers prompt and clear instructions as to where to place the heavy stuff. Also we, not the mover, always labeled each box both for contents and the room to which it should be delivered, and uniformly on two faces of the box, so we could always read a label without having to manhandle the box. And aside form the black markers one should also have a couple of utility knives. Opening taped boxes with the latter is much quicker and easier than ripping them open. It also means the boxes can be reused. Even now, I've still got boxes, all neatly flattened, stored on the rafters in our garage; some date from the 1970's and our first move and are still usable. Also, for the last two moves, we packed nearly everything ourselves, both books (when we last moved, we had 180 cartons of books) and fragiles; our breakage shrank noticeably. We've learned to pack both more reliably and with greater care than the professionals.

I prefer wrapping fragile items not in the linen but in fluffy sweaters, socks, etc. Easier to pack that way and stuffing socks inside bowls and the like cushions them against shocks even better.

Wow...what a coincidence. I start reading your blog again today, but I'm moving again in two days (sixth time in three years). I'll definitely look into the 14x14x14 boxes, as my books make up most of my stuff.