Unpacking After Moving: Just as Tough as Packing

unpacking moving boxes after a move
By the time the movers left her new home in Maplewood, N.J., Niamh Cahill was surrounded by more than 50 moving boxes. But after five weeks of packing for this move, she wasn't going to let unpacking a few moving boxes intimidate her.

The key to successfully unpack moving boxes, say experts, is to plan well on the packing end of your move. Cahill had placed colored stickers on her moving boxes, and provided the movers with a color-coded floor plan, so that boxes ended up in the proper rooms. She packed her moving boxes with only those items that corresponded to the specified rooms. And she made sure that the items that she would need to get her up and running quickly in her new home were at the ready.

It is that type of planning that will make unpacking moving boxes manageable, says Audrey Dickson, quotation analyst at U-Pack, a national moving company based in Fort Smith, Ark.

She and other experts offer these tips to make unpacking moving boxes go smoothly:

1. Last in, first out

"An unload is as good as its load," said Dickson. She's referring to how the movers load the moving boxes and furniture into the moving van. It's important, she said, to discuss with your movers what items are most essential to get your home up and running, and which ones will be put aside. "I advise bedroom furniture to be loaded last. That way, when it comes off the truck, it will be easy for the movers to carry it to bedrooms, and they won't have to traipse through piles of moving boxes in the living room."

2. Set up the most important room in the house first

"If what you need to do to feel at home is to have a meal with your family, then get the kitchen set up first," said Dickson. "Decide what will make you feel most in control of your new environment. If that means you are sleeping on the mattress on the floor until you can get to the bedrooms, then do it."

Itamar Kestenbaum, community manager of Moishe's Moving, based in Jersey City, N.J., agrees. "Tackle it room by room. It's the strategy for packing up, and it works just as well for unpacking," he said. "If the kids can unpack their own rooms, ask them to get started. It will help them get familiar with their new surroundings."

3. Break down tasks into manageable pieces

When it comes to unpacking, smaller deadlines are better than one big deadline, said Dickson. "Decide what rooms are most necessary to pull together, and focus on those."

Kestenbaum advises his clients to break each unpacking task into its smallest components. "If you are unpacking the living room, say, 'I'm going to unpack this bookshelf,' then take a break. If you are doing the bathroom, say, 'I'll finish the linen closet.' It's not overwhelming if you split it into smaller pieces."

4. Find a space to set aside things you don't know what to do with

You can lose your momentum if you get stuck trying to decide what to do with a piece of furniture, a moving box full of books, or that Crockpot that you haven't used in two years. Find a corner in the attic, basement or spare room where you can put moving boxes that you don't quite know what to do with, and get on with the task at hand, advises Dickson. "Moving is so emotional, and trying to part with things that mean something to you can be more stress than you need. So don't force yourself to make decisions. Put the item out of the way. And if, after three months, you still don't know what to do with the items, donate them or have a yard sale.

The "should they stay or should they go" items that Cahill grappled with most during her move were the 15 moving boxes of books that she ended up packing. A voracious reader who finds it difficult to part with anything she has read, she admits that she had second thoughts about her decision to not give any books away as she boxed them up. "While I was packing, I was worried that I would be swimming in books, and I would never get around to unpacking them," she said.

However, waiting for her in her new home was a wall of bookshelves in the attic. The previous owner of her new home, a former librarian who shared her love of books, had them built many years ago. So, Cahill placed colored stickers on her moving boxes that directed the movers to the attic, and while it took her a few weeks to get to those boxes, she said that she made the right decision. "All the books fit," she said. "Those were the easiest moving boxes to unpack."

"I'm pretty well-organized. And moving really improved my sense of organization," she said. "While I was packing, I saw everything I had, and planned what room it would go into in the new house. It took me a while to unpack, but I knew where everything was, and where it was going to go. It wasn't chaotic."


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