How to Pack for a Move: The Ultimate Checklist

The prospect of a new home is exciting. Packing up and moving your stuff – not so much.

We asked Sarah Roussos-Karakaian, whose New York company We OrgaNYzespecializes in packing and unpacking for residential moves, to help us design the perfect stress-free move.

“The biggest mistake people make when they pack,’’ she says, “is not being specific enough.”

Taking time on the front end to organize will ensure a much better moving and unpacking experience. Here’s a week-by-week checklist for moving to help you manage your schedule:


  • Start a folder or binder. Keep everything related to your move in one place: packing lists, estimates, receipts, mortgage paperwork, etc.
  • Do an inventory. Go room by room estimating the cubic footage of your stuff to determine how many boxes you’ll need. Measure big furniture to figure out what goes where in the new home.
  • Purge what you can. Everything you take will cost money to move, so don’t cart the same unused stuff from attic to attic; be ruthless and get rid of it. Sell it on eBay, or donate it, and take a tax deduction.
  • Order new appliances. If your new home doesn’t come with a refrigerator or stove, or needs an upgrade, order now, so the appliances are delivered before you move in.


    • Research moving companies. Get in-person, written estimates, and check references with the Better Business Bureau.
    • Retain any specialty movers. Moving expensive or fragile items like art, antiques, or a grand piano? Find movers who specialize. Pool tables, for example, typically require an expert to dismantle and reconstruct.
    • Review your mover’s insurance. Ensure the liability insurance your prospective movers carry will cover the replacement value of anything they might damage.
    • Call utility companies. Arrange to have utilities turned off at your old home and turned on at your new place. Find out dates for garbage and recyclable pickup, as well as any restrictions about having packing debris picked up.
    • Make travel arrangements. Moving long distance or shipping a vehicle? Make travel and auto transport arrangements now. Pets? Schedule kennel time or ask a friend to keep your 4-legged friends out of the moving chaos.
    • Gear up for packing. Some movers provide boxes. Stores like Home DepotLowes and Staples sell them. And some retailers or company mailrooms give them away. Get more boxes than you think you’ll need, particularly easy-to-lift small ones. Don’t forget packing tape, colored tape and markers for coding boxes, bubble wrap for mirrors and prints, and packing peanuts.


  • Start packing seldom-used items. Box out-of-season clothes and holiday ornaments before moving on to more frequently used items.
  • Track boxed items. Create a spreadsheet with color-coded rows for each room and enough columns to cover all the boxes per room. As you pack, mark and number each box (e.g., “Kitchen 12”) on its 4 vertical sides (the top is hidden when boxes are stacked) with the relevant tape color. As you seal each box, list its contents in your spreadsheet, so you AND the movers will know what’s in each and where it goes.
  • Use specialty containers. Get specialized boxes for TVs and wardrobes. Pull garbage bags over hanging clothes in clumps and tie the bags’ strings around the bunched hangers to keep contents clean and easy to handle. (Color-code these bundles, too.) Seal liquids in plastic storage tubs with lids.
  • Keep hardware together. Put screws and other hardware from anything you disassemble – sconces, TV wall mounts, shelves, etc. – in sealed plastic bags taped to the items themselves. Just be careful not to affix the bags onto a surface that could be damaged by the tape’s adhesive.
  • Change your address. Fill out USPS forms to have your mail forwarded to your new address. Give your new address to family members, your banks and credit card companies, magazines and newspapers, the Department of Motor Vehicles and your employer. There’s an extensive list of organizations and businesses you might want to inform at


  • Finish packing the house. Label the boxes you pack last that contain your most-used items – laptops, phones, everyday dishes, remote controls, etc. – with 3 strips of colored tape. Tell movers to keep these boxes easily accessible in the new location.
  • Confirm your dates. Call utility companies to make sure your services are scheduled to be connected the correct day, and double-check the move time with the movers. If you’ve arranged to have your old home cleaned, it’s smart to double check that task, too.
  • Defrost your fridge and drain gas-powered equipment. Unplug the refrigerator to give it time to defrost and drain. Drain gas and oil from mowers and similar equipment, and discard the fluids properly.
  • Create a “First Night Kit.” Pack a box or overnight bag for each family member with a change of clothes, toiletries and medications, plus favorite toys for kids and pets. Include cleaning supplies, toilet paper, snacks, a utility knife (for unpacking) and a first aid kit.
  • Pack your valuables. Carry jewelry, medications, easily-damaged items and other valuables with you.
  • Do last-minute errands. Get cash to tip the movers and buy pizza for the family. Take pets to a kennel or drop them off with a friend. Pick up the keys to your new home.

Moving Day

  • Arrive ahead of the moving truck. Give yourself plenty of time to figure out furniture arrangement and where things go.
  • Direct the operation. Explain your system to the moving firm’s foreman, and give him a copy of the spreadsheet before his team begins working.
  • Take care of your movers. Moving is tough work, so plan to provide water and lunch for the movers. As for tipping: For a half-day job, $10 per mover is the rule of thumb; for a full-day, $20 each.
  • Give your old home a clean sweep. If you’re a homeowner, you’ll probably have to do this before the closing. If you rent and have a security deposit, take photos after you’re done – in case of disputes.
  • Unpack the bedrooms. Arrange the furniture first to make sure there’s a clear path to the bed. Make the beds NOW, so at the end of the day, everyone can just tumble in – exhausted.