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How to Relocate Without Dislocating

Moving to a New Location?

Moving can be a traumatic experience. The best way to sidestep the trauma (and cut the time in half) is to use this simple technique: pack your things in the opposite order in which you will use them.

It takes a little thinking ahead, but it's easy and works incredibly well.

Follow these steps:

1. Gather Your Supplies:

  • Cardboard boxes (I prefer bankers boxes which cost only $1.00 each when you buy them 6 or 10 to a pack. Advantages over regular boxes: Bankers boxes have handles and lids; you can write on the sides; they stack well, and look organized and uniform; they can fit most household goods; when you want something they're easy to get into; they don't fall apart; and they're reusable.)
  • Lots of labels, large enough to read from a distance (about 4" x 4") (You could write directly on the sides of the boxes, but not if they are already covered with writing.)
  • Large rolls of tape and at least one tape gun
  • One big binder, with plain paper (not lined), three-hole punched
  • Carbon paper
  • Large tipped felt pens and regular ball point pens

    2. If you don't do this next step you'll be sorry later!

    Create a "Central Headquarters" by setting up an area that's out of the general traffic flow, will not be disturbed throughout the entire move, and is close to the main door and the phone. A medium-sized table is perfect.

    This is now your command post for the move. Don't use your desk or kitchen table—moving papers and supplies will get mixed in with others and you'll regret it. Create a special area, well away from other stuff, where you can answer questions, plot furniture layouts, find moving supplies, store extra boxes and spare lids, etc.

    After each session of packing, return all supplies to this table. Tell everyone to make sure the scissors, tape, etc. are returned to Central HQ.

    3. Packing:

    This is the key to your entire move: PACK BACKWARDS. That means packing FIRST the things you won't until LAST. Then pack things you'll need medium soon, and last of all pack the things you'll need first.


  • Pick one room. Let's start with the kitchen.
  • Ask yourself, "What will I not use for five years? Don't laugh—I'll bet you have stuff you haven't SEEN in longer than that!
  • Now grab your binder full of paper and a sheet of carbon paper. Slip the carbon between the first two sheets and write on the top sheet the number 1. Next to that put a large letter E, which stands for five years. (See the end of this article for the codes.)
  • Open the cupboards and pull out everything you won't use for five years. Pack it in a box.
  • Label ALL FOUR SIDES of the box the same as the page: "1 E". Now add the word "Kitchen", because that's where the stuff is going when you get into your new place.
  • On the first (and carbon) page in the binder, list everything you're putting in the box.
  • When the box is full, take the carbon out, tear off the second sheet and tape it to the top of the box. Leave the top copy in the binder. You will eventually have a master list here.
  • Tape the box shut and set it aside. Put the carbon between the next set of pages.

    Now do the next box: It will be 2 E (the second box you've packed, with more stuff you won't use for five years or more.) In this way, each room is first stripped of all seldom-used items. This technique also gives you more and more room to move around as the time gets closer to The Big Day.

    If you don't have any "five year" stuff, go look in another room. If you STILL don't have any five-year stuff, go to the next time category which is one year. Pack as many boxes as you can, from as many rooms as you can, numbering the boxes in the order you're packing them, and designating them "D" for "don't need to open this for one year."

    4. Labeling:

    For total efficiency, put a large, brightly colored label on all four sides of the box, and label it just as you did the page in the binder. Be sure to note the room or area it's going to. So our first label (or writing directly on the first box) would look like this:

    1 E

    The number shows the total count of how many boxes you've packed. That way, when you're unpacking, you can match the box numbers to the sheets in your binder and know immediately if any got lost in transit—and what was in them.

    5. Packing—Stage TWO:

    Now that you've packed all your five-year items, go back to each of the same rooms and pack all the items you won't use for one year (in the kitchen, for example, if it's January your "won't need it for one year" stuff might include holiday decorations.)

    These are the "D" items (moving backwards up the priority list), and are labeled as such in your binder and on the labels on ALL FOUR SIDES of the box.

    12 D

    6. Packing—Stage THREE:

    Pack all the "C" items: things you won't need in the first six months in your new place. Be sure the label shows what room the box should go into. Even if the movers (or your friends) ignore the labels, you can sort the boxes out much more easily whenever you need to. If all you use is the number and letter code, you'll have to delve into the binder to find what was in every single box every single time. Who needs THAT when you're tired!

    16 C

    7. Packing—Stage FOUR:

    Pack all the "B" items—stuff you'll need in the first month but don't have to open right away.

    21 B

    8. Packing—Stage FIVE: Pack all the "A" items—things you'll want in the first week (but not immediately—we're coming to that). Your "A" items might include the big coffeepot, extra towels, utensils, etc.

    30 A

    8. Packing—FINAL STAGE:

    Everything should have been moving smoothly so far, right up to this final stage. If you've been faithful to your Central Headquarters, you've found everything you need, when you need it.

    Now pack a final set of boxes labeled "AA" for top priority. These are the things you will want immediately after you move in, including the keys to the new place; restaurant menus; two towels and two sets of silverware for each person; toothbrushes; personal phone books; the checkbook; favorite coffee cups; etc.

    9. Unpacking

    Now that you're in the new place, set up a Central Headquarters to reverse the process—a place to unpack. Stock it with knives for opening your boxes; your binder for checking items in as they arrive; room to stash empty boxes; a wastebasket, cleaning rags; etc.

    During this entire process you should be able to find anything you need by looking at either the sides of the boxes or the binder. You don't need to accomplish a mass unpacking as soon as you've moved in and you're tired—just unpack the "AA" boxes (and maybe the "A's") and get some rest. When you're ready to unpack more, you can tell what room they go in, and you can pause again after the "B's" are done. There's some well-earned rest right there.

    Other advantages include:

  • An inventory of all your goods, which you can give to your insurance agent
  • If you have to put some things in storage temporarily, you will be sure they aren't things you'll need soon
  • You'll be envy of all your friends because you'll look so rested during your move
  • You'll enjoy the congratulations of your moving company for being so organized

    Good luck! I've used this system at least five times and every time I appreciate it more.

    AA = Open First
    A = Will need right away (first week)
    B = Won't use for 1 month
    C = Won't use for 6 months
    D = Won't use for 1 year
    E = Won't use for 5 years or more

    Copyright 1999 by Liz Franklin, author of HOW TO GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT RESORTING TO ARSON,, (877) 274-0844

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