How to Pack for a Move

Packing up and moving isn’t easy. Here are some tips and tricks that will help you pack like a pro.

If you’re like us, the mere thought of packing for your apartment makes you cringe. Cramming everything you own into boxes isn’t fun, and your breakables—those vintage teapots, precious glass vases, and framed art—are at risk any time you move from point A to point B

The good news? You’re not alone. We’ve all been there, suffering through the stress of packing at some point in our lives (11% of Americans moved during the pandemic alone, according to a Zillow survey).

So to help you feel slightly more relaxed before your big day, here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind before you start packing.

And if you want to stay on top of your game around your move—click below for a mobile-friendly checklist of general steps to follow in the months and days leading up to your move.

Download Moving Checklist

Be the early bird

Just as with many other things in life, when it comes to packing, starting early pays off (even if it’s tempting to binge White Lotus instead).

First step: Deciding what you actually want or need to lug with you to your new home. “Streamline, toss and donate any unwanted items—anything you really don’t need, in essence any ‘future trash,'” counsels Nancy Zafrani, general manager at Oz Moving & Storage in New York.

It’s best if you begin the packing party with the things you don’t use on the regular—like off-season clothes, decorations for a holiday that just ended, or books you’re good and done with. That way, as moving day approaches, your task won’t be so daunting. If you want even more specific, step-by-step tips to keep in mind, we’ve got you covered.

Find the right size boxes, and load them logically

Let’s start with a simple rule. Repeat after us:

Heavy items go into small boxes, and lighter items should go into big boxes 

So put that your collected set of tax records from 2000 to 2020 in a small moving box, and save light rain- and hiking-gear for a relatively large-sized box—this way you’re using your space efficiently, and all boxes will weigh more or less the same. No matter how athletic you might be, you certainly don’t want to fill a repurposed refrigerator box with heavy textbooks.

In order to be able to choose the exact right box size for your needs, you should make sure you get an assortment of them in different sizes. Local grocery or appliance stores might be a good place to start if you’re looking to score some free boxes. If your budget allows, and you want to avoid waste, also consider renting reusable moving boxes from a company like NYC’s Gorilla Bins, or Juggleboxes, recommended by Rob the Mover.

How to Pack for a Move Like a Pro
Wait, did I not stack these properly?!

If your moving containers get too heavy, you’ll risk injuring yourself once you try lifting. And if you’ve paid movers to schlep your stuff, they won’t want to risk throwing out their backs while they haul your stuff. Also, if the boxes are too full or heavy, the likelihood increases that your movers accidentally drop—and break!—your belongings. (While we’re on the subject of damage, here’s an explainer that breaks down what you should know about moving insurance.)

According to tips that NYC moving company Divine Moving & Storage offer on their site, the rule of thumb is not to exceed 50 pounds of stuff in each box. 

Avoid half-full boxes

Sure, you shouldn’t overpack a box, but the same is true for under packing. Avoid filling up your boxes only half way. Half-full boxes create a problem when they’re stacked, since they can become unstable. Items inside might start shifting, damaging other contents, leading to avoidable chaos in the moving truck.

If you’ve got a half-full box, try to load it up with lighter items or, alternatively, fill in the empty space with some relatively eco-friendly alternatives to styrofoam packing peanuts. Generally, make sure to put all heavier items in the bottom of the box, and pack the lighter ones on top.

Use wardrobe boxes for your clothes.

Wardrobe boxes can be filled easily and protect your clothes on a hanger from getting creased (or damaged) on the way over to your new house. You can check with your movers to see if they’ll provide you with the boxes or order the special boxes yourself.

Use wardrobe boxes for your clothes.
“I got boxes, they’re multiplying…”

The delicate art of packing breakable items

Make use of towels and sheets

Don’t make the mistake of packing all your towels, sheets, and wooly sweaters into the same container. Ration them out and instead use them as an easy cushion on the bottom of boxes that you’re planning to fill with breakables. That’s simple (and cheap) ingenuity!

Choose the right technique to pack your valuables

When it comes to wrapping your plates, porcelain cups, Precious Moments figurines, or that boot-shaped beer mug you got at Octoberfest—make sure to wrap each piece separately. You can use packing paper (recommended!), bubble-wrap, or newspapers. Be warned, newspapers might leave stains.

Pro-tip from the site of NYC-based Rabbit Movers: Stack your dishes vertically instead of horizontally, as they are less likely to break this way. Wrap each plate individually, then create a bundle of 4 to 5 plates—and wrap again. 

Double-check your boxes with fragile content

Once you’ve finished packing the boxes with your cups, plates, and so on, lightly shake each of them to check that nothing inside has room to move, writes NYC moving company Moishe’s Moving Systems. Don’t go overboard with the shaking, of course.

Be organized… and label your boxes

Pack similar things into one box

During the packing process, make sure you pack one room at a time. Keep the things that will go back into the same room of your new apartment together; it’ll save you a headache when you’re unpacking.

Label all your boxes

Make sure to include information about: 

  • What’s in the box (e.g. “winter boots and soccer balls,” “kitchenware and Stephen King novels”)
  • The room where your box should be left in the new apartment
  • If the ingredients of the moving box are breakable or not (“Fragile Stuff Careful Careful Careful!!!”)

In addition, you can choose a color for each room and buy yourself some colored Post-Its. This way, you can easily keep track of how many boxes go into each of your rooms—making it easier to check, once you’ve arrived in your new home, if everything has actually arrived at its destination.

Zafrani of Oz Moving has a few further tips when it comes to labeling and stickering

  • Use a good, thick black Sharpie marker
  • Invest in a few specialty stickers (like “FRAGILE”), and bright colored tape to differentiate locations or just make your boxes stand out
  • Consider tamper-resistant box seals to assure nothing was opened in transit
  • Write your name and phone number on every box as added security

All tapes are not created equal

Hey, we get lazy too. Sometimes all you have at home is a single role of Scotch tape, and instead of running to the store, you try to secure a moving box with 100 tiny pieces.

But trust us, you’ll want to use real packing tape that’ll survive your move. “We prefer the brown packing tape over clear,” offers Zafrani of Oz Moving. “It has a bit more stretch to it.”

Repurpose your stuff to carry your stuff

Don’t overlook things you’re bringing anyway, like empty suitcases or laundry baskets. Use them as containers to pack your clothes into; you can even roll slightly more delicate belongings up into t-shirts or sweatpants for an extra buffer.

Save those screws

If you’ve got a lot of IKEA furniture, you might not be disassembling it to bring with you on your move. But if you’ve got sturdier shelves or smaller furniture that has a longer life, you might want to break it down to save space.

If you do, keeps all the accompanying screws and small parts in a plastic bag, and don’t just tape it loosely to the disassembled furniture pieces.

Take what’s most valuable with you, and don’t let it be handled by your movers.
Take what’s most valuable with you, and don’t let it be handled by your movers.

Keep your most valuable items with you

When it comes to the items that are most valuable to you, don’t rely on others. Your laptop, phone, jewelry, and so on should all go with you, and not your movers. Even if you have arranged some moving insurance, it most likely won’t cover high-value items. So if something should happen, you’ll have to pay for it. The same applies to any of your important documents, such as your passport, birth certificate etc. 

Pack a box or a suitcase of essentials

You’ll want to make sure all the things you’ll need during the first few (hectic) days are easily accessible. By packing a box full of essentials, you won’t have to unpack 10 boxes in order to track down your toothbrush. 

Piece of Cake Moving recommends including the following::

  • Phone and laptop chargers
  • Toilet paper, toothbrush, and other basic toiletries
  • Essential medication
  • A change of clothes
  • Some water and snacks
  • Clean linens

Before you go…

Once you’re done packing up all your belongings there’s nothing left but to wait for your movers to show up. Here’s to new beginnings!

If you’ve got a few minutes to spare while you wait—and aren’t currently covered—why not see how much it’d cost to get a Lemonade Renters policy for your new place? It’ll protect your valuable stuff against theft and other damages, with rates as low as $5 a month. Get started by clicking the button below.

Alisa Sternheim-Hirsch

Alisa Sternheim-Hirsch is a Content Strategist at Lemonade, and also the proud holder of a BA in psychology and an MA in organizational behavior. She writes about insurance in multiple languages, and nerds out over behavioral economics.


Please note: Lemonade articles and other editorial content are meant for educational purposes only, and should not be relied upon instead of professional legal, insurance or financial advice. The content of these educational articles does not alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade, which differ according to your state of residence. While we regularly review previously published content to ensure it is accurate and up-to-date, there may be instances in which legal conditions or policy details have changed since publication. Any hypothetical examples used in Lemonade editorial content are purely expositional. Hypothetical examples do not alter or bind Lemonade to any application of your insurance policy to the particular facts and circumstances of any actual claim.