A friend of mine is moving soon, and earlier this week I helped her start packing. (I love packing. Yes, I'm weird.)
Here's a list of things to assemble for a packing job:
- packing tape and gun
- newspaper or plain newsprint
- gloves (optional)
- masking tape (optional)
- markers and/or stickers
- large, clear plastic lawn refuse bags
Before you start, put the rolls of tape, tape gun, and markers or stickers in a small, clear plastic container like one of these, so that you don't "lose" them in the chaos of packing. There's nothing more irritating than reaching for your marker and realizing you can't find it because you don't remember where you last set it down. Just remember to keep putting everything back into the plastic container, and you'll always know where it is.
You can buy new boxes from moving companies, moving supply stores, or many storage rental facilities. You can also get free boxes from grocery stores or liquor stores, but I don't recommend it, since the boxes will be all different sizes and will make packing the truck more difficult on moving day. The ideal is to have uniform boxes in two or three sizes: smaller ones for heavy items like books, and larger ones for lighter and bulkier items.
I've always had success buying used boxes from box brokers or recyclers. Many of the "used" ones aren't even used - they're overruns from packaging companies. They're also much cheaper than retail. Look in the yellow pages under "Boxes - Used" or do an online search using the keywords "used boxes."
Packing tape and gun.
Hearken to what I say: do not be a cheapskate when it comes to packing tape and packing guns. I bought a six-pack of Staples' least-expensive tape when I first started my organizing business, and it was a decision I regretted whenever I used the stuff. I still have a couple of those rolls kicking around, and they are the source of much under-the-breath cursing every time I lose the end of the tape and have to spend five minutes scraping up the (frequently splitting) edge with my fingernail.
Splurge on the expensive brands. Your nerves with thank you.
By the same token, a cheap tape gun will also drive you up the wall - the tape will stick to the mechanism, or it won't roll freely on the spindle. Do you actually need a tape gun? Yes. It's much quicker and neater than applying the tape manually, and the cutting edge saves you the endless contortions of trying to find the scissors you've lost somewhere on the floor underneath your piles of stuff.
If you really don't want to spring for the tape gun, try this little tape dispenser from Staples; it comes with one roll of the horrible Staples tape (I recommend pitching the latter - or gifting it to someone you dislike), but I love the minimalist design of the dispenser, and it really does the job.
Some notes on tape gun form (don't laugh, but I've seen too many people use the guns awkwardly or improperly): touch the end of the tape where you'd like to begin taping (I recommend you give yourself a good four or five inches of tape on the sides, before you come up and over the top), and press down on the box with the roller as you begin to draw the tape along the centre line where the two flap edges meet.
Roll the gun a few inches down the opposite side, and press down with the guard to tear the tape against the cutting edge and flatten the cut end. The beauty of a tape gun is that you only need one hand for the entire action; if you find yourself doing anything more with your other hand than holding the flaps or keeping the box steady, you're probably doing it wrong.
You also shouldn't need more than one pass of the tape over the opening, unless the first line was crooked and didn't catch both flaps evenly. The exception is if the box is going to hold something heavy (like books or magazines, or a rock collection); in that case, add a few extra swipes of tape (parallel to the centre line) on the sides of each flap when you're closing the bottom.
Make sure that all the tape ends are adhered; if they're loose, they'll catch on something at an inopportune moment and pull the entire strip of tape off when you least expect it. Whatever you do, don't fold the box (top or bottom) shut with that nifty, tuck-in-the-four-corners technique you were so proud to master as a kid: it weakens the cardboard, and is less structurally sound than folding the flaps flat.
And don't even think about moving open or lidless boxes. Shame on you.
Newspaper or plain newsprint.
You can buy plain newsprint wherever you buy new boxes, but if you're wrapping items that won't be stained by the ink, it's okay to use newspaper instead. I recommend using gloves (see below for details), especially if you choose the newspaper. Your hands are going to get very dirty from the dust on your things and the newspaper ink, and if you don't wear gloves you're going to get VERY cranky by the sixth or seventh time you wash your (now-chapping) hands.
Paper is necessary not only for wrapping breakable items, but also (crumpled into balls) for cushioning them, and for filling in empty spaces in all the boxes.
My dad worked as a mover when he was in his early 20s, and one of the best skills he ever taught me was how to pack a box. Above all, make sure that the boxes are packed "square": fill every nook and cranny with crumpled newspaper, so that the cardboard won't sag and damage the contents, or cause the boxes tip over when they are stacked miles-high on moving day.
I always make sure I have way more paper than I think I'll ever need; you don't want to be in the middle of packing one night and realize you've just run out.
I like those surgical-style latex or nitrile ones you can buy in boxes of 100. You can never have too many of them - they're handy for all sorts of odd jobs around the house.
Because I always save my moving boxes and reuse them for other things, I don't like to write with a permanent marker directly on the box. Instead I use a strip of wide masking tape on the top of each box, and write a label on the tape with the marker. Afterwards the tape can be pulled off without damaging the box.
*later addition to this tip (got it from my sister after she moved in July 2007): You can also write directly on the clear packing tape with a Sharpie marker. Then when you remove the tape, the label is gone at the same time.
Markers and/or stickers.
I use Sharpies for marking. I hate them because of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds, aka smelly solvents), but they do the job.
If you want to get fancy and print labels for your boxes, go ahead. Myself, I find it takes too much time, plus I like the flexibility of handwriting the information on masking tape. Some organizers recommend using colour-coded stickers to indicate which boxes came from/go into which rooms. This is especially useful if there are multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, and your movers aren't going to want to take the time to interpret directions such as "the smaller bedroom" or "the north-east ensuite." Post the corresponding colour on the door of each room, and it's a no-brainer.
When labelling a box I also like to include a brief description of its contents. This saves time when I'm unpacking and I want to get the essentials out first and save the less-important stuff for later. It also helps if you need to unpack a particular item very quickly, since you don't have to go searching through several boxes before you find the one thing.
Large, clear plastic lawn refuse bags.
These bags are one of my all-time favorite organizing items. (Click here for another use I mentioned in a recent post.) They're quick, large, lightweight, versatile, and re-usable - plus when you use the clear ones (rather than opaque garbage bags) you can immediately see what's inside.
I love them for moving, and have used them to transport clothes (just don't pack them too full, or they'll be too heavy), wicker baskets, hangers, bedding, pillows and cushions, and some of my fabric and yarn stash. I've also used them to wrap large items like ironing boards, lamps, and brooms or mops. Just don't pack anything breakable in them - although the great thing is, if you use clear bags, at least you can SEE that the items are breakable.
As an addendum to this category, I should mention that I've also used clear plastic disposable drop cloths (I get them at paint stores) to wrap really large items like mattresses.
Finally, I love using large plastic totes for moving, but you might not want to go to the expense of buying them for a single use (the move). If you know you need more storage bins, by all means buy them before the move and use them for storage afterwards. They're great because they stack well and pile high.
copyright 2007 Michelle Lynne Goodfellow