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So ... how do you pack a box?

Dear Moving Lady:
My husband's company just transferred him from the East Coast to the West Coast. This is our first move in twenty years and I have no idea how to start packing. Can you help?

Packing? Are you asking the right person? Anyone who has ever seen me wrap a Christmas gift, let alone pack a box, will be laughing too hard to read the rest of this article. My book was about unpacking your stress centers, not packing boxes.

Still, The Moving Lady has a reputation to protect, so here goes.

I always recommend that people have the movers do the packing if at all possible. They pack fast and they'll be responsible for damage. If your husband's company pays for the move, they probably include this service.

Moving can be physically exhausting. The moving companies tend to hire very young people as packers. I work out and stay in shape, yet I was exhausted last time I got ready for the move! I recommend that you get at least some help, even if you have to bribe the neighborhood teenager.

There are no great secrets to packing boxes. I've watched the pros and the main virtue they have is speed. They bring a huge supply of boxes, toss everything in more or less neatly, seal each box as it fills, and open another. Some use newspaper as filler for fragile items; others use that popcorn stuff.

When I pack, I prefer to wrap fragile items in clothes, towels, sheets and other cloth items that I'm taking anyway. Why move packing material that you don't need?

The most common mistake is to pack too much into a box. If it's too heavy the movers may refuse to pick it up.

If you hire packers, they will tell you what to do. (Don't even try to argue.) Be sure everything is clean and dry. If possible, organize possessions by the way you will unpack them: put living room stuff in living room. Otherwise, the only question they usually ask is, "Does this go or stay?"

If you pack yourself:

First, pack up the items you won't need and ship them to the Salvation Army. When in doubt, DON'T toss items -- there will be a Salvation Army at the other end.

Second, pack one room at a time. Label the boxes. The movers will give you special boxes for breakables and mirrors if you're determined to do it yourself. They should give you wardrobe boxes for clothes, so you can just lift clothes from closet to box. If you have the original boxes for computers, television, and VCR, use them.

Third, get on the web and look up moving company sites. Nearly every site has a collection of excellent tips for packing. They even have creative ideas like tagging rooms with different color tape. Your own moving company will probably give you more booklets than you have time to read.


Fourth, start early! Begin collecting boxes as soon as possible. If you have valuables that are irreplaceable or very expensive, arrange your own insurance and get appraisals before you turn them over to the moving company.

It can be very hard to collect for those items, even if you sue and get a jury trial; jurors and moving companies don't believe (or don't want to believe) how expensive these special items can be. And your irreplaceable items may, in the eyes of the court, have zero value.


Fifth, have a camera and film handy and be prepared to photograph every aspect of the move -- the documentation will be valuable if you have disputed claims.


Sixth, take the pets with you in the car or as checked baggage. If you move in summer, the airline may refuse to accept animals for shipment. You may be able to bring one into the cabin if you reserve ahead of time.


Finally, you will have at least one crisis during your move. Something will break, someone will not show up on time, something will disappear (hopefully not the whole moving van). That is normal. Read my article about packing an emotional first aid kit.

Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. is an author, career coach, and speaker. She works with mid-career professionals who want to make a fast move to career freedom. Visit her site http://www.movinglady.com or call 505-534-4294.


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