How to Pack Like a Pro in 8 Easy Steps

Dawn M. Smith
Written by Dawn M. Smith
Updated January 7, 2022
Couple unpacking boxes in a new home
Photo: zoranm / E+ / Getty Images

Let’s get down to the business of packing

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Whether it’s your first time moving, or your tenth, one thing remains the same—packing can be daunting. Between getting moving boxes and organizing your belongings, it can all feel a bit overwhelming. But with a little planning and prioritizing, you can streamline your packing and focus on your next big step—moving day. 

Here’s how to pack for a move like a pro in eight simple steps. 

1. Prep for Your Move by Decluttering and Purging

Save yourself time and money by getting rid of items you don’t love or use regularly. You’ll be happy you did when it comes down to the time-consuming nitty-gritty of wrapping and boxing your items. Make a plan to donate, sell, or recycle household goods to help you avoid paying for long or short-term storage of unwanted belongings. 

Here’s a tip—keep your old linens (like blankets, towels, tablecloths, and even t-shirts and socks) to use as packing material. If you need some ideas for donation location,  check out these organizations:

2. Collect DIY Moving Supplies

Tape gun on top of a cardboard box
Photo: Westend61 / Getty Images

Consider using a mix of recycled and new moving supplies for a DIY move. You’ll save money and reduce waste by keeping packing materials out of the landfill. Consider these supplies an ideal moving-starter kit: 

  • Packing materials: packing paper and peanuts, tissue, bubble wrap

  • Heavy-duty packing tape

  • Plastic bags for storing small pieces and parts

  • Thick markers for labeling

  • Utility knife and scissors

  • Stretch plastic wrap (protects large furniture from knicks and scratches)

3. Gather an Assortment of Moving Boxes 

Of course, the most important component of a move is moving boxes. Start your quest to find them early, so you have the right amount of moving boxes. You can buy boxes from hardware stores and moving companies, but to cut your costs, search for free boxes.  

Ask employees at grocery and liquor stores, department stores, big-box stores, and office supply shops if you can recycle their boxes headed to the dumpster. You can also let neighbors know you need moving boxes. Most people who have recently unpacked are thrilled to offload the empty boxes and packing materials. A good mix of moving boxes includes: 

  • A selection of sturdy, small, medium, large and extra-large boxes 

  • Wardrobe boxes 

  • Dish-pack boxes 

  • Boxes with individual cells for glassware 

  • Mattress boxes 

  • Artwork and mirror boxes

How to Prepare Your Boxes for Loading 

Make sure your boxes are sturdy and have closable flaps. Reinforce the bottom seams with packing tape. You should also add layers of packing material to the bottoms of the boxes used for breakables to avoid damage from drops, overstacking, and moisture.

4. Pack Non-Essential Items Early

Man sitting on a table packing books in a box
Photo: luza studios / E+ / Getty Images

Sometimes the most challenging part of packing is knowing where to start. Pick a corner of each room for workspace and box the items you aren’t using every day. Most often, you can make headway if you pack: 

  • Out of season items like holiday decorations or summer clothing

  • Decorating items

  • Books 

  • Collectibles

  • Keepsakes

5. Wrap Items With Care

When you’re moving, it's the tried and true packing tips and tricks that help you make speedy progress and protect fragile items from damage. 

  • Max-out your boxes at 50 pounds or less. The heavier they are, the more likely they’ll bottom out. 

  • Remember that professional movers stack boxes in the truck, so don’t overstuff. A bulging box can topple over. 

  • Ask your mover if you can leave clothes in the dressers. Some companies will plastic wrap the drawers shut. 

  • Leave your hanging clothes on the hangers and drop them directly into wardrobe boxes (they have metal hang bars inside).

  • Wrap each breakable (dishes, serveware) individually, like you would a gift. Then bundle three to five pieces and wrap with more paper around the entire bundle. 

  • Load the bundles on their sides (like files) into the box. Dishes laid flat break easier. 

  • Place glasses and stemware rim side down at the top of boxes if you don't have packs with built-in cells. 

  • Wrap frames and art in heavy packaging paper and bubble wrap. 

  • Use specialty mirror boxes. 

  • Reuse the original TV boxes to pack your TV. If you don’t have them, you can use mirror boxes. 

  • Place small appliances in paper and bubble wrap, then secure them in boxes only slightly larger than the item.

6. Pack Unused Rooms First  

It’s easier for some homeowners to start packing the rooms they use least and then tackle the most used rooms closer to move-out day. If you have any of these rooms or spaces in your house, you can make big strides toward moving day by packing them first. 

  • Garage

  • Shed

  • Attic

  • Crawl space 

  • Guest room

  • Closets

7. Label Boxes With Your Essentials

Woman labeling cardboard box with a marker
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Because the last box loaded is the first unloaded, fill those boxes with items you’ll need right away, like toiletries, towels, dinner plates, utensils, and cleaning supplies. It’s also a good idea to toss in the “small-parts bags” with screws, nuts, and bolts for beds and other need-to-have furniture.

Pack together computer cables and TV remotes and label everything, so you know which cords go with which items. Don’t forget to take pictures of your electronics and computer connections. They’ll help you reassemble faster.

8. Keep Your Valuables With You and Check the “Don’t Pack” List  

Some things are better left off in the moving truck. Either because they’re sentimental, irreplaceable, or potentially dangerous. First, ask your moving company about household items not to pack. Then, double-check these everyday items haven’t made their way into the moving boxes. 

  • Cash, cell phone, tablets

  • Family photos

  • Prescription medicine: people and pets 

  • Moving documents: bill of lading, receipts 

  • Valuable collections: baseball cards, jewelry, coins

  • Legal documents: deeds, wills, divorce decrees

  • Financial papers: banking, investments, insurance

  • Flammable household items: nail polish remover, paint, paint thinner, lighter fluid matches, gasoline

  • Propane containers 

  • Chemicals: automotive repair, pool, yard 

  • Fireworks

  • Oxygen bottles

  • Firearms

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