10 Tips to Master the Unpacking Process

Dawn M. Smith
Written by Dawn M. Smith
Updated January 10, 2022
A couple unpacking boxes in living room at new home
Photo: Maskot / Getty Images

You’ve worked hard planning move-out day, but don’t forget about unpacking strategies

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Everyone feels differently when it comes to moving into a new home. For some, the unpacking process fills them with energy and warm feelings of unknown opportunities; other people love anticipating what lies ahead but hate the drudgery of unpacking. Regardless of the camp you're in, using these 10 tried-and-true tips for unpacking boxes will make the home stretch of your move as smooth as possible.

1. Clean Your New House Before Unpacking

If luck is on your side and you can manage a cleanup before your official move-in date, take advantage of the access. Once you start unloading, you’ll have less opportunity and energy to dig into the house’s corners and crevices. Plus, you’ll feel a lot better starting your new chapter with a clean kitchen and bathroom.

2. Take Pictures Before You Pack

Have you thought about snapping pictures of your current setup before you pack? They could help you remember details like furniture layouts and how you used different decorating elements throughout the house. Images are handy when you're packing your computer and other electronics, as well. A few glances at a photo can help you reconnect cables and wires in no time.

3. Pre-Plan Furniture Placement

Part of the fun of moving is envisioning your belongings in a different space. Thankfully, housing apps and websites make it easy to find pictures of the new house you're buying or renting. The photos can help you map out the room and avoid moving large furniture multiple times throughout the space. 

Ideally, you’ll want the movers to bring in your large furniture into the new home before the smaller boxes. But you may have to ask if they can pack your truck with the furniture in the back of the vehicle to make this possible.

If you happen to have the keys to the new home before the moving truck arrives, a smart way to pre-plan furniture placement is to mark the furniture’s dimensions with painter’s tape on the floor. Your movers will thank you for the shortcut.

4. Ask the Movers to Use Your Organization Strategies

As much as you want your local moving company to empty the truck and be on their way, don’t let your pre-moving organization and labeling go to waste. Ask that each labeled moving box lands in the right room so you avoid scattering your goods throughout the house. Before the moving truck arrives, it's a good idea to create a moving box inventory list, and mark the less-than-obvious rooms with Post-its or signs so the movers know precisely where to stack the boxes.

5. Start Unpacking the Essentials First

A man unpacking in his new house
Photo: luza studios / E+ / Getty Images

Your “Essentials” or “Unload First Boxes” are the first boxes opened. They contain items like toiletries and medication that start the unpacking process on the right foot. If you forgot to collect these in one box, look for the hardware for your beds and some kitchen and bathroom supplies so you have comfort items immediately.

Do yourself another favor and make sure the movers assemble the beds ASAP. They’re time-consuming and often require two sets of hands to complete. At the end of the day, if the only things unpacked are the beds, you’re at least guaranteed a good night’s rest.

6. Break Down the Boxes As You Go

After you unpack each room, go ahead and break down the moving boxes. You’ll have more space to work and less clutter. It's helpful to have a garage or outdoor space to store them before you have the chance to give them away or while waiting for recycling day.

7. Unpack the Kitchen

Don’t worry. You have a little grace when unpacking the kitchen. Not every martini glass needs placement the first day, but your “new normal” comes together faster if you unpack the coffee maker, everyday dishes, pots and pans, utensils, and the microwave first. If you’re pressed for time, come back later to unpack rarely used items like serveware and holiday dishes.

8. Unpack the Bathrooms

Chances are, you’ve already loaded the toilet paper rolls and added a hand soap. Now, it's time to finish the job. Most bathrooms shouldn’t take too long to unpack, which thankfully is an easy win during a stressful transition. 

Add shower curtains for a much-needed hot shower later, unload your everyday toiletries, and you’ll start to see the finish line. If time is short, unpack what you need for comfortable living for the next couple of days. You can always come back to hang artwork later.

9. Prioritize the Boxes Room by Room

Unpack the rest of the rooms according to your priorities. For some, it's fully outfitting the bedrooms; for others, the main living room is more of a concern. Guest and utility rooms, basements, and outdoor storage usually rank toward the bottom of the priority list.

10. Consider Hiring a Professional Organizer

If your move was unexpected and you’re short on time or you're feeling overwhelmed while unpacking, consider hiring a moving organizer or a professional organizer near you. Each offers various services, from helping you unpack to creating strategies to stay organized post-move. Some will work with you from start to finish.

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